While the U.S. is spending extensive resources to further democratic change in the Middle East, it seems to have paid scant attention to the dictatorship in Burma. What is ironic is that if the Obama administration wanted their policy on Burma be truly effective, the solution is fairly simple.
Today 21 of some of the most respected human rights organizations in the U.S. sent a letter to President Obama urging him and his administration to finally show some leadership towards ending escalating crimes against humanity in Burma. There are two key (and comparably) straightforward actions Obama can take.
The first is implement targeted banking sanctions against the military generals in Burma and their cronies. Burma’s top generals make billions through the sell of natural gas and other resources. Most of the money doesn’t go into the national budget, but instead goes into their personal foreign bank accounts with which they fund everything from extravagant houses, shopping trips in Singapore, and the purchase of new weapons (and concern about getting more weapons and even nuclear information from north korea). The U.S. Treasury has been already authorized to take action against foreign banks holding the regime’s money, they just haven’t done it yet. These sanctions have been implemented with success in North Korea and most recently with Libya, where the U.S. Treasury was able to freeze $32 billion of assets of the Libyan regime.
While the U.S. has been postponing the past two years imposing these sharp sanctions against Burma’s regime, the situation inside the countries has deteriorated with a sham civilian government squeezing it’s grip on any opposition forces. The letter to Obama from the human rights organizations says, “Between May and June of this year, scores of ethnic villages were destroyed, hundreds of ethnic people and common prisoners were used as porters and human minesweepers, and the property and belongings of ethnic minorities were looted by the Burmese army. Villagers have been arrested, tortured and killed by Burmese troops on accusations that they were supporters of the ethnic resistance group.” We don’t want the generals able to tap into the global financial system for money to support attacks against civilians – we need these stronger tougher sanctions.
As the human rights situation in Burma further deteriorates, the second thing that can be done is for the U.S. to be a key mobilizer for a UN Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma. A commission of inquiry is just an important initial step. As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in a video speech to the US Congress on June 22nd “It is simply a commission of inquiry to find out what human rights violations have taken place and what we can do to ensure that such violations do not take place in the future.”
So the question to the Obama administration is – why not? These two actions have large potential to have significant impact on the future of Burma. This is why we need the work of our grassroots to keep up the pressure. Don’t let our government forget.
Organizations that signed on to the letter include: American Center for International Labor Solidarity, AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, American Jewish World Service, The Carter Center, Citizens for Global Solutions, Democracy Coalition Project, Enough Project, Feminist Majority Foundation, Foreign Policy Initiative, Freedom House, Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Institute for Asian Democracy, Open Society Foundations, Orion Strategies, Perseus Strategies, Physicians for Human Rights, Project 2049 Institute, The Burma Fund-UN Office, the U.S. Campaign for Burma and Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Ms. Nancy Soderberg, who signed on the letter with her personal capacity.