By Rep. Trent Franks and Rep. Rush Holt, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) are members of the U.S. Congress. The views expressed are their own.
For the first time since hosting Burmese dictator Ne Win nearly 50 years ago, the United States will host another head of state from Myanmar. The historic visit from President Thein Sein on Monday will, no doubt, lead to much discussion of Myanmar’s extremely long road toward democracy and whether there may be a relapse in their recent reform. It is also an opportunity to evaluate America’s new Myanmar policy.
As the U.S. reengages with Myanmar, also known as Burma, some Americans have lost sight of the ongoing, violent war against many of Myanmar's ethnic and religious minorities. This being the case, the U.S. must closely evaluate its policy towards Myanmar and ensure that no action or word from the U.S. government be interpreted as a lack of concern for human rights abuse that continues in Myanmar, some of which Human Rights Watch has gone so far as to call “a campaign of ethnic cleansing.”
The U.S. relationship with Myanmar from 1990 to 2011 was virtually nonexistent, governed by strict sanctions brought about by the military government’s widespread, often brutal, violation of basic rights.
By Gareth Price, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Gareth Price is senior research fellow on the Asia Program at Chatham House. The views expressed are his own.
The EU’s announcement Monday that it is lifting sanctions against Myanmar, following their suspension last year, poses some important questions about the country’s future political and economic development – and the role of the international community.
Discussing the suspension of sanctions, which had been in place since 1990, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said last April that "great progress has been made” in Myanmar, but added that he was "very concerned about conflict and human rights abuses." These concerns justified suspending rather than lifting sanctions. A year on, it is unclear that those concerns have been eased.
In the intervening twelve months, what amounts to a pogrom has been launched against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority. The Rohingya are Muslim, are denied citizenship and so are effectively stateless. According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, more than 125,000 have been displaced.
By David Scott Mathieson, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David Scott Mathieson is a senior researcher covering Myanmar in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.
Myanmar President Thein Sein has been touring Europe touting his country’s unlikely transformation in the past two years from the archetype of authoritarian repression to a supposedly shining example of peaceful transition towards democracy. But how much of this is real reform and how much is window dressing? How much have human rights genuinely improved on the ground in Myanmar?
To be sure, Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government has enacted a series of changes and made further promises to the international community that justify increased engagement. Several hundred political prisoners have been released in a series of amnesties, restrictive laws repealed and new laws on peaceful assembly and association promulgated (though not without flaws), media restrictions largely removed, government and military commitments to end forced labor and child soldier use by 2015, and the government signing ceasefires with ethnic armed groups.
Editor’s note: Patrick Cronin is senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. The views expressed are solely those of the author.
By Patrick Cronin, Special to CNN
Myanmar’s nascent liberalization is at a critical juncture. In the next few months we will know whether or not President Thein Sein’s attempt to transform his country from pariah state ruled by a junta to a normal, functioning state of almost 60 million people will succeed.
The record so far is impressive. Since assuming power early last year after what admittedly appeared to be rigged elections, Thein Sein has surprised observers. He has reached out to Aung San Suu Kyi, now free from house arrest and seated in parliament, and restored multiparty politics. He's determined to achieve a comprehensive ceasefire, putting at least a pause if not an end to the almost ethnic conflicts that have bedeviled the country for decades. And his team is trying to design a strategic framework for replacing a kleptocratic economy long mismanaged by generals. However imperfect Thein Sein’s administration, it nonetheless represents Myanmar’s best chance for a better future.
Editor’s note: Thorbjørn Jagland is chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and secretary general of the Council of Europe. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Thorbjørn Jagland.
At long last, it seems, Aung San Suu Kyi can deliver her Nobel lecture.
The pro-democracy campaigner from Myanmar will be in Oslo on Saturday to accept the Nobel Peace Prize she won in absentia more than 20 years ago.
It will be one of the greatest events in Nobel history, and it gives us the opportunity to reflect on human rights and what they require of us.
Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Obama administration will begin to lessen financial, foreign aid, and travel sanctions (LAT) on Myanmar's military-backed civilian government, while dispatching an ambassador to Naypyidaw, in response to Sunday's parliamentary by-elections, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced yesterday. Myanmar's longtime pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party won an overwhelming majority of the contested seats (BBC). At the same time, the U.S. administration called on Myanmar's leaders to release all political prisoners, cut ties with North Korea, and cease crackdowns on ethnic minorities. FULL POST
Editor's Note: Joshua Kurlantzick is a fellow for Southeast Asia at CFR and author of Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World. This is his Expert Brief, reprinted with permission of the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at Asia Unbound.
This week's by-elections in Myanmar, in which roughly one-tenth of the seats in the national parliament were contested, have been hailed as the most important sign yet that Myanmar's nascent reform process is serious. The elections were marred by reports of voting irregularities; however, none were significant enough to spark immediate dispute on Election Day, which was dominated by candidates from Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy [NLD].
The NLD, which has been the main force for democracy in Myanmar for more than two decades, will now have a seat at the policymaking table for the first time in the country's history. Despite efforts by the military and the current civilian-military government to help the Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP] win the by-elections (including reported harassment of NLD candidates and supporters, alleged attacks on some NLD backers, and denying the NLD the opportunity to hold rallies at major public sites), the USDP won only a small fraction of the forty-eight seats that were contested. FULL POST
Editor's note: Suzanne DiMaggio is vice president of global policy programs at the Asia Society (Follow her on Twitter). Priscilla Clapp is a retired minister-counselor in the U.S. Foreign Service and former Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Burma.
By Suzanne DiMaggio and Priscilla Clapp - Special to CNN
Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's victory in Myanmar's by-elections on Sunday represents the nascent return of opposition politics to the country after nearly half a century of military rule. It also has created an opportunity for the United States to begin easing economic sanctions that are hindering reform.
Aung San Suu Kyi, kept under house arrest by the government for 15 years, won a seat in the parliament with a handy plurality.
Votes continue to be tallied, but reports indicate that her National League for Democracy (NLD) party captured most of the 45 seats up for grabs. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will maintain its grip on the majority of the 662 seats in the Union Parliament, but now opposition members will have a voice in lawmaking.
The international community should take this moment to encourage Myanmar's moves toward liberalization. For the United States, the time has come to seriously address its myriad financial sanctions on Myanmar to ensure that they are not working at cross-purposes with reform efforts.
Editor's Note: Jaswant Singh is the only person to have served as India’s finance minister (1996, 2002-2004), foreign minister (1998-2004), and defense minister (2000-2001). This article was originally published by Project Syndicate. For more from them, visit their new website and follow it on Facebook and Twitter.
By Jaswant Singh, Project Syndicate
Isolated and impoverished by decades of international sanctions, Myanmar (Burma) has emerged in recent months as both a beacon of hope and a potential new Asian flashpoint. With Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi freed from two decades of house arrest to campaign vigorously for a seat in parliament in the special election to be held on April 1, Burma’s commitment to rejoining the international community appears to be genuine. But this opening has other consequences, most importantly setting the stage for a new “great game” of strategic competition. FULL POST
By Teresita Cruz-del Rosario - Special to CNN
Boothie is a photojournalist for The Myanmar Times, the only English newspaper in Burma. Boothie used to be cautious when taking pictures to avoid being hauled in for questioning or arrest for projecting images of Myanmar’s “dark side” - a broad enough charge to cover anything.
These days however, Boothie travels openly with his camera. No longer hidden beneath the folds of his longyi as he surreptitiously shoots photos of a country that until very recently preferred to remain invisible. He brandishes his Canon camera much like Clint Eastwood flaunted his Magnum 44.
His favorite images are of people gathering without fear, talking openly of the forthcoming elections, energized by the reality of political choice long denied them. They have quickly shed the habit of looking over their shoulder, or speaking in hushed tones. All over Yangon, people’s voices are a decibel higher, muted only by the sound of the late afternoon cackling of birds on Inya Lake. Boothie’s sharp eye for composition captures them all. FULL POST
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
One of the world's poorest countries has done something few rich nations would dare to do these days: It said "no" to China. I'm talking about Myanmar, an impoverished country that was, until this year, the world's longest-serving military dictatorship.
Myanmar shocked Beijing recently by pulling the plug on a dam that was meant to supply millions of Chinese with electricity.
Beijing may have been upset, but it nonetheless invited Myanmar's top general to the capital last week, and he was greeted by none other than the man who is expected to become China's President next year, Xi Jinpeng.
What in the world is going on? FULL POST
Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.
In the first visit to Myanmar by a U.S. secretary of State in over fifty years, Hillary Clinton said the United States would allow Myanmar to receive international financial assistance (NYT) and join a regional development group. The move follows recent political and economic reforms in the country that followed the election of a civilian government led by President Thein Sein.
Clinton said if Myanmar continued to democratize, the United States would consider upgrading diplomatic relations and exchanging ambassadors with the isolated Southeast Asian nation, but was not yet ready to lift sanctions. She warned that the steps taken thus far by Myanmar have been "insufficient" (al-Jazeera).
Clinton called on Myanmar to rein in military violence, release more political prisoners, and suspend ties with North Korea (WSJ).
Clinton is set to travel from the capital of Naypyitaw to the commercial city of Yangon to meet with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (Telegraph) this evening, ahead of more formal talks on Friday. FULL POST