Commentary Type

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

September 1987

In an effort to combat inflation and black market, the Burmese government demonetizes several denominations of bank notes. The action renders 60-80 percent of money in circulation worthless, triggering first protest demonstrations in more than a decade. (Aung-Thwin 150; Far Eastern Economic Review, 7 July 1988, 16)

Spring 1988

Police mismanagement of a minor incident in Rangoon in March results in death of 42 students. Pro-democracy demonstrations break out all over Burma; government responds with brutal crackdown on demonstrators, imposing curfew in major cities, detaining hundreds of protestors, closing universities. (Aung-Thwin 152-53; Far Eastern Economic Review, 7 July 1988, 16)

July 23, 1988

General Ne Win, de facto leader of Burma since 1962, takes personal responsibility for deaths of protestors during spring riots, resigns as chairman of ruling Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP). He is succeeded by General Sein Lwin, who, as head of security police, was responsible for suppressing protests. (Aung-Thwin 153; Far Eastern Economic Review, 7 July 1988, 16)

August 8-10, 1988

Thousands of demonstrators march through Rangoon and other cities demanding removal of Sein Lwin, the release of those detained earlier, a multiparty political system, and free elections. Workers, students go on strike. Diplomats estimate that, in Rangoon alone, at least 3,000 people are killed by security forces firing on unarmed demonstrators. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 25 August 1988, 10)

August 11, 1988

US Senate unanimously passes resolution condemning Burmese government for its brutality, calling for restoration of democracy. (US House of Representatives 13)

August 12-19, 1988

Sein Lwin resigns as BSPP chairman. Former Attorney General Maung Maung replaces him. Pro-democracy protests resume, although with less violence. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 25 August 1988, 10)

August 31, 1988

West German government, second-largest foreign aid donor to Burma (after Japan), suspends all assistance on grounds that Burmese government is violating basic human rights. Japan says it is reviewing its aid program, has suspended disbursement of aid to Rangoon "until Burma attains liberty and democracy." (Far Eastern Economic Review, 22 September 1988, 15)

September 11, 1988

Burmese parliament endorses BSPP proposal to hold multiparty elections within three months. Opposition rejects proposal, stating that "we can never accept elections organized by this regime." Estimated 350,000 protestors march through Rangoon demanding Maung Maung's resignation and appointment of interim government to organize elections. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 22 September 1988, 14-15)

September 19, 1988

Military seizes power from BSPP; observers believe General Ne Win is still "calling the shots." General Saw Maung declares himself prime minister, announces that elections will be held but only after law and order is restored. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 29 September 1989, 16)

September 18-20, 1988

Large demonstrations continue despite ban on strikes and gatherings of more than four people, dusk-to-dawn curfew; general strike begun in August is not broken until early October. Thousands of unarmed demonstrators reportedly are shot by military. As crackdown continues, thousands of students flee to Thailand. (US Department of State 4; Far Eastern Economic Review, 29 September 1989, 16; 13 October 1988, 18)

September 23, 1988

Washington suspends all arms sales and foreign assistance except humanitarian aid to Burma. Scheduled delivery to Burmese army of ammunition for US-made carbines, M-79 grenade launchers is stopped. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 3 November 1988, 17; CRS 1992, 124)

September 28, 1988

Japanese Ambassador to Burma Hiroshi Otaka meets with officials of Burmese foreign ministry, confirms that economic aid is in "state of suspension," urges government to avoid further bloodshed, pursue "democratic political settlement reflecting the general consensus of the Burmese people." The European Community also suspends development aid. (Communication provided by the Japanese embassy in US to authors)

October - November 1988

In an effort to attract foreign investment, rebuild foreign-exchange reserves, regime issues new, relatively liberal foreign investment law, signs number of deals with foreign companies (including sale of logging rights to six Thai companies), contracts with Bangkok-based company to barter $10 million worth of gems, jade, pearls for used cars, machinery, offers concession to Japanese company to fish for shrimp in Burmese waters. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 2 February 1989, 11)

1989 Bush administration decertifies Burma from list of countries cooperating in efforts against narcotics. Consequently, Burma is denied US assistance (including access to anti-narcotics funds), Export-Import Bank and OPIC guarantees; United States also opposes aid and loans for Burma from multilateral development banks. (US Department of State, Press Release, 5 December 1997; International Trade Reporter, 6 March 1996, 370)

January 2, 1989

Ambassadors from United States, EC member countries, and Japan leave Rangoon to avoid attending national reception on 4 January in celebration of Burma's independence day. (Washington Post, 12 January 1989, A29)

February 16-17, 1989

Saw Maung announces that elections will be held in May 1990. Japan recognizes his government, but claims action should not be construed as conveying moral support for regime. Disbursement of aid previously approved is resumed on case-by-case basis where "individual circumstances allow." No new aid programs are planned. Pressure to recognize regime reportedly came from Japanese companies involved in projects linked to aid program, who feared they would be displaced by less-constrained firms from South Korea and elsewhere. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 16 March 1989, 21; Keesing's 36780)

Late February 1989

Burmese Minister of Health and Education Pe Thein attends funeral of Emperor Hirohito. In a meeting afterward, Foreign Minister Sosuke Uno informs him that Japan will immediately extend ¥18 million in humanitarian assistance to Burma. Japan resumes disbursement of aid under existing agreements but maintains ban on new aid. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 16 March 1989, 21; Bray 53)

March 8, 1989

UN Human Rights Commission adopts resolution calling on Burmese government to respect human rights, "fundamental freedoms of the people of Burma." (US House of Representatives 30)

April 14, 1989

President George Bush suspends Burma's eligibility for benefits under Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) because of Burmese violations of internationally recognized workers' rights. (US Department of Commerce 9)

June 4, 1989

Aung San Suu Kyi, opposition leader, is quoted in Bangkok Post as calling on foreign countries to impose complete economic boycott, including trade embargo, against Burma until regime follows through on promise to hold elections. (US House of Representatives 43)

July 20, 1989

Military government places Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo, both leaders of a major opposition party, National League for Democracy (NLD), under house arrest. Regime launches broad crackdown, arresting "several thousand members of opposition political parties including most of the leadership of the two most popular groups...." Mistreatment of political prisoners, including torture, beatings, is reportedly widespread. Tin Oo is later convicted of subversion, sentenced to three years of imprisonment at hard labor. (New York Times, 22 July 1989, A2; Far Eastern Economic Review, 18 January 1990, 15; US House of Representatives 25)

January 1990

U Nu, former prime minister (1948-62), now opposition leader, is placed under house arrest. Suu Kyi is disqualified from participation in elections in May; Japanese foreign ministry releases statement expressing its "disappointment" over decision. (Washington Post, 18 January 1990, A27; Economist, 20 January 1990, 36)

February 1990

UN Commission on Human Rights announces plans to appoint independent expert to monitor alleged human rights abuses in Burma. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 7 June 1990, 11)

March 1990

Burmese military begins moving hundreds of thousands of people from Rangoon, other large cities, purportedly as part of "beautification" campaign to relocate squatters. Foreign diplomats describe action as form of "gerrymandering" intended to break up concentrations of opposition supporters in advance of elections. (New York Times, 21 March 1990, A1)

Spring 1990

US Senate votes 92-0 to ban imports from Burma. "The House of Representatives is expected to approve the measure and there are calls for the European Community to take similar action...." (Financial Times, 25 May 1990, 6)

May 8, 1990

US announces it will continue to withhold economic assistance "until a government broadly acceptable to the Burmese people comes into being." (Far Eastern Economic Review, 7 June 1990, 11)

May 27, 1990

Despite detention, house arrest of opposition leaders, harassment of opposition supporters, NLD wins majority of seats in National Assembly. However, military government says it cannot turn over power until Assembly completes new constitution, which could take years. General Saw Maung says that, even after new government takes power, military will not back away from its "basic duties: preventing disintegration of the nation and national solidarity, and defending national independence and sovereignty." (Washington Post, 29 May 1990, A17; Financial Times, 21 June 1990, 6)

August 20, 1990

Congress passes the Customs and Trade Act of 1990, including a revised version of the April 1990 Senate amendment. The new provision requires the president to impose economic sanctions on Burma if specified conditions are not met, i.e. progress on human rights and suppression of narcotics flows. (Public Law 101-382)

October 5, 1990

The Burmese government refuses to accept new US ambassador because of his criticism of human rights violations in Burma. The United States refuses to send another ambassador. (Inter Press Service, 5 October 1990)

July 22, 1991

Due to the lack of political reform and suppression of drug production, President Bush invokes Section 138 of the Customs and Trade Act of 1990 and refuses to renew the bilateral textile agreement that lapsed on 31 December 1990. (Associated Press, 22 July 1991; Independent, 22 July 1991, 8; US Department of State, Dispatch, 5 August 1991, 569)

October 1991

Suu Kyi is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring democracy to Burma. (Banks, Day, Mueller 1997, 579)

February 24, 1992

UN World Food Program announces a $1.9 million aid package for Bangladesh to help it deal with the influx of over 100,000 refugees fleeing the western part of Burma to escape atrocities committed by Burmese troops against Moslem minorities. (Financial Times, 25 February 1992, 4)

April-May 1992

Burmese military junta frees some political prisoners, allows Suu Kyi's husband to visit her and announces the opening within six months of a National Convention to draft a new constitution. The opposition says that a National Convention should not be called until martial law is lifted, the results of the 1990 elections are recognized, and all political prisoners released. (Chicago Tribune, 25 April 1992, 15; Associated Press, 11 May 1992)

January 1993

National Convention opens in Rangoon but is heavily criticized by most Western donors and Burmese opposition leaders. Japan, however, says that it might resume economic aid to Burma in recognition of the military's commitment to a new constitution. (Christian Science Monitor, 13 January 1993, 3; 20 February 1993, 19)

April 30, 1994

Under the provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (Section 307), Congress places Burma on the list of international "outlaw" states (along with Libya, North Korea, and Iraq), which means that no funds made available under the Foreign Assistance Act can be used toward financing US share in international organizations for programs for Burma. (President's Export Council 1997, I-42)

July 1994

In a press release announcing its withdrawal from Burma, US company Levi-Strauss states, "Under present conditions, it is not possible to do business in Myanmar without directly supporting the military government and its pervasive violations of human rights." (Washington Post, 21 July 94, A31)

September - October 1994

Military leaders hold a series of talks with opposition leader Suu Kyi for the first time since she was placed under house arrest. (Financial Times, 31 October 1994, 4)

November 1994

Japan grants new humanitarian aid to Burma, though at lower levels than before the 1988 crackdown. "[The aid was] intended to reward the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) for the political progress it had made—notably the meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi—and to encourage it to do more." (Bray 53)

February 28, 1995

The town of Berkeley, CA, bans city contracts with companies that deal with the regime in Burma to protest Rangoon's human rights record. (Burma Focus, Vol.6, No.1, April 1995)

March 1995

Japan releases $10 million in agricultural assistance. The move is described as "a carrot" by Japanese officials. (Christian Science Monitor, 16 October 1995, 6)

July 10, 1995

After six years, the military junta releases jailed dissident Suu Kyi from house arrest. According to a Western diplomat, "The external pressure got to them at last". The decision comes one day before the Congress was to debate the banning of all economic contacts with Burma. The United States and other Western governments praise the move, but refuse to lift economic sanctions until the regime makes further strides toward restoring democracy. Human rights organizations charge that more than 3,000 political prisoners remain in detention. (Shin and Wilson 13)

Fall 1995

After announcing the possible resumption of economic aid to Burma, Japan releases a $16 million grant to Burma, as part of Overseas Development Assistance funds, which had been cut off in 1988. (Los Angeles Times, 8 January 1996, 5)

November 29, 1995

The National Democratic League charges the regime with bad faith, withdraws from the national constitutional convention. (New York Times, 30 November 1995, A19)

December 29, 1995

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduces the "Burma Freedom and Democracy Act," which would ban US investment, assistance and travel in Burma, as well as ban Burmese imports. (S.1511, 104th Congress, Senate)

January 25, 1996

A Burma sanctions bill (H.R. 2892) is introduced in the House by Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). The House version adds further measures, beyond those contained in the Senate Bill, such as investigation of Burma's labor practices, narcotics and environmental policies. (H.R. 2892, 104th Congress, House of Representatives)

April 1996

James Nichols, consul in Burma for Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland, is sentenced to three years in jail on charges of possessing two facsimile machines and a telephone switchboard. (International Herald Tribune, 12 July 1996, 4; Financial Times, 6 July 1996, 3)

Late May 1996

Burmese government arrests and temporarily detains more than 250 members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) prior to a party meeting, which marks the six-year anniversary of the annulled election results. Asian and Western governments strongly condemn the move, and Japan warns that the full resumption of economic assistance could be delayed. (Financial Times, 24 May 1996, 7; Reuters, 30 May 96; The Economist, 1 June 1996, 33)

Summer 1996

Burmese government bans all imports of non-essential goods due to the shortage of foreign currency and to build up its domestic manufacturing industry. Black-market trade flourishes. (Washington Post, 18 May 1997, A18)

June 22, 1996

James Nichols dies in prison; Burmese authorities deny Danish requests to perform an independent autopsy. (Financial Times, 6 July 1996, 3)

June 25, 1996

Commonwealth of Massachusetts passes legislation that adds a 10 percent premium on contracts with state agencies for companies that do business in Burma and prohibits those companies from purchasing or leasing state-owned property. (A list of state and local measures targeting Burma is included in the legal notes section.) (Inside US Trade, 31 January 1997, 10).

July 7, 1996

A day after Carlsberg of Denmark abandons plans to invest in Burma, and under fire from its unions and from American and European human rights activists, Dutch beer multinational Heineken announces its withdrawal from a $30 million venture in Burma. The Burmese government bans imports of Heineken and Carlsberg. (Financial Times, 12 July 1996, 5; Journal of Commerce, 6 August 1996, 3A)

July 18, 1996

In a videotape smuggled from her country, Suu Kyi calls for economic sanctions against Burma to "make it quite clear that economic change in Burma is not possible without political change." Suu Kyi adds, "I think that the only people whom sanctions will affect are the privileged." (Journal of Commerce, 19 July 1996, 3A; International Herald Tribune, 19 July 1996, 4)

July 1996

A leading Danish pension fund sells its $10.45 million holding in Total, the French energy group, because of fears that Total's investment in Burma might lead to an international boycott of the company's products. Total is developing Burma's largest foreign investment project to date - a $1.2bn venture to produce natural gas for export to Thailand. Total's pipeline project is a joint venture with Unocal of the US, PTT of Thailand and Burma's state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. (Financial Times, 19 July 1996, 1)

July 21, 1996

Ignoring US opposition, the seven-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grants Myanmar observer status, a first step toward full membership in the group. (New York Times, 22 July 1996, A7)

July 24, 1996

Canada and the European Union (EU) call for a United Nations "contact group" to be formed to hasten political reform in Burma. Asian countries condemn the proposal, calling it an unwarranted intervention into the affairs of a sovereign state. (International Herald Tribune, 25 July 1996, 4)

September 3, 1996

Self-described Burmese government-in-exile and Federation of Trade Unions of Burma file suit in a US District Court in Los Angeles to halt Unocal's participation in the Total natural-gas project and to demand compensation for alleged forced labor practices. The two groups file the suit on their own behalf and on behalf of Burmese citizens. A similar suit by 14 Burmese plaintiffs (John Doe I et al.) alleging that they were forced to work as porters for the military units guarding the pipeline and other human rights abuses is filed a few weeks later. This case also lists French firm Total as a defendant. (Wall Street Journal, 4 September 1996, A10; Financial Times, 4 October 1996, 8; International Labor Rights Fund)

September 27, 1996

Burmese security forces surround the home of Suu Kyi and detain 109 members of her National League for Democracy in order to prevent a party congress from taking place. By the end of the week, SLORC detains up to 600 members. (Financial Times, 28-29 September 1996, 2)

September 29, 1996

ASEAN foreign ministers decide Burma's entry into the organization should be delayed indefinitely. (Financial Times, 30 September 1996, 2)

September 30, 1996

President Clinton signs the FY 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, which includes a provision (Section 570, the "Cohen-Feinstein Amendment"—see "Legal Notes") that bars US assistance to Burma, except for relief aid and anti-drug purposes. It also calls for the president to block new private American investment there in the event of "large-scale repression of or violence against" the country's opposition. (New York Times, 4 October 1996, A6; New York Times, 5 October 1996, A22).

October 3, 1996

President Clinton bars Burmese government leaders from entry into the United States. (New York Times, 4 October 1996, A6)

October 4, 1996

Burma's military government bars US officials from entering the country in retaliation to the American travel ban against Burmese government officials. (International Herald Tribune, 5-6 October 1996, 4)

October 25, 1996

EU announces it will impose a ban on visas for officials of Burma's military junta and place a moratorium on high-level bilateral contacts. (Financial Times, 26-27 October 1996, 3)

October 29, 1996

A consortium of international oil companies sign a memorandum of understanding to supply Burmese gas to Thailand. Texaco of the US, Premier Oil of the UK and Nippon Oil of Japan will start delivering 200 million cubic feet of natural gas per day from Burma's offshore oilfield to the state-owned Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) beginning in 1999, one year after the Total and Unocal project plans to start delivery. (Financial Times, 30 October 1996, 4)

November 3, 1996

High-level contact between Burma's opposition NLD and the military junta resumes for the first time in months. However, for the sixth weekend in a row, police close off the road in front of Suu Kyi's house to prevent supporters from attending her regular weekend speeches. (Financial Times, 4 November 1996, 5)

November 25, 1996

The State of Massachusetts releases a list of 234 firms involved in Burma that could be affected by the selective purchasing law. Eight cities have already followed the Massachusetts initiative by adopting similar restrictions. (International Herald Tribune, 25 November 1996, 11; Inside US Trade, 7 February 1997, 10)

December 2, 1996

In Singapore, the heads of the seven ASEAN governments accept Burma as a prospective member of ASEAN, despite western protests. However, no admission date is specified, leaving a de facto escape clause if the political situation in Burma deteriorates sharply. (Financial Times, 2 December 1996, 1)

January 2, 1997

Responding to student protests in December, the Burmese regime declares that Suu Kyi's movements will remain restricted and some universities will remain closed for the time being. (International Herald Tribune, 3 January 1997, 4)

January 28, 1997

Following Heineken, Carlsberg, Kodak, Apple and Walt Disney, PepsiCo announces its complete withdrawal from Burma. The company had already sold its 40 percent equity stake in its Burmese bottler in May 1995, but was still under pressure from activists in the United States, especially since its competitor Coca-Cola does not operate in Burma. (Financial Times, 28 January 1997, 1)

January 30, 1997

Department of State Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996 confirms increased repression of human rights in Burma during the past year. Offenses include new restrictions placed on Suu Kyi and growing numbers of arbitrary detentions, both contributing to more Burmese asylum seekers in Bangladesh and Thailand. (US Department of State 1997)

January 31, 1997

Total and Unocal announce that they have signed a new production-sharing contract with Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (Moge) to expand offshore natural gas exploration in the Andaman Sea. The contract was accelerated because of the threat of additional sanctions on new investments in Burma, as specified by the Cohen-Feinstein amendment. (New York Times, 8 December 1996, 4; The Economist, 18 January 1997, 39; Financial Times, 31 January 1997, 4).

February 6, 1997

In the course of bidding for a $40 million state contract to provide the city of San Francisco with an emergency radio system, Motorola announces its withdrawal from the Burmese market for cost reasons. Local human rights activists believe that the company was deterred by the selective purchasing legislation passed last year. Ericsson, its competitor for the state contract, chooses to remain in Burma. (International Herald Tribune, 25 November 1996, 4)

February 12, 1997

Amnesty International reports that current political repression and human rights violations in Burma have reached their highest levels since 1989. (Washington Post, 12 February 1997, A29).

February 25, 1997

EU, supported by Japan, complains at a WTO meeting that Massachusetts's selective purchasing legislation violates the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA). (Journal of Commerce, 3 March 1997, 1A; 13 March 1997, 5A; 25 February 1997, 2A; Inside US Trade, 31 January 1997, 10 ; Journal of Commerce,).

March 1, 1997

Reversing a decades-old policy of sheltering Burmese refugees, Thailand forcibly repatriates 5,000 of them, despite protests from US government and human rights associations. (International Herald Tribune, 1-2 March 1997, 5, 8)

March 25, 1997

After an EU-sponsored study asserts the existence of 800,000 forced workers, accounting for 10 percent of the country's total output, the EU's foreign ministers vote to revoke Burma's GSP benefits. While the sanctions will affect only $30 million Burmese exports annually, about 5 percent of the country's total exports, this represents a pioneer case in linking trade to labor practices for the European Commission. (International Herald Tribune, 19 December 1996, 3; Financial Times, 19 December 1996, 6; Inside US Trade, 3 January 1997; Journal of Commerce, 25 March 1997, 3A)

March 25, 1997

In a landmark decision, Los Angeles US District Judge Richard Paez rejects Unocal's motion to dismiss class-action lawsuit and holds that individual plaintiffs have the right to pursue claims against Unocal for human rights abuses committed by the ruling regime, a partner in the pipeline project. The judge rules that the Burmese military regime and state-owned energy company are protected by sovereign immunity, but that French firm Total can be named a defendant under US jurisdiction because of its US operations. Unocal and Total are implicated in the allegations of forced labor and abuse surrounding the pipeline project because they pay the Burmese government to provide them with labor and security. The plaintiffs' lawyers call for the companies to pull out of Burma and pay damages to Burmese farmers whose labor has been coerced for the pipeline project. (Los Angeles Times, 17 April 1997, A3; International Labor Rights Fund)

May 20, 1997

After months of congressional pressure, and in order to avoid further congressional action, President Clinton issues an executive order that bars new investments, while allowing existing contracts to be fulfilled but not to be modified or expanded. According to the Burmese regime, US companies dashed to conclude investment deals before the sanctions were implemented. (Washington Post, 22 April 1997, A1; 23 April 1997, A4; Financial Times, 25 April 1997, 16; New York Times, 22 May 1997, A13; Inside US Trade, 23 May 1997, 8)

May 30, 1997

New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani signs selective purchasing legislation, targeted against companies operating in Burma, which unanimously passes the city legislature on May 15. New York is the eleventh US city to impose sanctions on Burma. (Agence France-Presse, 31 May 1997)

May 31, 1997

Despite internal concerns and appeals from the US and Burmese opposition leader Suu Kyi, ASEAN members agree to admit Burma in July. ASEAN leaders affirm that their philosophy of "constructive engagement" will have more positive effects than imposing sanctions, which could push Burma into a closer alliance with China. (New York Times, 1 June 1997, A10)

June 20, 1997

The United Kingdom suspends trade promotion activities in Burma. (Dow Jones News, 20 June 1997)

June 23, 1997

Despite US diplomatic efforts to prevent the action, the European Union files a request for consultations at the WTO against the Massachusetts selective purchasing legislation. Japan joins the European Union in filing the complaint. (Financial Times, 9 July 1997, 4; 24 June 1997, 6; Wall Street Journal, 23 June 1997; Inside US Trade, 27 June 1997, 5)

July 28, 1997

Citing the lack of progress toward democracy in Burma, Canada removes Burma's GSP benefits. The Burmese Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw criticizes US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for continuing to use the old name Burma, rather than calling the country by its official name, Myanmar. (Journal of Commerce, 30 July 1997, 3A; International Trade Reporter, 13 August 1997, 1395)

August 19, 1997

The military junta imprisons three family members of Suu Kyi, in an apparent effort to put pressure on the opposition leader. (Journal of Commerce, 19 August 1997, 4A)

September 23, 1997

Texaco sells its 42.9 percent share in the Yetagun oil and gas field in Burma for $260 million to Malaysian company Petronas and British multinational Premier Oil. (Financial Times, 23 September 1997, 33)

October 5, 1997

The European Union extends for another six months its bans on non-humanitarian aid, visas for ruling military leaders, and the sale of military equipment for Burma. Despite the pressure of human rights groups, the European Union does not adopt investment sanctions. (Agence France-Presse, 5 October 1997; 7 October 1997)

October 29, 1997

Los Angeles US district court Judge Paez issues an opinion allowing the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma, represented by the US-based International Labor Rights Fund, to pursue its claim against Unocal on its own behalf for "injury to its organizational interests" but dismisses the Burmese government-in-exile claims for lack of standing. Discovery in the first suit against Unocal is expected to take until September 1999 with the trial expected to begin in early 2000. The case will be combined in trial with the suit against Unocal by 14 Burmese plaintiffs forced to work on the natural gas pipeline project. (Journal of Commerce, 10 December 1997, 3A; International Labor Rights Fund; Washington Post, 13 April 1999, A13)

November 1997

EU refuses to attend the EU-ASEAN summit unless Burma is only a "passive observer", which would not violate the EU ban on contact with senior Burmese officials. (Financial Times, 13 November 1997, 14)

End 1997

After several Burmese generals are accused of corruption, SLORC dissolves itself and announces that the country will now be ruled by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The SPDC top four generals are the same as SLORC's, but there are 15 new high-ranking military officers. (Christian Science Monitor, 10 December 1997, 19)

January 1998

EU excludes Burma from participating in the second Asia-Europe meeting to be held in London. (Dow Jones News Service, 27 January 1998)

March 1998

The Total, Unocal, PTT gas pipeline project receives the final go-ahead by the Thai prime minister, despite protests by environmentalists. (Journal of Commerce, 3 March 1998, 10A)

March 11, 1998

The Japanese government announces that it will provide a 2.5 billion yen loan to Burma for emergency maintenance of Rangoon's international airport. Advocates of the pro-democracy movement criticize Tokyo for assisting the regime. (BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 11 March 1998)

March 20, 1998

EU rejects a negotiated compromise with Massachusetts, not wanting to set a precedent by negotiating with a US state. (Journal of Commerce, 20 March 1998, 2A)

April 28, 1998

In an effort to resolve the US-EU dispute over Massachusetts' sanctions against Burma, State Representative Byron Rushing of Massachusetts files an amendment to exempt large contracts above the threshold in the GPA—$500,000 for goods and services, $6 million for construction projects--from the 1996 selective purchasing law. The exemption threshold would cover only those contracts signed by the Massachusetts governor. Contracts by other state bodies will still fall under the terms of the selective purchasing law. (Journal of Commerce, 28 April 1998, 2A)

May 1, 1998

The US-based National Foreign Trade Council files a constitutional challenge in federal district court against Massachusetts' selective purchasing law and seeks an injunction to halt implementation of the law while the cases proceeds. The law is challenged on the grounds that it violates constitutional provisions giving the federal government supremacy over foreign policy and international commerce. (Inside US Trade, 1 May 1998, 1; Journal of Commerce, 1 May 1998, 3A)

July 8, 1998

Federal judge rules that the NFTC is allowed to keep secret the name of companies it represents. Individual companies represented by the NFTC were concerned that they could become targets of consumer boycotts should their names be revealed. (Financial Times, 9 July 1998, 4)

July 29, 1998

For third time in a month, Aung San Suu Kyi is prevented from traveling outside Rangoon to meet fellow NLD members. This time, the military returns her home after she stages a five-day sit-in in her car. The government claims it ended the protest due to Suu Kyi's failing health, but US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright derides the action as "an unacceptable violation of her human rights." (New York Times, 31 July 1998, A2; 30 July 1998, A3; Financial Times, 28 July 1998, 14)

August 9, 1998

The Burmese government arrests 18 foreigners, including six Americans, for distributing pro-democracy literature on the tenth anniversary of the 1988 demonstrations. (International Herald Tribune, 10 August 1998, 4)

August 20, 1998

The International Labor Organization releases results of its year-long investigation on forced labor in Burma, concluding that the practice is "widespread and systematic." ILO does not, however, rule on forced labor in the pipeline project because contradictory evidence was presented and Burma had not allowed investigators into the area to resolve the issue. (Washington Post, 14 September 1998, A18; Asian Wall Street Journal, 28 August 1998, 10; ILO, online)

September 4, 1998

The World Bank ends financial ties to Burma because Burma has not repaid past loans. (Reuters, 8 September 1998)

September 22, 1998

The United States formally objects to WTO panel on Massachusetts sanctions law, delaying for one month the creation of the panel sought by the European Union and Japan. (Reuters, 22 September 1998)

Late October 1998

The European Union expands its travel sanctions against Burma to include restrictions on transit visas as well as tourist visas. (Journal of Commerce, 28 October 1998, 3A)

November 5, 1998

Chief Judge Joseph Tauro of US District Court rules Massachusetts's legislation against companies that deal with Burma is unconstitutional. "State interests," Tauro writes, "no matter how noble, do not trump the federal government's exclusive foreign affairs power." Frank Kittredge of the National Foreign Trade Council says the ruling "should significantly deter state and cities from imposing their own foreign policy sanctions." (Journal of Commerce, 6 November 1998, 1)

March 1999

Clinton administration decides not to file a brief with the court on behalf of the National Foreign Trade Council in the appeal of the November federal court decision striking down Massachusetts' selective purchasing legislation against companies operating in Burma. The State Department says the government is content "with letting the courts decide the constitutional issues." The appeal of the case will be heard in May. (Journal of Commerce, 11 March 1999, 3A)

June 1999

International Labor Conference passes resolution that bars Burma from participating in most ILO meetings and from receiving technical assistance until it implements recommendations relating to core labor standards made by an ILO Commission of Inquiry. (USIS, 3 May 2000)

June 22, 1999

First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston upholds Judge Tauro's decision and rules Massachusetts' selective purchasing law unconstitutional. The court argues that the law "interferes with the foreign affairs power of the federal government and is thus unconstitutional". (Washington Post, 24 June 1999, A16; Journal of Commerce, 29 June 1999, 22)

September-November 1999

State of Massachusetts asks the US Supreme Court to review the Massachusetts law. The Supreme Court agrees to hear the case. (Financial Times, 17 September 1999, 4; Washington Post, 30 November 1999, A4)

November 29, 1999

Following a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and General Than Shwe, leader of the Burma's military junta, Japan announces that it will consider funding projects in Burma on a case-by case basis, but has no plans to resume full-scale financial assistance to Burma. (Financial Times, 29 November 1999, 2)

April 10, 2000

EU extends its visa ban on Burmese officials due to expire at the end of the month, imposes a freeze on assets held abroad by these officials and bans the export of "equipment that might be used for internal repression or terrorism" to Burma. (Reuters, 10 April 2000)

June 20, 2000

US Supreme Court holds that the Massachusetts selective purchasing law is pre-empted by federal legislation and undermines the president's ability to conduct foreign policy. The court, however, does not declare that states have no constitutionally valid means of taking positions with foreign policy implications. (USIS, 20 June 2000; New York Times, 20 June 2000, A23; Wall Street Journal, 20 June 2000, A2)

August 24, 2000

Opposition leader Suu Kyi is again stopped by the police from travelling outside the capital Rangoon. After a nine-day roadside standoff riot police force opposition leader to return to Ragoon. The United States, European Union and Thailand condemn actions of the junta. (New York Times, 26 August 2000, A4; 30 August 2000, A3; Financial Times, 4 September 2000, 3)

August 31, 2000 US District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew in Los Angeles dismisses lawsuit against Unocal. Lew states that although evidence suggests that Unocal knew about the forced labor, the company did not directly participate in the abuses and therefore cannot be held liable. (Washington Post, 8 September 2000, E10)
September 2000 In response to roadside stand-off, police surrounds homes of opposition leaders, raids party headquarters and homes of party officials. Military regime states that senior member of the opposition party, including Aung San Suu Kyi, are "requested to stay at their respective residences". Crackdown on opposition triggers international condemnations. (Washington Post, 4 September 2000, A26; 11 September 2000, A18)

November 17, 2000

ILO technical cooperation mission, which visited Burma in October, reports that Burma has not meet the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry regarding the use of forced labor. ILO calls on governments, trade unions, employer representatives and other international organizations to "review their relations" with Burma and take "appropriate measures" to ensure they are not abetting use of forced labor. Burmese government spokesman Lt-Col Hla Min criticizes "big powers" for using labor issues to interfere in internal affairs. (ILO Press Release, 17 November 2000; Financial Times, 18/19 November 2000, 4)

January 2001 Burmese military reveals that it has been holding secret talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi since last October. Talks are the first direct dialogue between the two sides in seven years. International observers argue that international economic pressure, including from the ILO, is partly responsible for the military's more conciliatory attitude. (Washington Post, 10 January 2001, A16; Financial Times, 27/28 January 2001, 2; New York Times, 18 February 2001, 6)
March 1, 2001 Newly declassified State Department cable contends that Burmese military is directly benefiting from rapidly increasing textile and apparel exports to the US. US imports of Burmese textiles increased from $168 million in 1999 to $403.7 million in 2000. In response, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduces legislation that would ban all imports from Burma in late May. (New York Times, 1 March 2001, A10; USIS, 2 August 2001)
May 2001 Japan resumes development aid to Burma and announces a $28 million grant to modernize a power plant that supplies Burma with a third of its electricity. (Financial Times, 4 May 2001, 4; New York Times, 3 September 2001, A18)
May 6, 2002 Burma's military government releases Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest after 19 months. Government spokesman states "as of today, she is at liberty to carry out all activities, including her party's." State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says economic sanctions will not be lifted because of Suu Kyi's release and that "much more remains to be done to achieve political reform and national reconciliation, and we're looking to see concrete steps that do that." (New York Times, 6 May 2002, A1; Washington Post, 6 May 2002, A1; 27 May 2002, A15; International Trade Reporter, 9 May 2002, 843)
June 6, 2002 Burma's military releases nine members of the opposition party. The government has released 281 members of the opposition party as well as hundreds of other political prisoners since reconciliation talks began in October 2000. Human rights groups estimate that there are about 1,500 political prisoners remaining. (Washington Post, 6 May 2002, A1; 6 June 2002, A32)
September 18, 2002 Three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstates the suit against Unocal for "aiding and abetting" the Burmese military in human rights abuses and remands the case for a trial on the merits. Unocal faces a separate state suit in California by same plaintiffs scheduled to start in February 2003. (Wall Street Journal, 19 September 2002, A10; San Francisco Chronicle, 19 September 2002, A3)
February 21, 2003 Burmese regime extends invitation to US to enter into dialogue on country's political future. Military's offer follows threats by the administration that new sanctions, including ban on garment imports, would be imposed if no progress were made. (Financial Times, 21 February 2003, 6)
April 14, 2003 Expressing concern over the lack of genuine political dialogue and ongoing serious human rights violations by the Burmese regime, the European Union extends existing sanctions for another year. The EU also threatens to widen the list of individuals subject to visa ban and asset freeze and further strengthen the arms embargo on or before 29 October 2003 if no substantive progress is made. (Agence France Presse, 16 June 2003; European Union General Affairs and External Relations Council Conclusions 14 April 2003)
April 15, 2003 The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), a trade association representing major textile importers, calls for "an immediate and total ban" on US imports of textiles, apparel and footwear from Burma. AAFA president Kevin Burkes states that its membership is "pulling out in droves" from Burma because of its human rights record. (International Trade Reporter, 24 April 2003, 716)
April 24, 2003 Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says that military junta seems unwilling to engage in substantive talks on transition to democracy and that it was too early for Western governments to lift their sanctions. (New York Times, 24 April 2003, A10)
May 30, 2003 Military junta takes Aung San Suu Kyi and 19 other members of her pro-democracy party into "protective custody" following violent clashes that leave numerous people dead and injured. Military also closes the party's headquarters in Rangoon. (New York Times, 1 June 2003, 5; Washington Post, 1 June 2003, A17; Financial Times, 2 June 2003, 6)
June 2, 2003 Burmese military broadens crackdown on pro-democracy movement, closes several NLD offices around the country as well as universities. US State Department spokesperson calls on Burmese government to release Suu Kyi and reopen the party's headquarters. EU High Representative Javier Solana states that the "repressive behavior confirms the regime's lack of interest in the return to democracy." (Washington Post, 2 June 2003, A15; 3 June 2003, A24; New York Times, 6 June 2003, A3)
June 4, 2003 Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA) introduces a bill that would ban all Burmese imports in order to send "a clear signal that Burma's human rights violators will be punished severely." (Washington Post, 5 June 2002, A22)
June 6, 2003 Bush administration expands the visa ban to members of the Union Solidarity Development Association, an organization associated with the military junta, and to managers and immediate families of Burmese state-run enterprises. Bush also calls on Burma's neighbors to put pressure on the military government. (Washington Post, 7 June 2003, A15; 10 June 2003, A14; International Trade Reporter, 12 June 2003, 1015)
June 10, 2003 UN special envoy to Burma Razali Ismail is allowed to visit Aung San Suu Kyi, says she was not injured in melee. (Washington Post, 11 June 2003, A25)
June 11, 2003 US Senate passes "Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003" that would ban all imports from Burma, freeze the assets of Burmese government and individuals associated with the government, and codify the existing visa ban and US opposition to loans for Burma from international financial institutions until Burma meets several conditions. Conditions include measurable progress towards ending human rights abuses, end to violations of workers rights, release of all political prisoners, co-operation with US anti-narcotics efforts, and transfer of power to a civilian government. Senate bill grants the president waiver authority for national security reasons and for complying with US international obligations. Import restrictions need to be renewed every year. Similar bill passed by the House International Relations Committee on 12 June does not contain waiver authority to comply with international obligations or sunset provisions. Secretary of State Colin Powell states that the administration supports the "goals and intent" of the bills and is considering freezing assets of Burmese military. (Reuters, 11 June 2003; Washington Post, 13 June 2003, E1; Wall Street Journal, 12 June 2003, A16)
June 16, 2003 In light of recent events, the EU Council of foreign ministers decides to implement immediately strengthened sanctions proposed in April. EU expands the list of targeted individuals to include the extended families of ministers, deputy ministers, former ministers as well as senior army staff officers. (Agence France Presse, 16 June 2003; Reuters, 16 June 2003)
June 17, 2003 Japan, Burma's biggest aid donor, threatens to cut off aid if Aung San Suu Kyi is not released. Foreign ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima states that Japan provided $69.9 million in aid to Burma in 2001. (Agence France Presse, 17 June 2003; Financial Times, 18 June 2003, 6)
June 17-18, 2003 At meeting in Cambodia, foreign ministers of the Asean countries urge Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi as soon as possible and to resume talks on national reconciliation and transition to democracy. (Washington Post, 17 June 2003, A13; New York Times, 17 June 2003, A6)
24 June 2003 Japan suspends all economic assistance. Foreign Ministry spokesman says "We have decided to stop providing new O.D.A. for Myanmar except for projects already under way. We are going to tell them that we cannot help but step up pressure on the country unless they release Aung San Suu Kyi." Japan accounts for almost 80 percent of Burma's overseas assistance. (New York Times, 26 June 2003, 5; Financial Times, 3 July 2003, 6)
25 June 2003 EU expands travel sanctions to include senior managers of state-run enterprises and officials from organizations linked to the government. (Financial Times, 25 June 2003, 13)
25 June 2003 Red Cross is permitted to visit opposition leader U Tin Oo, also detained since May 30. Red Cross states U Tin Oo seems unhurt and in good health. (New York Times, 25 June 2003, A6)
11 July 2003 In personal letters to several Asian leaders (including China, Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan), Burmese junta claims that arrest of Suu Kyi was in response to planned violent uprising to overthrow the government. Western diplomats reject the claim as "fantasy" that shows junta is feeling international pressure. (Financial Times, 11 July 2003, 6; Washington Post, 25 July 2003, A21)
24 July 2003 At a meeting in Bali, Asian and European foreign ministers, including China’s, call on Burma to immediately release Suu Kyi (Washington Post, 25 July 2003, A21)
28 July 2003 President Bush signs the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act. The legislation bans US imports from Burma, freezes US assets of Burmese government and senior officials, prohibits US firms from providing financial services to any Burmese entity, expands the current visa ban and codifies the existing policy of opposition to international loans and technical assistance to Burma. The restrictions remain in effect until President certifies that Burma has taken substantial and measurable progress towards ending human rights violations and implementing democratic reforms. The import ban is subject to annual renewal and limited to three years. The President may waive sanctions for national security reasons. (Financial Times, 16 July 2003, 7; Washington Post, 17 July 2003, A22; PL 108-61; International Trade Reporter, 31 July 2003, 1309; Mondaq Business Briefing, 6 August 2003; H.R.2330.ENR)
30 August 2003 New prime minister General Khin Nyunt lays out "road map to democracy" promising talks with opposition party and a new constitution leading to elections. However, he gives no time frame for reforms. (New York Times, 31 August 2003, 8; Financial Times, 1 September 2003, 5)
9 September 2003 Indonesia, current chair of ASEAN, demands Suu Kyi's release ahead of ASEAN meeting scheduled for October. (Financial Times, 10 September 2003, 6)
19 September 2003 Suu Kyi undergoes major operation. After her recovery, she is put under house arrest. (New York Times, 20 September 2003, A3; Agence France Presse, 2 October 2003)
22 September 2003 Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Atlas arrives in Rangoon to step up efforts to have Suu Kyi released. (Financial Times, 22 September 2003, 4)
October 2003 At ASEAN summit leaders praise Burma for "positive" and "pragmatic" steps taken recently. Sanctions were rejected as "not helpful." (Economist, 11 October 2003, 15)
7 November 2003 Under pressure from the British government, BAT, the tobacco firm and last UK multinational still investing in Burma, pulls out. (Financial Times, 7 November 2003, 6)
19 November 2003 Treasury Department designates Burma and two Burmese banks to be of concern over money laundering under Section 3111 of the USA PATRIOT Act. (Treasury News, 19 November 2003)
7 November 2003 UN envoy for human rights, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, meets with detained opposition leader Suu Kyi. (New York Times, 7 November 2003, A5)
26 April 2004 In light of the political situation in Burma, EU Foreign Ministers extend arms embargo, ban on export of equipment used for internal repression, travel sanctions and asset freeze. Non-humanitarian aid and high level bilateral visits remain suspended. (Official Journal of the European Union, L125/61, Council Common Position 2004/423/CFSP, 26 April 2004)
May 2004 NLD refuses to participate in convention to write a new Burmese constitution while its leaders are under house arrest. Convention of 1077 delegates handpicked by the military is suspended in July 2004 without notice of when and if it will resume. (Financial Times, 19 August 2004, 6)
7 July 2004 President Bush signs legislation passed by Congress that extends the import ban on Burma for another year. (International Trade Reporter, 15 July 2004, 1200)
19 October 2004 Prime Minister Khin Nyunt is ousted and replaced by a hardliner, Lieutenant General Soe Win. Diplomats are concerned that Nyunt’s departure means the end to his "road map to democracy" and will diminish chances that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be released. (Financial Times, 20 October 2004, 7; Washington Post, 20 October 2004 m A16)
25 October 2004 EU Council expands the travel ban to lower ranking members of the Burmese military and prohibits granting of financial loans or credit to Burmese state-owned enterprises. EU also bans new investments in state-owned enterprises but, because of pressure by France, the ban does not affect arrangements already in place. (Financial Times, 9-10 October 2004, 4; Official Journal of the European Union, L 323/18, 26 October 2004)
20 November 2004 Burmese military releases several political prisoners including Min Ko Naing, a key leader in the 1988 student democracy protests. (Washington Post, 20 November 2004, A10)
25 November 2004 Military announces plans to release some 5,000 prisoners including several prominent political prisoners. Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu states that the seven-step "road map to democracy" is not affected by recent change in prime minister. (Washington Post, 26 November 2004, A21)
30 November 2004 Annual ASEAN summit ends without joint declaration criticizing Burma over human rights and democracy. (Financial Times, 30 November 2004, 6)
29 November 2004 Opposition groups claim Burmese junta extended Suu Kyi’s house arrest for another year. (Washington Post, 30 November 2004)
14 December 2004 Unocal reaches out-of-court settlement in lawsuits alleging the company’s complicity in human rights abuses by the Burmese government. (Financial Times, 14 December 2004, 6)
25 April 2005 EU extends restrictive measures for another year. (Official Journal of the European Union, L 108/88, 29 April 2005)
27 July 2005 Under international pressure, Burma relinquishes its ASEAN chairmanship. (Financial Times, 27 July 2005, 6)
28 April 2006 EU Council extends restrictive measures against Burma, including sanctioning visas and freezing assets of lower ranking members of the Burmese military. EU also continues to ban loans to or investment in state-owned companies. (Agence Europe, 3 May 2006)
18 May 2006 Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) introduces a bill in the House renewing sanctions against Burma. (Reuters, 20 May 2006)

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduces a resolution condemning the military junta in Burma for its terror against ethnic minorities and calls on the United States to lead an effort at the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution that supports democracy in Burma and criticizes these atrocities. (S.Res.484, 109th Congress, Senate)

22 May 2006 UN special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, visits Aung San Suu Kyi and urges Burma to allow Suu Kyi to play a bigger political role. (Financial Times, 22 May 2006, 10)
26 May 2006 Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposes to extend the "Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act" and renew import sanctions against Burma. (Democratic Voice of Burma, 27 May 2006)
27 May 2006 Military junta extends Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest by another year. (Reuters, 27 May 2006)
31 May 2006 US State Department calls for a non-punitive UN Security Council resolution to change Burmese human rights policies, especially the "unjustifiable detention" of Suu Kyi. (State Department Press Release, 31 May 2006; Financial Times, 2 June 2006, 9)
1 August 2006 President Bush signs legislation extending the 2003 Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act three more years. (Reuters, 1 August 2006)

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).

Economic Impact

Observed Economic Statistics

Prior to adoption of new foreign investment law in November 1988, the only foreign company allowed to set up joint venture in Burma was West German engineering firm Fritz Werner, which makes high-grade machinery for manufacturing weapons for Burmese army. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 2 February 1989, 11)

Foreign aid from West Germany, Japan, and United States provided Burma with approximately 90 percent of its foreign-exchange income. Foreign-exchange reserves were down to $10 million in December from $20 million in July 1988. For years after the coup, Burma was unable to service its more than $4 billion foreign debt. (Financial Times, 9 November 1989, 6; Far Eastern Economic Review, 21 December 1989, 22)

"By selling off rights to exploit its natural resources to foreign interests, [Burma] has increased foreign-exchange reserves from less that US$10 million in September 1988 ... to an estimated US$150 million a year later. Burma's reserves have increased further following the signing of contracts for oil exploration with a number of foreign companies.... ;[seven companies] are reported to have paid at least US$5 million each in signing bonuses alone." Government also sells part of its embassy property in Tokyo for over $200 million. Overall, "[d]iplomats estimate that Burma secured at least $1 billion last year from foreign investment." (Far Eastern Economic Review, 21 December 1989, 22; Financial Times, 19 May 1990, II, 1; 25 May 1990, 6)

In mid-1990, satellite surveys show that Burma's teak forests are being felled at a rate that would exhaust them within 15 years. It is estimated that the area cut each year has increased fivefold since the military coup in September 1988: "Faced by an international aid ban for its brutal suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations, [the regime] has exploited Burma's natural resources as its primary source of foreign exchange." (Financial Times, 21 June 1990, 6)

"Development specialists estimate that Burma could easily attract more than $500 million per year from donor countries, but international condemnation of human rights abuses by the military government has reduced annual multilateral foreign development assistance to less than $20 million in recent years." (International Herald Tribune, 26 November 1998, 10)

Burma: Net official development assistance (millions of dollars)

Source: OECD, Geographical Distribution of Financial Flows to Aid Recipients, various editions.
Burma: Inward foreign direct investment flows 1986–1995 (millions of dollars)
Source: UNCTAD, Foreign Direct Investment database,
Burma: Inward foreign direct investment, 1995–2003 (millions of US dollars)
United States
European Union
Source: ASEAN Secretariat, Statistics of Foreign Direct Investment in ASEAN, 2005 edition.
Burma: Foreign investment, by source country (millions of dollars)

Approved up to October 1996

Disbursements 91-96






United Kingdoma




















United States









a. Includes British Virgin Islands and Bermuda
Source: Myanmar Investment Commission (Myanmar-Recent Economic Developments, IMF, April 1997, 33)

"Private capital inflows to Myanmar have all but evaporated in the face of international sanctions and domestic economic uncertainties. It is estimated that gross international reserves at the end of FY 2001 were sufficient to cover about 2.3 months of imports. Total external debt was estimated to be just over $6 billion in FY 2001 or about 73.4% of GDP, and, of this, $2.5 billion is in arrears following the suspension of payments to multilateral and bilateral creditors in 1997." (Asian Development Bank, Outlook 2003: Economic Trends and Prospects in Developing Asia, 83)

Burma: Primary trade partners, 1995 (millions of dollars)

Imports from


Exports to




















EU (total)


EU (total)

























Source: IMF, Direction of Trade Statistics Yearbook, 1995.
Note: Substantial trade probably goes on across land borders with China and Thailand.
Burma: Primary trade partners in order of importance in 2001 (millions of dollars)

Imports from
























































































































European Union















Exports to













































United States















European Union











































































Source: IMF, Direction of Trade Statistics, CD-ROM, April 2003.
Burma: Textile and apparel exports to the United States, 1989-99 (millions of dollars)
A. Textile/Apparel
B. Total exports to US
A/B (percent)
Source: US International Trade Commission, USITC Trade Database-Web Access.

"... in 1990, textiles had accounted for some $9 million of Burma's $22 million of exports to the United States, and the value of Burmese textile exports to the United States had already fallen by 21 percent in the first five months of 1991. In any case, Burmese textiles are not embargoed. The absence of an agreement simply allows the United States to impose quotas unilaterally: six textiles categories are subject to quotas." (Bray 56)

In 2003, the Free Burma Coalition releases a press statement claiming that "[a]ccording to newly released statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce, apparel imports from the Southeast Asian country of Burma dropped by 27% between 2001 and 2002, from $411 million to $303 million. The sharp decrease resulted from the almost-unprecedented decision by 39 major U.S. retailers to forgo doing business with the Burmese military junta… The 39 companies include Wal-Mart, Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfinger, Jones of New York, and Federated Department Stores, owners of Macy's and Bloomingdale's." (Free Burma Coalition, Press Release, 25 March 2003)

The United States pledges $3.3 million in 1997 to the UN Drug Control Program in order to fund an alternative development program in Burma. (USIS, 3 April 1998)

Myanmar's investment commission pegs US investment there at $41 million in 11 enterprises (in 1996). However, Pepsi Cola, Amoco, Levi Strauss & Co., Liz Claiborne and Eddie Bauer have backed away from involvement in Myanmar. (Journal of Commerce, 12 July 1996, 2A)

The Myanmar Investment Commission reports that American companies invested more in February 1997--$339 million--than they had in the previous eight years combined. Only $21 million was invested in all of 1995 and 1996. Most of the new investment was in the oil and gas sector. (Financial Times, 25 April 1997, 16)

Burma approved a total of 78 new foreign investments worth $2.8 billion in fiscal year 1996-97, which represents a considerable jump over the 1995-96 level of 39 investments worth $668 million. Observers in Rangoon comment that the US sanctions may have prompted some US companies to rush their 1996-97 investment plans in Burma to beat the deadline before the investment ban went into effect. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 15 August 1997)

EU-Burma trade totals around $47 million a year. One quarter of this trade is subject to the GSP benefits. (Financial Times, 23 March 1997, 2)

The government's statistics indicate the economy's growth rate has been falling steadily since changes were introduced in 1992 to move the country away from socialism toward a more market-oriented system. Inflation exceeds 30 percent, defense expenditures reportedly consume 50 percent of the budget, and corruption and inefficiency are rife at hundreds of large state-owned corporations or private firms controlled by senior military officers. Without striking a deal with such a firm, or handing over 5 percent-plus commission to a uniformed officer, it is virtually impossible to invest here, according to half a dozen foreign businessmen. (Washington Post, 18 May 1997, A18)

Apple Computer Co. names the Massachusetts law as one reason why it pulled out of Burma. (Journal of Commerce, 29 August 1997, 6A)

"The net effect of these US and international measures has been a further decline of investor confidence in Burma and a deeper stagnation of the Burmese economy. While Burma's economic crisis is largely a result of the SLORC's own heavy-handed mismanagement, the SLORC is unlikely to find a way out of the crisis unless political developments permit an easing of international pressure." (US Department of State, Report to the Congress on US Sanctions on Burma, 5 December 1997)

"Facing an acute shortage of foreign exchange after four years of profligate consumer spending, Burma's military government is, bit by bit, closing its economy off to the outside world again. Imports have virtually ceased and earlier this week nine private banks had their foreign exchange licenses revoked, as the government attempts to re-impose control over contacts and contracts with the world economy." (Financial Times, 14 March 1998, 3)

"A five-year-old ban on new investment by American companies had other political and economic pressure have done little. Instead the generals have strengthened their ties with Asian neighbors, signing trade agreements with China, India, Bangladesh and Thailand." (New York Times, 13 June 2003, A16)

"The sanctions, combined with the Asian financial turmoil, are clearly hurting the Burmese economy. European investors, except oil companies, have generally been scared off by the political risk associated with sanctions. Asian companies who were expected, in the aftermath of Burma's admission to ASEAN, to provide foreign capitals simply do not have the cash to replace US companies." (Financial Times, 5 May 1998, 8)

Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson has decided to end all operations in Burma for fear of US boycotts. With sales of $2.5 million worth in 1997 Burma is one of its smallest markets. Ericsson stresses the decision was taken on commercial grounds. (Financial Times, 2 September 1998, 16)

"...Burma's economy is deeply troubled, plagued by rapid inflation—including rocketing food prices—and a plunging currency. The kyat is now trading at around 1,050 to the dollar, a drop of 31 per cent since April 2002." (Financial Times, 17 January 2003, 5).

Calculated economic impact (annual cost to target country)
Phase I: 1989–2003

Reduction in bilateral economic assistance; welfare loss estimated at 90 percent of reduction in average annual flows, 1989–93 compared to 1985–88.

$180 million

Loss of US Ex-Im Bank and OPIC loans and guarantees.


Reduction in US foreign direct investment.a


Phase I Total

$180 million

Phase II: 2004–2006


Reduction in bilateral economic assistance (see above for calculation).

$180 million

Loss of US Ex-Im Bank and OPIC Loans and guarantees.


Reduction in US foreign direct investment.


Reduction in export to United States; welfare loss estimated at 20 percent of difference in average export volume in 2004–2005 compared to 2001–2003.

$67 million

Phase II Total

$247 million


$191.2 million

a. Due to interest in oil and gas resources, average annual FDI flows to Burma have increased since 1996.

Relative Magnitudes

Gross indicators of Burma's economy



$ 11.1 billion

    Population (1988)

40 million

Annual effect of sanctions related to gross indicators


    Percentage of GNP


    Per capita


Burma's trade with United States, EU and Japan
as percentage of total trade

    Exports (1988)


    Imports (1988)


Ratio of sender countries GDP ($12,496 billion) to Burma's GNP


a. By some estimates, black market in Burma may account for as much as 80 percent of economic activity. (Aung-Thwin 149)
Source: IMF, International Financial Statistics, 1996; International Trade Statistics, 1996; OECD, Main Economic Indicators, 1991.


John Bray
"The decision to release her [Suu Kyi] represents a considerable risk for SLORC, and international pressures may have played a role in persuading it to take the decision to do so. In the United States, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell had been planning to introduce a motion in the Senate calling for economic sanctions against Burma. At the same time the Japanese government had made it clear that Aung San Suu Kyi's detention was one of the principal obstacles to the resumption of yen loans. Burmese officials made a point of informing the Japanese embassy before it told other foreign representatives of her release." (Bray 13)

Far Eastern Economic Review
Unnamed Western diplomat in Burma: "External pressure is ... believed to have played an important role in forcing the [regime] to make sure the polls were not fraudulent …. 'Every time a foreign government condemns human-rights abuses in Burma, the regime loses face in front of its own population, and that's very important.'" Another unnamed diplomat in Rangoon: "[The military] grossly miscalculated the situation. And that's why they didn't try to interfere with the voting. They sincerely believed that the NLD was just a bunch of troublemakers, badly splintered and lacking popular support. They had expected an outcome where no party emerged as the winner, and hence an assembly with no clear cut majority which could be manipulated easily." (Far Eastern Economic Review, 7 June 1990, 11; 14 June 1990, 11)

Professor Donald K. Emmerson, University of Wisconsin
"No other regime has shown itself more willing to disaffiliate and hunker down than Burma's military rulers. During the Cold War Burma not only refused to align itself with East or West, it walked out of the non-aligned movement as well. That record suggests the present junta's invulnerability to isolationist tactics." (International Herald Tribune, 20-21 July 1996, 6)

Leon Hadar
"Unilateral sanctions [against Burma] have alienated our allies in the region and strengthened the hand of China but achieved none of the stated foreign policy aims…" (Hadar 1-15)

Ma Thanegi, Burmese writer
"It is time for those of us in Burma's democracy movement to face up to a difficult truth: ten years after the movement began, we have made almost no progress toward democracy…The National League for democracy has focused on these [sanctions and boycotts] to pressure the military to enter a dialogue. Why didn't the strategy work? It was based on the assumption that the military regime depends on foreign investment to survive…[But the regime] did not topple when the United States and Japan cut off aid. It did not topple when Washington imposed sanctions. In fact, it now seems stronger then ever. The second claim about sanctions is that they hurt only the elite, since ordinary people do not benefit from investment. It is true that the elite is benefiting. But so are ordinary people, who have found jobs in garment factories, construction projects, and hotels…In fact, many of us fear that sanctions are making people more vulnerable." (International Herald Tribune, 20 March 1998, 8)

John J. Brandon, Asia Foundation
"US sanctions-and lesser sanctions imposed by the European Union-have been useful in portraying Myanmar as a pariah state and, to a limited extent, have negatively affected business since they were instituted two years ago. Nonetheless, do unilateral sanctions really matter when the country's military governments have made abominable economic policy decisions for 37 years? More importantly, are they the most effective tool in trying to promote a better future for the land's people? Since their imposition, US sanctions have not had any success in fostering greater democracy or improving the human rights situation in Myanmar. In fact, conditions worsened." (Journal of Commerce, 27 May 1999, 5A)

David I. Steinberg
"The difference in analyses is whether the sanctions were at the heart of the economic downturn and therefore of the willingness of the government to make concessions…I say the sanctions played a minor part." (New York Times, 18 February 2001, 6)

"This incident [May 30] is a major setback for both the internal dialogue process …and externally for those foreigners who were trying to appeal to the more circumspect among the military who realize the dire state of Burma's international relations and internal political economy. …Foreign expressions of outrage may be the final push for the U.S. Congress to enact additional sanctions on that unfortunate country. As a moral statement, it has obvious resonance. But as a practical matter it simply reinforces the sanctions that have hitherto proven inadequate to get reform in that country, and will throw hundreds of thousands of workers, mainly women, out of jobs that are nowhere else available. The proposal to deny visas to all members of the USDA [Union Solidarity and Development Association], as has been mentioned in the press, would isolate further a state and people we should be trying to influence." (Center for Strategic Studies, PacNet Newsletter no. 23, 5 June 2003)

“We seem to believe that sanctions and a broader policy of political and economic quarantine will force change—a highly dubious proposition. The sanctions of 1997 did not work, and no country on Burma’s borders wants them. More sanctions mean simply more isolation. We are cutting off effective contact, reinforcing diplomatic and economic purdah and, rather than bringing change, are virtually mandating a xenophobic military response. We thus limit our potential influence.” (Washington Post, 15 July 2003, A19)

National Bureau of Asian Research
[Its report] argues that US sanctions have undermined reformers within Burma's military who might be inclined to seek a compromise with Ms. Suu Kyi. If anything, the authors write, US sanctions have "strengthened the resolve of the opponents of reform in the military." "The big reason trade sanctions are unlikely to have the impact that Congress would like is that the Burmese regime has quite skillfully . . . worked to build up trade and alliances with its neighbors," argues retired academic John Badgely, who edited the essays. He says there is "almost no consequences to the U.S. pressure" because of Burma's growing ties with China, India and its Southeast Asian neighbors. (Wall Street Journal, 25 March 2004, A15)

Jeffrey D. Sachs
“[S]anctions are mainly a symbolic stand for justice. But they are not symbolic in their effects. They are economically destructive and only occasionally politically productive. America's misguided sanctions against Myanmar, for example, have done nothing in the past year to resolve the country's political and economic crisis… Sanctions should be lifted because they do not work.” (Financial Times, 28 July 2004, 17)

Author's Summary

Overall Assessment


Policy result, scaled from 1 (failed) to 4 (success)


Sanctions contribution, scaled from 1 (none) to 4 (significant)


Success score (policy result times sanctions contribution)scaled from 1 (outright failure) to 16 (significant success)


Political and Economic Variables


Companion policies J (covert), Q (quasi-military), R (regular military)


International cooperation with sender, scaled from 1 (none) to 4 (significant)


International assistance to target A (if present)


Cooperating international organizations


Sanction period (years)


Economic health and political stability of target, scaled from 1 (distressed) to 3 (strong)


Pre-sanction relations between sender and target, scaled from 1 (antagonistic) to 3(cordial)


Regime type of target, scaled from 1 (authoritarian) to 3 (democratic)


Type of sanction X (export), M (import), F (financial)


Cost to sender, scaled from 1 (net gain) to 4 (major loss)


Authors' Comment

Although the military regime in Burma has steadfastly refused to honor the 1990 election results, the decision to hold the elections at all, as well as the decision to release Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest appear to have been attributable at least in part to the international pressure, including economic sanctions. An important subsidiary goal has been obtaining cooperation in stanching the flow of drugs, particularly heroin, but the connection to the sanctions has been less clear since both the Bush and Clinton administrations have gone back and forth on whether US assistance for drug interdiction activities should be withdrawn.


Aung-Thwin, Maureen. 1989. Burmese Days. Foreign Affairs 68 143-161.

Banks, S. Arthur, J. Alan Day, C. Thomas Muller. 1997. Political Handbook of the World. New York: CSA Publications, Binghampton University, State University of New York.

Bray, John. 1995. Burma: The Politics of Constructive Engagement. Discussion Paper 58. London: The Royal Institute for International Affairs.

Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. 1992. US Economic Sanctions Imposed Against Specific Foreign Countries 1979 to 1992. CRS Report for Congress. 10 August (revised). Washington.

Dobriansky, Paula. 1989. The Fight for Freedom and Democracy in Burma. Current Policy, No. 1227 (November). Washington: US Department of State.

Hadar, Leon T. 1998. US Sanctions Against Burma: A Failure on All Fronts. Cato Institute Trade Policy Analysis No. 1, 26 March.

President's Export Council. 1997. Survey of Unilateral Economic Sanctions. Washington.

Shin, Mia Saw, Alison Krupnick, and Tom Wilson. 1995. Burma or Myanmar? US Policy at the Crossroads. Seattle: National Bureau of Asian Research.

US Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration. 1990. Foreign Economic Trends and Their Implications for the United States: Burma. FET 90-01 (January). Washington.

US House of Representatives, Subcommittees on Human Rights and International Organizations, and Asian and Pacific, Foreign Affairs Committee. 1989. The Crackdown in Burma: Suppression of the Democracy Movement and Violations of Human Rights. Hearing and Markup on H. Con. Res. 185. (13 September). Washington.

US Department of State. 1997. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices For 1996: Burma. Report submitted to US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs and Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. 105 Congress, 1 session, January. Washington.

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