Impose trade sanctions on Myanmar

Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed

In a world full of imperfection, every country is searching for its perfect system to govern its populace. The idea behind is supposed to be peace, harmony, an educated and cultured system with a blend of development, but most importantly the exercise of people’s rights, be it given by their laws, or their existence as human beings.  

The Western world has been fairly critical of all countries who have worked outside the ambit of their “democratic” ways. In fact, the western civilisation has gone to war with the intent of oppression multiple times, be it with Saddam Hussain of Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi from Libya and the “Kims” of North Korea. 

So, if fairness and human release from oppression are truly the essences and agenda of these political and military giants, it should be fair to ask --- what has happened to their principles while evaluating Myanmar and its continuous atrocities towards the Rohingyas? 

The Myanmar government and military has literally by force uprooted the Rohingyas who have called the Rakhine state their home for a long time. They have killed hundreds and thousands of people and buried them into mass graves in the area. The funny part is that they have not done all these secretly either. 

The whole world saw as their unspeakable atrocities unfolded, while millions of Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh to save their lives. While most have offered help to the Rohingyas after they have become refugees, none have taken a step to actually avoid them getting slaughtered and uprooted from their homes in the first place. Some have even gone as far as to blatantly support Myanmar’s actions on the basis of false claims and findings of biased committees, which have not done any fair investigation to date.  

Which brings up the question, now that it has gone this far, will all the countries who have developed immense trade relationships with Myanmar keep turning a blind eye to this issue and continue their trade with Myanmar as if nothing has happened or will they step forward and stand for what’s right? Examples of trade sanctions are not uncommon. 

Back in the 90s, when India first came out as a nuclear state, there were heavy trade sanctions against India from some of the Western superpowers. Iran still faces regular trade sanctions from the US on a regular basis. 

Most of the Muslim countries got together to boycott Israel as a nation and as a trade partner for the crimes against humanity that they have repeatedly committed against the Palestinians. In fact, most recently, the US is working on banning Chinese products and so on. What these examples show is that these countries understand that the key to making another nation understand and realise their position and point of view is through their economy (by slapping economic sanctions).  

The US and the UK are two major superpowers, who have just increasingly tied more trade with Myanmar for the last few years. From 2008 to 2020 US trade with Myanmar has increased on an average of 20% like clockwork per annum. The UK had more trade growth with Myanmar since 2015. 

From 2015 to 2020, the export from Myanmar to UK has gone up by ten times. The two countries which have been the leading models of democracy all around the world have been turning their blind eye to a very important situation, where people have not only been uprooted from their house, but killed and also are being forced to live as refugees in a neighboring country, almost to the level of a stateless population. 

This is very much unlike for both these nations, who have made waves in terms of establishing the rights of their citizens and help other countries in the process. The US and the UK being two of the biggest markets in the world can significantly affect the balance of Myanmar, if they are willing to put pressure on Myanmar through trade sanctions. It can not only solve the Rohingya crisis, but at the same time make sure that another military regime does not get the necessary traction in South Asia and disturb the harmony prevailing in the region. Even with the arrival of Covid-19, the UK has provided more financial assistance to Myanmar, who are far less infected in comparison to other countries in the region. 

It appears that of the top trading partners with Myanmar, most are from Europe and the top trading market is the RMG sector. Myanmar is still attracting a lot of investment from European countries, who unfortunately have failed to realise that the economic boost that this country is receiving through their investment is only going to give them more strength to continue their assault on the Rohingyas and the people of the Rakhine state. 

The only country who has acknowledged in a larger scale, as to what has happened with the people in Rakhine and taken a positive step towards mending this disaster, is Germany, who have stopped providing bilateral development aid and warned Myanmar to let the Rohingyas back in to their country, if Myanmar wants the aid to continue. 

Myanmar has been trying to ease up its restrictions on conducting business to attract more foreign direct investments, and some countries are capitalising on this scenario by heavily investing in Myanmar. For the sake of the people of Myanmar, it is a positive step, but these steps are not being enjoyed equally by all the people. 

The power to bring about the right kind of change to Myanmar’s attitude lies on those who have been doing business with them over this entire period of time and getting further involved with them. 

Countries in the Asian belt such as China, India, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia along with all the other Western countries such as the US and the UK should follow the model set forward by Germany and apply trade sanctions against Myanmar. They need to put their step forward in support of humanity and make sure that no further Rohingyas are displaced by the power hungry military-backed government in Myanmar and those already displaced are able to go back to their land.  

Hitting any nation at its pocket practically makes it think twice before it spends its funds for destructive activities rather than bringing more people together. The Western countries mentioned above have successfully done that many times. 

This is the most peaceful solution to this issue and it is a certainty that this will end the continuous oppression by the Myanmar government on the denizens living in the state of Rakhine. It will also ensure that under the current regime Myanmar doesn’t convert into an undemocratic authoritarian military regime, which can completely ruin the geo-political balance of this region.  

Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed is an Advocate of Bangladesh Supreme Court.