Ethnic Civil Society Groups Want US Sanctions on Burma’s Military to Continue

By San Yamin Aung 14 September 2016

RANGOON — Ethnic civil society groups have urged the US government to keep targeted sanctions on the military and its related entities until it complies with democratic norms and respects human rights.

The US-based civic group Kachin Alliance expressed concern that the administration of US President Barack Obama might further ease or lift remaining sanctions against Burma during State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit this week.

In an open letter dated Monday, the organization said it strongly believes that removing the remaining targeted sanctions on the military, along with its related entities and cronies listed on the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) roster, and deepening engagement with the Burma Army, would be gravely premature.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Washington DC on Tuesday evening local time and will meet President Obama and other US officials on Wednesday. The lifting of targeted US sanctions is thought to be high on the agenda.

The country’s first democratically elected, civilian-led government in over fifty years took power in March this year after the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory in the 2015 general election. The government initiated the 21st Century Panglong peace conference last month as the first step toward national reconciliation and political dialogue between the government, the military and ethnic armed groups.

Despite ongoing peace talks, begun in 2011 under the previous government, conflict between the Burma Army and the country’s ethnic armed groups continues. The resumed war between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army, now in its sixth year, has led to the displacement of 120,000 people, now living in 167 camps across Kachin and northern Shan states, the group said.

Kachin Alliance highlighted a number of atrocities committed by Burma Army soldiers that have not been brought to justice. They mentioned the case of Sumlut Roi Ja, a 28-year-old Kachin mother of one who was abducted by soldiers in Oct. 2011, and Gum Seng Awng, a 19-year-old student who was shot dead by two soldiers in June this year.

“We would like to urge the United States to keep the sanctions intact until there is compelling evidence that the Tatmadaw [Burma Army] complies with international standards of human rights, adheres to democratic norms, reaches agreeable terms with armed ethnic organizations, and is overseen by the elected civilian government,” said the letter.

The military still holds significant power in Burma’s parliament, keeping one quarter of the seats, and controls the ministries of home affairs, defense, and border affairs, as granted by the military-drafted 2008 constitution.

Kachin Alliance also called for sanctions on persons featured on the SDN list to remain in place until they demonstrate a clear intention to relinquish their large land holdings and mining concessions in ethnic areas, unjustly acquired through land-grabs and cronyism.

Lway Cherry of the Ta’ang Women’s Organization (TWO) also told The Irrawaddy that it is not yet time to ease sanctions on the military and its related enterprises because armed clashes, human right violations, and sexual violence against women in conflict areas continues.

TWO is drawn from the Ta’ang ethnic minority, also known as the Palaung, who are concentrated in northern Shan State. In recent months this area has seen fighting between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Burma Army, and a Shan ethnic armed group, the Shan State Army-South. The conflict has displaced several thousand people and all three armies have been accused of rights violations including abducting, torturing and murdering civilians.

“The US should keep the sanctions until there is a genuine federal system providing equal rights to ethnic minorities.” she said.