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Lifting of Burma sanctions ‘premature’

Originally appeared in AAP

June 9, 2012

HUMAN rights activists and former political prisoners say Australia’s decision to lift remaining travel and financial sanctions on Burma is “premature” and “dangerous” because serious rights abuses continue there.

The decision to lift sanctions was announced by Foreign Minister Bob Carr on Thursday. Senator Carr, who is nearing the end of an official visit to Burma, has held talks with President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Senator Carr said the decision would add “momentum to the process of democratisation”, with Australia “lending further support to the reforms under way”.

But rights groups say the steps are premature because the Burmese military remains powerful and because a campaign against ethnic communities continues in the northeast. Human rights abuses are still occurring, they say, especially in Kachin State which is occupied by 150 army battalions.

Bo Kyi, secretary-general of the Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma, says the lifting of sanctions is premature.

“It is premature … because Burma is still in civil war, the human rights’ situation (has) not improved (and) more than 400 political prisoners still remain in prison,” he says.

Bo Kyi, a student activist during the 1988 uprising, spent more than seven years as a political prisoner. He says Australia should have delayed lifting sanctions until conditions to end fighting and release political prisoners were met.

“It is too early to lift the sanctions,” he told AAP, adding it was the “wrong time, wrong decision for the time being”.

Khin Omar, a co-ordinator for Burma Partnership, a regional advocacy network for human rights, says moves to ease sanctions are “quite dangerous”.

“It’s quite saddening for us to see that the very conditions (for which) the sanctions were in place in the first place are not even improved yet,” she says.

“In reality you put the sanctions in place at first to improve the human rights situation.”

Khin Omar says a policy to partially ease sanctions should have been adopted in a “step-by-step” approach, with contingency plans if political reforms fail.

“What if things go in reverse? When we ask them they don’t have an answer for us – and that is scary for us,” she says.

The United States and Britain have “suspended” sanctions, with further moves to depend on further political reforms.

Burma Campaign Australia says Canberra had ignored calls by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for sanctions to be merely suspended.

“By lifting the remaining sanctions, Australia has removed all pressure on Burma,” Campaign Australia’s co-ordinator Zetty Brake says.

Senator Carr says Australia retains the capacity to re-impose targeted sanctions and to have “robust discussions about human rights and democracy” in Burma.

View the original article here.

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