President Obama Urged to Take Action on Burma by 22 Human Rights Organizations and One Individual in the United States (click to view PDF)

For Immediate Press Release
July 7, 2011
Media Contact: Jennifer Quigley at (202) 234-8022

(Washington, DC) The U. S. Campaign for Burma (USCB), 21 other respected human rights organizations and one individual in the United States today strongly urged U.S. President Obama to take action on Burma by implementing banking sanctions against the regime and their cronies, and by leading the push for a UN Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes humanity in Burma. USCB is a Washington, DC-based human rights organization campaigning to end crimes against humanity and the culture of impunity in the Southeast Asian country of Burma.

This joint pressure regarding the Obama administration’s policy on Burma is an exceptional example of the necessity for increased action against Burma’s military regime. Organizations that signed on to the letter include: American Center for International Labor Solidarity, AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, American Jewish World Service, The Carter Center, Citizens for Global Solutions, Democracy Coalition Project, Enough Project, Feminist Majority Foundation, Foreign Policy Initiative, Freedom House, Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Institute for Asian Democracy, Open Society Foundations, Orion Strategies, Perseus Strategies, Physicians for Human Rights, Project 2049 Institute, The Burma Fund-UN Office, the U.S. Campaign for Burma and Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Ms. Nancy Soderberg, who signed on the letter with her personal capacity.

The group stated in the letter to President Obama, “The Burmese government has given your administration no reason to believe that more diplomacy, absent greater internal and external pressure, will persuade it to change course. The time has come for the United States to use the levers of pressure at its disposal, and implement in full the banking sanctions authorized in the JADE ACT. The United States should also mobilize support for a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma, recommended by UN Special Rapporteur Mr. Tomas Ojea Quintana and supported by Burma’s democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”

The Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act of 2008 authorized the U.S. Treasury Department to take action against foreign banks holding the Burmese regime’s hard currency reserves and financing its economic activities. As in the case of Libya, financial sanctions are effective when implemented vigorously by the full enforcement powers of the Department of the Treasury. So far, the Obama administration is reluctant to exercise such a powerful tool against the regime in Burma, while it is indefinitely continuing its so-called pragmatic engagement with the regime with no success.

The group also urged President Obama “to launch a vigorous diplomatic effort to win support at the United Nations for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Burmese military’s campaigns against ethnic minority groups.” On June 22, 2011, in her first ever address to the United States Congress, Burma’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi stated: “I support [UN Rapporteur Tomas Quintana’s] call for such a commission, making it quite clear that a commission of inquiry is not tribunal. It is simply a commission of inquiry to find out what human rights violations have taken place and what we can do to ensure that such violations do not take place in the future. I would appreciate everything that is done to help Professor Quintana in his work.” The need for such a Commission has only increased in the last several weeks with the escalation of armed conflict in Burma’s ethnic areas in Kachin State, Karen State, Shan State and Karenni State. During these recent attacks, there have been documented cases of Burma’s military using rape as a weapon of war and other harsh tactics against civilian populations.

Aung Din, former political prisoner and the Executive Director of the USCB said “I am hoping that this letter from very respected human rights organizations in the United States and the recent defection of the regime’s senior diplomat in Washington, DC will make President Obama realize how much we need his leadership and personal involvement to respond to the situation in Burma with strongest pressure and time-bound engagement.”

The letter is sent to President Obama on July 7, 2011, as also a commemoration of the 49th Anniversary of the Seventh July Uprising in Burma. A few months after the military took over power from the democratically-elected government in March 1962, the military dynamited the historic student union building, the headquarters of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) and Rangoon University Students Union (RUSU) on July 7, 1962. Hundreds of students were killed by the military during the uprising and hundreds more were arrested and imprisoned.

Copies of the Letter were sent to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, original co-sponsors of the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act including Representatives Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Peter King (R-NY) and Donald Manzullo (R-IL), Senators Mitch Connell (R-KY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Richard Durbin (D-IL), U.S. Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma Nominee Derek Mitchell, and members of the media. 

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Read the letter here