US House passes BURMA Act with new amendments

The US House of Representatives approved legislation this week that could decisively reshape future American policy toward Myanmar if it becomes law.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed on Thursday, included a newly amended version of the BURMA Act—previously passed by the US House in April 2021—broadening the government’s authority to impose sanctions against the coup regime and aid Myanmar opposition and resistance groups. The authorised aid does not include arms.

Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New York, the bill’s sponsor, lauded its passage in a statement released on Thursday.

“The inclusion of my bill, the BURMA Act, is a major victory for the people of Burma who are fighting for democracy, and is a critical step in holding the murderous Burmese military accountable,” he said, referring to the bill by its acronym, which stands for “Burma Unified Through Rigorous Military Accountability.”

Keel Dietz, a Myanmar policy consultant for international nongovernmental organisation Global Witness, wrote in a Twitter post that the amended Act’s section on sanctions “sends a good message and expands policy options.”

It makes designations against senior army officials “mandatory” within 180 days and allows the US to take action against international banks engaged in financial dealings with the junta.

Dietz added, however, that it includes “serious flaws.”

“I am disappointed that so many sanctions were actually separated out as ‘discretionary,’” he wrote, emphasising the categorisation of the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise in this way. Activists and civil society organisations have long been campaigning for the entity to be subjected to a formal boycott by nations including the US.

The amended BURMA Act, along with the NDAA, will become law only if it passes by a majority vote in the US Congress’s upper chamber, the Senate. The NDAA is typically passed by both chambers each year and a vote is expected in the Senate within weeks.

The earlier, unamended version of the BURMA Act passed in the House. However, the Senate did not bring it to a vote and it did not become law.

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