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Providing Flexibility for Assistance Provided by International Financial Institutions for Burma

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ROYCE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

This afternoon, Congress was finally able to present Aung San Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal. Congress' highest medal was awarded for her courageous and unwavering commitment to peace, to nonviolence, to human rights, and of course to democracy in Burma. I was an original cosponsor of Mr. Crowley's legislation that set the stage for today's ceremony.

Of course, that legislation passed years ago, back in 2008, when Aung San Suu Kyi's house was her prison. Many thought, of course, that this day today would never come. That she was able to visit Capitol Hill today to accept this award, meeting with Members of Congress, is a testament of the changes taking place in her important country. The opposition has won seats in Parliament. Media restrictions have been eased. Hundreds of prisoners, including many this week, have been released.

Congress can be proud of the role that it has played in getting Burma to this point. Sanctions were important, but sanctions can't keep up the momentum for democracy in Burma today. That was the message that Aung San Suu Kyi delivered in Washington. Instead, she emphasized the role that the U.S. can play in helping to build up the institutions that Burma badly needs.

This country, once Southeast Asia's richest country, is now its poorest. Its corrupt and brutal generals have destroyed the economic landscape of Burma. The Burmese people are destitute. Democracy will not thrive in this economic despair.

Isolated for decades, the institutions Burma needs to run an economy are either very weak or they do not exist. International financial institutions could help Burma establish the economic infrastructure needed to reconnect with the world. This assistance also can help the Burmese with their basic needs. Without this in place, the potential for political backsliding is real.

However, several laws on our books direct the U.S. representative at each international financial institution to vote ``no'' when it comes to any proposal related to Burma. There is no waiver, which is very unusual when it comes to sanctions.

I'd note that a U.S. ``no'' vote is not a veto. It doesn't stop these institutions from being involved with Burma. It just stops us from being part of the process.

So we have to ask ourselves, when are the interests of the U.S. and the Burmese people best served? When the U.S. is playing a leading role, helping to shape these institutions' involvement with Burma, or are they best served when the U.S. representative is shut out of the room, left with only one option?

This legislation gives more options: yes, no, or abstain. When U.S. support is possible, that gives us leverage. We have great weight at these institutions, even while they are mainly funded by others.

Like other Members, I'm not happy with where Burma

is today. I want all political prisoners released. There is too much ethnic violence.

This bill doesn't touch the import ban or asset freezes, of course, and those are targeted at the regime. The Treasury Department should use its authority to target any individual that is undermining progress in Burma.

This legislation is license to bolster reform, where appropriate and where possible, not a seal of approval. Given where Burma is today, it's appropriate that Congress respond in this way to ensure that the U.S. is in a position to continue to press for reforms.

Moving forward, Congress will need to ensure that these financial institutions are pushing stringent transparency and monitoring its impact on human rights. Those goals, which we all share, are best advanced by adopting this legislation.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.


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