Cardin, McCain Introduce Legislation to Support Burma During Historic Political, Economic Transition, Remain Focused on Human Rights Issues

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, and John McCain (R-Ariz.), Chairman of the Committee on Armed Services, introduced legislation today to lend additional U.S. support to Burma’s ongoing political transition and economic growth since that country’s historic November 2015 elections, while also recognizing that human rights issues, national reconciliation and constitutional reform remain works in progress that must be addressed.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counselor and Foreign Minister of Burma who has long served as a human rights symbol of her people and won the Nobel Peace Prize, will be in Washington this week and is scheduled to meet with senators from both parties.

“Burma has come a long way since the dark days of the military dictatorship, and in recent years has taken historic, important steps toward a democratic future,” Senator Cardin said. “The legislation that we have introduced today seeks to build on Burma’s progress while being clear-eyed about lingering concerns regarding human rights, the plight of the Rohingya, the role of the military in Burmese society and politics, ethnic and national reconciliation, broad-based economic development, and the constitutional reform necessary to facilitate and complete Burma’s transition. The U.S. looks forward to working with the Burmese people through greater support, engagement and partnership on these key issues.”

“After nearly 50 years of military rule, Burma has achieved a historic milestone with a democratic election and successful transition of power to a civilian-led government. This extraordinary development warrants reconsideration of U.S. policy towards Burma, and this legislation seeks to usher in a new era of relations between our two countries that will support continued progress towards democracy, human rights and peace for the Burmese people,” Senator McCain said. “I look forward to discussing how we can strengthen our ties during Aung San Suu Kyi’s historic visit to Washington this week.”

The Burma Strategy Act of 2016:

· Authorizes bilateral economic assistance to support civil society organizations, provide humanitarian assistance, promote ethnic reconciliation, and strengthen anti-corruption and transparency initiatives and calls on U.S. representatives in international financial institutions to support projects in Burma that focus on transparency and accountability;

· Authorizes limited military-to-military engagement between the United States and Burma for English language training and the military’s participation in the peace process, as well as a program to support engagement with the militaries of other nations to help reinforce civilian control of the military and respect for human rights;

· Creates a Burma-American Development Fund to provide incentives for appropriate private sector investment in Burma, with priority on promoting initiatives that support Burma’s small-hold farmers; meet international recognized standards for labor, the environment, transparency, corruption, human rights; and that support local communities, and calls for USTR to work with Burma to meet eligibility for preferential tariff treatment under the Generalized System of Preferences, provided that Burma meets international labor standards;

· Calls for a Gemstone Strategy Report to support the National League for Democracy-led efforts to reform and mainstream the country’s extractives sector, bringing it under good governance standards; and,

· Sets benchmarks and guidelines on sanctions relief, including for the exercise of the Specially Designated Nations (SDN) list by calling on the Secretary of State to assess and make recommendations regarding the modification or lifting of sanctions given in the context of Burma’s progress and with an eye on on-going challenges for democracy, good governance, ethnic reconciliation, legal reforms in the extractives sector, and the treatment of military-owned enterprises and other key criteria.

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Assistant Democratic Leader, and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) are signed on as original co-sponsors of the legislation.

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