Skip to main content

Celebrate Aung San Suu Kyi's victory -- ease sanctions on Myanmar

By Suzanne DiMaggio and Priscilla Clapp, Special to CNN
April 2, 2012 -- Updated 1131 GMT (1931 HKT)
Supporters pack a truck with the hope of seeing democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on her visit to her constituency for the parliamentary elections April 1, 2012 in Myanmar.
Supporters pack a truck with the hope of seeing democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on her visit to her constituency for the parliamentary elections April 1, 2012 in Myanmar.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to Myanmar's parliament
  • Her ability to take part in electoral politics is a sign of reform by the military leadership, authors say
  • U.S. has a complex web of sanctions enacted over many years against military regime
  • Authors: It's a good time to relax the sanctions to encourage economic growth, reform

Editor's note: Suzanne DiMaggio is vice president of global policy programs at the Asia Society (Follow her on Twitter). Priscilla Clapp is a retired minister-counselor in the U.S. Foreign Service and former Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Burma.

(CNN) -- Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's victory in Myanmar's by-elections on Sunday represents the nascent return of opposition politics to the country after nearly half a century of military rule. It also has created an opportunity for the United States to begin easing economic sanctions that are hindering reform.

Aung San Suu Kyi, kept under house arrest by the government for 15 years, won a seat in the parliament with a handy plurality.

Votes continue to be tallied, but reports indicate that her National League for Democracy (NLD) party captured most of the 45 seats up for grabs. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will maintain its grip on the majority of the 662 seats in the Union Parliament, but now opposition members will have a voice in lawmaking.

Suzanne DiMaggio
Suzanne DiMaggio

The international community should take this moment to encourage Myanmar's moves toward liberalization. For the United States, the time has come to seriously address its myriad financial sanctions on Myanmar to ensure that they are not working at cross-purposes with reform efforts.

Priscilla Clapp
Priscilla Clapp

The reformers in Myanmar believe that popular support for the political transition can be consolidated only if real improvements in the quality of life can be delivered to the country's poverty-struck masses and struggling middle class. They fear that if the country's economic decline is not arrested and reversed relatively soon, it will lead to widespread dissatisfaction and instability, threatening a return to harsh security measures.

The draconian application of U.S. financial sanctions is having a serious negative impact on legitimate economic actors in Myanmar who are struggling to institute positive changes. They are also impeding Americans who are working to assist in the reforms.

While those aspects of the financial sanctions aimed at inhibiting corrupt economic activity should be retained, they should be modified to ensure that they do not prevent legitimate financial transactions essential to the development of a vibrant private sector, that they allow wider assistance for capacity building which Myanmar so urgently needs, and that they contribute positively to the transformation of the country's banking and financial system.

Gradually easing the trade sanctions could help develop certain sectors of the economy as they begin to expand. Investment sanctions should also be reduced as the macroeconomic structures are reformed and anticorruption measures are put in place.

The complex web of U.S. sanctions targeted at Myanmar over the past 20 years includes five federal laws and four presidential executive orders, all of which require different conditions to be met for lifting.

Throughout the sanctions-building process, very little thought was given to how to unpack them if and when it was warranted. By necessity, this will be a gradual process, enabling the United States to continue to test the commitment of President Thein Sein's government to pursuing democratic reforms, halting conflict in ethnic areas and seeking a genuine political settlement and expanding individual freedoms and civic activity.

Some of Myanmar's new leaders are trying to move decisively in the direction of democracy, free enterprise, and the protection of human rights, which the United States has been advocating for decades.

To insist on solutions to all of the country's problems before sanctions can be relieved at all would be self-defeating. A more reliable measure of progress than the by-elections will come in 2015, when Myanmar plans to hold its next general elections.

By this time, the civilian population should have a better idea of whether the government is making sincere efforts to serve the public interest, whether it is safe to run for office and engage openly in political activity, and whether a new generation of socially responsible political and military leaders is emerging.

The United States should do all it can to help Myanmar get to this point.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT