What are ethical travel responsibilities?
February 1, 2018 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Is it unethical to travel to Myanmar as a tourist?

Myanmar has been on my travel radar for the past couple years, I am travelling this spring and considering it as one destination. Considering the situation there with the Rohingya people what are the ethical implications of going there?
posted by Cosine to Travel & Transportation around Myanmar (Burma) (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you are asking this question, it seems like you're aware of potential ethical concerns (and seriously, congrats on being globally-aware enough to even ask this question -- the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar is not exactly a hugely-publicized issue in mainstream media).

Now the question is: Does your desire to travel to Myanmar outweigh your personal ethical concerns?
posted by erst at 9:51 AM on February 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Now the question is: Does your desire to travel to Myanmar outweigh your personal ethical concerns? Well, that presumes that the answer to the question "Is it ethical to travel to Myanmar right now?" has been conclusively answered, which it hasn't been.

Here's a good outline of the pros and cons in general of boycotting a controversial destination, and they have a specific page on Myanmar, which includes discussion of the Rohingya crisis, how to be responsible if you decide that you fall on the side of "Travel changes lives – not only of the traveler, but of the people they visit too....Oppressors need secrecy and compliance to conduct their oppression...To not visit punishes the most vulnerable," and includes the position of leading voices in travel.

All that said, I am pretty sure that clear-cut ethnic cleansing would keep me away, personally.
posted by vunder at 10:07 AM on February 1, 2018 [10 favorites]

This is a hard question and one I can relate to. I've been following the forced displacement and horrific abuse of the Rohingya people and am gravely disturbed by the lack of in-country humanitarian support -- and actually government-sanctioned violence, especially by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. It was also disheartening to recently read that Bill Richardson quit an advisory board there for citing 'whitewash.' I donated last year to BRAC USA, which has a very good rating as a charity, and so many other NGOs are involved. I just wish we could all do more!

An acquaintance of mine recently visited and posted many beautiful photos of temples and other tourism sites on social media without any acknowledgement of the grave human rights violations going on. I will admit that I found it incredibly off-putting and even changed how I see her: technically, she's free to do as she wishes without explanation but, had she explained herself, I think I would have much more OK about it. Silence is bad and, while she may not have been safe to speak up while she was there, she could have started a dialogue when she got back.

I would not visit Myanmar right now due to the ongoing genocide but I would understand if you went. It's complicated because nearly every country has oppressed -- or are currently oppressing -- various groups of people. The US, my home, may not have such overtly violent oppression right now but things are pretty damn bad and getting worse here. I would totally understand why someone from abroad would not want to visit but also would hope they would give it a chance and choose to support businesses that are owned by people of color, LGBTQ folks, etc. I have always wanted to visit Russia but won't be any time soon because I am queer and their hateful laws against LGBTQ people. Unfortunately, there are still so many countries with such laws on the books: not visiting would limit me but also visiting would mean I was supporting oppressive laws while getting by on my privilege. However, such discrepancies are inherent in travel, especially travel abroad, and the inequalities also exist right here at home. For example, there are also LGBTQ people and allies in Russia and beyond who are fighting the good fight and deserve acknowledgement and support; like the poster quoted above, not visiting supports the status quo in other ways.

Ultimately, there are arguments for and against going. In the end, I hope you can decide what feels best and take it from there. Since you had mentioned being interested in multiple destinations, why not just focus on those and revisit a trip to Myanmar in six months or a year?
posted by smorgasbord at 10:22 AM on February 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

Honestly, if you’re asking this question, I think you already know the answer. I’m not sure how you could enjoy your vacation while knowing that some of your tourist dollars are funding a government that is currently engaged in a premeditated campaign of ethnic cleansing. I also don’t agree that you deserve a pat on the back for asking this question; respectfully, if your personal ethical concerns about genocide are outweighed by your desire to see cool stuff, you need to check your privilege. There are so many more places in the world for you to visit-most of which have their own moral quandaries for you to nagivate-but this is not like being confronted with extreme poverty or inequality in another country/culture...people are being slaughtered.
posted by sparringnarwhal at 10:55 AM on February 1, 2018 [13 favorites]

There's an ongoing genocide.

Would you have gone to the Ottoman Empire/Germany/Bosnia/Rwanda as a tourist when those governments were actively slaughtering people? There's your answer.

Some people with specific skills or public platforms may be able to materially help people that need it by traveling there, but don't deceive yourself that your Instagram photos of tourist sites will do that.
posted by bbq_ribs at 12:32 PM on February 1, 2018 [11 favorites]

My parents just left their 1 year Posting in Myanmar (Through CUSO) citing the current genocide as the main reason. They felt they could not in any way continue to support the government that is actively participating in Murder.

They were working with the Ministry of Agriculture, and the decision weighed very heavily on them for a long time. They did find that the attitude of most of the people they spoke to was leaning towards "stamp out the vermin" Dad compared it to Nazi Germany and opinions about Jews.

So TLDR: Yes. It would be unethical to travel to Myanmar at this time.
posted by csmithrim at 12:20 PM on February 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

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