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Frequently Asked Questions

è The U.S. Congress and Executive Branch placed several economic restrictions on Burma that have been subsequently waived, suspended, or terminated including:
o A general ban on the import of goods from Burma;
o A ban on the import of Burmese jadeite and rubies, and products containing Burmese jadeite and rubies;
o A ban on the import of goods from certain Burmese companies;
o the freezing of the assets of certain Burmese nationals;
o restrictions on U.S. investment in Burma;
o restrictions on bilateral economic assistance to Burma; and
o restrictions on U.S. support for multilateral economic assistance to Burma.

è The goals stated in those laws were:
o The establishment of a constitutional democratic civilian government;
o The protection and/or the improvement of internationally recognized human rights;
o The release of political prisoners;
o The greater cooperation with U.S. counter narcotics efforts;
o The alleviation of the suffering of Burmese refugees and the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Burmese people; and
o The identification of individuals responsible for repression in Burma and holding them accountable.
è For many years, Congress and the Executive Branch have, in general, shared a common view on the broader goals of U.S. policy towards Burma – the establishment of a democratically elected civilian government that respects the human rights of its people and promotes the peace and prosperity of the nation.
è U.S. Ambassador to Burma, Scot Marciel, reiterated this policy in a press interview on May 10, 2016, stating, “But our goal, the United States goal, remains the same: We want to see a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Myanmar. One whose people live in harmony and enjoy full rights.”[1]

è Visa Restrictions – a prohibition on issuing visas to enter the United States to certain categories of Burmese officials including Burmese military leaders;
è Restrictions on U.S. Assistance to the Government of Burma for budget support, any successor or affiliated organization of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) controlled by former SPDC members credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights, including against the Rohingya and other minority groups, and any organization the Secretary of State determines to advocate violence against ethnic or religious groups and individuals in Burma, including such organizations as Ma Ba Tha.
è Restrictions on Relations with Burma’s Military –an embargo on arms sales to Burma.

è The NLD-led Burmese Government and Aung San Suu Kyi have given mixed and sometimes contradictory statements on U.S. restrictions and sanctions with relations to Burma.
o In November 2015, when asked if she would like to see U.S. sanctions lifted, Suu Kyi reportedly said, “Well, with a genuinely democratic government in power, I do not see why they would need to keep sanctions on.”[2]
o In March 2016, however, Han Thar Myint, and NLD central executive committee member, reportedly said that the NLD will not push for a lifting of U.S. restrictions or sanctions given that the military retains considerable power in the government, as well as in Burma’s economy.[3]
o In a joint press availability after her meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry on May 22, 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi stated, “We’re not afraid of sanctions. We’re not afraid of scrutiny. We believe that if we are going along the right path, all sanctions should be lifted in good time…I understand and I accept and I believe that United States is a friend, and are not keeping the sanctions to hurt us…I’m sure that the time will come soon where the United States will rule that this is not the time for sanctions.”[4]
o In August 2016, Suu Kyi explained, “…there’s no reason to discuss [the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Burma], because the sanctions are imposed for those who are obstructions to the country’s democratic movements, not for the [whole country].”[5]
è Ambiguity over the NLD-led government’s position on U.S. restrictions and sanctions with Burma arose during Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Washington, DC in September 2016. In a press statement following the meeting between Suu Kyi and President Barack Obama, on September 14, 2016, she stated, “We think that the time has come to remove all the sanctions that hurt us economically, because our country is in a position to open up to those who are interested in taking part in our economic enterprises.”[6]
è In subsequent meetings with Members of Congress, however, Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly said that she had hoped that some restrictions on relations between high-level Burmese military officers and businesses owned or controlled by the Burmese military could remain in effect, but also reportedly said that she had been told by U.S. officials that such a selective retention of restrictions was not possible.[7]

Approximately 50% of the Burmese economy is controlled or operated by the Burmese military. As a practical matter, an estimated 90% of the Burmese economy is controlled by the Burmese military through illegal or informal mechanisms;
· Efforts to promote economic prosperity in Burma runs counter to establishing a democratically elected civilian government. The Burmese military, via such entities as the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and the Union of Myanmar Economics Holdings Limited (UMEHL), controls many sectors of the Burma economy, including most of the nation’s natural resources;
· Efforts to promote economic prosperity by permitting U.S. trade and investment in portions of the economy controlled by the Burmese military bolsters the Burmese military’s economic and political power, and as such, lead Burma’s military leaders to resist further political and economic reforms;
· Further political and economic reform could depend on the Burmese military’s willingness to relinquish some or all of its seats in the Burmese Union Parliament, as well as its control over the appointment of the Ministers of Border Affairs, Defense, and Home Affairs;
· It had been thought possible that permitting U.S. economic relations with MEC, UMEHL, and other companies owned by the Burmese military, its leaders and/or relatives and close friends of the military leaders, could prompt Burma’s military leaders to be more willing to relinquish some of their military power. However, the actions of the Burmese military over the past year in expelling nearly the entire Rohingya population through a campaign of brutality as well as pivoting their attacks against Christians in the Kachin state are clear evidence that the Burmese military has decided to dig in and retain its power over Burma civilian affairs.

No. Credible reports from former Burmese Parliamentary Members explain that targeted sanctions against Burmese military senior officials bolsters the targeted military member’s standing in their home communities. In short, they become local and national heroes against the perceived “attacks” of the west, in particular, the United States.
· There is no evidence that targeted sanctions on specific military leaders will systematically change or alter the brutal behavior of the Burmese military. The Burmese military has over 500,000 total military personnel members. There are over 400,000 active military personnel, which ranks 13th out of 136 rated countries in terms of total active personnel.[8] Using targeted sanctions to financially limit a few dozen military officials would not holistically and systematically alter the entire Burmese military incentives to behave as they have been since President Obama lifted the entire U.S. sanction regime. In December 2017, the President Trump Administration enacted targeted sanctions against one Burma military senior official previously responsible for the Western Burma military command named Maung Maung Soe by freezing the financial assets within the jurisdiction of the United States and prohibiting U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with Mr. Soe.[9] This sole targeted sanction against Maung Maung Soe did not prevent the Burmese military’s continued attacks in the northern Kachin state against Christian minorities since sanctions were placed on Mr. Soe;
· Systemic economic and political U.S. sanctions were effective in bringing about democratic-led reforms beginning in 2008. Credible reports explain that U.S. sanctions were effective in bringing the Burmese military leaders to the bargaining table to extract democratic reforms.
· According to Politico, “Roughly three months ago, State Department officials recommended that eight to 10 Myanmar officials face U.S. financial sanctions, according to three people familiar with the situation. The Treasury Department, however, has refused to sign off on the proposal. Treasury officials have argued that the people listed for potential penalties have few assets in the United States or elsewhere that could be frozen, thus blunting the impact of the penalties.”[10]
· Systemic economic and political U.S. sanctions can again be effective. They are the only U.S. foreign policy tool short of military intervention (which is terribly unpopular to most western nations to consider) to exact concessions from the brutal Burmese military towards accomplishing the twin goals of thwarting their atrocities and allowing sincere democratic reforms to take form towards true democratization and civilian rule of Burmese society.

Recent circumstances in Burma have raised a number of questions for Congress and the Executive Branch regarding U.S. policy and the restrictions on Burmese relations, such as the following:

è To what extent does the formation and governing operation of the NLD-led government mean that the goals of U.S. policy have been achieved[JM1] ?
è Did the U.S. sanctions on Burma contribute to the political changes that have occurred since 2008?
è Are the previously stipulated goals of U.S. policy toward Burma still appropriate given the current situation in Burma and their gross violation of human rights against the Rohingya in the Rakhine State and Christians in the Kachin and Shan states?
Potential Other FAQ’s to include
· What criteria is used to analyze the factors of an official Genocide declaration? Have these factors been met by the circumstances within the last year in Burma?
· What obligations under international and U.S. law are triggered by such a declaration?

References:

[1] Andrew D. Kaspar, “New U.S. Ambassador Flags Many Old Problems for Burma,” Irrawaddy, May 10, 2016.
[2] Lally Weymouth, “Aung San Suu Kyi: ‘I’m Going to Be the One Who Is Managing the Government,’” Washington Post, November 19, 2015.
[3] Shibani Mahtani, “U.S. Companies Caught in Sanctions Gray-Zone in Myanmar,” Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2016.
[4] Department of State, “Joint Press Availability with Burmese Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” press release, May 22, 2016.
[5] September 12, 2016 NGO Letter to President Obama found here.
[6] White House, “Remarks by President Obama and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma,” press release, September 14, 2016.
[7] Congressional Research Service, “U.S. Restrictions on Relations with Burma,” Michael F. Martin, February 7, 2017, Page Nine.
[8] https://www.globalfirepower.com/active-military-manpower.asp
[9] https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm0243. UPDATE – A half dozen additional targeted sanctions placed on Burma’s military leaders as well as the 33rd and 99th Burma military divisions were enacted in the Fall of 2018.
[10] https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/31/myanmar-rohingya-white-house-trump-officials-752730

[JM1]Potential mention of Suu Kyi’s decision to mobilize military forces unit 99 and 45? To the Rakhine State on August 10, 2017 to bring “peace.” To show even the civilian authorities are implicated in the Burmese human rights abuses.

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