Monday, February 11, 2008

Our hands are not tied on Burma

Since last year's protests and the resulting crackdown and human rights abuses, the Greens have been asking the government why they haven't yet imposed trade sanctions on Burma. The government's response has been to plead that their hands are tied, and that as much as they might like to impose sanctions, they cannot. For example, here's Helen Clark responding to Keith Locke during Question Time on 10 October last year:

I am advised that New Zealand has not traditionally imposed economic sanctions other than those agreed to by the Security Council. Currently, we do not have a legislative basis for imposing sanctions unilaterally.
The first statement is dubious - for example, sanctions were imposed on Argentina in 1982 without any UN authorisation. The second is simply a lie. Section 54 of the Customs and Excise Act 1996 allows the government to unilaterally prohibit imports from a specific country:
(2) The Governor-General may from time to time, by Order in Council, prohibit the importation into New Zealand of—
(a) Any specified goods; or
(b) Goods of a specified class or classes,—

if, in the opinion of the Governor-General, the prohibition is necessary in the public interest.

(3) A prohibition imposed under this section—
(a) May be general; or
(b) May be limited to the importation of goods from a specified place or by or from a specified person or class of persons; or
(c) May, whether general or limited, be absolute or conditional.

A similar ability to prohibit exports exists in s56.

So, despite the government's protests, our hands are not tied. The reason we have not imposed trade sanctions upon the Burmese junta is because our government has chosen not to do so. Their reasons for doing so may be good or bad, but regardless, we should not allow them to escape scrutiny by hiding behind false pleas of helplessness.