Washington, DC – The House today passed legislation by Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, to extend by one year a set of tough sanctions against the brutal ruling military junta of Burma, which continues to terrorize the Burmese people, suppress free expression and to arbitrarily detain political prisoners. One such prisoner, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, recently marked her 62nd birthday, the 17th birthday she has been forced to spend under house arrest.
“The authoritarian regime in Burma continues to trample on even the most basic principles of human rights and to flout the will of the international community,” Lantos said. “This is a regime that terrorizes innocent villagers, continually thwarts the democratic will of its people and unjustifiably imprisons political activists like the courageous freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi. By renewing the sanctions under the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, the United States has demonstrated its resolve to stand against these horrific actions for as long as it takes to bring democracy, freedom and basic rights to the people of Burma.”
The Lantos legislation (H. J. Res. 44), a one-year extension of the import sanctions portion of the law that he co-authored in 2003, continues to prohibit the importation into the United States of any item produced in Burma. The President may waive these sanctions once of series of human rights, democracy and counter-narcotics requirements have been met. The White House has indicated that the President will sign the extension of the sanctions into law.
In a speech on the House floor advocating approval of the sanctions legislation, Lantos noted that U.S. sanctions have spurred other countries to place pressure on the Burmese regime for reforms, including the leading member-nations of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), but that “too many other nations – India and China in particular – continue to prop up the government through shockingly direct deals, including arms trading, with this cruel junta.”
“As we renew our import sanctions, we aim both to pressure directly the military junta in Burma and to influence those in the international community who are currently asleep at the wheel of justice and human rights,” Lantos added. “Oppressive power can only be de-legitimized when it is fully isolated.”
Human rights abuses in Burma have been well documented, with Amnesty International reporting that 1,200 political prisoners have been locked away and Human Rights Watch calculating that up to 70,000 child soldiers have been forced into the regime's army, more than any other country in the world. The U.S. State Department has noted serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings, custodial deaths, disappearances, rape, and torture.
In addition to these egregious abuses, the regime has detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi continuously since May 30, 2003, extending her captivity by a year most recently on May 27, 2006. Suu Kyi has dedicated her life to peacefully bringing democracy and freedom to the Burmese people, and led her political party to win 82% of the seats in parliament in Burma's last election, which the military regime subsequently annulled.
“Aung San Suu Kyi remains imprisoned. So do the people of Burma,” said Lantos, the founding co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. “Even out of power and out of sight, she remains a symbol – and therefore a leader – of the plight of some 50 million people in her native land of Burma. We must do our part to carry her torch.”