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Friday, May 31, 2013

U.S. Sanctions on Burma: Issues for the 113th Congress

Michael F. Martin
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Since December 2011, the Obama Administration has waived many of the existing sanctions specifically imposed on Burma and terminated one sanction in an effort to promote greater political and economic reform in the country. Having waived most of the sanctions for which he had the authority to do so, President Obama may approach the 113
th Congress about the selective repeal or removal of one or more of the current sanctions on Burma. In addition, the 113th Congress may consider either the imposition of additional sanctions or the removal of some of the existing sanctions on Burma, depending on the conduct of the Burmese government and other developments in the country.

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 overview of actions taken to waive or ease those sanctions by the Obama Administration. The report concludes with a discussion of actions taken by the 112
th Congress and options for the 113th Congress.

Current U.S. sanctions on Burma 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.

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. 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.

In addition to the targeted sanctions, Burma is currently subject to certain sanctions specified in U.S. laws addressing 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, the SPDC formally dissolved itself and transferred power to a quasi-civilian government known as the Union Government, headed by President Thein Sein, ex-general and former prime minister for the SPDC. President Thein Sein, with the support of Burma’s Union Parliament, has implemented a number of political and economic reforms, to which the Obama Administration has responded by waiving or easing sanctions. However, the continuation of serious human rights abuses has raised questions about the extent to which there has been significant political change in Burma, and if the easing of sanctions has been warranted.

Date of Report: May 14, 2013
Number of Pages: 45
Order Number: R42939
Price: $29.95

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