Are sanctions a wise form of action?
Last week Marzuki Darusman, head of the United Nations factfinding mission (FFM) on the situation in Myanmar called on the international community, to cut off all financial and other support to the country's military. The move once again highlights the failure of the U.N. to comes to terms with the fact that there is very little the body can do in the face of divided international strategies on dealing with the country.
The FFM Chairperson Marzuki Darusman said the measures were needed because Myanmar has not done enough to resolve the nation’s conflicts and protect human rights, including those of over a million ethnic Rohingya civilians who have been forced into exile.
“There has been no movement toward a resolution of the crisis,” Darusman said at the conclusion of a 10-day visit to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. “The situation is at a total standstill.”
The FFM had submitted a 444-page report, to the Human Rights Council in September 2018. It focused on the military’s ‘clearance operations’ and alleged abuses in Rakhine State in 2017 that forced the exodus of more than 700,000 people in two months. Both military and civilian sides of Myanmar’s government have persistently denied the allegations and disclaim any responsibility for crimes under international law.
The report also condemned ethnic armed organizations for violating international humanitarian law and committing human rights abuses.
The FFM’s mandate expires in September 2019 It will hand over its information, documentation and evidence to the new Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar, established by the Human Rights Council to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings against perpetrators of crimes under international law in Myanmar.
Darusman said that operations conducted by Myanmar security forces in Rakhine State in 2017 were not isolated incidents. Rather, they “were the result of structural problems fuelled by the absence of a political and legal system that is willing to accommodate diversity. This is an issue affecting ethnic minorities throughout Myanmar,” Darusman said. “Any solutions should directly address the structural problems.”
The FFM reiterated its interest in engaging in dialogue with the Myanmar government to advance accountability, ensure justice and promote the right to safe, voluntary and dignified return of those who fled.
While attempts to protect human rights in the country are particularly honourable, such a move including isolating military leaders and imposing more sanctions are unlikely to have much of an impact. As seen in the past, during successive military governments, attempt to isolate the government did little to change the situation with Myanmar turning to China and other countries for support.
Chris Sidoti, a human rights lawyer and member of the mission, was quoting as saying, “The experience with comprehensive sanctions in the 1990s and early 2000s was that they hurt the people of Myanmar without affecting the military leadership.”
In addition, after the election of the National League for Democracy, many foreign companies swamped Myanmar with investment. These companies are unlikely to comply with the U.N. call to divest from working with the military’s Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH).
While those responsible for crimes must be held accountable, further isolating the country is unlikely to see that outcome. Instead it could see a return to the problems Chris Sidoti referred to in the 1990s and 2000s, in which those who are most likely to suffer are not the perpetrators of abuses but rather the population as a whole.
Questions have been raised about the effectiveness of sanctions.