The US Congress on a voice vote on Thursday approved a bill extending the ban on imports from Myanmar [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Both the House of Representative and the Senate [official websites] have approved the bill [Reuters report], sending it to President Barack Obama [official profile] to sign in order to become law. The bill reauthorizes the ban for three years, but renews it for only one, allowing Congress to revisit the issue after the first year. Additionally, the White House [official website] can lift the ban earlier if it determines that Myanmar made sufficient political and economic reforms to comply with international humanitarian standards. Despite an acknowledgment that Myanmar has recently made numerous reforms towards protecting its citizens' rights, the US government determined that more has to be done. US Representative Joseph Crowley [official website; press release] stated that the recent approval was to show Myanmar that the US supports the citizens of Myanmar who are subject to the continued human rights abuses and that it is condemning the violence prevalent in the country. Congress has first banned imports from Myanmar in 2003.
Myanmar has been unsuccessful in resolving the sectarian violence prevalent in the country despite attempts by President Thein Sein [BBC profile; official website, in Burmese] to bring peace to the communities, making the country subject to international criticism. On Wednesday Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released [JURIST report] a 56-page document [report, PDF] accusing Myanmar security forces of human rights abuses against a minority religious community in June. In July UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] expressed concern over the continued violence and human rights violations prevalent in Myanmar's Rakhine state since clashes began between its Buddhist and minority Rohingya [BBC backgrounder] Muslim communities in May. A week earlier Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported [JURIST report] that the violence between the two groups has increased since a state of emergency was declared [NYT report] in the western Myanmar State Rakhine. Earlier in July, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website] Melissa Fleming reported that 10 UN staff and aid workers had been arrested [JURIST report] in the northwestern Rakhine state and three of them are facing unknown criminal charges. In June, HRW had urged [JURIST report] the Chinese government to provide basic food and shelter needs to refugees from Myanmar after finding refugee abuse. Earlier in June, HRW also called on [JURIST report] Bangladesh to open its borders to Myanmar refugees a day after it demanded Myanmar ensure the safety of communities in the Arakan State subject to the violence between Arakan Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims.