Press Releases

McConnell/Feinstein Burma Sanctions Bill Passes Senate

- Sanctions set to expire on July 26, 2007 -

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced Tuesday that their legislation to renew sanctions against the Burmese government has passed the Senate.  “The Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act” now goes to the President for his signature. 

The McConnell/Feinstein bill calls for the renewal of sanctions against the Burmese junta, which include an import ban on Burmese goods entering the U.S. and visa restrictions on officials from the regime -- the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). 

This is the fifth consecutive year that Senators McConnell and Feinstein have worked together to extend the annual ban on imports from Burma. 

The McConnell/Feinstein legislation maintains sanctions on the regime until changes are taken by the SPDC – changes that include taking concrete, irreversible steps toward reconciliation and democratization, such as the full, unfettered participation of the National League for Democracy and ethnic minorities in the political affairs of the country; ending attacks on ethnic minorities; and the immediate, unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Today, the United States Senate sent a strong message to the military junta in Burma -- America continues to stand squarely with the people of Burma in their quest for freedom and democracy,” Senator McConnell said. 

“Simply put, the military junta in Burma has failed to take any meaningful steps to warrant a lifting of the sanctions,” Senator Feinstein said. “Today, we send a message to the military junta that it must release all political prisoners, including democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and engage in a true national dialogue on restoring democratic government.  And we join the international community in signaling to Suu Kyi that we are with her, that she does not stand alone, and we will not remain silent.”

In addition to Senators McConnell and Feinstein, the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act had 59 cosponsors.  The House passed its version on Monday. 

Earlier today, Senator Feinstein spoke on the Senate Floor, urging passage of the resolution.  The following is the prepared text of Senator Feinstein’s remarks:

“Mr. President, I rise today with Senator McConnell to support passage of the joint resolution renewing the import sanctions on Burma for another year.

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, bi-partisan basis.

I urge my colleagues to pass this joint resolution by Unanimous Consent so President Bush can promptly sign it into law.

We do not have time to waste. 

The sanctions are set to expire on July 26 and any delay will only serve to benefit the ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Council 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 sanctions will be renewed for only one more year and we will have the opportunity to revisit this issue again next year.  That is the way it should be.

 Simply put, the military junta has failed to take any meaningful steps to release Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and restore democratic government to the people of Burma.  The sanctions must remain in place.

Last month, we celebrated the 62nd birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi.  Sadly, she spent the day as she has for most of the past 17 years: alone and under house arrest. 

And in May, the State Peace and Development Council renewed her sentence for yet another year.

Yet I am heartened to know that the United States Senate and the international community are coming together to ensure that the abuses and injustices of the military junta in Burma do not go unnoticed.

Earlier this year, 45 United States Senators signed a letter to United Nations Secretary General 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 dialogue between the military, National League for Democracy, and Burma’s ethnic groups.’

The calls for Suu Kyi’s release are also coming from Burma’s neighbors.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (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. 

Last month, the women of the United States Senate came together to form the Women’s Caucus on Burma to express our solidarity with Suu Kyi, call for her immediate release urge the United Nations to pass a binding resolution on Burma. 

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 clear: 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 the human rights situation also compels us to action:

  • 1,300 political prisoners are still in jail;
  • According to the UN Special Rapporteur, over 3,000 villages have been destroyed by the military junta,
  • 70,000 child soldiers have been forcibly recruited;
  • Over 500,000 people are internally displaced in Burma today, and over one million people have fled Burma over 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;
  • 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 but in this instance I believe they can be effective.  Suu Kyi herself has said:

‘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.’

I urge my colleagues to support this resolution.”