Global Arms Trade Fueling Conflict in Burma

Burma has been plagued by civil war for 60 years, and the prevailing global arms trade fuels the bloodshed in Burma. The Burmese regime has committed mass atrocities against its own citizens and the army will inevitably continue to use the weapons it attains through trade with other countries to kill its own people. The international community must work to prevent such crimes against humanity by ending any and all arms transfer with Burma and other countries with the terrible potential to commit human rights violations.

The EU has had an embargo on selling weapons to Burma since 1988 and the US has had a similar embargo since 1993, and yet these efforts have not prevented countries like India, China, Russia, Israel, Ukraine and Singapore from selling arms to the military regime. These countries have either ignored calls for economic and arms embargoes or simply sidestepped the existing legislation today. The sale of military vehicles and weapons to Burma by nations such as China simply aggravates the situation in Burma and empowers a violent and repressive government (New York Times). Similarly, India’s transfer of arms to Burma lessens both EU and US pressure on the Burmese regime.

Thus far, China and Russia have blocked UN efforts to establish an arms embargo against Burma, leaving the EU, the US, and other Western nations to enact and enforce their own embargos and sanctions. Moreover, the Burmese government has failed to make any real, substantive changes in response to international calls for justice. It is clear that multilateral action requiring all states to suspend arms transfers to the Burmese government is essential to preventing the use of armed force to facilitate serious human rights violations (Amnesty International).

In 2006, 153 UN member states voted to develop an Arms Trade Treaty. Three years later, these countries pledged to complete negotiations for such a treaty by 2012. Establishing common standards for the export, import and transfer of conventional weapons, the treaty would have huge implications for human rights and international security around the world. Amnesty International and other organizations have lobbied for a treaty that guarantees that no government will be allowed to sell arms to countries if there is any suspicion that the receiving country in question might commit human rights abuses. At this point, negotiations are entering their final stage. However, this does not mean that the international community can lessen their pressure on nations to comply with EU and US embargoes. Instead, countries like China and India must be held accountable for their participation in any sort of detrimental arms trade with Burma.

Irresponsible global arms trade has facilitated immense suffering and human rights abuses in Burma, which cannot continue to be ignored by governments around the world. It is vital that world leaders uphold common standards of human rights and push for an international Arms Trade Treaty, despite the efforts of minority countries to ignore or denounce arms embargoes in order to serve their own needs. As enunciated by the Amnesty International UK Director, Kate Allen, “The time for an Arms Trade Treaty is now. Sixty years after the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the same governments that sought a better world after the horrors of the Second World War can, and should, deliver an effective agreement on international arms transfers with human rights at its heart.”

photo from Burma Partnership

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