In her address to the Oxford Union this morning, Helen Clark highlighted human rights as a core interest of New Zealand's foreign policy:
As one of the world’s oldest continuous democracies, with our first Parliament elected in 1854, we do stand up for the rule of law and the human rights upheld by the United Nations. Many of us in our current government cut our teeth in politics on the issue of South African apartheid. Sadly too few people around the world enjoy the personal freedoms we in western democracies take for granted.It's a nice motherhood statement which will appeal to many New Zealanders' sense of national identity. Unfortunately, our government is failing to live up to it. While Clark was giving that speech, her government was refusing to impose sanctions on Burma. Her foreign minister obediently trotted out exactly the same excuses used by those opposing sanctions against South Africa all those years ago - that sanctions don't work, and that they hurt ordinary people. But as the case of South Africa shows, sanctions are a good way of increasing pressure on a government. And as for the people of Burma, according to a report from the Burma Campaign UK, the fact that the formal economy is small and dominated by the regime and its cronies, while most Burmese are in the informal economy means that
sanctions targeting foreign investments and international trade will impact on the regime while having a minimal impact on the majority of ordinary civilians.Furthermore, the NLD and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi have been calling for sanctions since the mid 1990's.
Our government has a clear mandate for sanctions, from an unquestionably legitimate source. While we have only a small amount of trade with Burma, it would be a strong statement of our country's values and commitment to human rights, and the best means within our power of supporting Burmese democracy. The government should walk its talk, live up to its rhetoric for once, and impose sanctions.