With a long history of human rights violations including ongoing abuses by the Burmese military, a panel of Burma policy experts hosted by the Heritage Foundation earlier this week warned against pushing forward on U.S.-Burma military-to-military relations. Rather, they called for clear benchmarks of progress before there is further cooperation and engagement.
Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, opened with concerns over ongoing abuses as reported to him in a recent Congressional Hearing that included testimony by United to End Genocide’s President Tom Andrews.
John Sifton of Human Rights Watch warned that the Obama administration is moving from a policy of “action for action” with Burma to one of “action for hope”.
US Campaign for Burma’s Jen Quigley reminded the audience that lost in the debate has been the lives of everyday people on the ground across Burma. She highlighted a letter from 133 ethnic civil society organizations citing concerns over further military to military cooperation.
Keith Luse, a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member, was more supportive of military-to-military engagement, but agreed on the need for conditionality and emphasized a clear understanding of Burmese military relations with North Korea.
The U.S. government has already lifted most of its economic and diplomatic sanctions on Burma as a reward for recent reforms including the release and allowed election of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament. However, extensive abuses and violence continue in many areas of the country with the military-dominated government failing to protect civilians and in some cases directly complicit.
As the government fails to protect the Rohingya from an anti-Muslim hate campaign and continues attacks on other ethnic minorities, including the mostly Christian Kachin, the U.S. government must show caution on Burma.
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