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

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs