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Updated Sanctions Crucial for Responsible US Investment

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, November 7, 2013, thirty-seven organizations submitted a joint letter to President Barack Obama calling on the US Administration to update the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list with respect to Burma and implement unambiguous criteria for removing and adding persons to the list. This list maintained by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designates individuals and companies barred from having financial ties with the US.

Clear and public criteria for removing and adding people to the list are needed to ensure that US companies have the tools to responsibly manage their investments in Burma, maximize the likelihood that American business activity will benefit Burma’s population, and avoid the serious risk that persons responsible for corruption or human rights abuses may benefit from US business relationships, contrary to clearly stated US interests. The joint letter draws attention to the Obama Administration’s failure to make needed changes to the SDN list, even in the face of escalating human rights abuses, concerns over peace, security, and stability, and an explosion of land confiscation cases and military assaults tied to economic development.

The Obama Administration has waived most sanctions on Burma, but targeted financial sanctions remain in place and serve to block persons who are responsible for human rights abuses, maintain military ties with North Korea, undermine political reforms or the peace process with ethnic minorities, or otherwise act in ways that threaten Burma’s security and stability. Despite committing to responsibly update the SDN list in order to provide clarity to companies seeking to respect human rights in Burma’s fraught legal and regulatory context, the Obama Administration has not taken concrete action

The joint letter notes that the Obama Administration has made only a few removals and additions to the SDN list over the past few years; the inconsistent nature of these decisions has sent confusing signals to the people of Burma. For instance, the Administration added Asia Green Development Bank and two other companies fronted by Burmese tycoon Tay Za to the list in November 2012, and then abruptly waived sanctions on Asia Green Development Bank in February 2013, despite Tay Za’s continuing ties with the Burmese army and the ongoing war in Kachin State.

The letter furthermore urges the addition of individuals who clearly fall under the criteria for sanctions, such as military commander Brig. Gen. Tun Tun Naung, who is responsible for the civilian attacks, serious human rights abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law in Burma’s ongoing war against the Kachin Independence Army.

Given these concerns, the Administration must publish clear criteria for removing reformed civilian persons from the list, including requirements that those seeking to be removed must provide restitution to victims; cut all ties with the Burmese military; cooperate with a full and independent audit and make a public declaration of assets; and publicly account for all actions they have engaged in that are sanctioned under E.O. 13619 and commit to henceforth uphold high standards of conduct.

The Administration must also promptly add to the list government officials, legislators, military personnel, police officers, and other actors involved in inhibiting reforms; enacting laws, provisions, and regulations that violate internationally recognized human rights standards and protections; or engaging or being complicit in human rights abuses.

The joint letter to President Obama was submitted on behalf of Access, Actions Birmanie-Belgium, AFL-CIO, All Kachin Student and Youth Union, ALTSEAN-Burma, Back Pack Health Worker Team, Burma Campaign UK, Burma Issues, Burma Lawyers’ Council, Burma Partnership, Chin Human Rights Organization, Development for Burma, Fortify Rights, Forum for Democracy in Burma, Freedom House, Grassroots Human Rights Education and Development, Human Rights Foundation of Monland, Human Rights Watch, Institute for Asian Democracy, International Labor Rights Forum, International Trade Union Confederation, Investors Against Genocide, Kachin Women’s Organization, Karen Women’s Organization, Karen Environmental and Social Action Network, Karenni Civil Societies Network, Mae Tao Clinic, Nationalities Youth Forum, Network for Democracy and Development, Orion Strategies, Physicians for Human Rights, Shwe Gas Movement, Students and Youth Congress of Burma, Tavoyan Women's Union, United Lahu Youth Organization, United to End Genocide, and US Campaign for Burma.

Please find the full text of the joint letter attached to this announcement. The following individuals are available for media inquiries:

Jennifer Quigley
Executive Director, US Campaign for Burma
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Khin Ohmar
Coordinator, Burma Partnership
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+66 81 884 0772 (Thailand), +95 9 4500 63714 (Burma)

Robert Ruby
Senior Communications Manager, Freedom House
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Click to view PDF of Press Release
Click to view PDF of Joint Letter