Engaging a Pariah: Human Rights Training in Burma/Myanmar

Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 06/26

Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 368-402, 2007

36 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2006

See all articles by David Kinley

David Kinley

The University of Sydney - Faculty of Law; Doughty Street Chambers

Trevor Wilson

Australian National University


The people of Burma/Myanmar have suffered for two generations under military dictatorships. Their economy, legal and social orders, cultural diversity and political freedoms have all steadily declined during that time. The country's human rights record is considered by many to be one of the worst world-wide. In the West, responses have ranged from diplomatic condemnation, to the imposition of economic sanctions, and to the withdrawal of aid and international co-operation. Countries in the region, on the other hand, have been typically less robust, more accepting of assertions of sovereign rights and concerned to promote engagement and dialogue rather than isolation and punishment. Neither approach appears to have had any discernable impact on the attitude of Myanmar's military Government or on the plight of its people. Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, her pro-democracy party banned and its members persecuted; the rule of law is non existent, and the once flourishing economy is in terminal decline. New strategies to break the impasse are now being contemplated in both the West (more conditional engagement) and the East (more strident conditionality). This article analyses a controversial Australian human rights initiative that ran in Myanmar from 2000 to 2003, which might be considered a forerunner to these new 'third way' approaches. The article describes the objectives, nature, composition and implementation of the program; it assesses its advantages and disadvantages, its risks and potential, and explores some of the criticisms and praise the program engendered. It also provides a detailed backdrop against which one might draw some tentative lessons in terms of the protection and promotion of human rights in both the specific context of Myanmar, and also, by implication, in the global community's approach to intransigent, pariah states.

Keywords: human rights, Burma, Australian Government

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Kinley, David and Wilson, Trevor, Engaging a Pariah: Human Rights Training in Burma/Myanmar. Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 06/26, Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 368-402, 2007, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=918141

David Kinley (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney - Faculty of Law ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

Doughty Street Chambers ( email )

10 Doughty Street
London WC1N 2PL
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/

Trevor Wilson

Australian National University ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

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