Dangerous Optimism

Every year the President has to reauthorize an Executive Order that keeps a ban on financial transactions and new investments in Burma. Today President Obama reauthorized the Executive Order; however, later in the afternoon Secretary Clinton, standing alongside the Burmese Foreign Minister, announced that there would be a waiver added to this Executive Order. Now the only investments and financial transactions banned are those directly linked with the Burmese military. This is incredibly worrisome as there are no controls in place to make sure new investments respect human rights and engage in socially, economically, and environmentally just practices. Burma’s business sector is one of the most corrupt in the world and is tightly linked with top military figures. The sanctions remaining in place are the arms embargo and import ban.

See our press release below:

United States Government Ignores the Cries of Burma’s Oppressed Ethnic Nationalities, Rewards Burmese Regime with U.S. Dollars and Investment  

Note: Statement of Extraordinary Meeting of the United Nationalities Federal Council, dated May 10, 2012, is attached. click here

(Washington DC May 17, 2012) Today the U.S. Campaign for Burma (USCB) expresses its concern over the US Administration’s announcement that the U.S. is lifting the financial transactions and investment ban on Burma through a presidential waiver. Lifting these major economic measures, just one week after the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), the alliance of nearly all ethnic resistance groups that have engaged in negotiations with the Burmese government to end the world’s longest civil war and reach a peaceful political settlement, called on foreign governments “to oppose and pressure Bamah Tatmadaw (The Burmese military) for its wrong actions. Accordingly, we would like to request the international community not to suspend or lift the remaining political, military, financial and economic sanctions” is effectively undermining their pursuit for an end to the Burmese military’s human rights abuses and genuine national reconciliation.

While the international community has focused all of its attention on the nominally reversible changes made by President Thein Sein, such as Burma’s democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi taking a seat in Parliament, the reality is the Burmese military’s escalating assault against the Kachin ethnic minority in Northern Burma continues unabated and unnoticed. Their brutal military offensive has resulted in nearly one hundred thousand refugees who are hiding in makeshift shelters under heavy rain susceptible to severe infectious diseases. On May 1st, several Kachin women and girls of Chyi Chya Village, Pangwa Township in Kachin State, were gang-raped by Burmese Army soldiers. The soldiers gathered all women and girls into a house belonging to a regime’s militia and took turns raping them. This is not an isolated incident but one egregious case among many that are ongoing. The UNFC goes on to further state “the objective of Bamah Tatmadaw’s offensives in Northern Shan State and Kachin State with excessive military force is to protect foreign investments’ mega business projects.” President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s symbolic exclusion of investment with the military will not prevent the military from continuing to attack and assault ethnic villagers in the name of providing security for foreign investment projects that are eager to exploit the country’s vast natural resources located in ethnic areas. Further the absence of ‘binding’ or ‘required’ pre-conditions in favor of ‘encouraging’ transparency will not prevent human rights abuses from occurring as a result of foreign investment.

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus released a statement today warning of the harmful effects of lifting the investment ban, “As everyone with any knowledge on Myanmar will attest, the changes we have seen to date are far from irreversible. It is ludicrous to reward the current government’s untested reforms by paving the way for a gold rush. Fighting in Myanmar’s ethnic areas continues and many of the ethnic leaders are concerned that these reforms are just a ploy to pave the way for ‘development’ projects on their lands,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, AIPMC Vice President and Deputy Leader of the Thai Democratic Party former Thai Senator.

The suspension of sanctions on Burma delegitimizes ethnic nationalities demands for a cessation of hostilities in Kachin state, and prematurely rewards the Burmese regime while the military undertakes a clear escalation of violence. The absence of sanctions both condones the violence and removes the motivation for the government to engage in further and serious negotiations with ethnic groups. The removal of sanctions condones the violence, exacerbates the conflict, destabilizes the negotiations, and sets back the peace process.

Aung Din, Executive Director of USCB, said “the United States will be responsible for generously rewarding the regime if the war in Kachin State and human rights abuses in ethnic areas do not end, hundreds of remaining political prisoners are not released, and political settlements between the regime and ethnic resistance groups are not realized.”

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