Wednesday, April 23, 2008

EUROPE: Sanctions on Burma To Be Extended

By David Cronin

BRUSSELS, Apr 23 (IPS) - Sanctions imposed by the European Union on Burma look set to be extended for an extra year because of the lack of progress on human rights in the military-ruled country.

EU foreign ministers meeting Apr. 28 will review the measures they introduced against Burma in October last year, following the brutal crackdown on Buddhist monks who took part in street protests that have become known as the Saffron Revolution. These measures included a ban on the import of gemstones, timber and precious metal.

Slovenia, the current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, expects the sanctions to be renewed for another 12 months.

Janez Lenarcic, Slovenia's state secretary for European affairs, said he also expects the EU to formally exhort the Burmese authorities to begin planning for a "legitimate civil government" and to release political prisoners, including the iconic pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Yet some campaign groups have argued that it would not be sufficient to merely prolong the EU's sanctions. Human Rights Watch is urging both that existing sanctions should be bolstered and supplementary ones added.

While the EU has frozen the assets of Burmese generals, Human Rights Watch contends that these financial measures should be made more comprehensive. In particular, it wants any use of bank clearing-houses or the conduct of any other financial transactions within the EU's jurisdiction by members of the junta to be forbidden.

The organisation also wants to broaden the range of targets for sanctions. At present, oil and gas exports from Burma remain unaffected by the sanctions, as do contracts signed by the French energy giant Total for exploiting the Yadana gas field in southern Burma. Human Rights Watch is arguing that the sanctions should be extended to cover companies that finance the Burmese military, such as the state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

Lotte Leicht, Brussels director with Human Rights Watch, argued that sanctions can have an influence on the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the Burmese government calls itself, but only if their application is monitored vigorously.

"The way forward for an effective sanctions regime on Burma is to think small and adaptive," she said. "Go after the real perpetrators and profiteers of Burma's military rule and target their ability to access international financial networks to hide their profits, to buy arms and other repressive tools. And do it constantly with updated information and listing of key SPDC officials and military controlled companies.

"The EU must cooperate with other sanctioning states such as the U.S. and Australia, and share information and coordinate action. To do anything less makes sanctions a hollow tool, and plays directly into the hands of the military regime who are accustomed to hard talk and soft measures as a result of divergent international approaches."

Members of the European Parliament have called, too, for tougher sanctions during an Apr. 23 debate. Plans by the Burmese junta to hold a referendum on a new constitution next month were denounced by MEPs.

Brian Crowley, a representative of Fianna Fáil, Ireland's largest party, noted that the constitution would reserve one-quarter of all seats in the Burmese parliament for the military and that Aung San Suu Kyi would not be allowed seek election "because she is married to a foreigner."

Hélène Flautre, a French Green who chairs a parliamentary committee on human rights, said that while efforts to draft a constitution may initially have appeared positive, they "very quickly turned into a Machiavellian scheme."

Richard Howitt from the British Labour Party argued that a U.S. ban on banking and financial transactions by the Burmese authorities has denied them foreign currency. He urged the EU to take similar action.

Some MEPs also exhorted the EU to press China to use its influence with Burma, in which it invests heavily, so that human rights are respected there.

Ten members of the European Commission, the EU's executive, are visiting China this week, including José Manuel Barroso, the institution's president. One of the commissioners remaining in Europe, Jacques Barrot, said his colleagues would be raising the situation in Burma during their trip.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International said that if Barroso's visit will have any meaningful result, he must obtain firm commitments from the Chinese government to allow free expression ahead of this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. Among the commitments being sought by Amnesty are an end to the harassment of Chinese human rights activists, guarantees that journalists will be allowed work unrestricted, and greater transparency about how many executions are carried out.

"Such a high level visit one hundred days before the start of the Olympics is a crucial opportunity to press the Chinese government to change its tactics," said Amnesty spokeswoman Natalia Alonso. "The EU's commitment to include human rights concerns into all its policies is at stake." (END/2008)

No comments: