An ineffective impasse
53. The FCO states that the purpose of the sanctions
is: "To put pressure on the regime to work towards democratic
change and respect for human rights, through measures which are
designed to target those obstructing reform and progress, but
ensuring that the ordinary people of Burma suffer as little as
sanctions were intensified in 2004 in order to send "a clear
signal to the regime that all EU partners share grave concerns
about the situation in Burma and that the EU will continue to
press strongly for progress towards national reconciliation and
respect for human rights."
The EU Common Position states that the EU will consider suspending
its sanctions and gradually resuming cooperation with Burma in
the event of "a substantial improvement in the overall political
situation" in Burma.
54. In his evidence, Dr Howells indicated
that he thought that "our leverage over the regime is very
limited", that "EU sanctions alone are unlikely to bring
about change", that he was "yet to be convinced"
that making Burma a "pariah state" would have any effect,
that he felt "deeply uneasy" about the sanctions and
that they are "not working very well" (Q 292).
The sanctions on Burma send a signal of disapproval, and show
that the UK and the EU are determined to apply pressure for change,
but there has been no significant move towards greater democracy
or increased respect for human rights. While the UK and the EU
desire democratic change in Burma, they do not have any expectation
that their current economic sanctions combined with those of other
countries, most notably the US, will bring about that change.
This contradicts the Government's principle that sanctions should
"have clear objectives, including well-defined and realistic
demands against which compliance can be judged, and a clear exit
55. The FCO indicated that it favours UN sanctions
on Burma "given that they are broader in scope and impact"
(p 4). However, the FCO also suggested that, while it was
pressing for them, "there is no prospect of UN sanctions
in the near future" (p 4). In his evidence, Dr Howells
elaborated that "there are some very powerful countries that
do not wish to see sanctions intensified in any shape or form
on Burma because they perceive that they need Burmese commodities
and natural resources." (Q 292)
56. The Government has not explained the point
of arguing for measures which are very unlikely to be adopted
and which command little support in the region. It would seem
that the Government regards the current policy as the best available
option, in the sense that it imposes a relatively low cost on
the Burmese people and is better than any of the alternatives.
Considering the evidence we have received, we are not persuaded
on either count.
57. The FCO argued that: "It is hard to
measure any coercive effect these sanctions have on the Burmese
regime, since any economic impact is far outweighed by the damage
done by the [regime's] own economic mismanagement" (p 4).
However, it seems reasonable to suppose that sanctions which hit
the Burmese economy generally will inevitably hurt ordinary Burmese.
We think that the Government should attempt to assess
whether humanitarian assistance has helped to compensate for the
humanitarian costs arising from the current sanctions against
58. The tourism boycott has probably succeeded
in discouraging some British tourists from visiting Burma. This
represents a cost to the regime in terms of lost tax revenues,
but there is also a cost to ordinary Burmese people, who would
otherwise have benefited from greater tourism-related activities.
The Government has not offered any criteria against which to assess
its informal tourism boycott.
59. Although Mr Kovanda told us that all
current EU sanctions are targeted, he also noted that there are
"restrictions on investment in certain state-owned companies
and suspension of co-operation programmes" and that "Most
of the sanctions" (and hence not all of them) are directed
against members of the regime and their personal assets. He stated
that he was not aware of costs to ordinary people "being
a significant problem" (Q 268). However, this view does
not seem to include an assessment of the opportunity costs of
the whole package of measures against Burma. We received evidence
from Mr Derek Tonkin, a former British diplomat, who drew
attention to measures by the EC which prevent Burma from having
duty-free access to EU markets, which it would otherwise have
as a "Least Developed Country", and to the EU's opposition
to the provision of IMF and Asian Development Bank facilities
to Burma (pp 170-175). In our view, the impact of these measures
would appear to be general rather than targeted, which suggests
that some of the current EU sanctions should be regarded as general
rather than targeted. Mr Tonkin also suggested that EU and
UK policy has encouraged the US to persist with general sanctions,
and it is these which are imposing the greatest humanitarian costs
on ordinary Burmese people.
Debating the way forward
60. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are in favour
of the current sanctions. However, Mr Tonkin in his evidence
argued that the NLD's support for economic sanctions is probably
not representative of most ordinary Burmese and he proposed that
the Government and the EU should give more weight to the views
of those who are critical of sanctions on Burma (pp 170-175).
Mr Alex Singleton suggested that Burma might become less
repressive, and gradual reform might occur, if there was a process
of economic engagement that led to increased prosperity and the
development of a middle class (Q 109). Mr Kovanda noted
that current EU sanctions do not prevent engagement via programmes
related to health, education and poverty alleviation, and the
EU provides significant aid in these areas (Q 270).
61. Although the FCO details relevant debates
and statements on its website,
we are concerned that the Government and EU have not published
any substantial analysis of the sanctions on Burma. We suggest
that Government should undertake an urgent enquiry into sanctions
policy on Burma, with a view to deciding whether it is worth continuing
25 Council Common Position 2006/318/CFSP, 27 April
FCO Country Profile, Burma. Back
FCO Country Profile, Burma. Back
Council Common Position 2006/318/CFSP, 27 April 2006, p. 2. Back
See also Thant Myint-U, 'What to Do about Burma', London Review
of Books, vol. 29, no. 3, 8 February 2007. Back
FCO Country Profile, Burma. Back