GP Insights

GP Insights # 101, 20 July 2019

Myanmar: US-led  sanctions will not go far
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

What happened?

This week, the United States of America has imposed sanctions on four senior leaders of Myanmar's military, including their Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing over the atrocities and human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims. Apart from the Commander in Chief his deputy Soe Win and Brigadier Generals Than Oo and Aung Aung's names are also in the list. The sanction bans these Myanmarese military leaders and their families from entering the US territory. This is the first strict measure taken against them on behalf of the US. The sanction may be extended soon to include the names of two more military leaders identified in UN investigators report in 2018. This report has been compiled by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, and have blamed six Myanmarese military leaders including of those mentioned above, for genocide against the Rohingyas.

What is the background?

The riots and attacks against the Rohingya in Arakan province, an ethnic community, has been a significant cause of conflict since 2012. The Rohingya, who are Muslims do not figure in the list of 135 ethnic communities in Myanmar and hence are stateless since 2008. In 2012 the rise of radical monks and organisations like 969 and Ma Ba Tha acted as a catalyst for this conflict. This has forced many Rohingya to migrate to Bangladesh over the years. But in 2017 a military crackdown drove more than 730,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, according to UN figures. UN investigators have stated that the atrocities included mass killings, gang rapes, and arson and was executed with "genocidal intent." This issue has also led to Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Councilor, loss of the Noble Peace Prize awarded to her, due to her inaction against the military. Both the army and the State have denied the charges of attack and genocide. Since 2018, Myanmar has agreed for repatriation of the refugees from Bangladesh; however, not even one Rohingyas are repatriated yet.  

What does it mean?

The US measure has been appreciated by many especially by Bangladesh, as a right move against Myanmar. Both the US and Bangladesh have called upon other countries to follow the same. But as rightly pointed out by the UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee that this sanction will "do not go far enough." Most of these leaders may not even need to travel to the US. If other countries follow suit, that will not have any significant impact on these leaders neither will it assist to reduce any misery for the Rohingya refugees. As insisted by Yanghee Lee the properties of these leaders in the US or in different countries must be frozen. However, until China who is the biggest investor in Myanmar, supports the military not much could be done through sanctions on the military. Even ASEAN is yet to take steps against its member although this issue has been discussed in several committees and annual meetings. It seems although appreciated the US-led sanction will not be of much help.

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