Members of Congress Urge Obama to Renew Sanctions on Burma
WASHINGTON, D.C. - This week, a bi-partisan group of U.S. Members of Congress, including the Co-Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, strongly urged President Barack Obama to extend for another year sanctions authority that has proven to be an effective source of leverage in support of democratic reforms in Burma. The President has until May 20 to take action before the sanctions expire.
“We have seen encouraging progress with Burma’s recent steps toward democracy and transparency, including the release of more than 200 political prisoners,” said Co-Chair Jim McGovern. “But serious human rights abuses continue and are of grave concern. The United States must not abandon its support for those in the Burmese government who continue to fight for further political and economic reforms. Renewing the sanctions authorities for another year will signal our continued commitment to helping Burma build on the progress already achieved. Allowing these tools to expire would be a strategic mistake and we are calling on President Obama to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
The lawmakers acknowledged Burma’s historic steps towards a more democratic and transparent government, including recent credible elections that brought the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) to power. But they cited a number of unresolved concerns—including discriminatory policies against the Rohingya minority population, the constitution’s configuration which favors military control, the violent conflict between the army and ethnic militias, and a lucrative jade trade controlled by military elites, military-owned firms, and drug lords, some of whom have been sanctioned by the U.S. government. The lawmakers noted that as democratization in Burma has advanced, some U.S. sanctions have already been eased. But the serious problems that remain clearly merit renewal of the sanctions authority.
"At this point, despite some progress being made towards increasing transparency and democratic reforms in Burma," said Co-Chair Joe Pitts, "the broader human rights climate remains in crisis. The Burmese military still wages war against its own people and exerts an unseemly amount of control in civilian affairs, and the government continues to codify discriminations on ethnic and religious minorities. The United States has played an important role in helping facilitate reform, with U.S. sanctions being our most critical tool. Prematurely ending them, in the face of these ongoing human rights abuses, leaves our government with less influence over the Burmese government and less standing in the way of a brutal Burmese military. We call on the President to act before May 20 to renew sanctions against Burma."
The full text of the letter is available here [PDF].