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(Washington, DC, December 20, 2013) – Today, the U.S. Campaign for Burma (USCB) welcomes the U.S. Senate’s introduction of The Burma Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2013. The bipartisan measure introduced by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Bob Corker (R-TN) would prohibit most U.S. military assistance to the Burmese military unless concrete steps are taken to address human rights abuses and constitutional reform.

The measure requires the Government of Burma to have taken concrete steps to establish civilian oversight of the military, address human rights abuses, and establish a fair, transparent and inclusive process to amend the Constitution before any military assistance will be allowed (the only exception providing for basic human rights and disaster training). USCB’s Executive Director Jennifer Quigley said, “USCB lauds the bipartisan effort of Senators Menendez, Rubio, Cardin and Corker for recognizing the concerns of Burma’s marginalized and persecuted minorities and demanding concrete reform from Burma’s military.”

Introduction of this bill follows months of steadily increasing concern over the U.S. Administration’s plans for military-to-military engagement despite the Burmese military’s continuing human rights abuses against ethnic minorities. In September and December 2013, the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Asia Subcommittee held two hearings on Burma. During the September hearing, witnesses Tom Andrews, President of United to End Genocide, Dr. Wakar Uddin of Arakan Rohingya Union, and USCB’s Executive Director Jennifer Quigley advised against military-to-military relations. Jennifer Quigley said, “Military-to-military relations should not proceed until the Burmese military demonstrates a genuine interest in reform by stopping all attacks throughout the country in both ceasefire and non-ceasefire areas.” During the December hearing, members further voiced their concerns to Administration witnesses. Congressman Crowley stated, "I'm concerned our military-to-military [engagement] is moving too quickly because they feed off this prestige. I want us, visually and in reality, to slow this down."

In October 2013, 133 ethnic nationalities civil society organizations wrote to President Obama urging the U.S. to require that preconditions are met before moving forward with military-to-military engagement. The letter states, “The Constitution of Burma is not democratic. It gives the military a dominant role in all levels of government. Nearly every repressive law introduced by past dictatorships remains in place, and new laws introduced since Thein Sein became President do not meet international human rights standards. Unless military engagement preconditions revision of the Constitution, even if soldiers are trained to defend the rule of law, they are in effect being trained to defend a constitution that does not protect human rights and to enforce repressive laws.”

The Burmese military has continued to act as a spoiler of efforts toward democratization, peace, and national reconciliation. Under the undemocratic 2008 constitution, there is no civilian control of the military, and the military hold 25% of the seats in Parliament. The military continues to commit human rights violations including sexual violence, use of child soldiers, forced labor and forced displacement. Both before and after the first national ceasefire dialogue between the Burmese government and ethnic armed groups in November 2013, the military attacked Kachin villagers (an ethnic and religious minority), casting doubt on the viability of a nationwide ceasefire.

“Burma has significant obstacles to genuine democratic reform and national reconciliation; this bill signals strong Congressional support for Burma’s democratic movement in its struggle to bring about these reforms.”

Media Contact: Myra Dahgaypaw at (718) 207-2556

Click to view PDF of Press Release
Click to view Senator Rubio's Press Release
Click to view PDF of The Burma Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2013

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