Last week, the Obama administration announced that it would be rolling back sanctions on Burma, despite urging from human rights and investor groups that such an action would be premature.

In a statement sent to Congress, President Obama noted that even though some progress had been made toward democracy there continue to be concerns regarding “ongoing conflict, and serious human rights abuses in ethnic areas.” However, despite Obama’s recognition that “there is far more to be done,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton subsequently announced that the United States would be rolling back the decades-long ban on investment in Burma.

Interests of Ethnic Nationals Ignored

For concerned human rights groups, Clinton’s announcement is a troubling development that ignores the interests of ethnic nationals that have long been targeted by the Burmese army.

Various ethnic national leaders and Burmese civil society groups have been advocating that sanctions against the Burmese regime be maintained, citing the army’s ongoing offensive in Kachin State and continued human rights abuses. These groups include the United Nationalities Federal Council and the Burma Partnership. The action of the United States government outright ignores the request of those representing a significant percentage of the Burmese people.

United to End Genocide President, Tom Andrews, further explained the problem of prematurely rolling back sanctions in an opinion piece published in The Hill:

Even worse than rewarding the regime prematurely by rolling back sanctions, U.S. companies would actually be in a position to further exacerbate atrocities by rushing into Burma prematurely. At this point, the Burmese regime and its cronies still control the most lucrative sectors of the economy — including natural gas, gems, timber and mining — exploiting Burma’s natural resources at the expense of the people. These men with blood on their hands are exact same people that U.S. companies will be dealing with as they rush to invest.

Not only does the U.S. government stand to reward the very same people that have committed atrocities, but they risk incentivizing bad actors to continue committing their crimes in order to control access to resources. The ethnic national groups — whose requests the administration has ignored and whose land contains extensive natural resources — will now be disproportionately and negatively impacted by the decision to rollback sanctions.

It is disturbingly clear that the U.S. government has engaged more with actors in central Burma and U.S. corporate interests than it has with ethnic national leaders and civil society groups in Burma’s vast border areas.

Congress Must Act to Maintain Remaining Sanctions

In the face of President Obama’s premature rollback of sanctions, Congress must do what it can to maintain pressure. Ask your representative to continue congressional sanctions on Burma by renewing the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act (H.J.Res 109).

The Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act imposes a ban on the importation of goods from Burma, specifically targeting the trade of gems and timber. This legislation is set to expire at the end of July. Congress must act to keep these sanctions in place until progress is made toward a permanent end to human rights abuses.


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