News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Burma and its lessons for the world


I often complain that the rights culture is getting out of hand. It seems that everyone is looking for someone to sue when their "rights" have been infringed, but no-one is prepared to fulfil their responsibilities to the wider community. The current situation in Burma is a reminder of what Human Rights really mean. This Reuters image demonstrates the total lack of respect that the Burmese military junta has for its people. A country where, there have been no elections in 14 years (and it had been 30 years since the previous election). A country where, when the opposition wins said election, the government decides to ban the opposition and carries on regardless, despite winning only 2% of the seats. Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition who remains under house arrest, is a potent symbol of the struggle against oppression and it's hard not to admire her enormously.

Burma's problems are considerable. Who can say whether democracy would even work? There are 135 registered ethnic groups, with countless languages and eternal struggles between them. Without the strong hand of a military dictatorship, it could all come crashing down into a hideous civil war, as happened in the former Yugoslavia. But that doesn't excuse the excesses of a corrupt and imoral regime, where sex is a tool used to control the population and many minority groups including Christians and Muslims suffer under the state.

So what is the answer? I believe that it is exactly the kind of situation where a constitutional monarchy can hold the answer - although it depends very much on the monarch. The great shame in Burma's case is that the country was a fully-functional monarchy prior to the 19th century colonisation. The struggle between Britain and France had turned Burma into a strategic possession, which Britain could not resist. The royal family was removed to India, where they are shadows of their former selves. There are members of the royal family now living in Burma who are Burmese to the core and could be the long term answer which can create the stability desparately needed in a third world democracy. Even that may not be enough to stop the break-up of the country along ethnic lines, but that may be the best solution for all, if it can be achieved peacefully.

It's hard to see what the world community can do for now. The Burmese government seems to disregard the UN. There are already sanctions against the country, but the only people who suffer are the people at large. Long term sanctions are not a solution, as Iraq showed. Invasion of Burma also seems an unlikely option. The only way that things will change is if Burma's neighbours unite in their opposition to its Human Rights abuses. At present, both India and China tend to support the existing government. I don't know the reasoning behind that, especially in the case of India - the more I hear about that country's politics the more concerned I become.

In terms of the long term future of the world, as China and India increasingly become the global powers, their world view will be important to us all, just as American policy dictates to the world today. If both are willing to support the kinds of abuses we all hear about in Burma, it does not bode well for the future of the world. There are some who see a need for the west to band together through the EU etc, but I think they have it all wrong. We need to break down the cultural and economic barriers between ourselves and the rising powers, rather than seeking to polarise the world in readiness for a new Cold War.

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