US Congress considers restricting Myanmar security assistance

Men in uniform carrying weapons patrol Meiktila, Myanmar where Buddhists and Muslims clashed in March 2013. A new legislation would condition U.S. security assistance funds to the Asian country to its human rights and pro-democracy efforts. Photo by: Kadir Aksoy / CC BY-NC-SA

A U.S. congressional subcommittee will review on Tuesday legislation that would place limits on security assistance to Myanmar unless the country’s government demonstrates it is taking “concrete steps” on a number of human rights and pro-democracy fronts.

The Burma Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2014 would condition U.S. security assistance funds to Myanmar for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 to establishing civilian oversight of the military, publicly acknowledging human rights abuses committed by the armed forces, terminating military relations with North Korea and establishing a “fair, transparent and inclusive process to amend the constitution,” among several other requirements.

Included in the bill is a special note stressing that none of its contents should be construed as preventing U.S. disaster assistance for Myanmar.

The “security assistance” funds in question include those given directly to the government for military assistance, military education and training as well as peacekeeping operations, and would apply to funds that are unobligated at the time the bill is enacted.

While Myanmar has emerged from decades of isolation to become a donor darling, democratic institutions remain weak, and ongoing persecution of the Kachin minority group and the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Rakhine state have drawn widespread criticism and appeals for the international community to temper its praise — and assistance for the government party majority and the military.

U.S. Agency for International Development spokesperson Matthew Herrick declined to comment on whether or not the agency supports the bill — or whether it would disrupt USAID’s development cooperation strategy for Myanmar.

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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.