Myanmar Regresses on Rights
|An ethnic Rohingya from Burma and living in Malaysia, wearing a traditional Malay "songkok" prayer cap, recites prayers at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur on 17 June 2012 as sectarian riots engulf Burma’s Arakan state. (Photo: Reuters)|
By Editorial Board
August 22, 2014
When Myanmar’s military junta dissolved itself in 2011, the country took steps to transition to a more democratic society, including releasing political prisoners and relaxing restrictions on the press. But, its progress toward democracy has stalled.
Since the recent easing of American-led economic sanctions against Myanmar, foreign investment has been pouring into the country. Myanmar’s retreat from pariah status also won it the 2014 chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the regional economic group known as Asean. Apparently emboldened by these successes, Myanmar has stopped moving the reform process forward and has turned a deaf ear to condemnations of serious human-rights lapses.
Some 140,000 Rohingyas, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, have been forced from their homes in Rakhine State by violent attacks and are being held in internment camps. The government expelled their only source of medical care, Doctors Without Borders, in February. Press freedoms have also been attacked. Five journalists who exposed the seizure of land by military leaders for construction of a chemical weapons plant were sentenced last month to 10 years imprisonment with hard labor.
Meanwhile, there is no guarantee that national elections scheduled for 2015 will be free or fair. Last week, the opposition party led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a petition signed by five million citizens asking Parliament to end the military’s veto power over any proposed revisions to the 2008 Constitution. One provision, aimed squarely at Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, whose sons are British citizens, bars candidates from becoming president if they have children who are foreign nationals.
President Obama was right last year to require companies doing business in Myanmar to report steps they are taking on human rights. Before a visit to Myanmar this month by Secretary of State John Kerry, 72 members of Congress signed a strong letter to Mr. Kerry warning that Myanmar had “taken a sharp turn for the worse.”
To his credit, Mr. Kerry discussed the plight of the Rohingyas and the need for further constitutional reform with Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein. And, a few days later in Hawaii, Mr. Kerry promised that the “United States is going to do everything we can to help reformers” in Myanmar. This seemed a fair warning. If Myanmar does not take concrete steps to improve its human rights record and approve constitutional reforms needed for elections, the Obama administration must consider reinstating broader sanctions.