Members to State: Visit to Burma Must Send the Right Message
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today Reps. James P. McGovern and Christopher H. Smith, Co-Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, released a letter led by Rep. Steve Chabot and joined by Rep. Eliot L. Engel to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging that an upcoming visit by an official United States delegation to Burma not be construed to promote American or international business engagement with military-owned enterprises in that country.
This week Assistant Secretary of State Manisha Singh will visit Burma as part of a wider effort to strengthen U.S. economic ties in East and Southeast Asia. But promoting greater investment in Burma is complicated by the Burmese military's control over a substantial portion of the country's economy. An August 5, 2019 report by the UN's Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar urged governments and businesses to sever ties with military-owned and controlled companies because the "revenue the military earns from domestic and foreign business deals substantially enhances its ability to carry out gross violations of human rights with impunity."
In light of the atrocities and ongoing human rights violations committed by the Burmese military against the Rohingya people and other ethnic and religious minorities in the country, the lawmakers urged the State Department to support sustainable, broad-based development without military involvement in the economy, to raise the Burmese military's dismal record of human rights abuses and to push for full accountability.
The text of the letter is reprinted below and a scanned copy of the signed letter is available [here].
Dear Secretary Pompeo,
As senior Members of the House of Representatives deeply committed to U.S. global leadership on human rights, we write to you regarding Assistant Secretary of State Manisha Singh’s upcoming visit to Burma as part of a wider effort to strengthen U.S. economic ties in East and Southeast Asia. These ties are essential to U.S. interests in the region, both on a commercial basis and because they help promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.
As you know, promoting greater investment in Burma is complicated by the Burmese military’s control over a substantial portion of the country’s economy. This has been showcased by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in its August 5, 2019 report “The economic interests of the Myanmar military.” Specifically, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), which are controlled by senior generals, “own at least 120 businesses involved in everything from construction to pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, insurance, tourism and banking.” Consequently, the Mission urged that governments and businesses sever ties with these military-owned and controlled companies because “[t]he revenue the military earns from domestic and foreign business deals substantially enhances its ability to carry out gross violations of human rights with impunity."
Furthermore, two years ago, the Burmese military committed genocide against Burma’s Muslim Rohingya minority, and its numerous other grave human rights violations are ongoing. There has been no accountability for these crimes as you recognized on July 16 when the State Department designated senior Burmese military officials for sanctions: “We remain concerned that the Burmese government has taken no actions to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and there are continued reports of the Burmese military committing human rights violations and abuses throughout the country."
With this in mind, we believe that Assistant Secretary Singh's visit to Burma must send the right message. It is critical to ensure that her visit can in no way be construed to promote American or international business engagement with military-owned enterprises. Without this clarity, our commitment to a prosperous Burma may serve to strengthen the Burmese military and undermine our efforts toward accountability. Additionally, we urge her to articulate a vision for investment in Burma that points toward sustainable, inclusive and broad-based economic development, without military involvement in the economy. The BURMA Act, legislation we sponsored in the House, seeks to promote such development in which all the people of Burma would share. Finally, we remain dedicated to redressing the atrocities committed against the Rohingya. We, therefore, encourage her to take this opportunity to raise the Burmese military’s dismal record of human rights abuses and push for full accountability.
Thank you for your consideration and for standing up for the human rights of the Burmese people.
Members of Congress