US sen­a­tors push for soft­en­ing on Myan­mar pol­icy

The Myanmar Times - - News - KAYLEIGH LONG k.long@mm­times.com

A NEW bill was put for­ward in the United States Se­nate yes­ter­day call­ing for an up­dated ap­proach to Wash­ing­ton’s Myan­mar for­eign pol­icy that balances hu­man rights con­cerns while pro­vid­ing for the Southeast Asian na­tion’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

The move came amid spec­u­la­tion about sanc­tions-re­lated an­nounce­ments ahead of State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s land­mark meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama this week.

The Burma Strat­egy Act of 2016 was in­tro­duced by sen­a­tors Ben Cardin and John McCain.

“The leg­is­la­tion that we have in­tro­duced to­day seeks to build on Burma’s progress while be­ing clear-eyed about lingering con­cerns re­gard­ing hu­man rights, the plight of the Ro­hingya, the role of the mil­i­tary in Burmese so­ci­ety and pol­i­tics, eth­nic and na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, broad-based eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, and the con­sti­tu­tional re­form nec­es­sary to fa­cil­i­tate and com­plete Burma’s tran­si­tion,” Sen Cardin stated in a press re­lease.

The bill pro­poses fur­ther paving the way for lim­ited mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary en­gage­ment, as well as al­low­ing di­rect sup­port of civil so­ci­ety and de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives. It also sin­gles out a Gem­stone Strat­egy Re­port as a mat­ter of pri­or­ity.

Ju­man Kubba, a se­nior cam­paigner at re­source trans­parency ad­vo­cacy group Global Wit­ness, said the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion was af­fir­ma­tion that sanc­tions re­main an ef­fec­tive weapon in Wash­ing­ton’s pol­icy ar­se­nal – par­tic­u­larly when it comes to man­ag­ing the cor­rup­tion-rid­dled US$30 bil­lion jade trade.

“Congress has long been a staunch ad­vo­cate for the democ­racy move­ment. This bill pushes back on moves to lift sanc­tions, send­ing a mes­sage that the US should in­stead use sanc­tions to help the new gov­ern­ment tackle the pow­er­ful elites which threaten re­form,” she said.

The Se­nate pro­posal – as well as sug­gested sanc­tions eas­ing – has been met by crit­i­cism from rights groups.

“Se­na­tor McCain and Cardin’s leg­is­la­tion is both premature and wildly op­ti­mistic, and would emas­cu­late what’s left of US sanc­tions on Burma with­out get­ting any­thing in re­turn in terms of progress on hu­man rights,” Phil Robert­son, deputy direc­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch’s Asia di­vi­sion, told The Myan­mar Times by email yes­ter­day.

“At a time when Aung San Suu Kyi is still strug­gling with an au­thor­i­tar­ian mil­i­tary and an un­demo­cratic 2008 con­sti­tu­tion, one re­ally won­ders why she is uni­lat­er­ally giv­ing up some of the last lever­age she has, and why US leg­is­la­tors who have pre­vi­ously been champions of democ­racy in Burma are go­ing along with this,” he said.

How­ever, Eric C Rose, lead direc­tor at Herzfeld Ru­bin Meyer & Rose Law Firm Lim­ited, said he be­lieves the bill is un­likely to get pushed through.

“This is a Demo­cratic lead­er­ship­pro­posed leg­is­la­tion which seems to have, other than Se­na­tor McCain, no Repub­li­can co-spon­sors. It is hard to see how it would be passed by a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate and House, in par­tic­u­lar as it would give a per­ceived ad­van­tage in for­eign pol­icy to [Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee] Hil­lary Clin­ton, and for­tify the legacy of Pres­i­dent Obama.”

“Myan­mar needs bold new ini­tia­tives, for a num­ber of good rea­sons, in or­der to main­tain its pace of growth while at the same time rem­e­dy­ing past mis­takes. Such rad­i­cal changes can­not be made with­out the con­tri­bu­tion of the United States, among other na­tions,” he added.

Photo: Sup­plied

Work­ers sift through slag heaps at a jade mine in Kachin State’s Hpakant town­ship in 2014.

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