Aung San Suu Kyi — Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate — will make her first visit to the United States in more than two decades beginning on September 16. During her visit she’ll receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a civilian.
While her trip is a tangible reminder that some progress has been made in Burma, it’s also important to bear in mind all the challenges that remain. Suu Kyi is free, but political prisoners remain behind bars. Suu Kyi was allowed to run for a parliamentary seat in the April election, but the constitution still guarantees the military control of the legislature. Parts of Burma have become more open, but human rights violations are still rampant in ethnic minority areas, including Kachin and Arakan States.
In light of the ongoing challenges it is unfortunate that the U.S. government chose to reward the regime prematurely when it relaxed nearly all sanctions earlier this year, including a ban on U.S. investment. With limited remaining leverage to support continued progress toward democracy and respect for human rights, it’s imperative that the United States maintain a watchful eye on Burma, and be prepared to re-impose sanctions should progress falter.
Most urgently, now that the investment ban has been lifted, the U.S. government has an obligation to ensure that U.S. companies looking to enter the Burmese market have the updated information they need to make responsible decisions. The Treasury Department maintains a list of problematic actors, known as the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, but the list specific to Burma has not received a significant update in over five years.
We’re calling on President Obama to make sure the SDN list is updated immediately. Otherwise, U.S. companies seeking investment opportunities risk doing business with the same people who are responsible for committing atrocities or undermining democracy.
Investors are already rushing into Burma. In July, Chevron, Exxon Mobile and Conoco Phillips were part of a delegation of 40 firms looking to invest in Burma’s oil and gas sector. Every day, more U.S. companies are lining up to get access to Burma’s lucrative natural resources.
Join us by taking action right now. Tell President Obama to support democratic reforms and human rights in Burma by updating the Specially Designated Nationals List today.
As we welcome Aung San Suu Kyi to the U.S., let’s support her and advocates like her with the tools to make sure human rights abusers in Burma do not profit from new investments.