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.
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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid