Remarkable Developments Unfold in Burma

Following the formation of a new government in March 2011, Burma has made remarkable progress in political, economic, and social development, and national reconciliation.

In his remarks at DC, Assistant Secretary Kurt M. Campbell

for Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs said remarkable developments have been unfolding in the country.

Mr. Campbell says positive changes have emerged ranging from the release of political prisoners, to new legislation expanding the rights of political and civic association, and a nascent process toward ceasefires with several ethnic armed groups.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Myanmar President Thein Sein at Naypyidaw.

According to Mr. Campbell, Secretary Clinton has become actively involved, including her historic visit to Burma in December 2011, where she met senior Burmese government officials including President Thein Sein and opposition democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been an inspiration to many around the world, including the Secretary, for her steadfast efforts to bring a more free and prosperous life to her people

He notes that because of the President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s far-sighted leadership, the Burmese government has engaged with the United States in candid and constructive exchanges, leading toward concrete progress on our core concerns over the past nine months.

“In both its words and actions, Burmese officials have demonstrated increasing signs of interest in political, economic, and social development, and national reconciliation.” -Mr. Campbell

Although the US assesses this nascent opening as real and significant, the US government also believes it is fragile and reversible, he added.

However, the impact of Burma’s reform efforts has not extended far beyond the capital and major cities, Mr. Campbell noted.

This is particularly true in ethnic minority areas: Fighting continues in Kachin State, coupled with reports of severe human rights violations, he said.

He notes that in Rakhine State systematic discrimination and denial of human rights against ethnic Rohingya remains deplorable.

Overall, the legacy of five decades of military rule -repressive laws, a pervasive security apparatus, a corrupt judiciary, and media censorship – is still all too present.” -Mr. Campbell

The initial reforms are only the beginning of a sustained process and commitment required to bring Burma back into the international community and toward more representative and responsive democratic governance, he stressed.

Mr. Campbell underlines that the election of Aung San Suu Kyi and 42 other NLD members is the most recent and dramatic example of the political opening underway in Burma.

“It is a culmination of several reforms that together constitute an important step in the country’s democratization and national reconciliation process.” -Mr. Campbell

In the run-up to the by-elections, the United States consistently emphasized that the results needed to be free and fair and reflect the will of the Burmese people, he added.

The United States also underscored the importance of an inclusive and open electoral process from the campaign phase to the announcement of results.

In addition to the parliamentary by-elections, the United States is encouraged by several other notable political reforms in Burma, including progress on some of our longstanding human rights concerns.

Recently, the Burmese government released over 500 political prisoners in October 2011 and January 2012 amnesties.

According to Mr. Campbell, the releases included the most prominent civic leaders and pro-democracy and ethnic minority prisoners of conscience. Many of these individuals had been imprisoned for over 20 years.

The Burmese government has also made progress toward preliminary ceasefire agreements with several ethnic armed groups including the Chin National Front (January 2012), the New Mon State Party (February 2012), the United Wa State Army (September 2011), and the Shan State Army-North (January 2012), Mr. Campbell reported.

For the first time in 63 years, the Burmese government and the Karen National Union (KNU) entered into a preliminary ceasefire agreement in January 2012, and began follow-up peace discussions the week of April 4 on a host of political issues at the heart of Burma’s longest running internal conflict, he noted.

In econonomic aspect, the Burmese government is proceeding with a strong program of economic reforms as well.

After decades of mismanagement, Burma has become the poorest country in Southeast Asia with approximately one-third of its population living in poverty, Mr. Campbell emphasized.

He cites that a primary distortion in Burma’s economy has been the use of multiple exchange rates.

However on April 2, Burma’s Central Bank aligned the official exchange rate close to the prevailing parallel rate, an important first step reforming the exchange rate regime.

The Central Bank is now posting the official daily rate on its website and allowing the exchange rate to move in line with market forces, according to Mr. Campbell.

As businesses consider investing in Burma, it will be critically important to actively promote a strong corporate social responsibility ethic through active engagement with our regional and like-minded partners as well as with the Burmese government and local communities, Mr. Campbell underlined.

The United States plans to engage the Burmese government to apply non-discrimination principles and to create a “level playing field” for foreign investors.

“Moving forward, we believe that by addressing these investment-related concerns, the private sector, including many U.S. companies, will be able to play a positive role in contributing to justice, development, and reform in Burma.” -Mr. Campbell

In 2011, the United States has carefully responded to evidence of change in Burma with increased outreach and concrete actions.

The United States has also taken important steps on the assistance front as well with recent announcement of new activities for microfinance and health, particularly in ethnic minority areas, based on US consultations with civil society in Burma.

“We continue to emphasize that much work remains to be done in Burma and that easing sanctions will remain a step-by-step process.” -Mr. Campbell

The United States has serious and continuing concerns with respect to human rights, democracy, and nonproliferation, and our policy continues to blend both pressure and engagement to encourage progress in all areas.

The United States remains concerned by serious human rights violations against the ethnic minority Rohingya people who are denied citizenship and human rights, such as freedom of movement and freedom to marry, among other rights all people should be able to exercise.

“We will urge the Burmese government, including through a human rights dialogue, to pursue mechanisms for accountability for the human rights violations that have occurred as a result of fighting and discrimination in ethnic areas.” -Mr. Campbell

In conclusion, Mr. Campbell said there is a great store of goodwill within the international community to re-engage Burma, re-build its capacity, and re-connect with the Burmese people, should the reform process continue.

Though the challenges that lie ahead are daunting, the efforts of the resilient and diverse people of Burma are as inspiring as ever, he stressed.

Earlier this month, as Burma pursues the road for reform, development and democracy, the United States of America expressed commitment to support Burma’s democratic reforms.

In DC, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said from the beginning of Obama Administration, the US government has pursued a policy of engagement to support human rights and reform in Burma.

United States maintain extensive, targeted sanctions against Burmese regime. Sanctions also targeted against senior leaders of the Burmese government and military, their immediate family members, their key supporters, and others who abuse human rights.

Obama Administration continues to show commitment to promote democracy and human rights in Burma and on key recent developments in Burma including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, the 2010 elections, and the formation of a government headed by former top regime general and now President Thein Sein.

The United States is currently pursuing parallel and complementary tracks in a full-scale effort to advance progress on core concerns of the United States and the international community, including the unconditional release of all political prisoners, respect for human rights, and an inclusive dialogue with the political opposition and ethnic groups that would lead to national reconciliation.

Mina Fabulous
Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn't preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.