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Case Studies in Sanctions and Terrorism: Burma (Myanmar)

Case Studies in Sanctions and Terrorism

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Case: 88-1
US/EU/Japan v. Burma (1988- : Human rights, democracy, narcotics)

Note: In light of recent events, this case study is currently being updated.
This version provides useful background information.

| Chronology of Key Events | Goals of Sender Country | Local Initiatives |
Response to Target Country
| Attitude of Other Countries | Economic Impact |
Assessment | Author's Summary | Bibliography |

Goals of Sender Country

United States

US State Department
"In coordination with the European Union and other states, the United States has maintained sanctions on Burma. These include an arms embargo, ban on new investment, and other measures. Our goal in applying these sanctions is to encourage a transition to democratic rule and greater respect for human rights. Should there be significant progress towards those goals as a result of dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military government, then the United States would look seriously at measures to support this process of constructive change. Continued absence of positive change would force the U.S. to look at the possibility of increased sanctions in conjunction with the international community." (Department of State Report "Conditions in Burma and U.S. Policy Towards Burma for the period September 28, 2002-March 27, 2003")

Congressman Stephen J. Solarz
"Although our ability to influence the situation in Burma is certainly limited, we want to be sure that we are making maximum use of opportunities to encourage political reform and discourage abuses of human rights....It is important, therefore, that we communicate our continuing support for the efforts of the Burmese people to create a truly democratic Burma." (US House of Representatives 2, 13 September 1989)

US Secretary of State Warren Christopher
Burma's government not only violates basic universal human rights, but raises the chance of instability, bloodshed and migration in the region...The steady deterioration of the rule of law has increased the threat that Burma's burgeoning drug trade poses to citizens from Bangkok to Berlin and from Shanghai to San Francisco. (International Herald Tribune, 24 July 1996, 9)

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
Explaining why the United States puts sanctions on Burma and not China despite similar violations of human rights: "We have consistent principles and flexible tactics ... I guess the easiest way to describe it, is different strokes for different folks."(USIS, 22 April 1997)

US President, George W. Bush
“The crisis between the United States and Burma arising from the actions and policies of the Government of Burma that led to the declaration of a national emergency on May 20, 1997, has not been resolved. These actions and policies, including its policies of committing large-scale repression of the democratic opposition in Burma, are hostile to U.S. interests and pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency with respect to Burma and maintain in force the sanctions against Burma to respond to this threat.” (White House Press Release, 17 May 2005)

US State Department
“In coordination with the European Union and other states, the United States has maintained sanctions on Burma. These include an arms embargo, ban on new investment, and other measures. Our goal in applying these sanctions is to encourage a transition to democratic rule and greater respect for human rights. Should there be significant progress towards those goals as a result of dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military government, then the United States would look seriously at measures to support this process of constructive change. Continued absence of positive change would force the U.S. to look at the possibility of increased sanctions in conjunction with the international community.” (Department of State Report “Conditions in Burma and U.S. Policy Towards Burma for the period September 28, 2002–March 27, 2003”)

“The international community must continue pressing the Burmese regime to change its policies. To this end, the United States intends to pursue a UN Security Council resolution that will underscore the international community's concerns about the situation in Burma, including the unjustifiable detention of a great champion of democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, and our common position that the regime must ensure an inclusive and democratic political process.” (Department of State Press Release, 31 May, 2006)

White House
“We applaud the passage of the legislation [Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003]. This legislation sends a clear message to the Burmese regime that their continued detention of Noble Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and their assaults on freedom cannot stand.” (Washington Post, 17 July 2003, A22)


Ambassador to Burma Hiroshi Otaka, 27 September 1988
“[I]n determining future assistance, it would be important that a political settlement reflecting the general consensus of the Burmese people should be achieved and the stability of the domestic situation restored, and that efforts should be made for economic reforms and for opening up of the economy.” (Communication provided by Japanese embassy in US to authors)

“Current Japanese policy appears to be guided by three principal considerations: (1) The government has repeatedly issued calls for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi…. (2) The United States continues to influence Japanese foreign policy and Washington will discourage a rapprochement with Rangoon unless SLORC institutes democratic reforms. … (3) However, Japanese business is keen to see a resumption of aid to Burma because it fears that it will lose out to competition from other East Asian companies. Business leaders have therefore been lobbying the government to adopt a more benign approach to SLORC.” (Bray 52-53)

On the resumption of foreign aid to Burma: “When asked, Japanese officials defend their more conciliatory policy as merely another way of doing what the United States wants: encouraging the military to open up to democracy.” (Los Angeles Times, 8 January 1996, 5)

Japanese minister of foreign affairs Yoriko Kawaguchi
"Japan strongly calls on the Myanmar Government for rectifying the current situations, including an immediate assurance of the freedom of political activities by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the NLD, and for disclosing relevant information to the international community." (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Press Release, 5 June 2003)

Japanese government spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima
"The Japanese government has made it very clear that if the situation continues it will be very difficult to continue the policies of engagement." (Financial Times, 18 June 2003, 6)

Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Yoshinori Katori
“Japan strongly hopes ... that it will expedite the democratization process, including the early release of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and resume dialogue with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.” (Agence France Presse, 29 May 2006)

European Union

Upon suspending tariff preference for Burma: "The Regulation ... will remain in effect until practices impeding human rights and democracy have been brought to an end." (EU Press Release, 24 March 1997)

EU General Affairs and External Relations Council, April 2003
"The European Union shares the view of a number of international partners that the best interests of the people of Burma/Myanmar continue to be served in current circumstances by a balanced approach of carefully calibrated sanctions towards those responsible for obstruction of reform and progress, together with significant humanitarian support to ensure that the ordinary people of Burma/Myanmar suffer as little as possible as a result of the damaging policies of their government." (General Affairs and External Relations Council Conclusions, 14 April 2003)

EU General Affairs and External Relations Council, June 2003
"The Council urged the Burmese authorities to immediately release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as well as other members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), and to re-open NLD offices and universities throughout the country... In order to re-launch a process of national reconciliation and transition to democracy in Burma/Myanmar, the Council urged the authorities to enter into a substantial and meaningful political dialogue with the NLD as well as other political groups. The Council reiterated its call to Burma to respect its promises to release all political prisoners and expressed its deep concern over the noted increase of politically motivated arrests. …In accordance with its commitment to react proportionately to developments in Burma/Myanmar and in light of the serious deterioration of the situation in the country, especially over the last weeks, the Council decided to implement without delay the strengthened sanctions originally envisaged to enter into force by October 2003. The Council also decided to monitor closely the further evolution of the situation in Burma/Myanmar, and reaffirmed its readiness to react proportionally to future developments." (General Affairs and External Relations Council Conclusions, Provisional Version, 16 June 2003)

“The EU remains deeply concerned that NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained continuously for three years without charge since the attack on her convoy on 30 May 2003. The EU notes that the house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will expire on May 27 and urges the Burmese government to fully restore her freedom and civil liberties. The EU is hopeful that the Burmese government will use this opportunity to enter again into a dialogue with the NLD leadership…. The EU welcomes that UN Undersecretary General Gambari was able to meet the most senior leaders of the SPDC as well as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of her party during his recent visit to Yangon. The EU reaffirms its support for UN efforts to help Burma/Myanmar move in the direction of an all-inclusive democracy and true national reconciliation and calls on the SPDC to co-operate with the UN and its agencies.” (General Affairs and External Relations Council Declaration on behalf of the Presidency, 30 May 2006)

Local Initiatives

Berkeley, California
Preamble from Selective Purchasing Ordinance (28 February 1995):
"The citizens of the City of Berkeley, believing that their quality of life is diminished when peace and justice are not fully present in the world, adopted Ordinance No. 5985-N.S. to promote universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, recognize the responsibility of local communities to take positive steps to support the rule of law and to help end injustices and egregious violations of human rights wherever they may occur."

New York City council member Mary Pinkett
"We hope this will also push the US government to speak louder and more clearly and to do more to press for democracy in Burma." (Agence France-Presse, 31 May 1997)


Response of Target Country

The Burmese government denounces the United States and other Western countries for their support of democratic opposition groups and for their criticism of the regime. The Burmese government warns that Rangoon would use its close ties with Beijing to balance Western influence and initiatives. (Reuters, 30 May 1996, 31 May 1996)

Foreign Minister U Ohn Gyaw
"We respect the norms and the ideals of human rights, but as in any other country in Southeast Asia, we have to take into consideration our culture, our history, our ethos. What is good in other countries cannot be good in our country." (New York Times, 9 February 1996, A2)

Government of Myanmar
"American sanctions are for their own political consumption. We feel sorry for US companies because they will not get a second chance later to invest in Burma if opportunities are taken over by companies from nations with consistent foreign policies." (New York Times, 25 April 1997, A6)

Burmese government official
"I would like to tell my American friends that sanctions will hurt you more than us. After all, we virtually imposed sanctions on ourselves for 30 years, and we are still here." (Christian Science Monitor, 29 January 1998, 6)

“Burma yesterday warned that fresh sanctions would further undermine the health, education and welfare of the Burmese people, depriving them of job opportunities. ‘Sanctions, in short, do not solve problems. They only make them worse,' it said.” ( Financial Times , 21 February 2003, 6)

Burmese military describes the sanctions as “weapons of mass destruction” intended to “create havoc and bring hardship to the mass population…” (Washington Post, 17 July 2003, A22; Financial Times, 17 July 2003, 7)

Prime Minister General Soe Win
In the face of international sanctions, Burma has become increasingly dependent on its neighbors, especially China, to break its international isolation. China was instrumental in thwarting attempts to put Burma on the UN Security Council’s agenda. General Soe Win praised China’s “resolute support and selfless assistance.” (Washington Post, 23 April 2006)

Attitude of Other Countries


Australia suspends its $8 million-$10 million aid program after the coup but unfreezes it within months. Departing ambassador to Rangoon Christopher Lamb states in Bangkok on 27 September 1989 that reports of torture are "exaggerated." (Far Eastern Economic Review, 19 October 1989, 19).

Australia calls for the release of political prisoners, including Ang Suu Kyi. Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, urged ASEAN nations to “continue to place pressure on Burma.” (Australian Financial Review, 18 June 2003, 10)


On September 10, 1988, New Delhi states its support for "the undaunted resolve of the Burmese people to achieve their democracy." India's External Affairs Minister P.V. Narashima Rao announces that "strict instructions have been issued not to turn back any genuine refugees seeking shelter in India." India also cuts off trade routes to Burma, instructs Indian banks to freeze letters of credit to the Burmese government. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 23 February 1989, 12; Keesing's 36870)

Despite concerns about democracy, India signed agreements on evacuation of natural gas from Arakan port of Burma, either through a pipeline via North East or Bangladesh. India’s Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, said that India was “interested in energy supplies” and India’s former Foreign Secretary, J.N. Dixit, emphasized that “close relations with Burma work for India on a number of levels including balancing China’s growing strategic reach and providing an alternative to Bangladesh.” (Financial Times, 22 January 2003, 12; BBC Monitoring South Asia, 7 March 2006)


"Peking's policy on Burma—once directed toward all-out military and political support for the rebels along the border—today appears to be guided almost exclusively by economic considerations." With China having displaced Thailand as its major source of "unofficial" consumer goods, Burma signs agreement with China legitimizing cross-border trade. Total value of private, but officially sanctioned, taxed trade, as well as smuggling through rebel-held areas along border, may be as high as $4.6 million a day. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 23 February 1989, 13; 8 June 1989, 104; Keesing's 36870)

"China has provided economic and military aid and concessional loans far greater in value than that of Japan to finance Burma's infrastructure projects...China's vested interest in providing aid to Burma since 1988 has been to expand its naval power and presence in the Indian Ocean via Burmese lands and waters." (Bangkok Post, 5 April 1998, online)

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan
"We believe this is something between the Myanmar government and the opposition, and an internal affair of Myanmar." (New York Times, 13 June 2003, A16)

China has rescued the virtually bankrupt Burmese junta with financial support, including offering a $200 million preferential loan for economic development, a grant of $6 million for technological cooperation and an unspecified amount of debt relief. (Financial Times, 17 January 2003)


"On 22 November [1988], the Thai Government granted temporary asylum to the thousands of Burmese students who fled to the Thai-Burmese border after the military stepped in.... [O]n 14 December, the Thai Army Chief, Gen. Chaovalit Yongchaiyut, visits Rangoon and returned with lucrative logging and fishing deals—and began repatriating Burmese students." Thai logging companies ultimately receive 40 three-year logging concessions. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 12 January 1989, 13; 23 February 1989, 13; Financial Times, 21 June 1990, 6)

Thai Foreign Minister Prachuab Chaiyasar
On Burma's admittance to ASEAN, "Even a playboy can become a good husband after his marriage with the family's help. That's the Asian way." (Far Eastern Economic Review, 19 June 1997, 11)

Thai Foreign Ministry Spokesman Sihasak Phuangkekaew
"We are neighbors of Myanmar. We have so many other factors to take into consideration. …We don't think isolation and sanctions are the right way. We believe that talking with the regime, cooperation—that's the best approach." (Washington Post, 10 June 2003, A14)

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra
“...warned that the junta would face further international sanctions if it failed to free Ms. Suu Kyi. ‘They have detained her long enough.. Now is time to decide whether to release her or face more and tougher sanctions from the world community.’” Financial Times, 27 June 2003, 6)


Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad
"It is not very constructive if we keep on pressing people…Whenever they comply with something there is no reward. If they do something else, more pressure is applied. It is unproductive." (New York Times, 13 June 2003, A16)

Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar
“We have managed to convince people outside our region that Asean’s policy of constructive engagement is working, but recent events [arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi] that have taken place in Myanmar have become a setback… not only is Myanmar questioned, Asean is questioned” (Financial Times, 27 June 2003, 6)


Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong rejects international sanctions against Burma saying that the West should understand the "culture of ASEAN," which rejects foreign interference in the domestic affairs of other states. (Financial Times, 25 February 1992, 4)


Foreign Minister Ali Alatas
By admitting Burma into ASEAN, "...we are also taking into account the overall long-term consideration of peace and security and tranquility in our part of the world." (New York Times, 1 June 1997, A10)


Association of Southeast Asian Nations departs from its long-standing policy of non-interference in the affairs of member states and calls on Burma/Myanmar to release Aung San Suu Kyi and move towards democracy. Philippine foreign secretary Blas Ople states "We in Asean are now sharing in accountability to the world about the slow progress of the transition to democracy in Myanmar." (New York Times, 17 June 2003, A6; Financial Times, 18 June 2003, 6)


Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy
"The actions we have taken today are intended to convey the seriousness of our concerns over the suppression of political freedoms and our frustration with Burma's failure to curb the production and trafficking of illegal drugs." (International Trade Reporter, 13 August 1997, 1395)

Legal Notes

Sections 481 and 490 of the Foreign Assistance Act prohibit foreign assistance, including OPIC and Export-Import Bank funding, to drug-producing countries or transit countries that have been denied counternarcotics certification.

Section 569 ("Cohen-Feinstein amendment") of FY 1997
Foreign Operations Appropriations bill:

Until the president certifies to Congress that Burma has improved its human rights record and made progress toward democracy, Congress imposes the following sanctions: there shall be no US aid to Burma except for humanitarian aid, counter-narcotics assistance, and efforts to promote human rights and democracy; the US shall vote against loans to Burma from international financial institutions; the United States shall not grant entry visas to Burmese officials; if the president decides the Burmese government has "physically harmed, rearrested for political acts, or exiled Suu Kyi or has committed large-scale repression of or violence against the democratic opposition," the president shall outlaw Americans from making new investments in Burma.

Selective Purchasing legislation:
States, cities, and counties which have passed selective purchasing ordinances regarding Burma: Alameda county, CA; Ann Arbor, MI; Berkeley, CA; Boulder, CO; Brookline, MA; Cambridge, MA; Carrboro, NC; Chapel Hill, NC; Los Angeles, CA; Madison, WI; Massachusetts; New York, NY; Newton, MA; Oakland, CA; Palo Alto, CA; Portland, OR; Quincy, MA; San Francisco, CA; San Cruz, CA; San Monica, CA; Somerville, MA; Takoma Park, MD; Vermont; West Hollywood, CA. (Organization for International Investment, State and Local Sanctions Watchlist, as of 1 December 2000)

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