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Myanmar’s Fragile Democracy

Now that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s revered opposition leader, has given the go-ahead, the United States should further ease sanctions against that country, which is beginning to embrace democracy. Sanctions are intended to encourage positive change and will have value only if affected governments trust that the penalties will be lifted as they make progress.       

During her visit to Washington this week — the first since she was freed from 15 years of house arrest — Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi did not specify what sanctions should be eased. But among the sanctions now in place is a ban on virtually all Myanmar imports to the United States.
Myanmar’s democratic progress has been substantial. Since taking office last year, President U Thein Sein has pushed aside officials who don’t support reforms and allowed Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party to run for Parliament. He has freed hundreds of political prisoners and begun to carry out economic and political reforms, including a new law relaxing press censorship.
Still, there is reason to be on guard against backsliding toward authoritarianism. Mr. Thein Sein and his national security council have too much power, including authority to declare a state of emergency at any time. There is a need for land reform, a professional military under civilian control and an end to human rights abuses.
Mr. Thein Sein, who is scheduled to attend the United Nations General Assembly next week, deserves recognition for what has been achieved since 2011. For that, the Obama administration has already relaxed some sanctions, allowing American companies to invest in many parts of the Myanmar economy. On Wednesday, it removed him and another official from a list of sanctioned individuals, thus allowing Americans to do business with them and giving them access to once-blocked assets. The administration should also consider supporting aid to Myanmar through international institutions and lifting the import ban.
American and international businesses will have important roles to play, too. When they invest in Myanmar, they could adopt stringent rules against the use of forced labor and other human rights abuses, as Amnesty International has recommended. Despite huge challenges, Myanmar, in significant ways, is a model of effective collaboration on the path to democracy — between Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and Mr. Thein Sein and, in the United States, between Republicans and Democrats. Through the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, top officials and lawmakers supported sanctions and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, and, when they saw an opening in 2011, agreed to engage with Myanmar on a step-by-step basis. That’s worth noting in this era of dysfunctional politics.

Posted by BCJP on Saturday, September 22, 2012. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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