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A “Gamble That Didn’t Pay Off”: New Report Calls for a Major Reset of U.S. Policy Toward Burma in the Wake of Military Coup

For Immediate Release: February 12, 2021 

Media Contact: Michael Givens
Associate Director of Strategic Communications
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Phone: +1-857-540-0617
Email: mgivens@uusc.org
Watch: What’s going on in Burma?

CAMBRIDGE, MA (February 12, 2021)—The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) today issued a policy brief calling for a fundamental shift in U.S. policy toward Burma (Myanmar), in the wake of the February 1 military coup toppling the civilian government of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

UUSC’s Vice President and Chief Program Officer Rachel Gore Freed issued the following statement outlining the brief’s findings and recommendations:

“For years, U.S. policy toward Burma has been premised on the flawed theory that downplaying human rights concerns would give Burma’s civilian government room to breathe. The result has been a fundamental neglect of justice and accountability in U.S. aid strategy, including with regard to the military’s 2017 genocide against the Rohingya and many other crimes. Millions of aid dollars flowed to international groups who had to meet conditions set by the Burmese central government, with almost nothing passing through to grassroots changemakers pushing for redress on the ground.

The February 1 coup revealed the fundamental error in this thinking: The Burmese military never really left power, and the failure of international donors to hold them accountable left them free to enrich themselves while committing atrocities. Meanwhile, Burma’s elected government—far from being fortified by this approach—is now on life support. As former UN Ambassador Samantha Power acknowledged in a recent UUSC-hosted talk, the United States’ democracy-first-justice-later approach to Burma was plainly a ‘gamble that did not pay off.’

Now is the moment for U.S. policy to move past this failed gamble and put its chips on justice and accountability. U.S. policymakers can start by supporting the international processes already underway to hold Burmese military leaders accountable for the 2017 genocide. U.S. aid funding should also be used to strengthen civil society organizations, led by the Rohingya and other affected ethnic minority communities, that are working for justice on the grassroots level—not only in central Burma, but in internally displaced persons, refugee, and exile communities throughout the region.

The dramatic failure of the U.S. strategy to preserve Burma’s fragile democracy is clear. We need a reset. UUSC’s policy brief—informed by the knowledge of our grassroots partners and allies—points to a better way forward.”

Click here to see a video connecting the military coup in Burma to the Rohingya genocide.


The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization advancing human rights together with an international community of grassroots partners and advocates.