Derek Mitchell, Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma. Image: US Department of State

Derek Mitchell’s Senate Nomination Hearing for US Special Representative to Burma

ASEAN The Mekong

On June 29, 2011, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee convened to consider the nomination of Derek Mitchell to be US Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma with Ambassadorial rank. This hearing started the Senate confirmation process to fill the Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma position, which the US Congress established with the passing of the Tom Lantos Block Burma JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act in 2008. Mitchell is presently Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.

In his statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mitchell underlines that his

“objective will be to implement US law faithfully and coordinate efforts to advance the common international objectives of bringing about in Burma the unconditional release of all political prisoners, respect for human rights, an inclusive dialogue between the regime and the political opposition, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic groups that would lead to national reconciliation, and Burma’s adherence to its international obligations, including all UN Security Council resolutions on nonproliferation. To date … the inability of key members of the international community to coordinate their approach to Burma has undermined the effective realization of our shared objectives.”

The Obama Administration completed its Burma policy review in September 2009 and announced its intention to pursue a dual-track approach that integrates both sanctions and engagement to achieve results in Burma. President Barack Obama appointed Mitchell to the Special Representative for Burma position in mid-April 2011.

In his hearing statement, Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated that upon arrival in Burma “the President’s envoy will need to assess the implications of recent developments in Burma, including the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, the controversial 2010 elections, and the formation of a government led by a former top regime general and now President, Thein Sein.”

Following Mitchell’s appointment, Aung San Suu Kyi commented that, “As a special envoy, he probably sees that his duty is to try to bring about the democratization of Burma as smoothly and quickly as possible. So look upon him as a friend.”

From 1997 to 2001, Mitchell served as the special assistant for Asian and Pacific affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, during which he received the Office of the Secretary of Defense Award for Exceptional Public Service. He was the principal author of the Department of Defense 1998 East Asia Strategy Report. Mitchell has also worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the China Post (Taiwan), and as assistant to the senior foreign policy adviser to Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Mitchell received an M.A. in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1991, and a B.A. from the University of Virginia in 1986.

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing video is available here, and Mitchell’s accompanying statement is accessible here.