President Biden Issues Executive Order Regarding Military Coup in Burma and Sanctioning Military Leaders

On February 10, 2021, President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order concerning the military coup in Burma on February 1, 2021, in which the military overthrew the democratically elected civilian government and arrested numerous government leaders, politicians, human rights defenders, journalists, and religious leaders. In brief remarks, President Biden stated that the Burmese “military must relinquish the power it seized and demonstrate respect for the will of the people of Burma as expressed in their November 8th election.” In announcing the executive order he noted that the United States will take steps “to prevent the generals from improperly having access to the $1 billion in Burmese government funds held in the United States,” and will “sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests, as well as close family members.”

The order declares a national emergency “with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Burma.” The order authorizes the blocking of property and interests in property of any foreign person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury (via the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)):

  • to operate in the defense sector of the Burmese economy or any other sector of the Burmese economy;
  • to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have directly or indirectly engaged or attempted to engage in, any of the following:
    • actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Burma;
    • actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, or stability of Burma;
    • actions or policies that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly by people in Burma, or that limit access to print, online, or broadcast media in Burma; or
    • the arbitrary detention or torture of any person in Burma or other serious human rights abuse in Burma;
  • to be or have been a leader or official of:
    • the military or security forces of Burma, or any successor entity to any of the foregoing;
    • the Government of Burma on or after February 2, 2021;
    • an entity that has, or whose members have, engaged in any activity described in the order;
  • to be a political subdivision, agency, or instrumentality of the Government of Burma;
  • to be a spouse or adult child of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the order;
  • to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the order; or
  • to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the military or security forces of Burma or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the order.

On February 11, 2021, OFAC announced that it has placed 10 individuals and three entities connected to the military apparatus responsible for the coup on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List. In addition, the order suspends entry into the United States of any noncitizen determined to meet one or more of the above criteria. President Biden has also indicated that strong export controls will be imposed and that his administration will coordinate with allies and partners around the world, “particularly in the Indo-Pacific region,” to coordinate an international response to the coup.