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Monday, 18 September, 2000, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Burma: Time to get tough?

International criticism of Burma's military regime is growing with the treatment of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi raising widespread concern.

Ten years ago her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won an overwhelming 85% of the vote in general elections. But the military ignored the result and instead intensified its campaign of repression.

Sanctions against Burma
EU: Ban on non-humanitarian aid
EU: Visa restrictions
EU: Total arms embargo
US: Ban on all new investment
JAPAN: Believes 'constructive engagement' is the way forward
At independence in 1948 Burma was one of the richest countries in South-East Asia. Today it is amongst the poorest in the world with regular reports of mass detentions and the widespread use of slave labour.

In the past decade foreign investment in Burma has increased with foreign oil firms continuing to invest in projects that will earn the regime millions of dollars.

The NLD has called for a total ban on all new investment - a request which so far only the United States has followed.

Is it now time to get tough with Burma's generals? Should the international community tighten sanctions, or will that just make the lives or ordinary Burmese even harder? Or should we instead pursue the line of dialogue and constructive engagement with Burma's rulers?

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


Your reaction

Keep up a barrage of stories and background reporting to ensure that the regime is constantly aware of its abuses and notoriety - at this time this is the most effective way to help the people of Burma.
Rene Peritz, Italy


Please don't tell us what you will do, but show us

Gum San, Burma

The EU and United States have paid lip service to Burma since the election, but very little has been done. Yes, US companies are pulling out of Burma, but why did Texaco changed its name into Premier Oil and continue to operate with the exact same employees? We Burmese believe in action rather than words. Please don't tell us what you will do, but show us.
Gum San, Burma

Tighten sanctions? What for? Have they ever worked? What shall we do, then? Territorial invasion? No way! The USA would never agree. All that is left to do is to let the system weaken by itself. This is what happened in Indonesia, was it not? If the situation goes on, then probably it is not time for a change yet. The Soviet Union prevailed for much longer time but eventually collapsed. When people get tired of tyranny and despotism they take care of the situation by themselves. History has far too many examples.
Bruno Silva, Portugal

The sanctions against Iraq have had a terrible effect on the population, so I hesitate to encourage such measures for Burma. However, there is a crucial difference - the Burmese NLD is calling for sanctions, and so I think we should follow their lead and impose them. If the sanctions were to bite hard on the general Burmese population I feel sure the NLD would call for them to be lifted. So on balance, with reservations, I support the imposition of sanctions as requested by the NLD.
Scott Andrews, UK


The military regime is benefiting from foreign investment

Anthony Letcher, UK
The military regime is benefiting from foreign investment and the only way to ensure that the free will of the people is listened to is to enforce sanctions. That will remove the whole power base from the regime and allow democratic rule as wished for by the Burmese.
Anthony Letcher, UK

A nation is judged by its government, which, in Burma's case is a tyranny. It must be regarded as a pariah nation by the international community until it embraces democracy. Sanctions and treatment like this helped end apartheid in South Africa. People cannot and must not treat Burma as a tourist destination, staying in resorts built by slave labour. This is immoral and wicked. Free the Burmese people from oppression!
Tim Westcott, UK

Burma needs outside help. The United Nations' rule of non-interference needs to be reviewed. When a country is ruled by a military regime and if they commit war crimes and atrocities, the UN must have rights to get into that country.
Laser Bean, Burma

How can so many powerful countries condone such repression by turning a deaf ear and a blind eye?
Joycelyn, USA

Show me a military rule or one-party government that does not depend on developed countries for the supply of arms in exchange for flagrant exploitation of its resources. If the fortunate countries can stop both these activities the poor of the world will find a lot more peace.
Vinod Dawda, UK

It's amazing that the US and EU sit by and let the militia continue terrorising Burma. Where are their policies of supporting democracy when they are most needed? Instead US companies are setting up hotels and other businesses in the country. If this was any other country, the US (and probably the UK) would have intervened and tried to get democracy restored.
Elyaas Makki, UK

Now is the time to put a stop to these atrocities in Burma, by any and all means. To delay will only cost more lives and cause more suffering.
Steven Hulme, US

Free the People, there is no place in this world for that kind of government. Military rule can't and won't last or be tolerated.
Joshua, USA


Aung San Suu Kyi is the only hope for the entire nation

Dolly Thann, Australia
Whatever sanctions or whatever constructive engagements we have been taking, one thing is for sure that the result can not be come out immediately. What immediate result will come out is that, if we couldn't do anything for the release of Suu Kyi, the regime will rule more and the oppressed will be oppressed more. It is being a grave concern for the personal wellbeing of Aung San Suu Kyi. She is the only hope for the entire nation.
Dolly Thann, Australia

Sanctions on Burma are the only thing that will be able to bring down the military dictatorship. Current investment in Burma is not benefiting the population as it is, with thousands of people in forced labour. Aung San Suu Kyi can be regarded as the legitimate leader of Burma, and so the West should follow her requests. It worked in South Africa, so why not Burma?
Mary J Carpenter, UK

Same people, different clothes.....
Leo Windhorse, USA

It's true that Western involvement in Africa and Asia has in the past usually been counter-productive. But South Africa was a notable exception, and I believe that Burma is in the same category. Yes, sanctions should be imposed.
Alan Howes, Scotland, in Saudi Arabia

From the late 1970's through to the 1990's South Africa faced economic sanctions that eventually brought change. This only worked because several nations agreed to enforce an embargo. I think something similar should be done for Burma. While I know this may ultimately hurt the people, it seems as though the SLORC only cares about its own personal coffers. It is time to hit them in the pocketbook.
Rahul Laxman Iyer, USA


One dictator is too many in this world

Sam Freeman, USA
One dictator is too many in this world. Like Tibet, Burma, East Timor and any where people need to fight for their rights only then the dictator will give in.... Burma and Tibet must be freed by their people with help of Western countries. Economic sanction worked for South Africa and why not with Burma and China.
Sam Freeman, USA

We should consider that economic sanctions are War By Other Means (WBOM). Simply because we have sanitised the process and the language, that doesn't diminish the intended result or the potential side effects. So we should never consider these sanctions in isolation. Some regimes will find them to be an act of war, and retaliate in a manner that we do not expect because of our reluctance to see them in such a light. Should we feel that we can disable an unjust regime through military action with lower casualties than through sanctions, we should do so.
Gordon Hundley, United Kingdom


Aung San Suu Kyi is the elected leader of the party that was democratically elected to rule

Jen Thackray, UK
The Burmese people made their own choice when, in 1990, the NLD won 85% of the vote in free elections, despite intimidation by the military regime. Aung San Suu Kyi is the elected leader of the party that was democratically elected to rule. She has repeatedly asked foreign companies NOT to invest in Burma as well as asking tourists to stay away. Surely she can be considered to speak for the people we are worried that sanctions would hurt. Therefore, I can see no reason for us to hold back in "getting tough" with one of the world's most brutal dictatorships.
Jen Thackray, UK

We run a home for former boy soldiers from Shan State and they have told us stories of horror no human being should be subjected to. Yet, the West remains 'silent'. Although I do not have any solution to offer, it does not mean we should all sit back and do nothing. The ethnic minorities, like the Shans, ask only for their basic human rights. Is that too much to ask?
David J. Broomfield, Norway

Sanctions and actions are the only language which the military regime understands. The majority of people in Burma have left nothing to lose because of them.
Tint Swe, India

The change in Myanmar has to come from within, it cannot be imposed from outside. Democracy will only come when the majority of people do not have to worry about the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter, education and health.
Khin M Win, Germany


The international community can and must take a tough stand against its military dictators and human rights violations

L. Dorjee, Tibet
Burma is one case where the international community can and must take a tough stand against its military dictators and human rights violations. If the international community chooses to let the Beijing's mini-me's in Rangoon to carry on like this, it gives very little hope for people of my country, Tibet, to believe that the world can be better place tomorrow. Aug Sang Suu Kyi can succeed if the rest of world can show some real determination, instead of apathy.
L. Dorjee, Tibet

Sanctions against Burma's dictatorship are something like a scarecrow to a blind and deaf mute. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that the most valuable resource in Burma is its own people. Bring down the dialogue and educate the dictators that they are killing their own people.
Tony L., Australia


The fact that we have allowed a military dictatorship to survive and thrive for the past decade is unforgivable.

Syed Mansur Hashim, Bangladesh
The fact that we have allowed a military dictatorship to survive and thrive for the past decade is unforgivable. The rationale used for supporting such regimes during the cold war era was that they were a bulwark against the spread of communism. What logic do we use today?
Syed Mansur Hashim, Bangladesh

The Japanese definitely have the right idea, in this case. There's no sense in making the people of Myanmar suffer for the harshness of the Burmese Regime, which is what the US's "solution" will do. Unless the US is ready to clean up the mess they'll have made in Burma/Myanmar, they should be more concerned about the election polls.
Peter Bolton, UK in US

A vast majority of Myanmar citizens are not aware of Suu Kyi's call for sanctions. When I talked to ordinary folks in the country they argued Suu Kyi would never do it to them.
Mingala Maung Maung, Canada

It is a pity that the high moral stance of western governments is undermined by the actions of western corporations. Is the tail already that large it wags the dogs?
Bob Gilbody, New Zealand

Constructive engagement is the way to go. We have played a tough game against junta in last 13 years. It was a very expensive game for everyday Burmese. Perhaps, it is time to call a time-out, reiterate the goals and focus on winning the game for Burmese people.
Joe N, USA

I was horrified to read the comments from Mary Wollstonecraft, England. Who gives you the right to destroy another nation "in order to save it"? Burma (Myama) is another country, no matter how bad it is, and how small it is. Have you ever thought about destroying China or part of it because you don't like it's government?
Shef Chang, US

The situation in Burma should never been allowed to reach this level. No society in the modern world needs a Military dictatorship over a bunch of poor farmers.
Henry Linneweh, USA


Aung San Suu Kyi should be doused with a bucket of realism

MC Yap, Malaysia
Given Burma's internal difficulties with separatist groups, Aung San Suu Kyi should be doused with a bucket of realism and made to face the fact that there is little likelihood that she would be able to keep Burma together in relative peace without the support of the military government. Unfortunately, she has chosen to ignore this by repeatedly rejecting any for of co-operative effort extended by the Government.
MC Yap, Malaysia

I believe imposing economic sanctions would be counter-productive. The regime would never back down when it knows their very own existence will be in danger upon doing so. There has to be an agreement.
Alex, Australia


Relax sanctions encourage tourism, this will increase the wealth of the people, then they will begin to question how their taxes are spent

Keith, Hong Kong
Sanctions do not work. This has been proved time and gain around the world. Only the people suffer. Mynamar has enough natural resources that it can easily sell to keep the military rulers in the comfort they have become accustomed too. By keeping the people poor they are easier to control.
Relax sanctions encourage tourism, this will increase the wealth of the people, then they will begin to question how their taxes are spent and how their leaders live. At the moment the people of Burma are too poor to care all they worry about is getting through the day with enough to live on. I know I just came back from there.
Keith, Hong Kong


From my point of view, economic sanctions only affect ordinary people

Y. M. Kyi, USA
As a Burmese, I know what is like to live under dictatorship. I have felt the darkest truth. I have also known the mentality of the Burmese military. From my point of view, economic sanctions only affect ordinary people.
Y. M. Kyi, USA

I don't know much about Burma but at the end of the day it is only the people of that country (or any other dictatorship) that can return it to democracy.
Steve, England

The military junta will probably stay in power even if the sanctions against Burma are tightened. Look at Iraq, after years of sanctions Saddam Hussein is still in power. The only ones who suffer are the people.
Anne Carr, Norway

Having lived 15 years in Asia, I strongly feel that it is high time to take firm action against the Burmese junta. Economic blockades will only hit the poor. A political isolation like the one imposed on Libya would be the way to go. Freeze them out. All dictators have big egos. That is where to hit them.
H. Nyqvist, Philippines

I agree that the Western concept of human rights is not universal. Human rights need to be redefined. Democratic reform is not always the solution either. The West definitely does not have all the answers and acts in a very ethnocentric manner. But no one in their right mind could use that to defend the military regime in Burma.
Hilde Torvik, Norway

Given Burma's internal difficulties with separatist groups, Aung San Suu Kyi should be doused with a bucket of realism and made to face the fact that there is little likelihood that she would be able to keep Burma together in relative peace without the support of the military government. Unfortunately, she has chosen to ignore this by repeatedly rejecting any co-operative effort extended by the Government.
MC Yap, Malaysia


The people of Burma have a right to the same kinds of freedoms as we enjoy in the West

Nicolas J. Bellord, Portugal
Mr Hume asserts that there are no absolute measures by which a country can be judged. One can equally assert that there are such measures or criteria to be found in the great religions of the world - Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity etc. However I suggest he reads Aung San Suu Kyi's own books in which she addresses this very point. Effectively she says that to propose that Western values such as democracy and human rights have no place in Asia is the worst kind of post-colonial paternalism. The people of Burma have a right to the same kinds of freedoms as we enjoy in the West.
Nicolas J. Bellord, Portugal

Although human rights language is a Western construct, a conception of oppression is common to many cultures. Similarly, an absence of oppression is not only desirable in Western cultures. The argument that human rights discourse is cultural imperialism attacks the messenger, not the message.
Karl Popper, Oxford, England

Human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration are applicable to the whole human race. Anyone who thinks that Asian values and the values of liberal democracy are incompatible should read the writings of Aung San Suu Kyi. She is a true hero for all of us who value human rights.
John Saunders, UK

It seems a little rich that we should be interfering in a country half-way 'round the world, where very few UK nationals are affected, yet we are unwilling to even make representation, it seems, with our neighbour France, where considerable grief is currently being inflicted on our nationals due to their unwarranted fuel blockade.
Ian Sharp, UK

There's a big difference between a country's political regime and its people! You're not imposing sanctions on governments, you're doing so only on poor people who have nothing to do with their leaders' actions. Leaders are always there, no matter what you do, whereas the people suffer when it's not their fault.
Moataz M. Abou-Eita, Cairo, Egypt

The time to act is now. The power of the military regime has been grossly overestimated. For example, the Myanmar military budget is only $39 million. Any sort of democratic revolution would push the regime over like a house or cards.
Alex Trott, England


The real tragedy of Burma and the reason why we should get tough is the horrendous treatment of the citizens there

Miklos Nomad, Hungary
It is high time to get tough with Burma and for that matter with the majority of South East Asian countries that accepted Burma into ASEAN, a position that Burma uses now as an example of non criticism of its government. The ASEAN is a bad club consisting of bad governments with the possible exclusion of Thailand.
Suu Kyi is of course a high profile media case but the real tragedy of Burma and the reason why we should get tough is the horrendous treatment of the citizens there. It is another example of a rich country being ravaged by savage regime. I feel sorry for the populations of those rich countries having to fight to get a bowl of rice while their oppressors (governments) bath in milk and honey like in the probably second richest country of the world-Indonesia.
Miklos Nomad, Hungary

We should take action but we won't. The government are not interested in human lives, only money counts. If the UK were to lose money through inaction then we would be leading the way but our investments make those who have the ear of the government richer so our corrupt nation will do nothing.
G Anderson, UK


The third world is almost fed up with the Western moralists imposing their relative values on countries that do not concern them

Max Weber, Austria
David Hume must take after his namesake, the late philosopher, because his point is poignant. The third world is almost fed up with the Western moralists imposing their relative values on countries that do not concern them.
The Western perception of human rights can not be judged against Asian, particularly by people who have never let the comfort of their first world affluence. Wealth should not give the West a right to express morally imperialistic attitudes in situations it can not possibly understand, particularly as much of that wealth stems from exploitation and the sale of weapons to anybody who wants them. The hypocrisy is sickening.
Max Weber, Austria


If this diplomatic effort fails, there is only one remaining solution and that is complete economic sanctions

Han de Min, UK
It seems overdue to tackle this regime that has been proven not to listen to the democratically chosen new leader some 10 years ago. Of course we should try a massive diplomatic offensive mainly not to be condemned by the generals later. With such effort they may save face and democratic elections can be held to again prove that the NLD must rule. When this is implemented we need lots of peacekeepers etc. If this diplomatic effort fails, there is only one remaining solution and that is complete economic sanctions.
Han de Min, UK

By placing sanctions on Burma, we would do little other than harm innocent little children. Also, it would suggest to the problematic Burmese regime that the West isn't serious about ending their rule. Ergo, our only choice is to take military action. We must, if necessary, destroy parts of that nation in order to save it.
Mary Wollstonecraft, England

Why is the West so perfectly sure that it knows how to run the world? There is NO absolute measure by which a country can be judged, and the attempts of the West to impose their own views can only be seen as expressions of a spiritless, emotionally arrogant "culture"
David Hume, UK

Why can't the mighty West put a stop to these tyrants everywhere? Look at Africa. Be warned. The load is going to be even heavier unless some drastic action is taken. Your conscience is at stake.
Chege A, Kenya

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See also:

25 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi
26 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burma: 10 years on
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