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Why is the UK so silent on Burma’s human rights abuses?

President of Myanmar, Thein
Sein (L) in 10 Downing Street Photo: EPA

By Michael Harris

Telegraph UK:
July 18, 2013

Unless the Foreign Secretary ups the pressure on
Burma the apparatus of the military dictatorship will remain, writes Michael
Harris
If you want to know how much has changed in Burma
since the much-vaulted transition, try and put on a punk gig in the capital,
Rangoon. It’ll take two months and require the signatures of eight bureaucrats
from varying levels of government. You may never get permission. But to punks
in Burma, the idea they may even be able to play publicly at all is progress.
This is transition Burma, a country full of
contradictions where the military no longer hold captive Aung San Suu Kyi and
have released some of the thousands of her fellow political prisoners – yet the
full apparatus of the military state still exists. The worry is, while the UK
and US drop sanctions and William Hague took the time to congratulate President
Thein Sein in London for the progress made, little is being done to keep this
progress on track. With the army implicit in the ethnic cleansing of the
Rohingya Muslims and the country on the verge of widespread unrest, Burma is
merely a few steps away from a full blown military dictatorship.
The transition to civilian rule is supposed to be
making steady progress, yet power lies in the same place – with the military.
As one journalist told us, “the generals have only changed their suits”. The
sight of Aung San Suu Kyi alongside 43 of her National League for Democracy
compatriots elected to Parliament in 2012 was hugely symbolic. But it is no
more than symbolism for the League to hold an eleventh of the seats in the
lower house.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP),
a front for the old military junta, still controls all the main institutions of
state. The USDP controls the presidency, nearly half the seats in the lower
house and over half the seats in the upper house of the Burmese parliament.
When the seats directly appointed by the military are included, the USDP has an
overwhelming majority in both chambers. The majority of these USDP
parliamentarians are former army officers or government officials with strong
military connections. The lifting of economic sanctions will prompt new trade
with Burma, but the West will be dealing directly with these generals who
control both the state and many of the major economic interests.
So it’s surprising to see that even with power
lying with the military and its associates, Burma is still far freer than it
was. The generals have responded positively to the tough sanctions imposed by
the EU and US. The last time Index visited Burma in 2010, our researcher had to
go undercover and feared for his liberty. Before meeting dissidents, he would
be taken to at least two separate locations by go-betweens.