NYT: Myanmar Regresses on Rights

NYT: Myanmar Regresses on Rights (click to view)

By The Editorial Board

Aug. 21, 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.

After American-led economic sanctions against Myanmar were eased in 2013, foreign investment has been pouring in. Myanmar’s retreat from pariah status also won it the 2014 chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Apparently emboldened by these successes, Myanmar has stopped moving the reform process forward and turned a deaf ear to condemnations of human rights lapses.

Some 140,000 Rohingyas, a Muslim minority, 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.

Before a visit to Myanmar earlier 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.

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.