US/Burma: Safeguards Needed Before Allowing Investment, Financial Services
Letter by William Gomes Salem-News.com
Human Rights Ambassador William Nicholas Gomes outlines a strategy for funding Burma.
(SALEM) - The goal of promoting peace in Burma is a noble one, but the process should not be a free for all, and it is imperative that individuals involved in crimes against humanity are not among those receiving funding.
It is a simple fact we can't take our eye off this ball when it comes to providing this government funding. Burma has been the scene of so much political strife; ruled for so long by an inflexible military junta; denying freedom of to human beings became the order of the day and those negative patterns must be forever changed and stopped.
The positive nature of these political reforms will be jeopardized if new investments or other business activities reward individuals implicated in mass atrocities and other human rights abuses.
William Nicholas Gomes outlines a strategy in this letter to officials with the National Security Council, the State Department and the Treasury Department, that makes sense and would ensure that the program providing the funding does so with integrity and brings Burma a brighter and safer future.
May 18, 2012
Senior Director Samantha Power
Human Rights and Multilateral Affairs
National Security Council
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell
Bureau of East Asia and the Pacific
U.S. Department of State
Director Adam Szubin
Office of Foreign Assets Control
U.S. Department of Treasury
Dear Ms. Power, Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Szubin;
I am William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Ambassador for Salem News.com. I am writing to request a meeting with you in the next week to share our strong concern regarding Secretary Clinton’s announcement that the U.S. financial services and investment bans on Burma may be lifted in the very near future.
I understand that President Obama’s extension of E.O. 13047 will expire on May 20, 2012. I urge you to extend E.O. 13047 until proper safeguards are put in place. We urge the Administration to comprehensively update the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list before relaxing any business-related sanctions on Burma. While companies are eager to gain a foothold in Burma’s economy, I believe that the goal of promoting positive political reforms in Burma will be jeopardized if new investments or other business activities reward individuals implicated in mass atrocities and other human rights abuses. As the Economist recently noted, “A bonanza in foreign trade and investment as foreign sanctions are relaxed could end up benefiting above all the very soldiers and cronies the sanctions were intended to punish. After all, these men retain their economic interests. From this perspective all the boasts of political reform look less like a blueprint for democracy, and more like the generals’ pension plan.” Furthermore, there are additional dangers of unrestrained investment given Burmese authorities have yet to establish a legal or political framework to guard against abuses including reinforcing corrupt patronage networks, environmental degradation, forced labor, and other human rights abuses, particularly in ethnic areas untouched by reform where conflict rages on. The U.S. Government needs to be very clear, with U.S. companies as well as with the Burmese government, that measures will be put into place to prevent this from happening and punish it if it does.
Putting the necessary measures in place to support responsible investment requires more time than the present process will allow. Therefore, we urge you to slow down the decision-making process to allow for both sufficient input from relevant stakeholders, particularly those inside Burma, and to put proper safeguards in place to ensure that U.S. businesses do not fuel human rights abuses, corruption and poor governance in Burma. I must emphasize that it is absolutely necessary for the United States to work with civil society and ethnic nationality leaders in Burma to develop binding standards for U.S. companies doing business in Burma and then, and only then, lift restrictions for only a few sectors, carefully selected and determined to be clearly beneficial to the people of Burma. I am concerned that the premature lifting of the investment and financial services bans will undermine prospects for successful reform, empower repressive actors in the government, military and their business allies and weaken the position of Burma’s democratic opposition, ethnic nationalities and civil society. Should the U.S. fail to lead in this area, and instead follow the unrestrained example of other nations, it will undoubtedly tarnish its image as the foremost international supporter of the Burmese people’s desires for democracy and improved human rights.
Specific recommendations to the US Government
I have identified several key elements for business standards in Burma that should be featured in any US decision to relax sanctions:
- A careful, calibrated approach featuring the gradual and select easing of sanctions tied to concrete progress on reform in Burma and based on close consultation with nongovernmental groups inside and outside Burma.
- Screening of investment and other business activities. Prior to allowing any American company to invest or otherwise engage in business in Burma, the US government should undertake pre-screening processes to review and approve proposed US business activity, taking into consideration its potential impact on human rights and armed conflict. Scrutiny should include activities that companies may carry out under contract for foreign or Burmese companies. Activities that entail a considerable risk of harmful impacts should not be permitted to proceed.
- A prohibition on any business engaging directly or indirectly, with individuals or entities linked to human rights abuses, including the Burmese military and militias, the military’s private-sector allies, and state-owned businesses.
- A prohibition on involvement in any activity that entails large-scale appropriation or leasing of land, whether from private or public entities.
- An explicit requirement that companies respect human rights and undertake thorough due diligence procedures to prevent rights abuses and remedy them if they arise. Such requirements are consistent with accepted international standards reflected, for example, in the 2011 OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, and should be made binding for Burma. Among other elements, required procedures should include independent and transparent human rights impact assessments that address all relevant social and environmental concerns, as well as the preparation of human rights implementation or mitigation plans.
- Imposition of binding measures to enforce all applicable obligations, subject to verification and with tough penalties for non-compliance, including fines and withdrawal of permission to invest in Burma.
- Mandatory public reporting requirements for all companies permitted to do business in Burma, including the publication of social and environmental impact assessments, full contract transparency, and the timely and detailed disclosure of all payments made to the government of Burma.
- An effective complaints mechanism accessible to individuals and communities in Burma and those representing them who allege harmful conduct or impacts by US companies investing or doing business in Burma, with findings and decisions binding on companies.
- A requirement that companies affirm that they submit their activities in Burma to the legal jurisdiction of US courts, including activities involving subsidiaries or sub-contractors, or activities companies carry out as a contractor for another party. In addition, the US government should take all necessary steps to ensure that judicial avenues are available to provide recourse to victims and accountability for human rights violations.
I have highlighted several human rights-related risk factors for business in Burma, include the following:
- The extensive role of the military and its closest business allies, who dominate many sectors of the economy and are more likely to benefit from new business deals than ordinary Burmese citizens.
- The abysmal human rights record and absence of accountability of Burma’s security forces, which continue to carry out serious abuses in Kachin state and repression in other parts of the country. The military has a track record of using forced labor and engaging in illegal land confiscation, forced displacement, and unlawful use of force against villagers, among other serious abuses, in the context of clearing land and providing security for business projects.
- Inadequate domestic regulation and enforcement on key issues such as environmental protection, resulting in business activity that has harmful consequences for human rights.
- Persistent labor rights problems. Despite recent legislative reform efforts, serious labor rights problems persist in Burma, including forced labor in ethnic and conflict zones and sweatshop labor conditions in factories, including excessive hours, low wages, and health and safety violations.
- Major tensions over the acquisition and use of land, which has been a flashpoint for forced evictions and other human rights abuses. Such problems are especially likely to arise in connection with extractives industries (oil, gas, and mining), major infrastructure projects (e.g., hydroelectric dams), timber, agribusiness and large-scale tourism projects.
- Lack of community consultation, consent, or benefit in government-approved projects. Local communities in Burma have little or no say in how land and natural resources are used by businesses. Although these communities bear the costs of such projects, for example in terms of displacement and lost livelihoods, they have no effective means to secure adequate compensation or to ensure that the government channels the proceeds to promote socio-economic development and poverty alleviation. Recently passed laws such as the Farmland Bill, and the Vacant and Fallow Land Bill, fail to guarantee rights to land.
- Opaque and unaccountable management of government revenues. The immense revenues Burma has generated from exports of natural gas, which are slated to rise dramatically once twin oil and gas pipelines to China are completed, have bypassed the national budget and fueled outsized spending on the military. Recent moves to bring those revenues on-budget and adjust spending priorities have been insufficient. Despite modest increases in social spending, health and education still receive a minimal share of the budget, while spending on the military, down as a percentage, is up overall.
- Rampant corruption. The country is tied with Afghanistan for the second-worst ranking in the 2011 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Only North Korea and Somalia fared worse.
Thank you for your time and attention, and we look forward to a discussion of these important and timely issues.
William Nicholas Gomes
Human Rights Ambassador for Salem news.com
P.O. Box 5238
Salem, Oregon 97304
Copied Sent To:
Ambassador Derek Mitchell, U.S. Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma, Department of State
Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State
Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women Issues, Department of State
Daniel Russel, Senior Director for Asia, National Security Council
Jake Sullivan, Director, Policy Planning, Department of State
Salem-News.com Human Rights Ambassador William Nicholas Gomes is a Bangladeshi journalist, human rights activist and author was born on 25 December, 1985 in Dhaka. As an investigative journalist he wrote widely for leading European and Asian media outlets.
He is also active in advocating for free and independent media and journalists’ rights, and is part of the free media movement, Global Independent Media Center – an activist media network for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate telling of the truth. He worked for Italian news agency Asianews.it from year 2009 to 2011, on that time he was accredited as a free lance journalist by the press information department of Bangladesh. During this time he has reported a notable numbers of reports for the news agency which were translated into Chinese and Italian and quoted by notable number of new outlets all over the world.He, ideologically, identifies himself deeply attached with anarchism. His political views are often characterized as “leftist” or “left-wing,” and he has described himself as an individualist anarchist.
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