Thursday, September 10, 2009

HRW urges US to wrap up Burma policy review

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The United States should immediately wrap up its Burma policy review and adopt policies of diplomacy, sanctions and humanitarian aid more effectively, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday in a letter sent to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

HRW, the New York based organization said, delay in announcing a new policy on Burma could encourage the military leaders to believe that the US is becoming weak in its commitment to human rights and pluralism.

HRW is a group defending and promoting ‘Human Rights’ violations around the world and has extensively studied and released several reports of rights violations in military-ruled Burma, including the use of child soldiers by the Burmese Army.

Earlier in February, Clinton said the US is reviewing its policy on Burma adding that its current policy of sanctions has failed to bring about changes in the behaviour of the Burmese junta.

But she also said that the ‘constructive engagement’ policy by Burma’s neighbouring countries including China, India and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), of which Burma is a member, has failed to usher in changes.

Though the US state department had indicated that the review is about to be concluded, the HRW said it is important for the US government to conclude the policy review immediately, so that the American policy and strategy towards Burma is clear to all concerned.

HRW, in a press release on Thursday said, although the situation in Burma seems intractable, an energetic and revitalized approach to Burma from the Obama administration could help bring positive changes.

“We suggest that the policy review should, therefore, aim at making more effective all three prongs of US policy - diplomacy, sanctions and humanitarian aid - and not place one ahead of the others,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of the HRW said in his letter to Secretary Clinton.

Roth said, with regard to making diplomatic pressures have an impact the US should appoint its own special envoy for Burma, who would have a direct line to the secretary of state and specific instructions to engage in a principled way with the Burmese government and key bilateral and multilateral actors.

“Vigorous diplomacy is specifically needed with China, India,Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan,” the letter said.

The HRW said generalized sanctions are less likely to be effective and may hurt large numbers of ordinary people, and have no significant impact on the governments. Therefore, the US should consider targeted sanctions.

“Targeted sanctions don't impose hardship on ordinary people, but do provide leverage if effectively implemented,” Roth said in the letter.

Roth, however, said in the light of the sham trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the lack of political reforms, “we do not think now is the right time to change these sanctions, as it would send the wrong signal to the SPDC, suggesting that the United States or others have lost their will or commitment to keep up the pressure for democratic reform.”

While vigorously campaigning among regional and the international community and maintaining targeted sanctions, the HRW said, it is also important to increase humanitarian aid support to Burma.

With acute humanitarian needs in Burma, the HRW said, “US funding should increase.”

“The US and other donors offer to provide more humanitarian aid with appropriate oversight, but they should also insist that their contributions are matched by a genuine commitment from the military government to use its vast revenues from natural resources to help the Burmese people,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, in a press statement.

The letter said, while “Development aid is a very important incentive for change in Burma”, it should not be made available until there is significant political reform, progress on human rights, better governance, and the possibility of consulting civil society and local communities in setting development goals.

The HRW said, while helping the Burmese people is one of the most difficult and intractable problems the world has faced in recent decades, a renewed approach led by the US could bring a significant change.

“We don't underestimate the challenge, but we think a revitalized approach with strong US leadership can make a significant difference in the years ahead,” Roth said in the letter.

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