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Burma: Japan’s New Administration Should Review Burma Policy

Public Pressure and Targeted Sanctions needed on Rangoon

(Tokyo) - The new Japanese government should undertake a thorough review of Japan's policies designed to promote human rights in Burma, Human Rights Watch said in a letter today to the newly inaugurated foreign minister, Katsuya Okada.

"The past Japanese government promised to promote human rights, but that didn't really happen in terms of concrete and visible actions," said Kanae Doi, Tokyo director at Human Right Watch. "The new government should make human rights a central pillar of Japanese foreign policy, and Burma is a good place to start."

In the letter, Human Rights Watch said that Japan's current policy toward Burma, focusing on dialogue and aid, has done little to improve human rights and in some cases has even been counterproductive. To help bring meaningful changes in Burma, the letter says, Japan should reconsider the idea that conciliatory talk alone will somehow change the Burmese military leadership's plans, and instead make more effective use of diplomacy, sanctions and aid.

On diplomacy, Human Rights Watch recommended that Japan consider establishing a Burma Contact Group or some form of multilateral grouping in close contact with the United States, to meet and discuss regularly diplomatic engagement with the Burmese government on a range of issues. Such a group could help converge views and policies of China, India, Thailand, Indonesia, and others, gradually minimizing the ability of Burma's military government to play states off against each other.

On sanctions, Human Rights Watch urged Japan to impose targeted financial sanctions as part of a coordinated approach to put maximum pressure on Burma's leaders, in line with those imposed by the US, the European Union, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada.

Regarding humanitarian aid, Human Rights Watch called for increased humanitarian aid to meet the acute needs of the Burmese people, but also urged Japan to realize that the Burmese government should use its extensive revenues from oil, natural gas, gems, and timber to meet the needs of its own population. Donors should stress the importance of transparency and accountability in the delivery of humanitarian aid, including taking approaches that strengthen civil society rather than the existing corrupt power structures, and that respond to the views and needs of ordinary people.

"Japan has long been reluctant to exert pressure on Burma's senior leadership," Doi said. "Now is the time for Okada to consider a stronger principled approach. Coordinated, targeted pressure with other states can bring about human rights improvements in Burma."

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