ResourcesPress Release

Decision to Ease Ban on US Investments in Burma is Criticized

PHR calls on Congress to renew legislative sanctions on Burma

For Immediate Release

Following the US Administration’s decision to waive key elements of the Executive Order banning US investment in Burma, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) criticized the decision to allow US companies into Burma despite ongoing human rights violations in the country. The Obama Administration did not impose key restrictions advocated by PHR such as strict licensing requirements nor a ban on operations in conflict zones.

The Administration stated that the easing of sanctions reflects political progress by the Government of Burma, which recently held by-elections that brought Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to a seat in Parliament. The Burmese government has also loosened media controls and opened political space for civil society groups.

“Recent changes in Burma are certainly noteworthy, but serious problems persist. Conflict rages in northern Kachin State, and peace agreements with other ethnic groups are shaky at best,” said Bill Davis, PHR’s Burma Project Director. “The Kachin certainly have not benefitted from the changes in Burma, and the suspension of sanctions against the regime will give it free reign to continue its abusive practices in Kachin State and in other ethnic areas.”

Over the past several years, PHR has worked with partner organizations in Burma to document human rights violations. “I have interviewed Karen, Shan, Mon, Kachin, Chin, Arakan, and Burman people inside Burma and in most of the countries along its borders. From them all I’ve heard a common theme–we are still afraid of the government. If the people of Burma do no trust their government, the US Administration should not either,” said Davis.

The Administration’s announcement today does not reflect Burma’s progress on protecting human rights, an area still in need of substantial reform. Numerous companies that have operated in Burma have been complicit in serious human rights violations, including forced labor, forced displacement, arbitrary arrest, and torture.

“Given the track record of investment in Burma, the US should remain extremely cautious about giving a green light to US investments in Burma,” said PHR Washington Director Hans Hogrefe. “Unless it can be demonstrably proven that each specific investment will directly benefit the Burmese people and will further the benchmarks outlined in the sanctions regime established by Congress through a tough U.S. licensing review, U.S. companies will be helping to line the pockets of generals who have been committing crimes with total impunity. Given the fact that the U.S. doesn’t even have an updated list of perpetrators and their affiliates in Burma, it is practically inevitable that US companies will end up subsidizing human rights violators.”

“With today’s announcement, the Obama Administration has abdicated its responsibility for providing oversight to US investment in Burma,” said Hogrefe. “US companies should be aware that the international human rights community will not stay silent and will remain vigilant about the impact of US investments on the people of Burma.”

PHR calls on the US Administration to shape its policies toward Burma in a manner that reflects the human rights situation in the country, not investor interests. PHR also calls on Congress to renew legislative sanctions on Burma so that the US retains essential leverage through which it can press for more political and human rights reforms in the future.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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