The images that were being smuggled out of Myanmar were beautiful and terrifying: Buddhist monks chanting in the streets for peaceful political change, ringed by supporters signaling their willingness to use their bodies to protect the monks from attack.
Then there was silence. At 3 p.m. Wednesday, the junta that has made Myanmar a land of misery for nearly two decades cut off most mobile phone service in the country, closed down Internet cafes and choked traffic on the government-controlled Internet service provider. Nevertheless, journalists have managed to send out news of the crackdown underway. To no one’s surprise, security forces reportedly opened fire on peaceful protesters and dragged monks away.
The world must act quickly to keep the death toll from mounting and to stop the beatings and torture that have been well-documented in Myanmar’s prisons and that are surely taking place today. Yet the “international community” appears as impotent as ever to stop the repression.
In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, President Bush announced tighter U.S. economic and travel sanctions on individuals in the country’s military government. It was a worthy start. But as of late Wednesday, China and Russia were blocking a U.N. Security Council resolution to impose international sanctions against Myanmar. That’s not surprising. In January, they were callous enough to veto a resolution calling for Myanmar to stop persecuting minority and opposition groups and to take concrete steps toward democracy.
The United States and the European Union were reduced, once again, to issuing statements denouncing the repression from the sidelines of the General Assembly, while U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dispatched an envoy in a probably futile attempt to use moral suasion on a gang of thugs.
The demonstrators in Myanmar, also known as Burma, surely know by now that they can count on no more than rhetorical support. The West’s lack of political, economic or moral leverage is as evident to the oppressed in Yangon as it has been to the victims of Darfur. Still, all people of conscience should try to find ways, small and large, to show support for the would-be “saffron revolution.”
We must not strand the brave monks of Myanmar.