Holding Burma to Account
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th July, 2008
Burma has an unfortunate tendency to disappear quickly from the headlines in the Western press. In Britain, it is seen as a less ‘sexy’ subject than Zimbabwe, though in many ways the situation in Burma is as bad, if not worse. The military junta is a kleptocracy that enslaves its people and seems devoid of any feeling when thousands of Burmese citizens die. Moreover, whereas there is a growing feeling internationally that the Zimbabwean regime is on its last legs (Robert Mugabe’s personal longevity perhaps only explicable by the hypothesis that the Devil can’t quite face welcoming him into Hell), the Burmese junta seemingly could go on and on, fed by its country’s natural resources and bolstered by the compliance of some of its neighbours.
China’s failure to use its clout to hold Burma to account is well known. But as Malcolm Bruce, MP (Chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on International Development) said at a Liberal Democrat pasta and politics in Hackney tonight, India — the self-proclaimed world’s largest democracy — hasn’t exactly been turning the screws, as it could. I argued in the discussion following Malcolm’s presentation that the best hope for change may come through regional pressure, from within ASEAN (one recalls that Vietnam intervened to get rid of the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia), though don’t hold your breath. ASEAN’s southern African counterpart, SADCC, hasn’t emerged with many brownie points re Zimbabwe, despite the efforts of some members such as Botswana and Tanzania.
Liberal International will be holding its next Executive in Bangkok, in December, and Burma will be right at the top of the agenda. Thailand has had to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing fighting, persecution and starvation in Burma, and has been the conduit for much recent aid. The West cannot bring the military thugs to account on its own — and would probably be unwise to try. But if ASEAN took a lead, it could be a very different matter.