Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Let Burma ‘sanctions’ be reviewed by experts

Published: April 20 2011 02:03 | Last updated: April 20 2011 02:03
From Mr Derek Tonkin.
Sir, In your editorial “Burmese tactics” (April 18) you say that “it is still too early for the west to relax sanctions” against the Burmese regime. William Hague, the British foreign secretary, stated on April 12 that “renewing tough but targeted sanctions is the right decision at the right time”. But there are few who would agree with him that the sanctions applied are more than a “modest inconvenience”, to quote Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state.
The European Union has declared regime assets frozen, only to find that there are none to freeze. We have issued visa bans, so that some Burmese wives now have to be content with shopping in Bangkok, Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong. We have denied financial facilities to regime companies that never sought them in the first place. By any standard, these “sanctions” do not amount to a row of beans. How can we pretend they are “tough”?
The debate though has moved on. There are now a range of non-statutory measures, policy decisions and recommendations in place which we pretend are not sanctions at all. We deny Burma support from international financial institutions because the funding would need to be handled at a government level. We restrict the mandates of United Nations agencies to support through non-governmental channels only. Western development assistance works out annually at about $6 per head compared with $62 in neighbouring Laos. At the time of the devastating Cyclone Nargis in 2008 the aid provided to survivors was less than 5 per cent of that awarded to victims of the 2004 tsunami, although the devastation and casualties were roughly comparable. Britain, in particular discourages all trade, investment and tourism.
We need, as Aung San Suu Kyi and Mr Hague are seeking, an independent expert view of all these measures to determine their political and economic impact. Despite more than 20 years of sanctions, this has not yet happened.
As a result, the debate on sanctions is conducted in a welter of emotion and misinformation that fails altogether to take into account the true interests of the Burmese people. How much longer do we have to wait for such an inquiry to be undertaken?

Derek Tonkin,
Network Myanmar,
Worplesdon, Surrey, UK