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Activists Laud U.S. Congress for Passing Burma Sanctions, Ask President Obama to Organize UN Security Council Action (click to view PDF)

United Kingdom and United States to Chair UN Body in August, September
U.S. Campaign for Burma
July 24th, 2009
Contact: Jeremy Woodrum, (202) 246-7924

(Washington, DC) The U.S. Campaign for Burma today praised leaders in the U.S. Congress for passing a measure maintaining U.S. sanctions on the Southeast Asian country of Burma. The bill passed in the Senate after 11:00 pm on Thursday, July 23rd. The House of Representatives unanimously passed a similar bill on July 21st, 2009.

In an unprecedented move, 66 U.S. Senators co-sponsored the legislation, more than at any time since portions of the legislation originally passed in 2003. The bill was led by a bi-partisan group of senior senators, including Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Senator John McCain. At the same time, 11 of the 14 new U.S. Senators, who were elected in 2008, co-sponsored the measure. The legislation has now been sent to the White House for the signature of President Obama, who in May recently decided to extend a ban on U.S. investment in Burma.

“This strong, bi-partisan measure will help to deny hundreds of millions of dollars to Burma’s military regime,” said Aung Din, Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, who served as a political prisoner in the country for over four years.

The move comes as Burma’s military regime rejected overtures by U.S. Secretary of State Clinton appealing for the release of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi in exchange for new U.S. investment in Burma, a practice ended by President Bill Clinton in 1997. Referring to Clinton’s remarks, Burma’s state-run media said, “Demanding release of Daw Suu Kyi means showing reckless disregard for the law.” Burma’s military regime completely controls the country’s judiciary and according to the United Nations there is no independent judiciary in Burma, but the regime has pretended it cannot free Aung San Suu Kyi because she is on trial and it cannot interfere in a legal case.

Aung San Suu Kyi is not just a human rights leader — she led her political party the National League for Democracy to win 82% of the seats in parliament in Burma’s last election. Its legitimacy in danger, the regime, led by Senior General Than Shwe, effectively annulled the results. Meanwhile, the regime has continued to carry out vicious attacks against civilians in eastern Burma, forcing thousands to flee over the border into Thailand as refugees. Since 1996, the regime has forced over a million people to flee their homes and destroyed 3,300 ethnic minority villages — attacks on par with the violence in the Darfur region of Sudan. The regime has raped ethnic women and girls, burned food supplies, laid landmines throughout the region, and recruited thousands of children into its military ranks in its attempts to wipe out any and all resistance to its rule. Observers point out that such attacks are likely to ramp-up even further in the coming months in northern Burma, as the Burmese regime seeks to disarm ethnic groups opposed to military domination.

In May, a group of five of the world’s leading judges and jurists — including those with experience at the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda and Yugoslavia, urged the UN Security Council to initiate a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity committed by Than Shwe’s regime. Fifty-five members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to President Obama urging him to take action to stop these crimes. Members of Congress are also pressing the administration to organize an international arms embargo against Than Shwe’s regime.

“This move by the Congress makes it clear that there is overwhelming, bi-partisan support for stronger action on Burma,” added Aung Din. “It’s time for the United States to lead an effort at the UN Security Council – which it will chair in September — to seek action on crimes against humanity and an arms embargo. The longer the U.S. waits, the more people will die in Burma.” The United Kingdom chairs the UN Security Council in August.