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CRS — Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Sanctions

November 15, 2013 Comments off

Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Sanctions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The installation of a new quasi-civilian government in 2011 and the undertaking of a number of political reforms have raised the prospects for the resumption of a fully democratically elected civilian government in Burma after five decades of military rule. The release of Burma’s political prisoners has a central role in U.S. policy and Burma’s political future. Many of the U.S. sanctions on Burma were implemented after Burma’s ruling military junta suppressed protests and detained many political prisoners. In addition, the removal of many of the existing U.S. sanctions requires the release of all political prisoners in Burma

Similarly, hopes for a democratic government in Burma—as well as national reconciliation— would depend on the release of prisoners associated with the country’s ethnic groups. Several ethnic-based political parties have stated they will not participate in parliamentary elections until their members are released from custody. Also, prospects for stable ceasefires and lasting peace with various ethnic-based militias may require the release of their members currently in detention.

Estimates of how many political prisoners are being detained in Burma vary. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), or AAPP(B), a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying and locating political prisoners in Burma, the Burmese government may be holding over 100 political prisoners in its prisons and labor camps scattered across the country.

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CRS — U.S. Policy Towards Burma: Issues for the 113th Congress

May 5, 2013 Comments off

U.S. Policy Towards Burma: Issues for the 113th Congress (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. Department of State Foreign Press Center)

U.S. policy towards Burma has undergone a discernible shift in its approach since a quasi-civilian government was established in March 2011. While the overall objectives of U.S. policy towards the country remain in place—the establishment of civilian democratic government based on the rule of law and the protection of basic human rights—the Obama Administration has moved from a more reactive, “action-for-action” strategy and a skeptical and cautious attitude towards the newly created Union Government and Union Parliament to a more proactive mode. The new approach is designed to foster further reforms based on some form of partnership with the Union Government, headed by President Thein Sein.

During the last two years, the Obama Administration has conducted much of its policy towards Burma using existing constitutional and legal authority, while regularly consulting with Congress about the actions taken. The 112th Congress passed five laws containing provisions related to U.S. policy in Burma. Three laws—P.L. 112-33, P.L. 112-36, and P.L. 112-163—extended the general import ban contained in Section 3 of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 (2003 BFDA, P.L. 108-61) which is subject to annual renewal. P.L. 112-74 placed restrictions on the use in Burma of appropriated funds for certain Defense and State Department programs. P.L. 112-192 granted the Secretary of the Treasury the option of instructing the U.S. Executive Director at any international financial institution to “vote in favor of the provision of assistance for Burma by the institution, notwithstanding any other provision of law” if the President has determined that to do so is in the national interest of the United States. The 113th Congress will have the opportunity to decide what role it will play in the future course of U.S. policy in Burma.

The Administration’s Burma policy in 2011 and 2012 may be characterized as the combination of increasing engagement with Burma’s Union Government, Union Parliament, and selected opposition groups, and the waiving or easing of many of the existing economic sanctions imposed on Burma by various laws, including the 2003 BFDA and the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-286). However, the Administration may decide that it is approaching the limit of actions it can take with regard to easing of sanctions without Congress passing new legislation.

Some critics of the Obama Administration say that it has moved too fast and too far in easing the existing sanctions, given the continued reports of serious human rights violations and significant restrictions on civil liberties. Other critics think the Administration has moved too slowly and cautiously in waiving sanctions, hindering the reform process in Burma and blocking greater U.S. participation in Burma’s economic development.

Certain key issues with regard to Burma’s political situation may be important to the future course of U.S. policy in Burma. First, President Thein Sein’s vision for Burma’s “disciplined democracy” has not been clearly elaborated, and his commitment to further reforms remains untested. Second, the view of Burma’s military leadership on political reforms is uncertain. Third, the path for possible reconciliation between the country’s Burman majority and various ethnic minorities is unclear.

CRS — U.S. Sanctions on Burma

November 19, 2012 Comments off

U.S. Sanctions on Burma (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Existing U.S. sanctions on Burma are based on various U.S. laws and presidential executive orders. This report provides a brief history of U.S. policy towards Burma and the development of U.S. sanctions, a topical summary of those sanctions, and an examination of additional sanctions that have been considered, but not enacted, by Congress, or that could be imposed under existing law or executive orders. It also discusses recent easing of some of those sanctions and provisions under which additional sanctions could be waived or removed. The report concludes with a discussion of options for Congress.

The current U.S. sanctions on Burma were enacted, for the most part, due to what the U.S. government saw as a general disregard by Burma’s ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), for the human rights and civil liberties of the people of Burma. The actions of the new quasi-civilian government in Burma have led the Obama Administration to waive some of the existing sanctions in an effort to promote further reforms and to support perceived pro-reform Burmese government officials. The easing of U.S. sanctions has been generally timed to correspond with a significant political development in Burma-U.S. relations.

Burma-specific sanctions began following the Burmese military’s violent suppression of popular protests in 1988, and have continued through several subsequent periods in which Congress perceived major human rights violations in Burma. The result is a web of overlapping sanctions with differing restrictions, waiver provisions, expiration conditions, and reporting requirements. The United States currently imposes sanctions specifically on Burma via six laws and five presidential documents. These sanctions can be generally divided into several broad categories, such as visa bans, restrictions on financial services, prohibitions of Burmese imported goods, a ban on new investments in Burma, and constraints on U.S. assistance to Burma. Past Congresses have considered a variety of additional, stricter sanctions on Burma.

In addition to the targeted sanctions, Burma is currently subject to certain sanctions specified in U.S. laws based on various functional issues. In many cases, the type of assistance or relations restricted or prohibited by these provisions is also addressed under Burma-specific sanction laws.

The functional issues include the use of child soldiers, drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, failure to protect religious freedoms, violations of workers’ rights, and threats to world peace and the security of the United States.

On March 30, 2011, SPDC formally dissolved itself and transferred power to the new Union Government, headed by President Thein Sein, ex-general and prime minister for the SPDC. On six separate occasions since his appointment, President Thein Sein has ordered the release of prisoners, including a number of political prisoners. The Union Government has also initiated ceasefire talks with various ethnic-based militias, and altered laws that allowed opposition parties to participate in parliamentary by-elections held on April 1, 2012. However, the continuation of serious human rights abuses has raised questions about the extent to which there has been significant political change in Burma.

The 112 th Congress may consider either the imposition of additional sanctions or the removal of some of the existing sanctions, depending on the conduct of Burma’s new Union Government and other developments in Burma. This report will be updated as conditions warrant.

See also: Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Sanctions (PDF)

CRS — Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Sanctions

May 29, 2012 Comments off

Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Sanctions
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Open CRS)

The installation of the Union Government in 2011 and the undertaking of initial reforms have raised the prospects for the resumption of a democratically elected civilian government in Burma after five decades of military rule. The release of Burma’s political prisoners has a central role in U.S. policy and Burma’s political future. Many of the U.S. sanctions on Burma were implemented after Burma’s ruling military junta suppressed protests and detained many political prisoners. In addition, the removal of most of the existing U.S. sanctions requires the release of all political prisoners in Burma. Similarly, hopes for a democratic government in Burma–as well as national reconciliation–would depend on the release of prisoners associated with the country’s ethnic groups. Several ethnic-based political parties have stated they will not participate in parliamentary elections until their members are released from custody. Also, prospects for stable ceasefires and lasting peace with various ethnic-based militias will probably require the release of their members currently in detention. Estimates of how many political prisoners are being detained in Burma vary greatly. In November 2011, President Thein Sein stated that there are no political prisoners in Burma because everyone in detention had committed a crime.

CRS — Burma’s April Parliamentary By-Elections

April 3, 2012 Comments off

Burma’s April Parliamentary By-Elections (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) is scheduled to hold parliamentary by-elections on April 1, 2012. Depending on the conduct of the election and the official election results, the Obama Administration may seek to alter policy towards Burma, possibly including the waiver or removal of some current sanctions. Such a shift may require congressional action, or may be done using executive authority granted by existing laws.

The by-elections originally were to fill 46 vacant seats in Burma’s national parliament (out of a total of 664 seats) and 2 seats in local parliaments. On March 23, the Union Election Commission postponed voting for three seats from the Kachin State for security reasons. A total of 17 political parties are running candidates in the by-elections, including the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The by-elections are viewed as significant primarily because of the decision by the NLD to compete for the vacant seats.

The NLD and others allege that some Burmese officials and the USDP are taking steps to disrupt the NLD’s campaign and possibly win the by-elections by fraudulent means. Despite these problems, events at which Aung San Suu Kyi speaks routinely draw tens of thousands of people. In response to international pressure, the Union Government has invited the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the European Union (EU), the United Nations, and the United States to send election observers. The State Department has said it intends to accept the offer.

Although largely free and fair by-elections would be a significant development, the current political situation in Burma remains a source of serious concern for U.S. policy makers. Hundreds of political prisoners remain in detention. Despite ceasefire talks, fighting between the Burmese military and various ethnic militias continues, resulting in a new flow of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees into nearby countries. Reports of severe human rights abuses by the Burmese military against civilians in conflict areas regularly appear in the international press.

The response of the Obama Administration to Burma’s by-elections will depend on the conduct of the campaign, the balloting process, the veracity of the official election results, and possibly on how the winners of the elections are treated once they become members of Burma’s parliaments. In addition, the response of opposition parties (particularly the NLD and its chairperson, Aung San Suu Kyi), other nations and the EU to the by-elections may influence the U.S. response.
Under current law, President Barack Obama has the authority to waive many—but not all—of the existing sanctions on Burma, and he may choose to exercise that authority following the by- elections. Alternatively, the White House may ask Congress to consider legislation removing or altering some the existing sanctions. For its own part, Congress may decide to re-examine U.S. policy towards Burma and make whatever changes it deems appropriate.

For additional information on Burma, see CRS Report R41971, U.S. Policy Towards Burma: Issues for the 112th Congress; CRS Report R41336, U.S. Sanctions on Burma; and CRS Report R42363, Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Sanctions. The report will be updated following the announcement of the official results of the by-elections, and as circumstances warrant.

CRS — U.S. Sanctions on Burma

February 21, 2012 Comments off
Source:  Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Existing U.S. sanctions on Burma are based on various U.S. laws and presidential executive orders. This report provides a brief history of U.S. policy towards Burma and the development of U.S. sanctions, a topical summary of those sanctions, and an examination of additional sanctions that have been considered, but not enacted, by Congress, or that could be imposed under existing law or executive orders. The report concludes with a discussion of options for Congress.
The current U.S. sanctions on Burma were enacted, for the most part, due to what the U.S. government saw as a general disregard by Burma’s ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), for the human rights and civil liberties of the people of Burma. The actions of the new quasi-civilian government in Burma have initiated a discussion on when and how to possibly remove some of the existing sanctions. The Obama Administration recently announced it would for the first time in 21 years nominate a candidate to serve as U.S. ambassador to Burma and would welcome a Burmese ambassador to the United States.
Burma-specific sanctions began following the Tatmadaw’s violent suppression of popular protests in 1988, and have continued through several subsequent periods in which Congress perceived major human rights violations in Burma. The result is a web of overlapping sanctions with differing restrictions, waiver provisions, expiration conditions, and reporting requirements.
The United States currently imposes sanctions specifically on Burma via five laws and four presidential documents. These sanctions can be generally divided into several broad categories, such as visa bans, restrictions on financial services, prohibitions of Burmese imported goods, a ban on new investments in Burma, and constraints on U.S. assistance to Burma. Past Congresses have considered a variety of additional, stricter sanctions on Burma.
In addition to the targeted sanctions, Burma is currently subject to certain sanctions specified in U.S. laws based on various functional issues. In many cases, the type of assistance or relations restricted or prohibited by these provisions is also addressed under Burma-specific sanction laws. The functional issues include the use of child soldiers, drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, failure to protect religious freedoms, violations of workers’ rights, and threats to world peace and the security of the United States.
On March 30, 2011, SPDC formally dissolved itself and transferred power to the new Union Government, headed by President Thein Sein, ex-general and prime minister for the SPDC. On four separate occasions since his appointment, President Thein Sein has ordered the release of prisoners, including a number of political prisoners. The Union Government has also initiated ceasefire talks with various ethnic-based militias, and altered laws to allow opposition parties to participate in parliamentary elections. However, the continuation of serious human rights abuses has raised questions about the extent to which there has been significant political change in Burma. Consideration is being given by the Obama Administration to the selective removal or alteration of sanctions as part of an effort to foster more reform in Burma.
The 112 th Congress may consider either the imposition of additional sanctions or the removal of some of the existing sanctions, depending on the conduct of Burma’s new Union Government and other developments in Burma. This report will be updated as conditions warrant.

New From the GAO

July 26, 2011 Comments off

New GAO Reports and Testimonies (PDFs)
Source: Government Accountability Office

+ Reports

1.  Mutual Fund Advertising:  Improving How Regulators Communicate New Rule Interpretations to Industry Would Further Protect Investors.  GAO-11-697, July 26.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-697
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11697high.pdf

2.  Value in Health Care: Key Information for Policymakers to Assess Efforts to Improve Quality While Reducing Costs.  GAO-11-445, July 26.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-445
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11445high.pdf

3.  Data Center Consolidation:  Agencies Need to Complete Inventories and Plans to Achieve Expected Savings.  GAO-11-565, July 19.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-565
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11565high.pdf

4.  School Improvement Grants:  Early Implementation Under Way, but Reforms Affected by Short Time Frames.  GAO-11-741, July 25.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-741

5.  Burma: UN and U.S. Agencies Assisted Cyclone Victims in Difficult Environment, but Improved U.S. Monitoring Needed.  GAO-11-700, July 26.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-700
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11700high.pdf
Video – http://www.gao.gov/multimedia/video/damage_in_burma_s_irrawaddy_delta_from_cyclone_nargis_may_2008

6.  Defense Management:  Actions Needed to Improve Management of Air Force’s Food Transformation Initiative.  GAO-11-676, July 26.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-676
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11676high.pdf

+ Testimonies

1.  Combating Nuclear Smuggling: DHS has Developed a Strategic Plan for its Global Nuclear Detection Architecture, but Gaps Remain, by David C. Maurer, director, homeland security and justice, and Gene Aloise, director, natural resources and environment, before the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies, House Committee on Homeland Security.  GAO-11-869T, July 26.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-869T

2.  Cybersecurity:  Continued Attention Needed to Protect Our Nation’s Critical Infrastructure, by Gregory C. Wilshusen, director, information security issues, before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, House Committee on Energy and Commerce.  GAO-11-865T, July 26.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-865T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11865thigh.pdf

3.  Value-Added Taxes:  Potential Lessons for the United States from Other Countries’ Experiences, by James R. White, director, strategic issues, before the House Committee on Ways and Means.  GAO-11-867T, July 26.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-867T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11867thigh.pdf

4.  Federal Workers’ Compensation:  Questions to Consider in Changing Benefits for Older Beneficiaries, by Andrew Sherrill, director, education, workforce, and income security issues, before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.  GAO-11-854T, July 26.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-854T

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