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CRS: U.S. Sanctions on Burma

Author: Michael F. Martin
July 16, 2010

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The current U.S. sanctions on Burma are the result of a general, but uneven decline in U.S. relations with Burma and its military, the Tatmadaw, since World War II. For the most part, the decline is due to what the U.S. government sees as a general disregard by the Burmese military for the human rights and civil liberties of the people of Burma.

In general, Congress has passed Burma-specific sanctions following instances of serious violation of human rights in Burma. These began following the Tatmadaw's violent suppression of popular protests in 1988, and have continued through several subsequent periods in which Congress perceived major human rights violations in Burma. The result is a web of overlapping sanctions subject to differing restrictions, waiver provisions, expiration conditions, and reporting requirements.

The United States currently imposes sanctions specifically on Burma via five laws and four presidential Executive Orders (E.O.s). These sanctions can be generally divided into several broad categories, such as visa bans, restrictions on financial services, prohibitions of Burmese imported goods, a ban on new investments in Burma, and constraints on U.S. assistance to Burma.

In addition to the targeted sanctions, Burma is currently subject to certain sanctions specified in U.S. laws based on various functional issues. In many cases, the type of assistance or relations restricted or prohibited by these provisions are also addressed under Burma-specific sanction laws. The functional issues include the use of child soldiers, drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, failure to protect religious freedoms, violations of workers' rights, and threats to world peace and the security of the United States.

Past Congresses have considered a variety of additional, stricter sanctions on Burma. With a pending parliamentary election supposedly to be held in Burma, the 111th Congress may consider either the imposition of additional sanctions or the removal of some of the existing sanctions, depending on the conduct and outcome of the parliamentary election and other developments in Burma.

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