News / Asia

Rights Groups Skeptical About Easing Burma Sanctions

A man counts US dollars and Burma kyats at a money changer in Rangoon, March 21, 2012. A man counts US dollars and Burma kyats at a money changer in Rangoon, March 21, 2012.
x
A man counts US dollars and Burma kyats at a money changer in Rangoon, March 21, 2012.
A man counts US dollars and Burma kyats at a money changer in Rangoon, March 21, 2012.
TEXT SIZE - +
Ron Corben
BANGKOK -- A broad spectrum of human rights and humanitarian groups are voicing skepticism over the U.S. government’s decision to allow U.S. companies to invest in Burma, including its state-run oil sector.

The decision, announced by President Barack Obama on Wednesday, allows U.S. companies and financial services to conduct business in Burma for the first time in 15 years. It also enables U.S. corporations to partner with Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), a state-owned company.

Humanitarian and rights groups are focusing criticism on the easing of sanctions on Burma, and on the move to open U.S. investment in the country's oil and gas industry, viewed by many as a key source of revenue for past military governments.
Easing of Burma Sanctions

July 12, 2012: U.S. President Barack Obama eases economic sanctions while banning U.S. business contacts with Burmese military and keeping arms embargo in place.

April, 2012: European Union suspends trade and economic sanctions for one year after lifting some visa restrictions in February. The EU arms embargo remains in place.

June, 2012: Australia lifts remaining travel and financial sanctions, but keeps arms embargo in place.

April, 2012: Canada eases economic sanctions but maintains arms embargo and assets freeze on specific individuals.

Advocacy groups, including the U.S. labor federation AFL-CIO, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, the Institute for Asian Democracy, and other groups, have called for the U.S. to maintain the restrictive economic measures designed to pressure the former military government to undertake political reforms and improve its human rights record, including the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and up to 2,000 other political prisoners.
 
Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director, says oil-and-gas sector transparency and accountability in Burma -- also known as Myanmar -- remains a concern.
 
“When U.S. investment is going in by opening across the board, they should have really had some stronger preconditions," he said. "They should have an updated sanctions list and binding prohibitions in the oil-and-gas sector, which we view as problematic.”
 
The U.S. says the easing of sanctions, in line with the European Union and Australia, sends a “strong signal” of U.S. support for Burma’s program of political reform under President Thein Sein.

But Robertson says granting rights to invest in the oil industry is seen as a setback by rights groups and appears to come after pressure from U.S. oil companies.
 
“It looks like the U.S. has caved in to [American] industry pressure," he said. "Aung San Suu Kyi said that it was not a transparent enterprise. In fact, there were a lot of problems with the sector, so it was surprising that the U.S. government included it on the list and allowed investment to take place -- to focus on that oil-and-gas extraction sector.”

Another organization expressing concern includes Washington-based non-profit Earth Rights International, which says the U.S. policy fails to abide international best practices on human rights, environmental performance and financial transparency.
 
But U.S. business representatives say the presence of U.S. companies in Burma can assist in raising labor and environmental standards, as well as corporate responsibility.
 
Burma’s main investors in recent years have been led by China and South East Asian nations such as Thailand and Singapore. But new sources of investment, especially for much needed infrastructure, are viewed by those backing the new U.S. policy as necessary to boost Burma’s economy, which, following decades of military misrule, is one of Asia's poorest.

A new foreign-investment law, expected to be in place by September, includes land-access reforms and guarantees of a “level playing field” for local and foreign companies.
 
The U.S. decision comes as Japan normalizes economic relations with Burma after a 25 year freeze on new loans. Japan’s fifth largest trading firm, Marubeni, this week announced a new contract to overhaul a gas-fired power plant it built prior to the tightening of sanctions.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid