Human Rights Experts Urge US Not to Drop Sanctions

Human rights experts have warned the US Congress against lifting sanctions on Burma. (Photo: Kevin McCoy)

WASHINGTON D.C.—Independent human rights experts have urged the Obama administration and US Congress not to relax sanctions on Burma, arguing reforms being initiated by the Burmese government are reversible.

“As much as we want to hope that the recent progress toward democracy in Burma will mark a turning point, nothing positive will last until the Burmese military stops committing atrocities and a political agreement is reached with the ethnic national states,” said former Congressman Thomas H. Andrews in his testimony before a Congressional subcommittee on Wednesday.

Andrews, who now heads the United to End Genocide NGO, said that Congress can help by renewing the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act and urging the administration to take a measured approach on incentives.

“It is imperative that the United States government engages with the legitimate representatives of each ethnic nationality and supports redress of their longstanding and unresolved concerns,” he said.

Noting that he understands the desire to declare Burma a success story, Andrews said he wants nothing more than to see true democratic transformation and an end to human right abuses.

“But, success isn’t marked by removing sanctions—it’s marked by lasting change for the people of Burma who have endured endless suffering under a brutal military regime,” he argued.

“We must choose our next steps wisely. Let us reward genuine progress, but let us not condemn the people—particularly those living in ethnic minority states—to increased suffering under a long oppressive military regime that is suddenly freed of accountability and consequences for its behavior.”

In his testimony, Aung Din, from US Campaign for Burma, asserted that Congress must renew restrictions on imports from Burma. “The US must remind and keep reminding the Burmese regime that their full cooperation with Aung San Suu Kyi and democratic MPs in the Parliament and achieving negotiated political settlements with ethnic nationalities through a meaningful political dialogue outside the Parliament are the sole factors to justify fully lifting all sanctions,” he said.

Aung Din added that before the removal of any financial sanctions takes place, the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list on Burma, managed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, must be updated to include even more cronies and hardliners.

“It has been almost three years since the list has been updated. Many cronies, who are sanctioned by the EU and Australia, are still not included on the US SDN list,” he said. “This list should be a must-check reference for US companies that will do business in Burma.”

The implementation of a targeted easing of bans on investment and financial services should wait until we clearly see how National League for Democracy MPs and Aung San Suu Kyi are treated by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and the military in Parliament, as well as an end to attacks against the Kachin people, he said.

And Aung Din said binding requirements or a compulsory framework for responsible business conduct should be imposed on any US business that seeks to invest in Burma.

“The US must pressure the Burmese regime to allow former political prisoners to obtain passports so they can make trips abroad, in response to the US easing of visa restrictions on Burmese officials,” he said.

Also the US must pressure Naypyidaw to allow members of Burmese civil society groups to form and operate non-profit organizations freely, in response to Washington granting permission to American organizations to support NGOs in Burma.

Earlier, nine influential American humanitarian organizations signed a letter urging President Barack Obama to prioritize democracy and human rights in Burma by exercising caution when it comes to the relaxation of sanctions.

These NGOs include AFL-CIO, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, the Institute for Asian Democracy, Open Society Foundations, Orion Strategies, Physicians for Human Rights, US Campaign for Burma and United to End Genocide.

The letter comes on the heels of an initiative by corporate interests seeking to encourage Obama to ease restrictions on private investment across all sectors of the Burmese economy.

“We believe the best approach in the immediate future is to conduct a comprehensive update of the SDN list before relaxing the investment and financial services bans,” the NGOs said.

In the medium term, the US needs to work with civil society and ethnic nationality leaders in Burma to develop binding standards for US companies doing business in the country, claims the letter. The US could then lift restrictions for only a few sectors, carefully selected with the participation of the Treasury Department as well as Burmese civil society, democratic opposition groups and ethnic nationality leaders, they added.

“We also believe that the administration should communicate more effectively to Congress its overall policy objectives and proposed approach regarding Burma, and make clear that current sanctions relaxations are contingent and should continue to be executed by waivers, not underlying legislative change, and that Congress will need to reauthorize underlying sanctions legislation as needed throughout the year,” the NGOs said.


4 Responses to Human Rights Experts Urge US Not to Drop Sanctions

  1. US’s positive engagement with Thein Sein clearly condemn the Kachins. Thein Sein now assume that he has been given freehand to commit the Genocidal war in Kachin. Kachins are defending their ancestors land and their peoples, their family alone. The Brutal Monster army of Thein Sein is now about to gulp out the Kachins. Better to be living under the Military Dictators than under Thein Sein’s Democratic guise brutal Government. Under the Military dictors, we at least can sleep well.

  2. The Ordinary People of Burma

    The ordinary people of Burma wish to thank U.S. President Mr Obama, U.S.Secretary of State Ms Clinton and British Prime Minister Mr Cameron for maintaining sanctions on the Burmese regime until our Lady can rightfully take her seat in Parliament and begin the process of Parliamentary Amendments of the 2008 Constitution and establish the Rule of Law to ensure equal opportuntities for all peoples of Burma to partake in the democracy transformation of our country.

    We urge the E.U., Canada and Australia to consider carefully and wisely before suspending all the sanctions. Suspending sanctions do not help in the advancement of our country’s reform except create a tense environment for the reversibility of the suspensions anytime the regime returns to authoritarian rule.

    While the Burmese government is fond of playing chess or checkers and the game has only just begun, check mate is far from over.

    Putting the cart before the horse instead of letting the horse work towards true democracy and equal opportunities for all peoples of Burma will spoil the fruits of years of sanctions, hard work and sacrifices of selfless many who look to a promising democratic Burma.

    The EU and Japan may want to rush into suspending all sanctions to reward the regime for small concession steps but ultimately the winner is clearly yet to be seen.

  3. George Than Setkyar Heine

    MY ENCORE ON THIS ONE!
    Of course those human rights experts are RIGHT and WISE as well in this matter.
    LIFTING of SANCTIONS is the KEY to OPEN the GATE for BURMA on its ROAD to DEMOCRACY and FREEDOM lest EU, UK, US and the rest forget.
    And SANCTIONS are Daw Suu’s WEAPON in her present endeavor to MAKE BURMA a BETTER PLACE to LIVE for her PEOPLE as well.
    Of course Than Shwe/Thein Sein’s ULTIMATE AIM is to GET the SANCTIONS LIFTED and they are USING EVERY GUISE and WILE in the book to HOODWINK the people of Burma and specifically the EU, UK, UK etc. for that matter.
    Only 43 seats in the parliament were opened for NLD via the April Fool Day by elections and some freedom of press and expression given as well.
    However, Daw Suu and her elected representatives are HELD BACK at the THRESHOLD of Thein Sein’s parliament since April 23, 2012, until today.
    KIA is still under constant attacks and Min Aung Hlaing reinforced his troops while ‘peace talks’ are underway today.
    And 70,000 Kachin people are still on the run while truckloads of tools and equipments including the ethnic Chinese are making their way into Myitsone Dam Project sites and others despite Thein Sein’s PUBLIC SUSPENDING of the Myitsone Dam Project way back months ago.
    Hence, WHO IS IN CHARGE is the QUESTION of the DAY in Burma.
    Given the scenario and circumstances as prevailing today LIFTING SANCTIONS, PART or WHOLE, as well on the part of EU, UK, US and others specifically at THIS TIME and JUNCTURE would be AKIN to THROWING THE GAME, Daw Suu and her NLD, not to mention the people of Burma as well to Thein Sein and his lot no less.
    On the other hand as well ENRICHING THE CRONIES IS TANTAMOUNT TO PROMOTING/PROLONGING the MILITARY BACKED PSEUDO-CIVILIAN RULE of ex-generals and generals at Naypyidaw trust me.
    Most DISASTROUSLY as well, EU, UK and US would LOOK NO BETTER than MONKEYS in Than Shwe’s zoo at Naypyidaw in case they GET DUPED/HOODWINKED by the likes of Thein Sein and his lot I say.

  4. Totally agree with Human Rights Experts.
    Also Mr. Aung Din has made a very good point on updating the SDN List. Those who are in that list, they are the one that pushing very hard to ‘Lift of Sanctions’, and that’s all they want. They don’t care about our Country or the Democracy. They just want to get away from their crimes & their possessions to be legalized.
    Our country has a long history of military dictatorship since 1962, many twists & turns, crooks & hooks, a lot of bad incidents. You can’t jump into this situation without doing any research/study and looking for your own benefits, and demanding ‘To Release All Sanctions’. I’ve been sending this kind of message to the US, EU Countries in the past. Following is the comment I had posted on Irrawaddy 04-06-12 regarding ‘General Min Aung Hlaing’s Promotion’ article.

    Who made the move???
    This is the one of the proofs that this election & the rest is a very well planned set-up/game plan.
    What a coincidence? Daw Aung San Suu Kyi & NLD won this By-Election, and at the same time General Min Aung Hlaing has been promoted. It’s called ‘Balancing of Power’.
    Do you get the picture? If you still don’t get it yet, I’m sorry.
    Mr. Obama, Ms. Clinton, Mr. McCain, Mr. Mitchell, Ms. DiMaggio and all EU leaders, please wake up & pay attention seriously. This is a very smart & very well planned, went smoothly so far. This Godfather is extremely smart, way smarter than you think. Promoting Chief of Staffs is not an issue. But my point is someone with a big head is behind the scene and you all are well under his game. We’ve learned from our experience, we’ve lived our whole life under military dictatorship, and our country has this type of game since 1962. Who is pulling the strings???
    So please figure out…

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