Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Reform" in Burma: A bad joke

Burma (or Myanmar) is one of the longest-standing dictatorships in the world, and one of the worst. Forced labor, ethnic cleansing, torture, and political imprisonment are regular features of the SPDC regime.

There appear to be two possible pathways to democracy in Burma. Actors like ASEAN and China argue for "constructive engagement," in which ongoing economic links and quiet diplomacy are supposed to encougage the regime to pursue political reforms. Others, including most Burmese activists, the U.S. government, and human rights NGOs, argue for isolating and pressuring Burma until the current regime falls.

Recent events, such as the imprisonment of the Saffron revolution activists, continue to point to the fruitlessness of the first approach. It increasingly appears that the SPDC's steps toward political "reform" are a sham meant to delay and distract the international community. It increasingly seems that the only way toward progress in Burma is a complete regime change. There is obviously no easy way to accomplish this, but the first step would be to get everyone on the same page -- especially ASEAN and China -- about the ultimate goal.

A side note: On a student-led trip to the Thai-Burma border last January, we met several Burmese democracy activists who had spent a decade or more in prison. Each of them personally described the utterly inhumane conditions under which they were held, which included routine torture and the denial of basic necessities in custody. And still, the democratic opposition to the SPDC somehow remains largely nonviolent.

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