Burma has been back in the news lately, and for all the wrong reasons. In February, the country’s military seized power from the democratically-elected government, imprisoned civilian leaders and civil society activists, and launched a brutal crackdown against its people.
Many of my constituents – including some of Kentucky’s roughly 10,000 residents from Burma – have reached out to me to express their dismay at this assault on the country’s young democracy. As a longstanding supporter of the people of Burma, I want to take this opportunity to reiterate my commitment to democratic progress and reform in the country and to provide an update on my efforts in Washington.
For more than three decades, I have used my role in the United States Senate to prioritize efforts to promote freedom and democracy around the world. This is especially true in Burma, which has long suffered under the rule of a violent, repressive military junta.
I authored strict sanctions against the country’s authoritarian leaders – including the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 – and worked across party lines with multiple administrations to keep up the pressure on their illegitimate regime. In fact, one of my Democratic partners in this fight was then-Sen. Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
I also cultivated a close personal friendship with Burma’s leading democracy advocate and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. We first corresponded in 2002 through letters secretly delivered while she was under house arrest and barely able to communicate with the outside world.
When I was finally able to travel to Burma in 2012, I had the unique privilege of visiting Suu Kyi in the home where she had been imprisoned for a total of fifteen years. Later that year, I welcomed her to Kentucky to speak at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville. Aung San Suu Kyi has been a guiding light in the long fight for democracy in Burma and I have been proud to stand by her and call her my friend.
Sadly, democratic progress is rarely linear or easy. Burma’s people sent a clear, pro-democracy message when they gave Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy, a sweeping victory in the country’s free and fair elections in 2015.
But Burma’s military continued to frustrate democratic development, perpetuate violence against Burma’s ethnic minorities, and stifle the constitutional, political and economic reforms needed for Burma to transition to a modern, democratic state. And after witnessing another decisive NLD victory in the 2020 elections, the junta chose to sweep aside Burma’s legitimate government through military force.
Restoring Burma’s democratic development will require the United States to pursue a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to keep meaningful pressure on the junta and secure international recognition for Burma’s true, democratically-elected government.
Our efforts must also address the need for humanitarian support, accountability for perpetrators of atrocities, and genuine national reconciliation. The junta’s indiscriminate violence is strengthening its democratic opponents and uniting Burma’s disparate ethnic groups around the common cause of liberty. The United States and the world must do all we can to reinforce this momentum.
Continuing my decades-long involvement, I am working closely with President Biden and his administration to ensure our country is taking all appropriate steps to assist. I also introduced a bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act focused on mobilizing the administration to articulate and advance a strategy to hold Burma’s regime accountable and move the country back toward the path of democracy.
I sought support for my amendment from both sides of the aisle, and am pleased that its cosponsors include Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, Senator Ben Cardin, and my colleague from Indiana Senator Todd Young, among others. Passage of this amendment will help lay the groundwork to push back against the junta, support democratic actors like the National Unity Government, and encourage the restoration of democracy in Burma.
While I am working in Washington to help achieve a democratic future for Burma, I am also listening to the vibrant communities of Burmese refugees and immigrants in Kentucky who are working to raise awareness and advocate for this cause. Just recently, I met with a group of constituents from Burma in Bowling Green to discuss the ongoing issues facing their home country. Alongside my good friend Jimmy Nyunt, a local leader originally from Burma, we had an important and productive conversation about their community’s priorities.
As I told them in that meeting, my commitment to freedom and democracy in Burma remains steadfast and I will continue working with them to prioritize this issue at the highest level, just as I have done for the past three decades. Now more than ever, we must stand united in our efforts to move Burma back onto the path toward democracy.
Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is the Senate Republican Leader.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Mitch McConnell: My commitment to democracy in Burma remains steadfast
(Source: The Courier Journal)
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