US lifts sanctions on Myanmar but vows to keep pushing for democratic reform and human rights
President Obama cited the democratic transition in the country, formerly known as Burma, from decades of military rule
US President Barack Obama has lifted sanctions on Myanmar and pledged to assist the country’s civilian government led by de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi in carrying on its efforts for political reform and broad-based economic growth.
“US national security and foreign policy interests no longer support the blocking of assets and other [sanctions] measures imposed by executive orders,” Obama said in a letter to the leaders of Congress on Friday.
Obama cited the democratic transition in the country, formerly known as Burma, from decades of military rule – including historic elections last November and the launch of a democratically elected government in March – the release of many political prisoners, as well as greater enjoyment of human rights.
“I have determined that the situation that gave rise to the national emergency with respect to Burma has been significantly altered by Burma’s substantial advances to promote democracy,” he said.
The move followed a meeting between Obama and Suu Kyi last month at the White House. Suu Kyi, a democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, requested that the United States lift remaining sanctions in recognition of steps Myanmar has taken toward democratisation.
The United States lifted some of its sanctions on Myanmar in May after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy scored a sweeping victory in last November’s elections.
Most of the remaining US sanctions on Myanmar had restricted business with military-owned companies and banned imports of jade and gemstones, major natural resources of the country.
With the latest measure, the United States has now removed all individuals and entities from the US sanctions list and revoked the ban on imports into the United States of Myanmar-origin jadeite and rubies, according to the Treasury Department.
While the United States also terminated restrictions on banking with Myanmar, it maintains sanctions, for example, on narcotics-related activities, the department said.
Despite the inauguration of a civilian-led government in March, there has been mounting concern about what some say is an “outsized” role of the military in politics, treatment of the Muslim minority and a lack of progress in constitutional reforms.
Senator Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, welcomed Obama’s announcement, but raised concern about outstanding issues in Myanmar such as the role of the military, which constitutionally controls some government ministries and is automatically granted 25 per cent of the total seats in both houses of parliament.
“Even as we lift these sanctions we must maintain a focus on ongoing concerns regarding the role of the military in Burma’s economy and politics ... as well as human rights, the plight of the Rohingya, ethnic and national reconciliation, broad-based economic development, and the constitutional reform necessary to facilitate and complete Burma’s transition,” Cardin said.
Obama affirmed continued US support for Myanmar’s shift to democracy, which his administration regards as a major foreign policy achievement as part of the US strategic “rebalance” to Asia.
“While Burma faces significant challenges, including the consolidation of its democracy, the United States can, and intends to, use other means to support the government and people of Burma in their efforts to address these challenges,” he said.