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June 25, 1998

Diverse Coalition Urges State Attorneys General To Defend State Constitutional Rights

Coalition Asks AGs to Defend Massachusetts Human  Rights Law Against Corporate Constitutional Challenge

WASHINGTON D.C. -- The Ad-hoc Coalition for the Defense of the Massachusetts Burma Law, a diverse coalition of human rights, environmental and labor organizations, is calling on state attorneys general to support a Massachusetts human rights law against a corporate lawsuit. The Massachusetts law, which prohibits the state from doing business with corporations that do business with Burma, is being challenged in U.S. District Court by the National Foreign Trade Council Inc., a corporate coalition which claims that such state sanctions laws are unconstitutional.

"Every state in the Union has an interest in supporting the ability of states to set and keep divestment type laws," said Michael Dolan, Field Director for Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "If it were not for state sanctions policies, Nelson Mandela would still be in jail."

The Massachusetts law, part of an international human rights campaign against the brutal dictatorship in Burma, is virtually identical to state and local sanctions laws against South Africa s apartheid regime in the 1980s. Shortly after Massachusetts passed the Burma law in the spring of 1996, Eastman Kodak, Apple Computer, Phillips Electronics and other large corporations pulled out of Burma. Last year, the European Union and Japan initiated a challenge to the Massachusetts law at the World Trade Organization in a case that is still pending.

The Ad-hoc Coalition for the Defense of the Massachusetts Burma Law sent every state attorney general letters urging them to file amicus briefs in defense of the Massachusetts sanctions law. The letters note the April 9, 1986, opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice, which concludes that laws like the Massachusetts Burma law "survive constitutional scrutiny."

The Ad-hoc Coalition for the Defense of the Massachusetts Burma Law includes Public Citizen s Global Trade Watch, Sierra Club, Center of Concern, Franklin Research and Development, International Labor Rights Fund, Essential Action, Institute for Policy Studies, Campaign for America s Future, Co-op America, Preamble Center for Public Policy, Philadelphia-Burma Roundtable, Food and Allied Services Trades (FAST, AFL-CIO), Friends of the Earth and EarthRights International.

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