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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

U.S. Sanctions on Burma

Michael F. Martin
Acting Section Research Manager/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. 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 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: October 19, 2012
Number of Pages: 47
Order Number: R41336
Price: $29.95

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