No Going Back on Burma Sanctions: Kurt Campbell

By Lalit K Jha 1 October 2012

WASHINGTON—Despite facing strong criticism from a section of the “Friends of Burma” group, the Obama administration has categorically ruled out any reversal of its decision to lift sanctions on Burma, arguing that it is being taken judiciously and is in the best interests of the Burmese people.

“We believe that we have approached this problem with great care and responsibly. We think the step-by-step process has drawn wide support both in the business community and the international community,” said Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell.

“On the particulars associated with sanctions-easing and the economic steps that we are proposing between the United States and Burma/Myanmar, I think we have done this in a very careful step-by-step, judicious way in very close consultation with key stakeholders in the Congress,” he said.

“We’ve had very detailed conversations with Aung San Suu Kyi and her interlocutors, as well as those in ethnic minority communities,” he said.

Campbell said the US steps in this regard are carefully coordinated not only domestically but with its international partners, including Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. “I think this process has been done very responsibly and will continue accordingly,” the US official said.

The statement came after the US Campaign for Burma (USCB) came out openly against the decision of the US government to lift sanctions from Burma.

“The lifting of sanctions on Burma de-legitimizes ethnic nationalities’ demands for a cessation of hostilities in Kachin State, and prematurely rewards the Burmese regime while the military undertakes a clear escalation of violence,” said USCB’s Aung Din.

“The absence of sanctions removes the motivation for the government to engage in further and serious negotiations with ethnic groups, as well as political reform leading towards the 2015 election. The removal of sanctions condones the violence, exacerbates the conflict, destabilizes the negotiations, and sets back the peace process,” he said.

“The United States Congress and administration will be responsible for generously rewarding the regime if the war in Kachin State and human rights abuses in ethnic areas do not end, hundreds of remaining political prisoners are not released, and political settlements between the regime and ethnic resistance groups are not realized,” Aung Din charged.

In a statement, USCB expressed its disappointment over the US Congress decision to fast-track the passing of legislation that authorizes the government to provide financial assistance and loans to Burma through international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank.

“After that, there will be no sanctions imposed on Burma,” USCB said. “These moves follow the lifting of two major sanctions: a ban on US investment in Burma, and a ban on financial transactions between the US and Burma.”

But the USCB said the situation on the ground does not justify the lifting of all sanctions.

“Some political prisoners have been released conditionally, but still more than 300 political prisoners remain incarcerated. Some Burmese activists in exile are encouraged to return home, but Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, a human rights lawyer who returned to Burma earlier this year after three years in exile, was sentenced to six months in prison for trump-up charges,” it said, adding that significant numbers of ethnic resistance groups have entered into precarious ceasefire agreements with the government.