“The vast majority of the population feels nothing has changed. … A major cultural shift is required,” says a leading human rights advocate.
“Reform is only being driven by a handful of people,” said Jared Genser, a former international legal counsel to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (left) and one-time Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.
His concerns were shared by fellow human rights activists at a recent forum of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think-tank, The Washington Times reports:
Washington’s relationship with Myanmar has warmed over the past year, as President Thein Sein’s government has released hundreds of political prisoners, legalized opposition political parties, eased restrictions on the press and enacted laws to strengthen workers’ rights. The Obama administration rewarded Myanmar by waiving import sanctions. Congress in August extended some sanctions by a year but gave President Obama the authority to waive the import sanctions.
Mr. Obama visited Myanmar in November, becoming the first U.S. president to visit the country once known as Burma.
“My unsolicited advice to the U.S. government on this issue would be to go slow and to retain as much leverage as you can,” said Frank Jannuzi, who heads Amnesty International’s Washington office.
“Now we are in a situation where those sanctions have been suspended and they are en route to being rescinded, and so the question becomes: How does the United States use its leverage to try to ensure that there is no backsliding on the process of reform?” he said.
“The United States must retain as much leverage as possible and appreciate the extraordinary value to a government that lacks democratic legitimacy … of being within the U.S. embrace,” Jannuzi added.
“We do need to move slowly … in terms of how we respond and reward the progress,” said Tom Malinowski, director of Human Rights Watch’s office in Washington. “Our policy needs to be tied very, very clearly and precisely to what is happening on the ground at any given moment.”
“This is not a gift to be given lightly and is one that the United States should use to ensure that there is real progress on all of the unaddressed issues.” [RTWT]
The reform process is also at risk of stasis due to an “institutional Catch-22”, one analyst suggests.
“Because a constitutionally-mandated quota of non-elected military representatives composes 25 percent of the Parliament, any change to the constitution requires the approval of the military representatives,” says Kristine Eck, a Professor in Peace and Conflict Studies at Sweden’s Uppsala University and a Senior Researcher at Oslo’s Peace Research Institute:
For a full transition to democracy to ever occur, the constitution must be amended to give civilians full control of the legislature and the military. But this cannot be done without an initial concession from the military to allow a constitutional amendment which would absolve them of their right to hold mandated seats in the Parliament.
The armed forces may respond to international pressure to make reforms, she suggests, but ….
Myanmar’s leaders are playing a clever game: as long as Myanmar appears engaged in a democratic transition and peace talks, there is actually no incentive to ever achieve either of these ends; the country is rewarded by the international community for the process itself even if the end is ultimately unachievable.