YANGON — The International Crisis Group warned policy makers in Europe that re-imposing sanctions may not be helpful to address Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis as it could risk constraining future policy options as well as sending unintended signals to investors, impacting the economy to the detriment the country’s people.
“A return to previous forms of bilateral and EU sanctions on Myanmar in the form of travel bans and asset freezes may not be helpful in achieving concrete progress,” warned the ICG on Friday.
The warning by the Brussels-based NGO—that monitors democratic transition worldwide—came nearly two weeks after the European Union and its member states’ announcement that they will suspend invitations to the Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar armed forces and other senior military officers and review all practical defense cooperation due to the disproportionate use of force against Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State.
The statement highlighted current restrictive measures from the EU including an embargo on arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression in Myanmar. It continued that the EU may consider additional measures if the situation does not improve but didn’t mention what those measures may be.
The international community has condemned Myanmar’s armed forces for arbitrarily killing, raping, and destroying the property of minority Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State amid clearance operations in the area since late August.
The operations were sparked by Muslim militant group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacks on 30 outposts in the area on Aug 25. The government denounced the group as
“terrorist” and operations have seen more than 600,000 Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh as of late October.
The EU has imposed sanctions on Myanmar since 1991, in the form of an arms embargo and visa ban on senior members of the then military regime State Law and Order Restoration Council and senior members of the military and the security forces and their families.
It froze the assets of nearly 1,000 companies and institutions in Myanmar and banned almost 500 people from entering the EU. It also prohibited military-related technical help and banned investment in the mining, timber and precious metals sectors.
All sanctions, except for an arms embargo, were suspended in 2013 to welcome and encourage the reform process. The EU renewed its arms embargo against Myanmar until Apr. 30, 2018.
In tackling the Rohingya issue, the ICG recommends the EU and its member states to continue to support strong Security Council action and push for multilateral and bilateral engagement with Myanmar’s civilian and military leaders.
The four-point recommendation also encourages Myanmar’s leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to speak to the nation and make full use of her position to shift the national narrative in a more constructive direction.
The State Counselor’s undisputed position as the greatest moral and political authority “gives her the power to sway public opinion, and considerable ability to influence the security forces,” the ICG said.
Apart from the EU, the United States also took action against the Myanmar military leadership last week by ending travel waivers and barring units and officers in northern Rakhine State from US assistance, adding that the US was considering imposing economic measures against those responsible for atrocities against the Rohingya.
After the actions, the army withdrew dozens of soldiers from conflict-torn northern Rakhine State’s Maungdaw district on Wednesday and the government allowed the UN’s World Food Program to resume humanitarian assistance in the area.