Today, they are finally coming to the table, bringing Vikram Singh, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia at the Department of Defense, Ms. Judith Cefkin, Senior Advisor for Burma at the State Departnent and Mr. Gregory Beck Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Asia, U.S. Agency for International Development to the hearing room.
Setting the stage for the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Chabot noted:
The [Administration’s] new strategy includes direct military engagement with the Burmese military despite lingering concerns that this act is hasty, ignores a long list of human rights abuses, and lacks conditions to ensure future reforms continue. It is time the Administration justifies this significant policy development and explains how its new approach will help foster reforms in an increasingly volatile on-the-ground situation.
Here are four critical questions the Subcommittee should ask the Administration officials today:
- Last November President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Burma and received 11 commitments from President Thein Sein. Six months later the Burmese President was welcomed to the White House and repeated those commitments. Yet today only one of those commitments can be said to have been fulfilled, three have been virtually ignored, and efforts on the rest are mixed at best.
What is the U.S. Administration doing to make sure that the Burmese government holds to its word?
- At a Hearing before this Committee earlier this fall, Tom Andrews, President of United to End Genocide testified that “The building blocks of genocide are in place” in Burma. The Buddhist nationalist 969 movement has been carrying out an organized campaign of hate speech and propaganda inciting violence against Muslims and appears to be well funded. When asked by reporters, President Thein Sein expressed support and sympathy for the leader of this movement, the Mandalay based Buddhist monk Wirathu, calling him a “son of Buddha” and a “noble person”.
What has the Administration done to challenge the government’s position on Wirathu and the 969 movement and what has it done to try to counter this campaign of hate? What other options exist? Do you know the source of funding for this movement?
- Humanitarian access continues to be limited in areas of Burma including Rakhine State and Kachin State. The UN Special Rapporteur Quintana, in his most recent report, states that he “remains concerned about the continuing lack of access by international humanitarian agencies to the more than 50,000 internally displaced persons in areas outside government control in Kachin State.”
What are the restrictions that USAID is encountering in providing aid to those in need in Burma and what is the Administration doing to address this challenge? What are you doing to lift these and other restrictions of aid?
- With the lifting of most sanctions the next step in normalizing relations with Burma appears to be in the realm of military to military relations. But the Burmese military continues to commit abuses in ethnic minority areas, particularly in Kachin State, and has failed to protect civilians or been complicit in abuses against Muslims in Rakhine State and elsewhere.
Isn’t this a particularly bad time to be advancing military to military relations between the US and Burma? Are you not concerned that closer ties between our militaries – without conditions – adds unwarranted legitimacy to a military that is not subject to civilian oversight as is our military and that continues to commit violations of human rights? Should there not be specific pre-conditions, starting with respecting basic human rights, for a formal relationship to be pursued? What conditions has the U.S. administration placed on military to military relations?
The Obama administration’s Burma policy needs to be re-examined. The people of Burma — particularly those living in ethnic minority states — should not be forced to suffer the consequences of a long oppressive military regime that is now freed of accountability and consequences for its behavior.