4 minute read
Mitch McConnell

I have never met Nobel laureate and Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but I hope one day I will. Suu Kyi’s picture hangs prominently in my Capitol Hill office, reminding me daily of her plight—and her strength.

Courageous and tenacious, Suu Kyi is the symbol of the nonviolent struggle for freedom and justice in Burma. As head of the National League for Democracy (NLD), she and other Burmese patriots have dedicated their lives to reform in one of the world’s most repressive countries, currently misruled by an illegitimate military regime calling itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Burma today is synonymous with state-sponsored killings, torture and rape. The horrors committed by the SPDC against the people of Burma are known to the entire world—and are spilling over into neighboring countries. In India, Thailand, China and elsewhere, illicit drugs grown and manufactured in Burma wreak havoc. An unchecked HIV/AIDS pandemic follows drug routes emanating from Burma. As many as 700,000 refugees have crossed Burma’s borders in recent years seeking safe haven from SPDC atrocities. And inside Burma, the growing phenomenon of internal displacement evidences a people who live in fear and are ruled by force. Burma’s problems are Asia’s problems, and Asia’s problems are the world’s.

As befits a superpower rooted in democratic traditions, America has imposed severe economic sanctions against the SPDC. They include banning imported goods from Burma, limiting investments there, forbidding arms sales, and restricting visas for members of the SPDC and junta-affiliated organs. The European Union takes a similar approach, albeit to a lesser degree.

Proponents of engagement with Burma, who wrongly believe the SPDC can be swayed to undertake political and economic reforms through dialogue alone, claim that the people hurt by sanctions are the very ones we are trying to help. But sanctions don’t pull the trigger of a gun or indiscriminately rape ethnic-minority women and girls. Proponents of engagement say that sanctions don’t work, and that they offer no incentives for Burmese generals to change their hard-line positions. They could not be more wrong. The efforts of Thailand and Japan over the years to reform Burma through engagement have yielded no results. Further, with the sacking and imprisonment of SPDC Prime Minister Khin Nyunt last year, Bangkok and Tokyo have lost their primary interlocutor in the Burmese government.

Sanctions worked in South Africa, and they will in Burma too. They strike at the junta’s lifeblood, namely its monopoly on all investments and total dominance of Burma’s licit and illicit economies. Sanctions are a tremendous loss of face for the SPDC, a scarlet letter, particularly in the international arena. More important, sanctions empower those in Burma on the front lines of this struggle. The fact that the legitimately elected leaders in Burma support sanctions should be enough for democratic nations to impose them.

Until recently, Burma was a low priority for most foreign governments. Now it is all the more important that democratic nations consistently challenge the SPDC’s tyranny at every opportunity in the international arena. The SPDC’s forfeiture of its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2006 indicates not only that asean is finally embarrassed by its most odious member, but that the generals in Rangoon do indeed respond to outside pressure. We must keep this pressure up. The renewal of sanctions against the junta last summer by overwhelming votes in the U.S. Congress underscores Washington’s commitment to democracy in Burma. And efforts by members of the U.N. Security Council to discuss Burma have already met with some success, giving the junta the scrutiny it has long deserved. Dialogue without pressure leads nowhere.

The cause of and solution to Burma’s problems are political. Through sanctions and unwavering support for the forces of freedom in Burma, democratic nations must secure the immediate and unconditional release of Suu Kyi and all prisoners of conscience, the first necessary step toward a credible process of national reconciliation. The NLD and Burma’s ethnic minorities must have a seat at the negotiating table, and the phony efforts by the SPDC to hold a sham constitutional convention must be roundly denounced. Only then will freedom come to Burma.

The triumph over evil in Burma will take time. But the Lady can count on my support for as long as it takes.

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