New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the United States to retain key sanctions on Burma, warning that the country’s ongoing democratic transition would be at risk without continued pressure on the Burma Army.
The statement came while the US government is considering easing or lifting further sanctions on Burma around the time of the country’s de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Washington DC later this month.
“The sanctions are crucial for pressing the military to end rights abuses and transfer power to a fully civilian government. They shouldn’t be fully lifted until the democratic transition is irreversible,” John Sifton, HRW’s Asia advocacy director, said in the statement.
US officials told Reuters in an earlier report that President Barack Obama is contemplating the lifting of key sanctions during the visit of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—who is Burma’s state counselor and foreign minister—to Washington DC, which begins on Sept. 14.
HRW also reported that several Burmese nationals in the US Department of the Treasury’s “Specially Designated Nationals” list for targeted sanctions are people “who the US has determined threaten the peace, security, or stability of Burma’s political reforms or are responsible for, or complicit in, human rights abuses in Burma.”
Sifton said: “Many of the Burmese on the US sanctions list are criminal suspects and human rights abusers. The US should assist Burma in promoting genuine economic development, not help those who made ill-gotten gains during military rule.”
Although major sanctions were eased or removed on trade, investment and the financial sector between July 2012 and May 2016, US sanctions targeting Burma’s military and its associates are still in place—alongside a continued ban on imports of Burmese jade and gemstones.
HRW said key sanctions should be retained on the military because Burma’s constitution reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military.
Key positions in the security sector, including the ministries of defense, home affairs, and border affairs, are occupied by military appointees. The constitution also gives the military power to dissolve the government in case of a national emergency.
During her visit Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will meet President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, members of the US Congress, and business leaders.
HRW encouraged the US Congress to “continue its leadership and maintain relevant sanctions legislation, which will be particularly useful in the event of backsliding on reforms by the Burma Army.”
The human rights watchdog also urged international donors and financial institutions to be transparent in connections with Burma’s mineral sector and state- or military-owned enterprises.