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Friday, October 4, 2013

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

Michael F. Martin
Specialist Asian Affairs

In March 2011, Burma’s ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) formally dissolved itself and transferred power to a semi-military/semi-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.

Although the presidential waivers effectively lift the sanctions, they do not revoke or remove the sanctions, which can be reimposed at any time. Various recent developments in Burma have sparked a general reexamination of U.S. policy towards Burma, and a discussion of whether U.S. sanctions continue to be an effective means of achieving policy goals or effecting change in Burma. 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.

The United States is nearing the limits of steps it can take to ease Burma sanctions without Congress passing new legislation. Thus, President Obama may approach Congress about the selective repeal or removal of one or more of the current sanctions on Burma. The 113
th Congress allowed some of the sanctions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 to expire on July 26, 2013, when it did not pass an annual renewal resolution. The 113th Congress may consider either the imposition of additional sanctions or the removal of the remaining sanctions on Burma, depending on the conduct of the Burmese government and other developments in the country.

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 the 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.

Existing U.S. sanctions on Burma are based on various U.S. laws and presidential executive orders. They 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. 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.

In addition to the targeted sanctions, Burma may be subject to certain sanctions specified in U.S. laws addressing various functional issues, such as the use of child soldiers, drug trafficking, human trafficking. In many cases, the type of assistance or relations restricted or prohibited by these provisions is also addressed under Burma-specific sanction laws. Finally, Congress has used appropriation legislation to restrict or prevent the use of designated funds in Burma. This report will be updated as conditions warrant.

Date of Report: September 13, 2013
Number of Pages: 47
Order Number: R42939
Price: $29.95

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