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US Senate, Following House and European Union, Adopts Major Burma Sanctions Legislation (click to view PDF)

December 19th, 2007
For More Information, Contact Jeremy Woodrum (202) 246-7924

(Washington, DC) Days after similar action by the US House of Representatives, the United States Senate today passed legislation imposing economic and financial sanctions on the military regime that rules the Southeast Asian country of Burma. The bill, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joseph Biden and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, sailed through the Senate unanimously.

The legislation, which follows similar measures by the European Union in November, would ban the import of gems and timber from Burma as well as bar US financial institutions from doing business with the military regime through third party intermediaries.

“This legislation sends a powerful signal to the Burmese military regime and the world that there can be no more business as usual for Burma,” said Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma. “The move marks a break from the past because it closes key loopholes in US policy.”

The legislation comes after the military regime launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors led by Buddhist monks. Dubbed the “Saffron Revolution” by the international media, hundreds of thousands of monks, students, and everyday citizens took to the streets in August and September of this year, demanding human rights and democracy. The monks were briefly permitted to protest and even met with the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi before the military regime responded by opening fire on protestors with automatic weapons. It is estimated that at least 100 persons were killed and several thousand imprisoned. Buddhist monasteries were raided and many monks were beaten to death, while many monasteries were closed and sealed off.

The United States has led a global diplomatic effort to facilitate a resolution to years of dictatorship by supporting the United Nations General Assembly’s call for tri-partite talks between the military regime, Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party the National League for Democracy, and the country’s ethnic minorities. Such steps have been called for by the UNGA for over 15 years, yet the military regime refuses to participate in talks. In order to increase diplomatic action the US supported the appointment of a special envoy to Burma by the United Nations Secretary-General. However, such good-faith multilateral efforts have been rejected by the military regime in part because the military regime continues to enrich itself from the types of trade that will be cut off under these sanctions.

United States concurrently pursued targeted sanctions against Burma’s junta and action by the UN Security Council. For the first time in history, under US leadership, the UN Security Council issued a statement in October demanding Burma’s military regime participates in negotiations. Last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized that these talks must begin soon, stating he was growing “impatient” with what most observers believe are stalling tactics by the military regime.

“The U.S. Congress, along with the European Union, Canada, and Australia, have shown they stand with the people of Burma, not Burma’s illegitimate military rulers. We laud Congress’s recognition that only through increased targeted sanctions against Burma’s brutal military rulers will we be able to bring enough pressure on the regime to agree to a meaningful tri-partite dialogue towards national reconciliation,” said Aung Din.

As a next step, human rights organizations including the US Campaign for Burma, Human Rights Watch, and others are calling for the UN Security Council to impose an immediate arms embargo on Burma. China is the main supplier of military hardware to Burma’s military regime. Like its protection of the Sudanese government, China has defended Burma’s military regime from such a move by the Security Council. However, activists believe that China should be forced to publicly defend its arms sales in the Security Council.

Burma’s military regime is among the world’s most brutal. The regime has destroyed 3,200 ethnic minority villages in attacks that some claim are tantamount to genocide, while conscripting more child soldiers than any other country in the world. The regime uses rape as an instrument of war against ethnic minorities and holds over 2,000 political prisoners behind bars. Aung San Suu Kyi remains the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient.