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Rubio Presses For Human Rights As Burma’s President visits U.S.

May 20, 2013 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, issued the following statement regarding the visit of President Thein Sein of Burma:

“For more than two decades, the United States has supported the democratic struggle of the people of Burma.  I welcome the process of national reconciliation that has begun to unfold under the leadership of President Thein Sein and hope it succeeds.  The U.S. should do everything it can to support the tentative reforms undertaken by Mr. Thein Sein and ensure that they are strengthened and made irreversible.

“I remain concerned, however, that since the lifting of the ban on U.S. investment in Burma and President Obama’s visit to the country in November 2012, there has been significant backsliding.  Over the past year, the Burmese military has bombarded civilian areas and restricted humanitarian access to Kachin and other conflict areas.  Burmese authorities have done little to address serious incidents of violence targeting Muslim minority communities, including the Rohingyas in Rakhine State.  The displacement of this community to low-lying areas of an active cyclone zone is a humanitarian catastrophe in the making.

“While political prisoners continue to be released, it has occurred in a conditional and piecemeal fashion, with some being rearrested and hundreds remaining in prison, including some recently jailed for political purposes.  Indeed, by some accounts, there are more political prisoners now than when President Obama visited Burma last year.  Given national elections next year, there remains a need for constitutional change to reduce the role of the military in governance.

“Despite these concerns, the Obama administration has moved forward with normalization with Burma.  I hope the President uses the opportunity afforded by President Thein Sein’s visit to make clear that the U.S. will not continue to reward Burma for pledges it has not implemented.  It is important that there be additional progress on key areas of concern as well as unresolved questions regarding Burma’s cooperation with North Korea.  When rewards continue absent progress, it undermines the ultimate success of the effort and sends the wrong message to the Burmese people about American intentions.

“Burma has the potential to serve as an example to other countries that decide to enter the community of free nations, but the jury is still out.  We owe it to those who fought for decades to free Burma of repressive military rule to not prematurely cease our efforts to ensure that the human rights of all of the Burmese people are respected.  Only a calibrated approach to expanded engagement with Burma will continue to pay dividends for the people of Burma and our broader policy objectives in the region.”