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Burma: Joint Letter from NGOs to U.S. Administration

Senior Director Samantha Power

Human Rights and Multilateral Affairs

National Security Council


Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell

Bureau of East Asia and the Pacific

U.S. Department of State


Director Adam Szubin

Office of Foreign Assets Control

U.S. Department of Treasury


Dear Ms. Power, Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Szubin;

We are writing to request a meeting with you in the next week to share our strong concern regarding Secretary Clinton’s announcement that the U.S. financial services and investment bans on Burma may be lifted in the very near future.

We understand that President Obama’s extension of E.O. 13047 will expire on May 20, 2012.  We urge you to extend E.O. 13047 until proper safeguards are put in place.  We urge the Administration to comprehensively update the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list before relaxing any business-related sanctions on Burma. While companies are eager to gain a foothold in Burma’s economy, we believe that the goal of promoting positive political reforms in Burma will be jeopardized if new investments or other business activities reward individuals implicated in mass atrocities and other human rights abuses.  As the Economist recently noted, “A bonanza in foreign trade and investment as foreign sanctions are relaxed could end up benefiting above all the very soldiers and cronies the sanctions were intended to punish. After all, these men retain their economic interests. From this perspective all the boasts of political reform look less like a blueprint for democracy, and more like the generals’ pension plan.”  Furthermore, there are additional dangers of unrestrained investment given Burmese authorities have yet to establish a legal or political framework to guard against abuses including reinforcing corrupt patronage networks, environmental degradation, forced labor, and other human rights abuses, particularly in ethnic areas untouched by reform where conflict rages on. The U.S. Government needs to be very clear, with U.S. companies as well as with the Burmese government, that measures will be put into place to prevent this from happening and punish it if it does.

Putting the necessary measures in place to support responsible investment requires more time than the present process will allow. Therefore, we urge you to slow down the decision-making process to allow for both sufficient input from relevant stakeholders, particularly those inside Burma, and to put proper safeguards in place to ensure that U.S. businesses do not fuel human rights abuses, corruption and poor governance in Burma.  We must emphasize that it is absolutely necessary for the United States to work with civil society and ethnic nationality leaders in Burma to develop binding standards for U.S. companies doing business in Burma and then, and only then, lift restrictions for only a few sectors, carefully selected and determined to be clearly beneficial to the people of Burma.  We are concerned that the premature lifting of the investment and financial services bans will undermine prospects for successful reform, empower repressive actors in the government, military and their business allies and weaken the position of Burma’s democratic opposition, ethnic nationalities and civil society.  Should the U.S. fail to lead in this area, and instead follow the unrestrained example of other nations, it will undoubtedly tarnish its image as the foremost international supporter of the Burmese people's desires for democracy and improved human rights.

Our concerns are more fully elaborated in our recent letter to President Obama, which is attached. Thank you for your time and attention, and we look forward to a discussion of these important and timely issues.

Signed by:



Freedom House

Human Rights Watch

Institute for Asian Democracy

Open Society Foundations

Orion Strategies

Physicians for Human Rights

U.S. Campaign for Burma

United to End Genocide


Copied Sent To:          

Ambassador Derek Mitchell, U.S. Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma, Department of State

Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State

Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women Issues, Department of State

Daniel Russel, Senior Director for Asia, National Security Council

Jake Sullivan, Director, Policy Planning, Department of State 


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