(WASHINGTON) — With President Biden’s signing of the ‘BURMA Act’ today, the United States signals its intent to hold the Myanmar military accountable for human rights violations and support the struggle for democracy. Together with writers, artists, and human rights defenders, PEN America worked to gain support in Congress for the bill, culminating in a Myanmar delegation from the creative community that traveled to Washington last summer.

Laura Schroeder, senior manager of Legislative Affairs at PEN America, said: “The BURMA Act is an important step to hold the military junta accountable for the horrors it has perpetrated against its people. Freedom of expression and the desire for a democratic future ultimately cannot be stifled. This legislation shows the Myanmar people that the United States is committed to supporting their struggle for self-determination. PEN America celebrates the signing of this important legislation into law, and continues to stand in support of the writers, artists, and musicians whose courage in the face of the military junta continues to inspire the world community.”

The ‘BURMA Act,’ included in the broader annual defense legislation, will sanction the military junta and support those working for a democratic Myanmar. Known formally as the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act (BURMA) Act, the legislation was first introduced in October 2021 by Reps. Gregory Meeks of New York, Steve Chabot of Ohio and Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland.

As PEN America detailed in its report, Stolen Freedoms: Creative Expression, Historic Resistance, and the Myanmar Coup, artists have long played a key role in pushing back against military rule over many decades, and unsurprisingly the crackdown on free expression has been increasingly violent since the military coup in February 2021. Dozens of writers and creative artists were arrested, and several poets murdered, in the initial months after the coup, catapulting Myanmar to third place worldwide in PEN America’s annual Freedom to Write Index report. In July 2022, the junta executed two prominent dissenting creative voices, writer Ko Jimmy and musician Phyo Zeyar Thaw, after a deeply-flawed legal process and verdict handed down by a military tribunal. In September, writer Wai Moe Naing was handed a 10-year prison term on charges of incitement also by a military tribunal. More about PEN America’s work on Myanmar can be found here.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057