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One week from tomorrow, I will be in the Capitol as Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi receives the Congressional Gold Medal at a joint session of Congress.
Held under house arrest by the Burmese military junta to silence her message of freedom and democracy, Suu Kyi has not been free to visit to the United States in more than two decades. The trip is a testament to how much has changed in Burma in recent years.
But as I celebrate Suu Kyi’s freedom, I am standing against Burma’s brutal military and other bad actors in Burma who have control over many sectors of the economy and have a long history of committing serious human rights abuses.
The United States has an important tool to ensure that business investments in Burma are not used to reward or enable those committing abuses — the Specially Designated National’s List. But the List has not been updated in the last 5 years. Tell President Obama to support the reforms that Suu Kyi has worked for by updating the Specially Designated Nationals List today.
Abuses by the military are not a thing of the past as the Burmese army continues to attack ethnic minority populations. Last week more than 1,000 Palaung ethnic minorities in northern Shan state and 6,000 villagers in the Hpakant jade mining region in Kachin State fled their homes due to fighting between government forces and ethnic armed groups.
But those responsible for recent human rights abuses are slipping through the cracks — the Specially Designated Nationals List for Burma has not had a comprehensive update since 2007.
Updating the List is critical as U.S. companies are prohibited from doing business with the people and businesses on it, including those whose actions “threaten peace, security or stability in Burma.”
Investors are rushing into Burma. In July, Chevron, Exxon Mobile and Conoco Phillips were part of a delegation of 40 firms looking to invest in Burma’s oil and gas sector. And more U.S. companies are lining up every day to get access to Burma’s lucrative natural resources. Without revisions to the List, those involved in human rights abuses in Burma may profit greatly from U.S. investment.
The freedom that Aung San Suu Kyi has won came from the efforts of people and governments around the world that imposed sanctions and kept a watchful eye on the Burmese regime. While the progress that Burma has made is promising, these reforms can also be easily reversed. Updating the List is a critical step to make sure our nation supports the rights and interests of the Burmese people.
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