Rights group says sanctions must stay
Transparency watchdog Global Witness has called for US sanctions to remain ahead of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Washington.
PREMATURE rolling back of sanctions could risk undoing progress made so far in Myanmar’s democratic transition, resources watchdog Global Witness has warned, urging that targeted sanctions on the corruptionriddled jade industry remain in place.
Global Witness, an international body dedicated to exposing corruption and improving transparency, last year estimated the jade trade to be worth some US$31 billion in 2014 alone – about 48 percent of GDP.
In a statement released yesterday, Global Witness cautioned that the jade industry remains “firmly in the grip of military elites, US-sanctioned drug lords and crony companies”.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s landmark visit to the United States to meet with President Barack Obama this week presents a “golden opportunity” to provide the NLD-led government “with the ammunition it needs to relegate corrupt military rule to its past”, Global Witness said.
Juman Kubba, senior campaigner with Global Witness, said sanctions on the jade trade remain an important mechanism in the peace process – particularly when it comes to the conflict-afflicted jade hub of Kachin State.
“Jade is intertwined with the intractable armed conflict in Kachin State, and removing sanctions takes away a key lever to achieve the lasting peace local people deserve … Removing a tool which could help to bring the right parties to the table would make getting to this goal much harder,” Ms Kubba told The Myanmar Times by email yesterday.
The US has relaxed many of the sanctions imposed in Myanmar, and faces intense pressure from the business lobby.
Global Witness pointed to the lobbying efforts of US-based machinery manufacturer Caterpillar as a prime example of the importance of sanctions, and the leverage they can provide. Research carried out by Global Witness uncovered that Caterpillar had partnered locally with a front company linked to US-sanctioned drug lord Wei Hsueh-Kang.
Wei Hsueh-Kang, also known as Prasit Chivinnitipanya, sits on the US most-wanted list with a US$2 million bounty. He is also the commander of the United Wa State Army’s (UWSA) southern command – the country’s largest non-state armed group. The UWSA is believed to be a major player in the heroin, methamphetamine and jade trades.
Ms Kubba said early attempts by the new government to rein in the jade industry are a welcome development.
“Notably, there has been [movement] on jade mining permits, with no licences being extended or new licences being granted until a revised legal framework is in place. This is critical in creating the space for change,” she said.
“Increasing transparency in the sector, and strengthening the regulated market is an important part of improving the jade sector, and making sure the benefits reach Myanmar’s people.”
Workers wait for a truck to unload in Hpakant jade mining area.