Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:  Mitch McConnell
Date: June 14, 2007
Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. McCONNELL (for himself, Mrs. FEINSTEIN, Mr. MCCAIN, Mr. ALLARD, Mr. BENNETT, Mr. Biden, Mr. Bingaman, Mrs. Boxer, Mr. Brown, Mr. Brownback, Mr. Bunning, Mr. Burr, Ms. Cantwell, Mr. Chambliss, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Coburn, Mr. Cochran, Mr. Coleman, Ms. Collins, Mr. Cornyn, Mrs. Dole, Mr. Domenici, Mr. Durbin, Mr. Ensign, Mr. Feingold, Mr. Hagel, Mr. Harkin, Mrs. Hutchison, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Kerry, Ms. Klobuchar, Mr. Kohl, Ms. Landrieu, Mr. Lautenberg, Mr. Leahy, Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Lott, Mr. Lugar, Mr. Martinez, Mrs. McCaskill, Mr. Menendez, Ms. Mikulski, Ms. Murkowski, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Obama, Mr. Reid, Mr. Salazar, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Schumer, Mr. Smith, Ms. Snowe, Mr. Specter, Ms. Stabenow, Mr. Stevens, Mr. Sununu, Mr. Voinovich, Mr. Whitehouse, and Mr. Wyden:)

S.J. Res. 16. A joint resolution approving the renewal of import restrictions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, earlier this year, while the Senate was resuming its business in a new Congress, two dozen families on the other side of the world were fleeing their homes. Ninety-four men and women, some young some old, grabbed whatever belongings they could carry and headed north along the eastern Burmese border to escape the torment of a brutal regime.

Human rights officials tell us what happened next. Late last month, these families were forced to move again. And as I stand here today, they are cramped inside the homes of other refugees. We are looking forward to summer vacations. They are looking ahead at the bitter work of building new homes in the rain, with their hands, in a remote corner of a stark, isolated wasteland the world seems to have forgotten.

Mr. President, I am here to report that the United States has not forgotten. We will continue to shine a light on the oppressive and illegitimate military regime that drove these families from their homes. And I will rise every year, as I do today, with my good friend the senior Senator from California, to reintroduce a bill that extends for another year a ban on imports from Burma.

Republicans and Democrats work together proudly on some things in the Senate. The Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act is one of them. I am pleased to say that even though the control of Congress has changed, its commitment to the people of Burma has not. Senator Feinstein and I are joined this year by 57 cosponsors, more than last year and the year before that. On the Republican side, for example, the people of Burma have no better friend than the senior Senator from Arizona, Mr. McCain.

Support for the people of Burma is growing on Capitol Hill. Senator Feinstein and the senior Senator from Texas recently formed the Women's Caucus on Burma. The First Lady attended its first meeting last month, adding her voice to a growing chorus of those opposed to the Burmese regime. The voices are not just coming from Washington. But the words and actions of Washington are beginning to cause others to take note of this dire situation.

Last year, the United Nations Security Council agreed for the first time to put Burma on its agenda. In January, a U.N. Security Council resolution that enjoyed the support of a majority of the Council's member nations was unfortunately blocked by Russian and Chinese vetoes. We remain encouraged by the fact that nine countries agreed to hold the regime accountable. We urge Russia and China to reconsider their stance.

We know others are beginning to notice Burma because 3 years ago the Association of Southeast Asian nations called the sufferings in Burma ``an internal matter.'' Yet today ASEAN recognizes that the ``Burma problem'' is its problem, too.

Southeast Asian leaders have spoken out more frequently and forcefully over the last year in calling for democratic reforms. They join the United States and other freedom-loving people who have demanded for years that the military thugs who control Burma loosen their grip.

We know others are starting taking notice because earlier this year the United Nations Secretary General, Ban ki-Moon, urged the release of Burma's roughly 1,300 political prisoners, including the world's only imprisoned Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi.

And we know others are starting to take notice because that effort was followed by a letter signed by 59 former heads of state.

The Burmese military regime, the State Peace and Development Council, is on notice: the wider international community, including its neighbors, are increasingly aware and increasingly outraged by its behavior.

Mr. President, The purpose of sanctions is to change behavior. And the changes we seek, in partnership with the Burmese people, are these: concrete, irreversible steps toward reconciliation and democratization that include the full, unfettered participation of the National League for Democracy and ethnic minorities; ending attacks on ethnic minorities; and the immediate, unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, including Suu Kyi. The regime also needs to know that a sham constitutional process and token prisoner releases will not be regarded by anyone as progress toward these goals.

The argument against sanctions--that they are most harmful to those they are meant to help--is well known. But it does not apply to Burma. It has long been the policy of the NLD, the winner of Burma's last democratic election, to seek reform through sanctions against the current regime.

And for good reason. Burma's military junta has maintained an iron grip on every aspect of the country's economy. Its leaders flaunt and squander whatever wealth they can squeeze from Burmese workers, leaving the country's economy in ruins--but leaving enough aside for its current leader, GEN Than Shwe, to impulsively relocate the Burmese capital from Rangoon at a cost of millions, or to throw a wedding for his daughter that is reported to have cost millions more.

The military junta has complete control over the flow of goods and money in and out of Burma. And every dollar that is spent on Burmese products is money spent on financing the regime. It is the SPDC, not the allies of the Burmese people, who are responsible for Burma's economic woes.

As diplomatic pressure intensifies, as the rest of the international community undertakes the kind of change we have seen in ASEAN, the supporters of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act are confident this regime will be forced to change its ways.

The situation is urgent. Burma's military regime has become increasingly reckless. And the humanitarian situation is grave and deteriorating: the junta has intensified its abuse of minority groups through rape and forced labor. It continues to harass and detain a new generation of peaceful activists, activists like a young woman named Su Su Nway, who has inspired the world with her resolute defiance of forced labor practices.

In standing up to the Burmese regime, Su Su Nway drew inspiration from Suu Kyi. Now she is inspiring another generation of Burmese activists who are willing to defend their rights and, despite the danger to themselves, refuse to remain silent in the face of the abuses they see.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Su Su Nway was asked by a radio reporter last year whether she feared imprisonment. Her simple but eloquent response should give us hope in the determination of this new generation of
activists. ``I will stand for the truth,'' she said.

The crimes of the Burmese government are well documented. Here is what we know: nearly 70,000 children have been taken from their homes and forcibly conscripted--that's more children than live in all of Lexington, the second-largest city in my State.

Forced labor is a daily threat in the southeastern Karen State, where military personnel force villagers to build roads and shelters, without food or pay, and to leave their homes and farms to do the work. Some are used as human shields against democratic insurgents.

These are the lucky ones. Others are forced to walk ahead of military convoys to act as human minesweepers. If there is a landmine, they blow up. It is from diabolical thugs like these that desperate, exhausted families are fleeing their homes.

Drugs and disease are spreading across Burma's borders along with its people, and it is no secret why. According to the World Health Organization, Burma is home to one of the worst AIDS epidemics in Southeast Asia. Yet it spent just $137,000 last year on the care and treatment of people with HIV/AIDS, even as it spends countless millions on Chinese and Russian tanks and jets.

You can tell a lot about a man from the company he keeps. We could say the same about governments. In late April, Burma established diplomatic relations with the government of North Korea for the first time in two decades. It was reported last month that a North Korean cargo ship docked in Burma. This is a disturbing development to those of us on the outside looking in. It can only be discouraging to democratic reformers inside Burma.

News of North Korea's presence on the Burmese coast came shortly after another troubling piece of news. In early April, Burma's second in command led a delegation on the nation's first-ever high-level trip to Russia. And last month, the Burmese government announced an agreement with Russia to build a nuclear research reactor in Burma.

This should send a chill up the spine of every one of us. Even peaceful nations that lack the proper legal and regulatory framework should not be allowed to have a nuclear program. Those that torture and abuse their own people and consort with rogue regimes such as North Korea should not be allowed to even contemplate it.

And this is how this rogue regime has held onto its power: Internal efforts at reform are violently stamped out, as they were when thousands of peaceful prodemocracy protesters were slaughtered in 1988. In response to a national election in 1990, in which Suu Kyi's party, the NLD, won 80 percent of the seats in a new parliament, the regime simply threw out the results.

By refusing to accept imports from a regime that terrorizes people like Suu Kyi, Su Su Nway, and so many others, we are standing up and facing these tyrants at our own borders and turning them back--until they release these prisoners and begin the process of democratization and reconciliation. Every dollar we keep out of the hands of this junta is one less dollar it can use to fund the conscription of children, its nuclear program, and the war it has waged against its own people for nearly two decades.

Later this month, Suu Kyi will celebrate her 62nd birthday, alone. I urge my colleagues to stand with her as that day approaches. By denying support for those who imprison her, we will pressure them to change.

There are fresh signs that these sanctions have begun to do their work. But we need to keep the pressure on. So I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the joint resolution be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the text was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

S.J. Res. 16


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