Derek Mitchell to Become First US Special Envoy to Burma

Derek Mitchell, the current Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, is set to become the first US special envoy to Burma according to sources at The position of Special Envoy is mandated in the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act of 2008 (P.L. 110–286). The now-expected submission of a candidate for Senate confirmation is long-overdue and was held up for over two years by the Obama Administration as it engaged on a diplomatic “honeymoon” course with the Burmese regime, spear-headed by Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. This ill-fated engagement policy failed to achieve any human rights progress and seems to have come to an end amidst the sham elections held by the Burmese regime in November 2010. Mitchell has served as a foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign and has met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. In a 2007 article in Foreign Policy Mitchell wrote, “Regimes like the SPDC do not improve with age; therefore, the Burma problem must be addressed urgently. All parties with a stake in its resolution need to adjust their positions and start coordinating their approach to the problem.” In the article, Mitchell called for the US to lead an effort of “coordinated engagement” with the SPDC, and suggested that sanctions could coexist with engagement. Mitchell’s early goals of engagement would be the release of political prisoners, including NLD members and ethnic leaders. However, he acknowledged that the country’s new constitution doesn’t provide a mechanism to realize their release. PHR has previously called attention to the serious flaws of the constitution, which perpetuates military rule and codifies impunity for even the most heinous crimes. In January, PHR released a report that revealed crimes against humanity in Burma perpetrated by the junta against the people of Chin State, western Burma. In order to stem these abuses and initiate accountability mechanisms, the international community must increase calls for a UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the human rights violations outlined in the report. As the United States now supports a UN Commission of Inquiry for Burma, PHR calls on the Senate to ensure during the confirmation hearings that any candidate would be fully committed to unequivocally supporting an independent and robust Commission and to undertaking all diplomatic efforts to achieve its establishment at the U.N. PHR supports Aung San Suu Kyi’s call for continued sanctions against Burma and encourages the new Special Envoy to call for targeted financial sanctions to further limit the junta’s ability to commit crimes against its people. PHR hopes that Derek Mitchell realizes the urgency and importance of his mission and the promise his position holds for improving US policy toward Burma.

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