The benefits of foreign investment and trade have not reached the ordinary people of Burma. Instead poverty has increased and health spending has fallen, while the human rights crisis has peaked and so has sexual violence, torture and murder of women by military forces armed with newer weapons. Burma's humanitarian crisis continues to worsen with tragic consequences. One in 10 children die before their fifth birthday, a figure that doubles in eastern Burma where the military is attacking civilians. Children are still being forcibly recruited into the armed forces despite the regime's pledges to stop. The cost of unconditional engagement has also implicated Indonesia and ASEAN in the tragedy of the Rohingya boatpeople. There has not been one single political democratic reform, and it is unlikely that Burma's scheduled 2010 election will bring about any significant change.
Income from foreign investment projects enables the military dictatorship to continue abusing human rights. These abuses, including slavery, torture, extrajudicial executions, rape, forced displacement have been well documented across Burma. The International Labour Organisations and International Tribunal into Crimes against Women in Burma have both named Burma's oil and gas industry as being linked to human rights violations.
Foreign trade and investment channels money to the military, who continue their brutal repression, and to individual generals to shore up their own financial situations and security. This leaves no reason to engage with anyone who advocates for political change; foreign investment in Burma brings no one to the negotiating table.
Last year we saw Aung San Suu Kyi successfully use existing sanctions as leverage to enter into talks with Burma's junta for the first time in nearly two years and to meet diplomats from the US, UK and Australia for the first time in six years.
Despite what has been reported in the media, Suu Kyi has not indicated any drastic change to her position on sanctions nor has she called for the lifting of existing sanctions. Not unless, of course one would think, if the regime themselves show concessions in the lifting of its arbitrary control over laws, land and citizens.
New targeted trade and investment sanctions, especially if they include Burma's oil and gas industry, will strengthen Suu Kyi's and Burma's democracy movements bargaining position.
In addition to providing Suu Kyi with more leverage, new targeted trade and investment sanctions will play a role in:
* Protecting national resources, such as oil and gas reserves, from being exploited by the military junta for their sole benefit.
* Preventing human rights violations from occurring along project sites and by denying the military regime billions in revenues; and
* Ensuring foreign companies are not complicit in or linked to the violation of human rights abuses in Burma.
A multilateral approach to sanctions against Burma already exists. The US, EU and Canada have adopted trade and investment sanctions and private companies and individuals have voluntarily enacted sanctions. The introduction of targeted trade and investments sanctions by individual countries would strengthen this multilateral approach. This is especially important given the direct channel of oil and gas profits into the military's pockets, an industry that Australia's Twinza Oil is beginning to invest in.
ASEAN has had to accept our responsibility for Burma's crisis, because we continue to contribute to the military junta's political and economic strength. By not using all available tools to bring about change in Burma, such as imposing targeted trade and investment sanctions, other nations are doing the same, and thus must join ASEAN in assuming blame for the situation in Burma.
Australia has a strong reputation as a defender of democracy and regional security. This reputation may be in jeopardy, should the necessary steps to stop Australian companies funding human rights abuses in Burma not be taken. This year is going to be a defining one for Burma. Let us work together to send a clear message to the military junta, ASEAN governments, the international community and to our brave neighbours, in the form of Burma's multi-ethnic community who are united in calls for democracy, that Australia is committed to pinpointing pressure in order to bring key players to the negotiating table.
Eva Sundari is a Member of Parliament in Indonesia and a member of Indonesia Democratic Party for Struggle (PDIP). She is ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus regional vice-president and Indonesia's National Burma Caucus chairwoman.