A year ago, when President Barack Obama announced that, given Myanmar’s progress on democracy, the United States would lift remaining sanctions on Myanmar’s military, rights groups warned that easing the pressure was premature: The country’s democratic transition was incomplete, they said, the military retained vast powers and its record on human rights was dismal.
It is now tragically clear that those concerns were well founded. The Myanmar military’s vicious crackdown against the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine State has caused at least 400,000 people to flee to Bangladesh in the past few weeks alone. On Sept. 11, the United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, accused Myanmar of carrying out “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya.
Much blame has been heaped on Myanmar’s leader, the democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. That is justified: Instead of condemning the military crackdown, she has complained that reports of ethnic cleansing are a “huge iceberg of misinformation.” Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, however, has no direct control over the military. The person most responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya — and who has the power to stop it — is Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief.
On Monday, the White House issued a statement of concern about “massive displacement and victimization” of people in Rakhine State and called for Myanmar’s authorities to “respect the rule of law, stop the violence” and put in place the recommendations of a commission led by a former United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, to address the root causes of the Rohingya’s plight, including denial of citizenship for them. On Tuesday, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the situation and, on Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council called for “immediate steps to end the violence in Rakhine.”
These are welcome words, but there is no indication that General Min Aung Hlaing cares a hoot what the world thinks. The only thing that may get his attention is what forced the military to accept a measure of democracy in Myanmar: economic…