Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003

Location: Washington, DC


    Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, the situation in Burma is indeed dire and requires our immediate response. We will make that response within the next hour.

    S. 1215, which is now the pending business in the Senate, has 56 cosponsors. I particularly want to thank Senator Feinstein, who will be speaking on this measure, and Senator McCain, who have had a particular interest in this subject for quite some time.

    Until yesterday, Aung San Suu Kyi and other democracy activists have been held incommunicado by the repressive State Peace and Development Council, SPDC, following an ambush on her convoy several hundred kilometers north of Rangoon. Scores are feared murdered and injured in this blatant assault on democracy in Burma.

    In the 11th hour of his trip to Rangoon, the SPDC finally allowed U.N. Special Envoy Razali Ismail a 15-minute meeting with Suu Kyi. We are all relieved that his initial statements indicate that she is alive and unharmed, but the fate of other activists arrested remains unknown.

    But simply seeing is not freeing. Razali's meeting with Suu Kyi was not a private one and she remains under the total control of SPDC thugs. Her continued silence in the wake of this bloodshed could not be more deafening, nor—despite Razali's brief visit—her predicament more pressing.

    Horrific details of the attack continue to emerge and heighten the need for a swift and decisive response to the SPDC's brutality.

    According to Monday's front-page article in the Washington Post, in the "pitch dark amid the rice paddies" thugs posing as Buddhist monks stopped Suu Kyi's car. Soon after, a crowd "set upon her convey, attacking the entourage with wooden clubs and bamboo spikes.    .    . . Several hundred more assailants ambushed the motorcade from the rear."

    This is no simple act of harassment or intimidation. It was an act of terrorism against innocent civilians who simply believe in democracy and the rule of law in Burma.

    The free world and free press have been quick to condemn the SPDC. But strong words from foreign capitals must be matched by stronger actions.

    Last week, I introduced the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, along with Senators FEINSTEIN and MCCAIN. As I indicated earlier, we now have 56 cosponsors. I ask unanimous consent that the list be printed in the RECORD.

    Mr. MCCONNELL. Madam President, this bill, among other sanctions, imposes a ban on imports from Burma.

    I am pleased that many of my colleagues—including the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations and Finance Committees—are cosponsors of this important legislation.

    Let me share with my colleagues some of the feedback we have gotten from around the country on the act:

    An editorial in today's Los Angeles Times stated:

    [Burma's] trading partners, other countries in the region and aid givers like Japan need to get tougher by imposing sanctions and aid suspensions to push the country toward democracy; that's the outcome Myanmar's citizens show they favor every time they get the chance.

By the way, they haven't gotten a chance since 1990.

    A Washington Post editorial yesterday advised that because Burmese dictators "control the nation' economy, an import ban would affect those most responsible for Burma's repression, and senators supportive of democracy in Asia should vote for the bill without conditions or expiration dates."

    Deputy Secretary of State Rich Armitage recently wrote:

    .    .    . we support the goal and intent of this legislation and agree on the need for many similar measures.    .    .    . We are also considering an import ban, as proposed in your legislation.

    A June 6 editorial in the Washington Post suggested that:

    While the [Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act] moves through Congress, Mr. Bush could implement many of its provisions by executive order. He could find no better way to demonstrate his commitment to democracy and his revulsion at a brutal dictatorship.

    A New York Times editorial endorsed the import ban and recommended that:

    Europe .    .    . should now block Myanmar's exports as well. The junta has had a year to demonstrate that its opening was genuine. Now all ambiguity is gone, and the world's response must be equally decisive.

    A Boston Globe editorial stated that President Bush:

    .    .    . could and should issue an executive order that would swiftly accomplish [an import ban]. This is not a partisan matter. The great lesson that ought to have been learned in the last century is that free democrats betray their unfree brothers and sisters when they seek to appease dictatorships.

    Dallas Morning News editor at large Rena Pederson, who also penned a superb article on this topic in the Weekly Standard, wrote in an op-ed:

    The strongest possible pressure must be turned on the Burmese generals, who apparently calculated their opposition could be decapitated while the world was preoccupied with events in the Middle East. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with such a cowardly fast one. The Bush administration should support tougher sanctions now. Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY., is pushing for increased sanctions.

    That is the bill we have before us.

    "He will need help .    .    ."

    And we obviously are going to have help with 56 cosponsors, and I hope a very overwhelming vote shortly.

    "He will need help, or the Bush administration could accomplish the same thing by executive order."

    A Baltimore Sun editorial rightly concluded: ".    .    . this regime ought to be treated somewhat like North Korea, from which imports have long been barred."

    Finally, in endorsing the act, the American Apparel and Footwear Association called upon "the rest of Congress for the swift and immediate passage of such import legislation."

    The idea of a ban on imports from Burma is not a new one to this body. In he 107th Congress, S. 926 sought to impose such restrictions and was cosponsored by 21 Senators. I would offer that the need for an important ban has only become more urgent in the wake of the May 30 attack on democracy in Burma.

    Supporters of a free Burma want America to take the lead in defending democracy in that country.

    Supporters of a free Burma believe that serving the cause of freedom is America's challenge and obligation. We should not abandon the people of Burma during the greatest moments of need. The people of Burma have made their aspirations known, and the regime has not silenced them into submission. They have not stilled their hearts for political change and they will not succeed in stemming our collective resolve.

    Supporters of a free Burma agree with President Bush that:

    Men and women in every culture need liberty like they need food and water and air. Everywhere that freedom arrives, humanity rejoices: and everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear.

    It's time for tyrants to fear in Burma.

    I ask unanimous consent that the following items be printed in the RECORD: a Washington Post article dated June 9; a letter from Under Secretary of State Rich Armitage; editorials from the Los Angeles Times, and the Baltimore Sun, and a Rena Pederson article in the Weekly Standard.

    Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, I note that Senator Feinstein is here. I yield the floor and retain the remainder of my time.


    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Kentucky.

    Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that Senator Kohl be added as a cosponsor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, I say to my friend from California, as she was describing the provisions of the bill, the way it is now structured, we will have an annual debate about whether or not these sanctions should be lifted. It will be reminiscent of the most favored nation debates that we had annually regarding the People's Republic of China, which has now graduated to a new status.

    But if ever there were a regime that deserved an annual review by those of us here in the Congress, this is a regime that deserves that. So I think that is a debate we are going to look forward to having.

    Would you not agree, I say to my friend from California?

    Mrs. FEINSTEIN. I certainly agree, I say to the Senator through the Chair. I think it would be very useful. And I think when the recalcitrance, the repression, is on the floor of this Senate every year, hopefully it will be helpful in changing the minds of this military junta.

    Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, I first introduced a bill on this subject back in 1993. It is one of these issues that, I must regretfully say, you take an interest in and follow over a period of time and never see anything change. There is never any progress that could be measured—until a year or so ago when the junta led Aung San Suu Kyi basically out of house arrest. We were supposed to applaud that as some kind of remarkable step in the direction of recognizing the outcome of the election in 1998 in which she and her party got 80 percent of the vote. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 while she was essentially incarcerated. She remained under house arrest—except for about a year or so—ever since.

    Various strategies have been tried. The Thai Prime Minister, who was in town yesterday—some of us talked with him, and I know he met with the President—this new Prime Minister in Thailand decided to engage in what he called "constructive engagement." Obviously, constructive engagement doesn't work. What this regime needs is to be isolated. I know there are some skeptics even in this body with regard to the ability of sanctions to have a real impact.

    Let me tell you, if there is one place in the world where sanctions worked, it was South Africa. The reason it worked there is because everybody participated and they were truly isolated. They became a pariah regime throughout the world, and that led to the dramatic changes that brought Nelson Mandela to power after decades in jail.

    That can happen here. The United States needs to lead. Secretary Powell is going out to the ASEAN regional forum in Phnom Penh on June 18 and 19 next week. This is an opportunity for him to put it at the top of the agenda.

    I said to the Thai Prime Minister that I thought constructive engagement wasn't working and they needed to join with us and help us lead the other ASEAN countries in the direction of a sanctions regime, on a multilateral basis, that could shut these people down. Some would say, well, if you have effective economic sanctions, it hurts the people. It doesn't hurt the people in Burma because the regime takes all profits off of the exports. They make money on the exports and the drug traffic, which they are quite good at.

    So this regime needs to be squeezed by the entire world, isolated, and that is a strategy that we hope to begin today with the passage of this legislation in the next 30 or 45 minutes.

    I know on our side, Senator McCain wants to speak, KAY HUTCHISON wants to speak, and, I believe, Senator Brownback wants to speak. How much time remains?

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. There are 15 minutes 43 seconds.


    Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the substitute amendment be agreed to.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    The amendment (No. 882) was agreed to.

    Mr. McCONNELL. I ask unanimous consent that the technical amendment to amendment No. 882 be agreed to.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    The amendment (No. 883) was agreed to.

    Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, I will retain the remainder of my time, if I may.

    Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Madam President, I will just use a quick minute. I mentioned some of the retail establishments supporting this but I left out a couple. I mentioned Saks Fifth Avenue, and there is also Macy's, the Gap, Bloomingdale's, Ames, Williams Sonoma, IKEA, Wal-Mart, Nautica, and Pottery Barn. I am very proud of these retail establishments for standing up and joining us. I wanted to recognize that on the floor.

    Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, I am glad the Senator from California mentioned those important corporations. Obviously, they could conceivably benefit from low-cost imports but they are choosing not to allow the regime to make a profit off of these American corporations. They deserve our commendation.

    I reserve the remainder of my time, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


    Mr. McCONNELL. I thank my good friend from Vermont for his important contribution in this debate and his kind words about how we got to this point. Ultimately, I guess we will all be judged by whether or not this is effective, I say to my friend from Vermont. For these sanctions to be truly effective, we have to lead and the rest of the world has to join us in sanctions of a regime that truly operates on a multilateral basis like those that worked in South Africa.

    I ask unanimous consent that Senator Campbell be added as a cosponsor to this bill.

    Mr. McCONNELL. How much time do I have remaining?

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Five minutes.

    Mr. McCONNELL. I reserve the remainder of my time, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

    Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I believe I have about 5 minutes remaining.

    Mr. ALEXANDER. That is correct.

    Mr. McCONNELL. How much time remains on the other side?

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. One minute 48 seconds.

    Mr. McCONNELL. Maybe we could get some time on the other side. I yield the remainder of my time to the Senator from Kansas.


    Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Kansas for his contribution. I am not aware of any more speakers on this side.

    Mr. LEAHY. Nor on this side. I am willing to yield back the remainder of the time.

    Mr. McCONNELL. Therefore, I ask unanimous consent all time be yielded back.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. McCONNELL. I ask for the yeas and nays.

Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top