Tatmadaw Sanctions Bill Heads for Vote in US Congress

By Nan Lwin 21 June 2019

YANGON—A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has advanced legislation in the U.S. Congress to impose new sanctions on the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw—the latest foreign effort to put pressure on the military in response to the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State.

According to a statement from the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Burma United through Rigorous Military Accountability (BURMA) Act was approved unanimously by the committee Thursday and now heads to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

According to the statement, the BURMA Act seeks to stop the expansion of U.S. military assistance to Myanmar until reforms are made and requires reporting on crimes against humanity, including genocide—which the committee accuses the Tatmadaw of committing. It also calls for imposing “visa and financial restrictions on those deemed responsible for these crimes” and supports investigations into “war criminals.” Lastly, it “promote[s] reforms to limit the Burmese military’s stranglehold on Myanmar’s economy, including the gemstone sector.”

“The Rohingya who have been suffering at the hands of the Burmese military since the horrific attacks in 2017 shouldn’t have to wait for justice any longer,” Rep. Eliot L. Engel, a Democrat from New York, committee chairman and co-sponsor of the bill, said. “Meanwhile, the military is waging similar violence against other minorities, employing the cruel and inhumane tactics the Burmese army has used for decades.”

“There needs to be relief from the violence and suffering. There needs to be accountability for those who have carried out the genocide against the Rohingya and ongoing horrors against other ethnic minorities,” he added.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape military operations that the UN has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The Myanmar military denies these allegations, insisting the crackdown was a response to coordinated attacks on security posts in Rakhine State by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

Last August, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed economic sanctions on four Myanmar military commanders, a Border Guard Police commander, two military units—the 33rd Light Infantry Division and the 99th Light Infantry Division—for their role in “widespread human rights abuses” against several ethnic minorities, including the targeted “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya.

Last September, a U.S. State Department report found that Tatmadaw violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State was “extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seemingly geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents,” but did not use the word genocide.

In April, the Council of the European Union extended a ban on selling arms to Myanmar, which includes an embargo on arms and equipment, a ban on the export of dual-use goods to the military and Border Guard Police, restrictions on communications monitoring equipment and a ban on military cooperation with the Tatmadaw.

“I hope this bill moves swiftly through the House and if it reaches the Senate, I hope that body’s leadership will see the dire need to get this measure across the finish line,” Engel said.

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