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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 13:40 GMT
Burma: Should sanctions be lifted?
The Burmese military government has recently released almost 100 women prisoners apparently in response to intervention from the UN human rights envoy to Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.

There's even growing speculation that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi herself may be freed from her virtual house arrest within the next few months.

However, a delegation from the International Labour Organisation which visited Burma said it was disappointed with the lack of co-operation from the Burmese authorities.

Rangoon journalist Ma Thanegi argues sanctions are ineffective and end up hurting ordinary people.

Zaw Oo, a policy advisor to the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, the Burmese exile government, says the sanctions are an effective tool in advancing the dialogue process.

Is now the right time to lift the sanctions against Burma? Or are they still valid? Tell us what you think.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Not a single Burmese I've spoken to has supported economic sanctions

Joe, Thailand
I've travelled extensively in Burma over the last 17 years and have seen for myself how the ordinary civilians there suffer from lack of investment and jobs. Not a single Burmese I've spoken to has supported economic sanctions. All ask for more tourism, more investment. Isolating the country from the rest of the world has only succeeded in cementing the regime's fear-driven control over the people. From 1962 until 1988, the military government imposed its own economic strangulation via socialism. Now that socialism has been abandoned, the outside world has taken over the job of making the people suffer. Meanwhile the generals ride in chauffeured limos and live in mansions.
Joe, Thailand

Even with sanctions imposed, the military regime is still making a good life from the money that western investors are throwing into the country because of cheap labour. Now, western governments are talking loudly about human rights etc, but on the other hand, they continue to allow their multinational companies to invest in Burma. Where is the principal?
Kok, Malaysia

Although I applaud the SPDC for its release of female prisoners, this is nothing new in the history of Burma's brutal junta and nothing short of a 'stunt' to appease the UN. Aung San Suu Kyi has asked the international community on numerous occasions for our support and for the enforcement of sanctions against this manipulative and calculating regime. It is our duty to help the transition to democracy in Burma and sanctions are one of many tools by which the junta can be brought to the negotiating table.
Nikki, USA/UK

We need even more internationally coordinated sanctions against the regime

Zarni, USA
Nobody wants to see the Burmese people get hurt from the effects of economic sanctions. But, I think, the military regime should not be given even a chance to benefit from international investments. The more financial sources they have, both inside and outside Burma, the more they will build up the infrastructure in order to keep power, not to benefit the people of Burma. At this moment, we need even more internationally coordinated sanctions against the regime. No finance no politics!!! So...more sanctions!!!
Zarni, USA

Lift the sanctions, since it is only hurting the ordinary Burmese. Continue the dialogue (assisted by UN) between the opposition and the military rulers to reach the reasonable ground that they both can live with. Otherwise, the tragic living condition of the ordinary Burmese will linger forever. The rulers have been remaining in power and have all the luxury all the way along, while the ordinary Burmese are trying to cope with the daily existence as a decent human being.
Tun, Canada

The sanctions have to stay until there's far more than just 'signs' that democracy is on the way. Sanctions should be extended far more widely in the region. The hypocrisy of imposing sanctions on Burma, while embracing its neighbour China is astonishing. China has a recent history at least as brutal as Burma's, and wouldn't countenance freeing political prisoners. These two disgraceful countries should be treated equally.
Martin, UK

No doubt, sanctions against the Burmese military regime is working. It has yielded to the ILO demands partly, if not all. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, has been allowed in and able to suggest issues aimed at promoting democratisation process; and United Nations Special Representative Razali Ismail was even allowed to be critical of the lack of substantial progress, regarding the so-called secret talks between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the SPDC. All these are indications that sanctions are playing a crucial role in fostering the dialogue initiative.

However, this does not mean that humanitarian aids to the people of Burma have to be curtailed. In contrary, aids should be given to divert the looming humanitarian crisis such as HIV-AIDS epidemic, internally displaced persons and refugees problematic, just to name a few. But this should be done in a way not to look like endorsing the SPDC's badly needed "legitimacy" political posture. Apart from that, a co-ordinated effort to compliment and link democratisation process to any humanitarian aid which the international community has to offer would definitely help change the pace and widen the political arena in Burma.
S. Wansai, Germany

We Burmese really appreciate the international effort

Soe Tun, Singapore
What we Burmese really need is fundamental change in the political system that will give way long term peace and prosperity for all the people. We have sacrificed a lot for that goal and we must continue to pay the price for it. We should never forget the fact that many of us have sacrificed even our lives. Even though we fairly suffer from the sanctions in the short term, we are more than satisfied with it as long as it helps achieve our long term goals. It is very obvious that the sanctions work in Burma. They have successfully pushed the military regime to the negotiation table. I am very sure that the regime will not come to the negotiation table without the pressure of international community.

The question is not if the sanctions should be lifted, but how they should be made more and more effective. We Burmese really appreciate the international effort to help make meaningful changes in Burma. We request the international community to go further to starve the regime the hard currency obtained from illegal drug traffickings. Thank you.
Soe Tun, Singapore ( temporary)

The sanctions on Burma should stay. The sanctions are giving military government strong notice that the international community is concerning the will of people. Sanctions are stopping military government form growing stronger. We, Burmese people are not ignored by the international community but we need more effective help than in recent days. I would like to request UN to declare military government as illegal government according to the human rights act - which was signed by the Burmese government in 1948. This action is stronger than sanctions. I think that People are suffering more than ever. Enough is enough. Let us close up the history of military government in the book of Burmese history.
Jaw, Middle East

Why should sanctions against Burma be lifted? The military government has not actually DONE much, apart from engage in some discussions with Suu Kyi's party, the sincerity of which are questionable, and release some prisoners, who doubtless would be back in jail within a few minutes if the government so decided. It is still a brutally repressive regime that clings to power despite the overwhelming democratic mandate achieved by the opposition. The simple fact is that sanctions will always have some negative impact on the people of the countries they are imposed against. They only work effectively if a comprehensive, crippling, short-term embargo is imposed on regimes, who then cannot survive or are forced to change. Time and time again the half-hearted, non-enforceable sanctions that the international community implements only produces negative results: They do not cripple regimes such as Burma's - they are merely irritants, yet they do retard economic growth for the majority of the population while the elites continue to cream off more than their fair share. If anything, sanctions against Burma, and other regimes like it, should be strengthened, and governments - particularly ours - should be made to abide by them.
Oli, UK

I feel responsible tourism can help

Nicholas Zajicek, England
I visited Burma in the summer of 2000. Whilst I can see the reasoning behind both sides of the argument the overwhelming impression I came away with was that the status quo will not change without the motion of ideas. Locking the country away will do nothing but lifting sanctions will fill the junta's coffers. However small the effect I feel responsible tourism can help. On the one hand this will encourage awareness and on the other, channel money directly to Burmese people. Before any trip you can seek advice on the process and attempt to do some good both economically and intellectually.
Nicholas Zajicek, England

The people of Burma were already in trouble long before sanctions were imposed. Sanctions are just the result of oppression by the SPDC. As long as oppression exists, sanctions should not be lifted.
Kham Noam, USA

It seems to me that everyone who is in favour of keeping sanctions against Burma lives outside the country. I have spoken with many people living in Burma. They all are looking forward to having more employment opportunities that may be generated by foreign investment.
H. Law, USA

Those talking about sanctions are doing good business with the military regime. Look, the Brits are the second largest investor in Burma. A number of US companies are doing good business with generals or their relatives. I do not trust anyone. If they get profit they do not care about human rights. In the end we, the Burmese have to fight for freedom.
Kyaw Thu, Singapore

The Burmese people have shown their desire for democratic change in 1991 by electing NLD

Zwe, USA
The Burmese people have shown their desire for democratic change in 1991 by electing NLD. The Burma Military regime never listens to peoples' aspirations and refuses to recognize the NLD election victory. They continue to rule Burma and oppress its people. At the same time, they corrupt badly from foreign investment which goes straight into their pockets. I strongly believe that the sanctions are effective tools to pressure the repressive regime The regime must start the dialogue that democratic forces in Burma are asking for. Until then sanctions must be in place.
Zwe, USA

Economic sanctions should remain until the regime steps down from power completely. We are the victims only because of the regime, not because of the sanctions.
Maung Aung Lwin, USA

The classic case for sanctions is South Africa, but it's still debatable. Sanctions never worked for Iraq and North Korea. If even the enemies of these proven 'bullies' can consider providing humanitarian assistance for the people, why should our long-suffering and (generally) worse-off people deserve any less? I think it is a question of moral responsibility which the policy makers, lobbyists, and "democracy fighters" all over the world should ultimately answer.
Maung Win, Singapore

Helping the Burmese anti-government forces does not require mindless support of every anti-government position, particularly in circumstances such as those that cause more suffering to their fellow citizens of the lowest socio-economic levels, especially now when dialogue between Daw Aung San Su Kyi and SPDC gives an opportunity to end the conflict and both sides could seize it. We should now find ways and means to engage constructively in national reconciliation in Burma. We should help both SPDC (Burmese ruling oligarchy) and NLD (Burmese opposition party) understand that costs of tolerance exceed costs of coercion.
Jean-Marc de Birmanie, Belgium

The Burmese military dictatorship has no clue how to run a country in any other way than oppression

Mark, Thailand
The Burmese military dictatorship has no clue how to run a country in any other way than oppression. The problem with not lifting the sanctions is that the military thugs are quite happy with the status quo (financed by drugs and other illegal trade with Thailand). If the rest of the world does nothing, nothing will change.
Mark, Thailand

I do not trust any Burmese even some of the leaders. As far as I am concerned, the government and the NLD might have some agreements but they do not want to tell the public anything. If they try to work together it will never be done. I think Burma needs to get a good leader for a bright future. The UN should wait to lift sanction Burma.
Kya Win, Myanmar

There is simply not enough information here to form an opinion. It seems that those within Burma call for an end to sanctions while those in exile call for their continuation. South Africa is an example of sanctions making a useful contribution to a campaign for democracy. The political leaders of Burma (the democratic ones) need to be absolutely sure they are providing hope for real change by supporting sanctions. I despise the regime but if they can be made to hand over power through other means then so be it. And as has been pointed out to me before, any new democratic government will need the military. So as much as their behaviour is abhorrent there needs to be constructive dialogue that will eventually bring most of them on side. Will sanctions bring this about?
Graham, UK

I was born in Rangoon, Burma in 1951 and was forced to leave the country due to this military dictator. I don't think sanctions should be lifted right now.
Kamal Kumar Dass, India

The sanctions against Burma should not be lifted as long as the military government continues to shut down colleges and universities in the whole country

Mckhin, USA
The sanctions against Burma should not be lifted as long as the military government continues to shut down colleges and universities in the whole country. The military government must understand the people of Burma because people want a dialogue between Daw Su Kyi and the government to be conducted freely, not with one of the participants under house arrest. Aung San Su Kyi represents the people of Burma, evidence of 1990's election.
Mckhin, USA

First, this brutal regime is simply not interested in the advancement of the country. Their main aspiration has always been to hang on to power for as long as they can using whatever means it takes.They have demonstrated time and again that they just don't have the skills and the know-how to manage the economy (or hardly anything for that matter).
Second, as the opposition leaders have repeated many times, the fundamental problem of Burma is not economical, but political. And it requires a political solution.
Third, we all know that sanctions hurt the people. The regime should know that there would not be a need for sanctions if they stop oppressing.
So don't lift the sanctions now!
TunTun, UK

Sanctions always hurt the most vulnerable most. Why is it that the 'International' community only imposes sanctions on countries where they haven't got much to lose? No one will put sanctions on Saudi Arabia for example (for its human rights record) as it is the largest o oil producer. Iraq has sanctions too, but is allowed to sell its oil. That is strange. Burma on the other hand doesn't have many resources that the international community might want.
Maaz Gazdar, UK

I find it completely unbelievable that people would even consider removing sanctions against Burma

Michael Bird, Canada
I find it completely unbelievable that people would even consider removing sanctions against Burma. This country is undoubtedly one of the most egregious human rights violators in the world. Forced labour and the arbitrary detention of political prisoners are probably some of the regime's smaller crimes against humanity. Particularly vicious is the regimes campaign of terror in the border states adjoining Thailand.

Death squads, forced relocation of villages, the destruction of crops, combined with wanton rape and looting of Karen villagers by SPDC soldiers (25% of whom are estimated to be in the 13-17 year old age range) have produced probably the most ignored human crisis in the world. Additionally, any money flowing into the country, whether it be from investment or heroin, usually finds its way into the corrupt hands of the Rangoon dictatorship. Don't forget what happened in South Africa - the people never see the money anyway.
Michael Bird, Canada

Sanctions against Burma shouldn't be lifted as long as the military regime holds the national power and restrains the fundamental human rights and freedom. Only because sanctions are effective and hurting them, regime's spokespersons, Thanegi and others, repeatedly argue sanctions are ineffective.

I was born in Burma and I lived in Burma for almost half of my life. I know exactly the cliché-crooked schemes of that regime. Believe me. No regime or ruler in the world could ever compete with the Burmese regime. There are more than 1500 innocent-political prisoners still in regime's brutal prisons. What is the reasonable reason for even now keeping them especially at the time the regime talks aloud reconciliation? Sanctions against Burma shouldn't be lifted unless the world clearly sees the true and sincere improvement for the people of Burma.
Tayza Kyaw, Canada

The economic woes encompassing Burma today is largely the own making of successive Burmese military regimes, including the present SPDC. While its decades of economic mis-management under the pretext of so-called Burmese Socialist Economy Program must has contributed to the present sorry state of economy, the real culprit lies in its failed policy implementation of "nation-building". The military's understanding of "national unity" is to subdue all other non-Burman ethnic nationalities' ethnic identities coupled with its forced assimilation scheme. In other words, to give in to its "Burmanization" program, under the pretext of national unity. It never come to its mind that there is a more acceptable notion called "unity in diversity".

The non-Burmans resistance was met with brutal suppression, resulting in thousands of fleeing refugees to neighbouring countries and thousands of land left abandoned, due to its forced relocation plan, in Shan, Karen, Karenni and Mon states. If sanctions have any meaning, it is to drive home loud any clear that the mess originated from the military's own doing has to be cleaned up first, before anything substantial could be done to uplift the economy. And this could be spelled out in terms of accelerating the pace of democratisation process, implementation of universally accepted human rights and honouring the rights of self-determination of all Burman and non-Burman peoples alike.
Saihukkhur, Germany

If sanctions are, as the SPDC claims, ineffectual, where is the problem? I believe they are effective and they are the ONLY reason for the miniscule changes we see, a trickle of prisoner releases, and a toning down of rhetoric in the junta-controlled media. Sanctions are the best way to pursue change but they would be far more effective if countries in the region, especially Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and most importantly, Japan, used their influence to change the stalemate in Burma.
Visakha Kawasaki, USA

I strongly agree with Mr Zaw Oo who analysed Burma. Today the Burmese people are no way able to get some help from the international community, because the military elite has still power, because people have no release from those who cause their suffering. We, the Burmese people couldn't have midnight even though they have darkness in the world.
KoKo, The United States

Listen now
... to both sides of the debate
Should sanctions against Burma be lifted?



1748 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

04 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
01 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
28 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
30 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
05 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
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