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US Campaign for Burma Expresses its Disappointment over the US Congress and Administration’s Decision to Lift Remaining Sanctions on Burma

By US Campaign for Burma  •  September 27, 2012

Today the U.S. Campaign for Burma (USCB) expresses its disappointment over the U.S. Congress and Administration’s decision to lift the remaining sanctions imposed on the Burmese military regime and its successor, so-called civilian government led by former General Thein Sein. Last week, the U.S. Congress fast-tracked the passing of legislation that authorizes the Administration to provide financial assistance and loans to Burma through the International Financial Institutions (IFIs), including The World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Asian Development Bank. Yesterday, September 26, 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton informed Burmese President Thein Sein that the U.S. will begin the process to ease the last remaining sanction: import restrictions. After that, there will be no sanctions imposed on Burma. These moves follow the lifting of two major sanctions: a ban on U.S. investment in Burma and a ban on financial transactions between the U.S. and Burma, by the waiver of President Obama in July, after Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and her party members won in the by-election held in April and take six percent of seats in the Parliament.

However, 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. Significant numbers of ethnic resistance groups have entered into precarious ceasefire agreement with the government. But, their expectation to have a meaningful political dialogue with the regime and achieve mutually-acceptable solutions are still far from the reality while they are forced to open the area they have controlled for economic advancement and mega development projects. The fragility of the agreements continues to be undermined by the Burmese military who continue to violate the terms of the ceasefires. The Burmese military has refused to listen to the order of the President who asked them to stop fighting in Kachin State. The Burmese Army ended a 17 year-old ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in June 2011 and to this day they have escalated their attacks, sending 120 battalions to take control over the natural resource-rich Kachin areas. The Burmese Army’s attacks have displaced nearly 100,000 refugees in Kachin and Northern Shan States and denied humanitarian access, resulting in the callous and unnecessary deaths of Kachin civilians. And 13 activists were arrested just last week and face years of imprisonment for leading a peaceful march in Rangoon to commemorate the International Day of Peace on September 21, 2012.

There are three major areas where changes are not in effect. First, the judiciary system is still not independent and impartial. Many laws and decrees created by the successive military regimes to oppress democratic opposition are still active and being implemented.  Second, the country’s economy is still controlled by the military, crony capitalists, and families of the regime. Third, the Burmese military is still above the law and dominant in the country’s political affairs with unchecked powers. There is no sign in sight that the Burmese military will stop committing human rights violations and come under civilian control.

“Although the United States and many governments in Europe and Asia have continuously praised President Thein Sein for the changes taken place in Burma, these are half-way measures in some areas as well as areas that haven’t changed at all. These changes are not secure and irreversible yet, and it is the major reason for the argument made by key stakeholders of Burma, ethnic nationalities, civil society organizations and democracy activists who all request the United States to maintain the remaining sanctions. However, their voices are simply ignored”, said Aung Din, former political prisoner and Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

The lifting of sanctions on Burma delegitimizes 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. 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.

Aung Din continued, “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.”

Media Contact: Jennifer Quigley at (202) 234 8022

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This post is in: Press Release

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