Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday, 1 April 2021

 The United States stands with the people of Burma. Our allies must, too.

Opinion by Linda Thomas-Greenfield

April 01 at 4:31 am GMT+08:00

Linda Thomas-Greenfield is U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Burmese security forces on March 23 kicked down the door of a family home in Mandalay, Burma, and brutally killed a child who was in her father’s arms. Her name was Khin Myo Chit, and she was just 6 years old.

Khin Myo Chit is one of the youngest known victims of the Burmese military forces who overthrew the democratically elected government of Burma, also known as Myanmar, on Feb. 1. But she is far from alone. Over the past two months, thousands of people, including hundreds of children, have been abducted, detained, tortured, murdered or silenced in the struggle for Burma’s future.

This violence, a threat to peace and security, is growing more serious by the day. In a horrific escalation on Saturday, the military killed at least 101 people, including children, in response to demonstrations across the country.

Burma’s people — particularly women and young people — have made their stance clear. They have raised red balloons and banged pots and pans. Factory workers have staged walk outs. Civil servants have protested. Doctors, tea house servers, delivery drivers, oil rig operators, students and poets have all joined together to reject the military’s overthrow, demanding democracy and continued engagement with the world.

They deserve our support. That is why the United States will continue to stand resolutely with Burma’s people.

Last month, I witnessed the courage of Burma’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, as he spoke out against the military regime from the floor of the U.N. General Assembly. He risked everything as he decried the coup, finishing his remarks with the iconic three-finger salute used by the rebels in the "Hunger Games,” which Burmese protesters have adopted. Since then, I have met with Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun to reiterate our strong support for the people of Burma.

For decades, the Burmese military has been a tool of oligarchy and suppression. Over the years, the Burmese people, especially ethnic minority groups such as the Rohingya and other vulnerable populations in the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Rakhine and Shan states have been terrorized, displaced and killed.

When the U.S. government provided sanctions relief in 2012, it was based on the military’s pledge to return to the barracks and support Burma’s burgeoning democracy.

The coup flew in direct defiance of this promise. So on the same day, President Biden condemned the coup and rallied our allies and partners to do the same.

In the weeks since, we have escalated pressure, including by working with allies to impose sanctions against senior military officials and family members profiting from the military regime, and by curtailing sensitive U.S. exports to Burma’s security forces and the companies they control. We have also extended temporary protective status to Burmese nationals in the United States and increased assistance to Burmese civil society.

We will do more. And we need our allies and regional partners to do more, too.

The Treasury and State departments took an important step last week, announcing our most significant sanctions to date against the two largest military holding companies, the Myanmar Economic Corp. and the Myanma Economic Holdings Limited. And this week, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that we have suspended all U.S. diplomatic trade engagement with Burma under the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement. We will continue to target the pocketbooks of Burma’s generals and anyone who seeks to exploit the violence.

Britain joined us in sanctioning the military holding companies, and the European Union and Canada joined earlier rounds of sanctions on the junta. The Group of Seven condemned the coup, and the U.N. Human Rights Council passed two resolutions by consensus on the human rights situation. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations urged a return to normalcy “in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.” And we know regional efforts at diplomacy are underway.

Those are good starts. But we need sustained demands to stop violence and respect the people’s will, especially from Burma’s neighbors. And it is time for the Burmese military’s economic partners, including those that have facilitated the banking, investment, medical treatment and related services to the generals and their families, to take a hard look at those relationships.

We also will continue to work diplomatically through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations to apply more pressure to the military and their backers.

As president of the U.N. Security Council this month, I helped convene an urgent meeting that brought global powers together to condemn the violence. This week, I am meeting with my Security Council counterparts to discuss additional action. We must sustain unified pressure and secure full access for the senior U.N. envoy for Burma to assess the situation on the ground.

The United States will continue to rally the world to demand that Burma’s military stop the violence, release unjustly detained democratic political leaders and activists, relinquish the power it seized, and respect the will of the Burmese people as expressed in their Nov. 8 election.

Ultimately, the people of Burma will determine their country’s future. But we have chosen to act along with allies and partners because we must do everything in our power to help them advocate for freedom and democracy.

A free, open and thriving Burma was the future Khin Myo Chit deserved. As we stand in solidarity with the Burmese people, we must match their courage and push forward sustained, global action to help secure democracy and peace.

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