WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2004 — ; Influential economist Jeffrey Sachs is calling for an end to international sanctions against Burma, which he told RFA's Burmese service are only making a "very distressing" situation worse.
“Even the political opposition gets weakened — ; it doesn’t have the income, talented Burmese people go abroad,” said Sachs, professor and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
“In most cases, when you impose sanctions, it may weaken the regime, but it weakens the people and it weakens civil society,” he said. Sachs recently paid a private visit to Burma during which he met with “a number of groups, including government officials.”
"What I mean is that I don't think under any circumstances the international community should impose economic sanctions on such a poor country. Basically you know there is a terrible political crisis — ; it's an ongoing political stalemate — ; and I find it very distressing."
"But I also believe that impoverishing Burma through sanctions won't help the situation. I would like to see of course the political situation improve and I would like to see democracy come to the country," he said.
"But I would also like to see hungry people in Burma have more food, I would like to see people who don't have jobs have the chance to have jobs, and I would like to see investment come to Burma….Sanctions hurt the people but they don’t necessarily help the political situation at all," he said.
One of the most resource-rich countries in Asia, Burma plummeted into poverty following Ne Win's coup in 1962. The country has remained under military control ever since.
In 1990, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won national elections by a landslide but the junta has refused to hand over power. Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest and U.S. and international sanctions have been progressively tightened, although they remain highly controversial.
Sachs is noted internationally for advising governments in the developing world on economic reforms and for his work with international agencies to promote poverty reduction, disease control, and debt reduction of poor countries. He was recently named as one of the 100 most influential world leaders by Time Magazine .
According to the State Department’s most recent annual report on human rights around the world, Burma "is extremely poor; the estimated annual per capita income was approximately $300 [in 2003]. Most of the population of more than 50 million was located in rural areas and lived at subsistence levels."
“Four decades of military rule, economic mismanagement, and endemic corruption have resulted in widespread poverty, poor health care, declining education levels, poor infrastructure, and continuously deteriorating economic conditions. During the year, the collapse of the private banking sector and the economic consequences of additional international sanctions further weakened the economy.”
The report characterized the junta’s human rights record as “extremely poor,” with government security forces committing murder and rape as well as conscripting children and imposing forced labor.
On the Web:
U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2003