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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid