Press release | Feb. 10, 2021

Global Witness welcomes targeted U.S. sanctions against Myanmar military and calls on international community to follow suit

Global Witness welcomes the decision by United States President Joe Biden to impose sanctions on Myanmar’s military after it staged a coup on February 1 and detained elected civilian leaders including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

The forthcoming executive order enables the United States to immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup and their business interests, as well as close family members. A first round of targets will be identified this week, President Biden said on Wednesday, and export controls will also be imposed, although details have not been released at this time. 

“We welcome President Biden’s announcement of targeted sanctions as an important first step towards holding those responsible for the military coup accountable for their actions and hitting them where it hurts - in the wallet,” said Paul Donowitz, Myanmar Campaign Leader at Global Witness.

“These sanctions take aim at the Myanmar military’s vast economic interests, which have allowed them to resist civilian oversight, consolidate their power, enrich themselves and carry out widespread and ongoing human rights abuses, including against the Rohingya and other ethnic minority groups,” he continued. 

While the full scope of U.S. sanctions has yet to be announced, Global Witness is calling for the inclusion of all senior military officers at the level of Brigadier General and above, current and retired officers who have taken places in the military-formed cabinet and State Administration Council, the immediate families and business interests of all sanctioned officers, and the directors of military-owned companies and their subsidiaries, along with the military-owned conglomerates themselves.

President Biden also announced that the U.S. was moving to freeze over $1 billion in Myanmar government assets located in the U.S.

“We look forward to learning further details of these asset freezes. This is a welcome move if it is targeted specifically at the military and their business interests, but it is crucial that the Biden administration avoid actions that will end up hurting the people of Myanmar more than those responsible for the coup,” said Donowitz.

Targeted sanctions will have the most impact if the international community acts together. U.S. President Joe Biden has committed to stand up for democracy in Myanmar and has called on countries to come together “in one voice” to press the military to immediately relinquish the power it has seized. 

“With sanctions being considered in the United Kingdom, European Union and elsewhere, countries should join the U.S. in taking swift and concerted action to economically isolate the Myanmar military and its leaders by imposing targeted sanctions,” added Donowitz.

The news of U.S. sanctions comes as nationwide protests in Myanmar against the coup continue to swell, and the military’s response is becoming more violent. 

“It is more critical than ever that the international community rallies behind the people of Myanmar and remains engaged with local actors,” said Donowitz. 

“We were encouraged to see President Biden made it clear that sanctions do not mean disengagement, by promising to continue American support for healthcare, civil society and other areas that directly benefit civilians,” concluded Donowitz. 

The U.S. and the international community more broadly should redouble their support to civilians, including their support to human rights defenders, civil society, independent media and vulnerable populations like the Rohingya and other ethnic communities who are most at risk and have the greatest needs during this time.


Cover image credit: STR/AFP via Getty Images

/ ENDS

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