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Bipartisan lawmakers unveil bill to punish Myanmar junta

Bipartisan lawmakers unveil bill to punish Myanmar junta
Months after the Myanmar military usurp power over the country in a coup, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced legislation to hold those responsible. File Photo by EPA-EFE

Oct. 6 (UPI) -- A group of bipartisan lawmakers has introduced legislation to punish those responsible for the Myanmar military junta's February coup and subsequent crackdown on civilians.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., with Sens. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, and Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., unveiled the Burma Unified Through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2021, to call on the United States to do more to support the Myanmar people's fight for democracy.

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Burma is an old name for the Southeast Asian nation.

"As the death toll continues to rise, the United States must not be indifferent to Burma's fate," Cardin said in a statement. "Our bicameral legislation aims to hold responsible the military leaders and others who have ravaged this nation and committed crimes against humanity."

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Myanmar's military, led by Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, staged a coup early Feb. 1 and arrested many of the nation's elected politicians, including its civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, sparking protests nationwide.

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Since the coup, the military has met the resistance with a bloody crackdown, resulting in the deaths of 1,158 people and the arrest of more than 7,000 others, according to statistics from Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said a month following the coup that the military junta was likely committing crimes against humanity.

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The United States, along with other allies, such as the European Union and Canada, have leveled sanctions against military leaders and companies that may fund the junta to seemingly little effect.

The legislation unveiled Tuesday would authorize sanctions on those who helped stage the coup and are responsible for the subsequent crackdown, prohibit the import of precious and semi-precious stones from Myanmar into the United States and call on Washington to pressure the United Nations to take more decisive action against the military junta.

It would also create a new special coordinator position for Myanmar democracy within the State Department to galvanize an international effort to impose multilateral sanctions against Myanmar.

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"It has been eight long months since the Burmese military staged its illegal and illegitimate coup, reversing years of reform and Burma's fragile transition to democracy," Meeks, the chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, said in a statement. "Despite diplomatic pressure from the United States and the international community, the Burmese military has refused to cease its violence, release those unjustly detained or participate in meaningful dialogue with local stakeholders."

The unveiling of the bill follows U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling for an "urgent" international response to prevent further violence in Myanmar.

"The risk of a large-scale armed conflict requires a collective approach to prevent a multi-dimensional catastrophe in the heart of Southeast Asia and beyond," he said late last month.

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