Updated at 2:36 p.m. ET
The U.S. will impose sanctions and other consequences on Myanmar’s military leaders in response to the coup carried out there earlier this month, President Joe Biden said on Wednesday.
In brief remarks, Biden said he had approved an executive order to immediately sanction the leaders responsible for the Feb. 1 coup, with an initial round of targets to be identified this week. He also called on the military to release detained activists and political officials, including de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
“The people of Burma are making their voices heard, and the world is watching,” Biden said. “We’ll be ready to impose additional measures, and we’ll continue to work with our international partners to urge other nations to join us in these efforts.”
Massive crowds of protesters have taken to the streets calling for Suu Kyi’s release and a return to democratic rule, defying curfews and gathering bans in major cities in recent days. Acknowledging the escalating tensions, Biden denounced violence against protesters, calling it “unacceptable.”
The sanctions could include individuals, family members and business interests, Biden added. The order will also prevent military leaders from accessing some $1 billion in Burmese funds being held in the U.S.
He said his administration will freeze U.S. assets that benefit Myanmar’s government, while maintaining support to healthcare, civil society groups and other efforts that benefit its people directly.
Biden also described the coup as an issue of both bipartisan and international concern. He said his team has been consulting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who he described as having “a very keen interest in this” — as well as conducting “vigorous diplomatic outreach” with partners in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world to facilitate an international response.
“The strong and unified message emerging from the United States has been essential in our view to encouraging other countries to join us in pressing for an immediate return to democracy,” he said.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a separate briefing that additional details about the administration’s policy response will be released later in the week, and emphasized that the U.S. will be working closely with foreign partners to collectively impose “steep and profound costs on those responsible for this coup.”
The announcement comes just over a week after the U.S. formally declared the takeover a military coup d’etat, a legal assessment that triggers a review of non-humanitarian assistance to the country. The forthcoming sanctions would constitute the Biden administration’s first use of punitive measures since taking office, according to Bloomberg.
Still, several senior military officials are already facing punishment from the U.S. In Dec. 2019, the Treasury Department under the Trump administration imposed sanctions on four officials over human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.
Other countries are also denouncing the military takeover.
On Tuesday, New Zealand’s foreign minister announced a slew of diplomatic measures, including suspending “all high-level political and military contact” with Myanmar, implementing a travel ban on Myanmar’s military leaders and directing New Zealand’s aid program to “not include projects that are delivered with, or benefit, the military government.”
The U.N. Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Friday to discuss the situation in Myanmar. Special sessions require the support of one-third of the body’s 47 member states in order to convene; the HRC said on Monday that a joint request by the United Kingdom and European Union, citing “the importance and urgency of the situation,” had the support of 45 states.