By Ekta Singla, STAND Canada Policy Researcher and Special Guest Blog Writer
International aid programmes to war torn countries have been met with mixed reactions from human rights activists, NGOs and foreign policy researchers, as it promotes in dictatorial regimes a lack of responsibility for the poor living conditions of its own people, and hurts local resistance efforts towards change. However, lack of aid can also cause serious humanitarian crises, as was seen in 2009 Burma/Myanmar. It is the economically motivated purpose of aid, that I discuss briefly below, that takes precedence too often in the realm of international foreign aid policy. In Burma/Myanmar this has shaped National League for Democracy’s (NLD) government and military reactions to counter human rights violations within the country.
In the post-colonial era, faced with political and economic instability and excess military spending with little to spare towards development; aid continues to provide some relief to the people in Burma/Myanmar. However donor countries have often used aid to push for their own interests while pressuring the ruling regime to accede to democratic and human rights policies. Burma/Myanmar has, with only a brief interruption following the coup of 1988, steadily received varying types of aid from countries like Japan, India, Thailand and China in the east and United States, Canada, France, Netherlands in the west, among others. ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nation), which Burma/Myanmar joined in 1997, adopted constructive engagement as a diplomatic stance to nudge the country to change its undemocratic policies.
Towards that end, in the recent times, there are palpable changes within the country with successful general elections held in 2010 and 2015 that ended the confinement of Aung San Suu Kyi and allowed her to participate in public political life. However, in reality the military continues to command local functions with a heavy hand with little change for ethnic minorities in the country e.g. dilapidating condition of Rohingya people.
In this situation, when countries should continue to hold Burma/Myanmar accountable for the treatment of its people, there are signs of negligence. The increased international aid, a nationally directed plan of investment and fund management in accordance with the Naypyitaw Accord for Effective Development Cooperation inspired by Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation all point to international co-operation with an unaccountable regime that may well neglect the well being of its vulnerable communities. This diplomatic change is a result of global economic depression and changing geo-political interests that has diverted interest towards China’s growing trade and political relations with Burma/Myanmar to gain control of Indian Ocean. Thus, countries like U.S and others are making efforts to amend its relations with Burma/Myanmar by lifting previously imposed economic sanctions without assessing the state of ethnic minorities in the country. This has resulted in little change in the already strained relations between the military and NLD government to improve the conditions of ethnic minorities.
In the end, aid continues to fulfil a larger geo-political purpose at the cost of human rights.
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