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Monday, September 26, 2011

U.S. Sanctions on Burma

Michael F. Martin
Specialist in Asian Affairs

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 are, for the most part, due to what the U.S. government sees as a general disregard by Burma’s ruling military junta for the human rights and civil liberties of the people of Burma.

In general, Congress has passed Burma-specific sanctions following instances of serious violation of human rights in Burma. These 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 subject to differing restrictions, waiver provisions, expiration conditions, and reporting requirements.

The United States currently imposes sanctions specifically on Burma via five laws and four presidential executive orders (E.O.s). 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.

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 are 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. Past Congresses have considered a variety of additional, stricter sanctions on Burma.

In November 2010, Burma’s ruling military junta held parliamentary elections and released prominent opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. In January 2011, Burma’s new Union Parliament met for the first time, and on March 30, 2011, the ruling military junta formally dissolved itself and transferred power to the new Union Government. However, various aspects of these changes in Burma—including the selection of senior junta members for many of the more powerful positions in the new Union Government—have raised questions about the extent to which there has been significant political change in Burma.

The 112th 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.

Date of Report: August 8, 2011
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R41336
Price: $29.95

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