Myanmar (Burma) has been in a state of constant crisis in one form or another since WWII. Internal conflict has meant the government targeting ethnic minorities, whether they be Karen, Karenni, Kachin, Rakhine or most recently, the Rohingya. Against these tribal people they have committed numerous human rights abuses that have risen to alleged “ethnic cleansing” levels. Their own, central people aren’t free from oppression either.
Military action is what is often discussed when dealing with atrocities of this nature overseas. The morality of the “world police” gets thrown around, some saying every human being has the right to be protected, others arguing for the sovereignty of other nations, and even others just admitting how thin our resources are already spread.
Realistically, this is not an option in Burma. But the United States has had a long history of sanctioning the government for their actions, which was significant considering they have a whole lot of oil and gas to offer. They also have precious stones, rice, textiles and quite a large teak wood industry. However, the Obama administration lifted these sanctions last year as it seemed like things were on the cusp of finally getting better, allowing them to invest in companies and resources like oil and gas.
The sanctions still sort of exist–the policy currently imposed on the southeast Asian nation is basically selective. The U.S. government has some leeway here, and as it stands can sort of pick and choose who it wants to do business with. As a policy, the United States will not conduct business or put dollars in any entity that is disrupting the reform process there. For example, the U.S. will not deal with anything having to do with the military in Burma–who are most definitely are spearheading the effort against any kind of reform. With that said, the perspective on the ground feels a lot like “reform” is always happening without progress ever quite actually coming about. It’s like a parabolic curve–the people are always approaching progress with their reigning military regime, but they can never seem to get there.
There have been recent talks of this changing, though nothing has really come of it yet. One year after the sanctions have been lifted, the Rohingya are being driven by the hundreds of thousands across the dangerous countryside and into Bangladesh. Human rights abuses are happening left and right. International military force would likely just complicate things more, but hitting a government where it really hurts could potentially affect some significant change–hitting them in their pockets. Under the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma is not in the same place as it was years ago. Hardline economic stances against the nation could potentially bring about some real changes, though it would likely have to be more than a singular effort by the United States.
The world is watching to see if current policies shift or if the U.S. remains outspoken against the atrocities but continues to ease up on sanctions.
Featured image courtesy of AP Images.