Burma, The International Community, and Human Rights (With particular attention to the role of Foreign Aid)

Morten Pedersen

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    There is a need, generally, in the international community for more honest assessments of the consequences of existing policies on Burma and clearer thinking about how change can be brought about. The paradigm of change favored by many democracy activists, envisioning the defeat of the incumbent regime followed by wholesale reform by new elected leaders, is entirely unrealistic, given the distribution of power and interests in Burma today and the deep-rooted structural obstacles to democracy, peace, development, and human rights. The expectation that authoritarian leaders will eventually come to respect universal human rights and ?do the right thing? is equally unrealistic and too often, little more than a cover for the naked pursuit of national interests. Principled engagement may be neither politically nor economically attractive to foreign policymakers, but it is a practical approach, which puts human rights, humanitarianism, and the welfare of the Burmese people at the center and is true to the spirit of the International Bill of Human Rights, which holds that all human rights are inalienable and indivisible. Burma, the International Community, and Human Rights (with Particular Attention to the Role of Foreign Aid) | 127 | This not to say that principled engagement provides the answer to all of Burma?s human rights problems, or that it is the optimal approach to every issue all the time. In some areas, stronger international pressure may be necessary to induce the government to cooperate, possibly including carefully targeted and calibrated sanctions. Also, it must be acknowledged that the impact of foreign aid on development and poverty reduction in any country is secondary to that of other capital flows such as trade, investment, and remittances. These caveats underscore the need for a comprehensive international approach that exploits synergies between different tools and influence mechanisms. Yet, rather than the ?poor cousin? to sanctions (or trade and investment) that principled engagement is often portrayed as, the evidence suggests that it must be the linchpin for any effective human rights strategy. While well-targeted, coercive pressure may create incentives for change, the net effect is likely to be counterproductive unless others are willing and able to engage with the government to help reduce the nationalistic backlash, co-opt local reformers, and identify compromise solutions. In a similar vein, principled engagement holds the key to promoting economic reforms and capacity-building, which can enhance the benefits of international trade and investment, both nationally and at the grassroots.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationFinding Dollars, Sense and Legitimacy in Burma
    Editors Susan L Levenstein
    Place of PublicationWashington DC
    PublisherWoodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
    ISBN (Print)1933549858
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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