Obama Administration Puts Business Before the Rights of the People of Burma

We are deeply upset and saddened to report that President Obama and Secretary Clinton announced yesterday that the U.S. is lifting the financial transactions and investment ban on Burma. The Obama administration has now placed the interests of businesses ahead of human rights and democracy. This comes in direct contradiction to pressure fromU.S. Campaign for Burma and other human rights organizations and a statement from Burma’s ethnic leaders just last week urging the international community not to “suspend or lift the remaining political, military, financial and economic sanctions.” The Obama administration’s decision is miscalculated and could further human rights abuses and conflict in Burma. Read our press release.

There is no rule of law in Burma. The military continues to commit atrocities against ethnic civilians, especially in Kachin State. Moreover, over 60% of the population relies on farming, and yet there are no laws that protect land rights. In fact, last year Parliament passed a law giving the government the legal right to seize land.  For example, currently a company owned by a Member of Parliament in Burma kicked farmers off their land so he could build an industrial zone. The farmers have tried various tactics from standing their ground on the fields to filing complaints. The corruption is so thick in the country that they have had no progress. Both in and beyond Burma’s conflict zones, the issue of land confiscation is a deep problem throughout the country. It is baffling that Secretary Clinton thinks under these circumstances it is a proper time to open the flood gates for investment.

Secretary Clinton hinted that investment should not involve Burmese military businesses but when a State Department official was asked by a reporter if this would be a binding requirement on US companies, he said no.  As numerous brave human rights organizations in Burma have documented, the Burmese military continues to commit egregious human rights abuses in the name of development and investment projects.  Earlier this month, several Kachin women and girls were gang raped by Burmese soldiers and forced out of their village near a hydropower project (KWAT press release).

Secretary Clinton claimed that U.S. corporations will act responsibly, but this is through self-regulating, not mandatory requirements. We will now have to be vigilant and watch every American company that goes in to make sure that they take no part in forcing people off their land, human rights abuses or destroying the environment. It was unsettling to hear Secretary Clinton say “our goal and our commitment is to move as rapidly as we can to expand business and investment opportunities.”

Despite calls for caution, the Obama administration has rushed this process and has not consulted with enough key stakeholders. U.S. Rep Illeana Ros-Lehtinen the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said “The Obama Administration is acting prematurely in easing sanctions on Burma. While small steps have been taken in the direction of democracy, serious questions remain about Burma’s journey toward democracy…I am adamantly opposed to rolling back the only leverage that we possess in that country.”

There is now only one sanction left, the import ban. Every year Congress has to renew the import ban before it expires at the end of July. Now more than ever, the people of Burma, particularly the ethnic nationalities, will need us to fight to keep the import ban as the last piece of leverage.  That means our members will have to give 150% this year to make sure Congress renews it. Sign up here if you want to be a State leader in this campaign. You will work side by side with our Campaigns Coordinator Myra Dahgaypaw to make sure your Senators and Representatives make human rights and democracy the number one priority.

Other members of Congress including Congressman Joseph R. Pitts and Congressman Trent Franks and human rights organizations have expressed their outrage at the lifting of the investment ban such as United to End GenocidePhysicians for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch.

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