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.
By Kayleigh Long , MyanmarTimes, Sept 15
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 leadership-proposed 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.
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