BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, today, I rise along with my colleagues, Senators FEINSTEIN, MCCAIN and DURBIN, to introduce renewal of sanctions against the military junta in Burma.
The casual observer could be excused for thinking that things have changed for the better in Burma over the past year. After all, elections were held last fall, a ``new'' regime took office earlier this year, Aung San Suu Kyi was freed and the lead Burmese general Than Shwe seemed to retire from political life. However, in Burma as is so often the case, things are not what they seem. And that is certainly the case here.
First, the elections that were held in November took place without the benefit of international election monitors. All reputable observers termed the elections not to be free or fair. This was in large part because the National League for Democracy, NLD, Suu Kyi's party and the overwhelming winner of the last free elections in the country in 1990, was effectively banned by the junta and could not participate in the election. There were restrictions placed on how other political parties could form and campaign. No criticism of the junta could be voiced. And the results were unsurprising: the regime's handpicked candidates won big and the democratic opposition was largely sidelined.
Second, the new regime is essentially the junta with only the thinnest democratic veneer pulled over it. The Constitution, which places great power in the military as it is, cannot be amended without the blessing of the armed forces. Those in parliament are limited in how they can criticize the regime. Moreover, sitting atop these new institutions is rumored to be a shadowy panel known as the State Supreme Council, which is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, and which is led by, you guessed it, the military.
The only legitimately good news of late was the freeing of Suu Kyi. I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with her for the first time earlier this year. Yet, the extent of her freedom remains open to question. She was, of course, freed only following the sham election. She and her party have also been publicly threatened by the regime; thus, the extent to which she can move about the country or travel overseas remains unclear. Further, more than 2,000 other political prisoners remain behind bars in Burma; they are no better off than before. Neither are the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons who are without a home due to the repressive policies of the junta.
Finally, it is worth noting that there are growing national security factors that cause one to be even more reluctant than ever to remove sanctions and reward bad behavior. The junta's increasingly close bilateral military relationship with North Korea is a source of much concern in this vein.
For all of these reasons, I believe the sanctions that are in place should remain until true democratic reform has been instituted. That is the position of Suu Kyi herself and of the NLD. It is also the position of the Obama administration. In a State Department letter dated April 27, the State Department states that ``in the absence of meaningful reforms, the U.S. government should maintain its sanctions on Burma.'' As Suu Kyi herself recently stated, ``[s]o far'' there hasn't been ``any meaningful change'' since the November elections.
We should not be fooled by the transparent efforts of the regime. It is merely trying to get out from under the international cloud of sanctions, without making true changes in how it governs itself, treats its people and interacts with the rest of the world.
It is my hope that my colleagues will once again renew this bipartisan measure that in 2010 enjoyed the support of 68 Senate cosponsors and was adopted 99-1. The bill is identical to last year's in that it does the following: continues the ban on imports from Burma into the U.S., including products containing rubies and jadeite; authorizes the freezing of assets against a number of Burmese leaders; prevents the U.S. from supporting loans for Burma in international financial institutions; prohibits the issuance of visas to junta officials; and limits the use of correspondent accounts that may facilitate services for the regime's leaders. These measures would remain in place until the regime undertakes meaningful steps toward democratization and reconciliation.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the joint resolution and a letter of support be printed in the Record.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT