Recent Speeches

Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Madam President, I come to speak to the passage of the joint resolution renewing the import sanctions on Burma for another year. This legislation has been introduced for several years now by Senator McConnell and myself. I began working on this issue with Senator Bill Cohen a long time ago when he was in this body.

Yesterday, the House passed the joint resolution by voice vote and the Senate Finance Committee reported the McConnell-Feinstein bill to the Senate floor on a unanimous bipartisan basis, so I urge my colleagues to pass this resolution.

These sanctions are set to expire in 2 days, that is July 26, and any delay will only serve to benefit the ruling military junta in Burma—the State Peace and Development Council is its name—at the expense of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy Aung San Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition in Burma.

I remind my colleagues that the National League for Democracy, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, decisively won the last parliamentary elections in 1989.

These sanctions will be renewed for 1 year, so we will have a chance to discuss them in a year if the military junta should decide to make some reforms. But, simply put, the junta to date has failed to take any meaningful steps to release Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. There are over a thousand political prisoners, many of her political party, elected to the Parliament, who remain in prison.

Last month, we celebrated the 62nd birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi. She spent her day, as she has for most of her past 17 years, alone and under house arrest—17 long years alone in a house in Burma, with no communication with the outside world. In May, the State Peace and Development Council renewed her sentence for yet another year.
I am heartened to know the Senate and the international community are coming together to ensure the abuses and injustices of the military junta in Burma do not go unnoticed.

Earlier this year, 45 Senators signed a letter to U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon, urging him to get personally involved in pressing for Suu Kyi's release.

In a recent letter addressed to the State Peace and Development Council, a distinguished group of 59 former heads of State, including former Filipino President Corazon Aquino, former Czech President Vaclav Havel, former British Prime Minister John Major, and former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush, called for the regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi.

They correctly noted that “Aung San Suu Kyi is not calling for revolution in Burma but rather peaceful, nonviolent dialog between the military, National League for Democracy, and Burma's ethnic groups.”

What kind of threat can that be to a government?

The calls for Suu Kyi's release are also coming from Burma's neighbors. The Association of Southwest Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, now recognizes that Burma's actions are not an internal matter but a significant threat to peace and stability in the region. At a meeting of senior diplomats last month, ASEAN made a clear call for Aung San Suu Kyi's release.

That call is so welcome. I would like to encourage ASEAN to continue to speak out.

Last month, the women of the Senate—and you were one, Madam President—came together to form the Women's Caucus on Burma, to express our solidarity with Suu Kyi, to call for her immediate release, and urge the United Nations to pass a binding resolution on Burma.

We did not do this in vain. The United Nations did pass a resolution earlier this year, but unfortunately it was vetoed by China and Russia. At our inaugural event, we were pleased to be joined by First Lady Laura Bush, who added her own voice to those calling for peace and democracy in Burma.

Our message is spreading and it is clear and we will not remain silent. We will not stand still until Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners are released and democratic government is restored in Burma.

Let us not forget that this human rights situation compels us to action.

Consider this:

  • There are still 1,300 political prisoners in jail;
  • According to the U.N. Special Rapporteur, over 3,000 villages have been destroyed by the military junta;
  • 70,000 child soldiers have been forcibly recruited; over half a million people are internally displaced in Burma today;
  • Over 1 million people have fled Burma in the past two decades, destabilizing Burma's neighbors'
  • The practice of rape as a form of repression has been sanctioned by the Burmese military;
  • Use of forced labor is widespread;
  • Human trafficking is rampant; and
  • Burma is the world's second largest opium producer, after Afghanistan, and increasingly a source of trafficking of synthetic narcotics.

Sanctions are not a panacea for every problem, and in many cases they don't work, but in this instance, we still hope they can be effective.

Suu Kyi herself has said this:

“We would like the world to know that economic sanctions do not hurt the common people of Burma. We would like the European Community, the United States and the rest of the world to be aware that sanctions do help the movement for democracy in Burma.”

Members of this body, this is an amazing woman, a Nobel Prize winner, in house arrest for the better part of 17 years because her party was democratically elected to lead Burma. We should speak out. This resolution is one way of doing that.

I urge its passage.