Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 26, 1999.
Burma continued to be ruled by a highly authoritarian military
regime. The military Government known as the State Law and Order
Restoration Council (SLORC) seized power in September 1988 after
harshly suppressing massive prodemocracy demonstrations. In November
1997, the SLORC announced that the military Government had renamed
itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The regime
is headed by armed forces commander General Than Shwe and composed
of top military officers. Retired dictator General Ne Win, whose
idiosyncratic policies had isolated the country and driven it
into deep economic decline, may continue to wield considerable
influence. The SLORC permitted a relatively free election in 1990,
but it failed to honor the results--which were an overwhelming
rejection of military rule--and cede power to the victorious prodemocracy
forces. Instead, the SLORC attacked the coalition of winning parties
and their leaders through intimidation, detention, and house arrest,
and redoubled efforts to consolidate and perpetuate its rule.
In 1993 the SLORC established the "National Convention,"
a body ostensibly tasked with drafting a new constitution. The
SLORC carefully handpicked the delegates and stage-managed the
constitutional convention's proceedings, ignoring even limited
opposition views. Although the National Convention has not been
reconvened since 1996, the military government appears determined
to draft a constitution that would ensure a dominant role for
the military services in the country's future political structure.
In August the principal democratic opposition party, the National
League for Democracy (NLD), winner of the 1990 election, sought
to expedite the transition to democracy by convening a parliament
based on the election results. The SPDC responded by detaining
200 opposition NLD Members of Parliament-elect, along with hundreds
of other democracy supporters; most remain in detention. There
are more than 1,000 political prisoners. This action was taken
to preempt any challenge to the perpetual military domination
of the nation's political life. The judiciary is not independent
of the executive.
The Government reinforces its firm military rule with a pervasive
security apparatus led by the military intelligence organization,
the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI). Control
is buttressed by arbitrary restrictions on citizens'
contacts with foreigners, surveillance of government employees
and private citizens, harassment of political activists, intimidation,
arrest, detention, and physical abuse. The Government justifies
its security measures as necessary to maintain order and national
unity. However, most major insurgent groups have reached individual
accommodations with the SLORC/SPDC in recent years, which provide
varying levels of stability and autonomy from central government
control. Members of the security forces committed numerous, serious
human rights abuses.
Burma is a poor country with an estimated average per capita income
of about $400, but about $800 on a purchasing power parity basis.
More than three decades of military rule and mismanagement have
resulted in widespread poverty. Primarily an agricultural country,
Burma also has substantial mineral, fishing, and timber resources.
From 1988 to 1995, the Government partly liberalized and opened
the economy to permit expansion of the small private sector and
attract foreign investment. This led to some economic growth,
but major policy and systemic obstacles to economic reform persist.
These include extensive overt and covert state involvement in
economic activity, state monopolization of leading exports, a
bloated bureaucracy, arbitrary and opaque governance, corruption,
poor human and physical infrastructure, and disproportionately
large military spending at the expense of social development spending
and stable prices. The difficulty of doing business in the country
and international sanctions have discouraged potential investors.
The Government's longstanding severe repression of human rights
continued during the year. Citizens continued to live subject
at any time and without appeal to the arbitrary and sometimes
brutal dictates of the military dictatorship. Citizens do not
have the right to change their government. The SPDC has given
no sign of a willingness to cede its hold on absolute power. There
continue to be credible reports, particularly in ethnic minority-dominated
areas, that soldiers committed serious human rights abuses, including
extrajudicial killings and rape. Disappearances continued, and
members of the security forces beat and otherwise abused detainees.
Prison conditions are harsh and life threatening. Arbitrary arrests
and detentions for expression of dissenting political views continued
with increasing frequency in an effort to intimidate the populace
into submission in the face of deepening economic and political
instability. More than 1,000 political prisoners remained in government
custody, including the approximately 200 parliamentarians elected
in 1990 detained since September. Since May 1996, at least 1,000
persons have been arrested, detained, or imprisoned for political
reasons. The judiciary is subject to executive influence. During
the year, foreign tourists, businessmen and those suspected of
or charged with political actions were subjected to increased
surveillance, harassment, deportation, and in a few cases imprisonment.
The SPDC maintained and intensified its restrictions on basic
rights of free speech, press, assembly, and association. Political
party activity remained severely restricted. Although the authorities
recognize the NLD as a legal entity, they prevented the party
from conducting normal political activities. The Government pressured
many party offices throughout the country to close and refused
to recognize the legal political status of key NLD party leaders,
its General Secretary and 1991 Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi,
and the two party cochairmen, and it severely constrained their
activities through security measures and threats. The regime detained
more than 900 Members of Parliament-elect and NLD supporters to
prevent the party from convening the parliament that was elected
in 1990. It also tightened progressively the restrictions that
it imposed in late 1996 on Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom to leave
her Rangoon compound and her ability to receive visitors. On four
occasions, the SPDC prevented Aung San Suu Kyi from leaving Rangoon,
which prompted confrontations that lasted several days. While
two of the standoffs were resolved through negotiation, on one
occasion security forces forced Aung San Suu Kyi to return to
Rangoon. On another occasion Aung San Suu Kyi returned voluntarily,
but only after her health had deteriorated dangerously when soldiers
blocked her vehicle on a road for nearly 2 weeks to prevent her
from peacefully visiting families of her detained supporters.
The Government imposes restrictions on certain religious minorities,
and restricts freedom of movement. Thousands of citizens fled
army attacks against insurgents, and remained in refugee camps
in Thailand at year's end. Societal discrimination and violence
against women, trafficking in women and girls, and widespread
adult and child prostitution are severe problems. Some discrimination
against women, and severe discrimination against religious and
ethnic and minorities are common. The Government restricts worker
rights, bans unions, and uses forced labor for public works and
to produce food and other daily necessities for military garrisons.
The forced use of citizens as porters by the army--with attendant
mistreatment, illness, and sometimes death--remained a common
practice. The Government did not enforce its 1995 military directive
and repeated promise to cease the practice of forced civilian
labor. Forced civilian labor remains widespread. The pervasive
use of forced unpaid civilian labor on major infrastructure projects
decreased slightly, as soldiers were used to supplement "contributed"
labor by civilians. Child labor is also a problem, stemming from
poverty and lack of adequate access to education.
During the SPDC's antiinsurgency operations, members of the military
forces were responsible for arbitrary killings, rape, village
relocations, the destruction of homes and property, and forced
labor inflicted on ethnic minorities.
Insurgent forces committed numerous abuses, including killings,
rapes, forced labor, the forced use of civilians as porters, and
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There continued to be many credible reports of brutality and the
killing of civilians by soldiers, particularly in areas dominated
by ethnic minorities, despite intermittent cease-fires that interrupted
the longstanding insurgencies in these areas (See Section 1.g.).
Brutal treatment by soldiers also caused deaths among those impressed
as military porters in areas held by ethnic insurgents. The worst
abuses occurred in areas that essentially have been zones of armed
conflict for decades. According to unconfirmed reports, porters
who no longer can work often are either abandoned without medical
care or assistance, or executed (see Section 6.c.). The Government's
general disregard for human rights has created a climate that
is clearly conducive to such abuses.
The military forces disregard the safety of noncombatants and
target civilians suspected of supporting insurgents. Thousands
of refugees continue to flee into neighboring Thailand (see Section
Some inmates died in prisons due to the denial of adequate medical
care and harsh conditions (see Section 1.c.). NLD detainee U Aung
Min died in detention (see Section 1.d.).
Various insurgent groups also committed extrajudicial killings.
In March soldiers, probably Democratic Karen Burmese Army (DKBA)
forces, shelled the Wang Ka camp for displaced Burmese Karen located
in Thailand. They killed two persons and wounded dozens more.
The troops set fire to nearly all the huts in the camp, leaving
thousands of persons homeless before the soldiers returned to
Burma (see Sections 1.g. and 2.d.).
As in previous years, private citizens and political activists
continued to "disappear" temporarily, for periods ranging
from several hours to several weeks. DDSI officials usually apprehended
individuals for questioning without the knowledge of their family
members, sometimes seizing them in the streets. In many, although
not all cases, DDSI released them soon afterward. Such action
usually was intended to prevent free political expression or assembly.
The military services continued to seize by force large numbers
of persons for porterage or related duties, often without the
knowledge of their family members. The whereabouts of those conscripted,
as well as of prisoners transferred for labor or porterage duties,
remain unknown for extensive periods.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
The authorities routinely subjected detainees to harsh interrogation
techniques designed to intimidate and disorient. The most common
forms of mistreatment were sleep and food deprivation coupled
with around-the-clock questioning; some detainees also were kicked
and beaten. Credible reports continue that prisoners are forced
to squat or assume stressful, uncomfortable, or painful positions
for lengthy periods.
There continued to be credible reports that security forces subjected
ordinary citizens to harassment and physical abuse. The military
forces routinely confiscated property, cash, and food, and used
coercive and abusive recruitment methods to procure porters. Those
forced into porterage or other duties faced extremely difficult
conditions and beatings and mistreatment that sometimes resulted
in death (see Sections 1.a. and 6.c.). In June security forces
beat NLD members (see Section 2.b.).
There were frequent reports that soldiers raped women who were
members of ethnic minorities, especially in Shan, Karenni, and
Karen states, where the majority of armed encounters between the
army and insurgents took place (see Section 1.g.).
Insurgent forces also raped civilians.
Prison conditions are harsh and life threatening. The extremely
harsh prison regimen includes the lack of opportunity for exercise,
mosquito nets and reading materials for some prisoners, poor nutrition,
inadequate medical care, and the use of solitary confinement and
"dog cells," (small enclosures that remind citizens
of kennels used during World War II) as punishment. A number of
prominent political prisoners were housed in separate bungalow
accommodations on the prison compound. All prisoners usually were
permitted to receive medicine as well as essential supplemental
food brought by their families (if the families could afford to
do so) during 15-minute visits permitted every 2 weeks, although
there are occasional reports that guards demand bribes for that
privilege. Authorities transferred many detainees and prisoners
from their home towns to distant prisons, making family visits
Conditions for political prisoners were reported to be much harsher
at some upcountry locations such as the Thayet and Thayawaddy
prisons than in Rangoon. Throughout the year, the authorities
transferred many prisoners--including NLD members--from Insein
Prison in Rangoon to upcountry prisons. The inevitable consequence
for most prisoners of these transfers was additional hardship,
in the form of reduced access to family support, food, medicine,
and clothing. There were reports that prison conditions for a
number of political prisoners improved late in the year, including
for some prominent political prisoners who have remained in hospital
wards under guard rather than in prisons (see Section 1.e.). There
were credible reports that at least a few political prisoners
or detainees were denied adequate medical care. Some of these
prisoners died in detention as a result. On August 7, Member of
Parliament-elect U Than Win died while serving an 11-year sentence.
The Government does not permit prison visits by human rights monitors.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
There is no provision in the law for judicial determination of
the legality of detention, and the SPDC routinely practiced arbitrary
arrest and incommunicado detention. Prior to being charged, detainees
rarely had access to legal counsel or their families and political
detainees have no opportunity to obtain release on bail. Political
detainees are held incommunicado for long periods. Even after
being charged, detainees rarely have benefit of counsel.
Private citizens and political activists continued to "disappear"
temporarily at the hands of security forces (see Section 1.b.).
The Government detained and deported foreign journalists (see
Section 2.a.). The Government detained, convicted, and later deported
18 foreign activists (see Section 1.e.).
The authorities carried out a campaign of detention and intimidation
from May through December to prevent the NLD from convening the
parliament elected in 1990. Prior to the NLD's planned convening
of parliament, the SPDC detained 203 NLD Members of Parliament-Elect
and 700 activists throughout the country to prevent them from
attending the event in Rangoon. These detentions violated the
NLD's right as a legal party to hold a political gathering (see
By year's end, the authorities released about 20 percent of these
detainees, many for reasons of illness or infirmity. On October
21, one NLD detainee, 52-year-old U Aung Min, died in detention
during what the Government described as "exchanges of views."
The Government attributed his death to a fast spreading cancer;
it did not release an autopsy report.
The military forces forcibly seized citizens to serve as porters
during military operations; soldiers inflicted brutal treatment
on such persons, at time causing their deaths (see Sections 1.a.,
1.b., and 1.c.).
Forced exile is not used as a method of political control. However,
during the year, Aung San Suu Kyi repeatedly was threatened with
deportation or internal exile in the state-controlled media.
In 1990, when the SPDC refused to recognize the results of the
elections and pressured successful candidates to resign, some
candidates, as well as thousands of political activists, went
into foreign exile rather than face threats.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is not independent of the executive. The SPDC appoints
justices to the Supreme Court who, in turn, appoint lower court
judges with the approval of the SPDC. Pervasive corruption further
serves to undermine the impartiality of the justice system.
The court system, as inherited from the United Kingdom and subsequently
restructured, comprises courts at the township, district, state,
and national levels. Throughout the year, the Government continued
to rule by decree and was not bound by any constitutional provisions
providing for fair public trials or any other rights. Although
remnants of the British-era legal system were formally in place,
the court system and its operation remained seriously flawed,
particularly in the handling of political cases. Unprofessional
behavior by some court officials, the misuse of overly broad laws,
and the manipulation of the courts for political ends continued
to deprive citizens of the right to a fair trial and the rule
Some basic due process rights, including the right to a public
trial and to be represented by a defense attorney, generally were
respected, except in political cases that authorities deemed especially
sensitive. Defense attorneys are permitted to call and cross-examine
witnesses, but their primary purpose is to bargain with the judge
to obtain the shortest possible sentence for their clients. Most
court proceedings are open to the public. However, in political
cases, trials are held in courtrooms on prison compounds and are
not open to the public. In these instances, defense counsel appears
to serve no purpose other than to provide moral support, since
reliable reports indicate that verdicts are dictated by higher
authorities. In a notable exception, U Aung Thein's trial in June
was held in a quasi-open court in order to embarrass the NLD by
trying to pit an NLD supporter against an NLD leader. Judicial
authorities permitted only his attorney, family, and witnesses
to be present; the public was excluded.
In August police detained a group of 18 foreign activists for
allegedly distributing antigovernment leaflets; they were charged,
tried without benefit of an attorney, convicted, and sentenced
to 5 years in prison. However, the foreign activists were deported
later that day. The Government granted consular access to these
individuals, although in other cases, it denied such access.
In December 1997, the SPDC commuted the sentences of those prisoners
who were serving terms longer than 10 years. The SPDC reduced
the sentences of approximately 60 students and political prisoners
who were arrested between 1988 and 1992, making them eligible
for release within the next few years. However, some political
prisoners remain in custody after the completion of their original
sentence. NLD members U Aung Thein and U Hla Myint were sentenced
to 14 years in prison in June for having disclosed to journalists
the contents of a letter from an ethnic insurgent cease-fire group
to an SPDC member.
There are unconfirmed estimates that the Government holds over
1,000 political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The military authorities ruled unchecked by any independent state
organ, and the State continued to interfere extensively and arbitrarily
in the lives of private citizens. Through its extensive intelligence
network and administrative procedures, the Government closely
monitored the travel and activities of many citizens, particularly
those known to be politically active. Authorities sometimes enter
homes during night hours to examine registration documents of
occupants as a form of monitoring personal movements. Security
personnel attempted to screen all private correspondence and telephone
calls and searched private premises and other property without
warrants. Citizens generally were unable to subscribe directly
to foreign publications (see Section 2.a.). Government employees
generally are required to obtain advance permission before meeting
Communication devices are rationed or licensed to limit citizens'
access to information. Internet communication is highly restricted.
Possession of an unregistered telephone, facsimile machine, or
computer modem has resulted in prison sentences.
Government employees are prohibited from joining or supporting
The military services forced citizens--including women and children--to
work as military porters under harsh conditions (see Sections
1.a, 1.b., 1.g., and 6.c.). The army reportedly includes child
soldiers as young as 14 years old. Youth soldiers are assigned
support duties; both the Government and insurgents used forced
conscription near military camps.
To make way for commercial or public construction, and in some
cases for security reasons, the SPDC continued to relocate citizens
out of cities to new towns, although on a much smaller scale than
during the early 1990's. While facilities in these areas have
improved over time, residents targeted for displacement continued
to be given no option but to move, usually on short notice. The
military authorities also continued the widespread and frequent
practice of forcible relocation of rural villages, including their
residents, in ethnic minority areas in response to security concerns.
This practice, again this year as in 1997, was particularly widespread
and egregious in the Shan, Kayah, and Karen states as part of
the armed forces campaign against insurgents. In these states,
thousands of villagers were displaced and herded into smaller
settlements in strategic areas. (see Section 1.g.).
In a number of urban areas, residents were compelled to cede land
for road widening and a host of other projects approved without
any public consultation or endorsement. Other long-term city residents
were required to cede land for commercial redevelopment and were
compensated at only a fraction of the value of their lost homes.
In a Muslim village near Moulmein, authorities forced villagers
off the land in January in order to build a government facility.
Villagers complained that the Government's compensation was inadequate.
In urban Rangoon, previously confiscated land was developed into
high-density housing that previously evicted tenants could purchase
only at prices beyond the means of many. In rural areas, military
personnel at times confiscated livestock, fuel, and food supplies.
In July the Attorney General banned women from marrying foreigners.
This ban is not consistently enforced.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law In
For 50 years, the army has battled diverse ethnic insurgencies.
These ethnic minority insurgent groups have sought to gain greater
autonomy, or in some cases, independence from the dominant ethnic
Burman majority. In 1989 the SPDC began a policy of seeking cease-fire
agreements with most ethnic insurgent groups along the borders.
Following the breakdown of its cease-fire with the separatist
Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) in 1995, the army began
an offensive in 1996 against the KNPP that continued through year's
end. As part of its campaign to deny the guerrillas local support,
the military forces forcibly relocated hundreds of villages and
tens of thousands of Karenni civilians. In central and southern
Shan state, the military forces continued to engage the Shan State
Army (SSA), a remnant of Khun Sa's narcotics-linked former Mong
Tai Army, and began a campaign of relocation against the villagers
in the region. Many thousands were forcibly removed from their
villages. There are credible reports of retaliatory killings,
rapes, and other atrocities committed by the army against civilians.
The Karen National Union (KNU) is the largest single insurgent
group that continues to fight against central government rule.
In 1997 cease-fire talks between the KNU and SLORC broke down
and were followed by a the SLORC offensive that pushed the KNU
out of its last strongholds in Karen state. As a result, over
20,000 Karen civilians fled to Thailand. The Government denied
responsibility for attacks on Karen refugee camps in Thailand
that were carried out by the DKBA. However, according to credible
reports, the DKBA receives military support from the Government.
In conjunction with the military's campaigns against the Karen,
Karenni, and Shan insurgents, it was standard practice for the
Government's armed forces to coerce civilians into working as
porters in rural areas in or near combat zones. According to testimony
collected by international human rights nongovernmental organizations
(NGO's) from refugees, the men--and sometimes women and children
as well--who were forced to labor as porters often suffered beatings.
On occasion, they died as a result of their mistreatment by soldiers
(see Sections 1.a, 1.b., 1.c., and 6.c.). There were reports that
soldiers raped some female members of ethnic minorities in contested
In regions controlled by insurgents groups such as the Shan state,
or in areas controlled by groups that have negotiated cease-fires
with the Government such as the Wa territory, there are credible
reports that these groups engaged in narcotics production and
trafficking. In combat zones or in areas controlled by ethnic
minorities, the insurgents subjected civilians to forced labor.
Antigovernment insurgent groups were also responsible for violence,
including deploying land mines and conducting ambushes that caused
both civilian and military deaths. The SSA insurgents committed
retaliatory killings, rapes, and other atrocities against civilians.
There were credible reports that insurgents used women and children
as porters. Karen National Union troops reportedly are led by
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Government continued to impose severe restrictions on freedom
of speech and of the press. The security services continued to
harass and repress those attempting to express opposition political
views, and many more refrained from speaking out due to fear of
arrest, interrogation, and other forms of intimidation. Since
late 1996, the authorities have prohibited the weekend gatherings
in front of Aung San Suu Kyi's residence at which she and NLD
vice-chairmen Tin Oo and Kyi Maung responded to letters from the
public and delivered speeches.
In September Aung San Suu Kyi began holding weekly meetings at
NLD headquarters. Those meetings continued through year's end,
although government security forces were present. The Government
enhanced the existing barriers that blocked access to her residence
during the year, and severely restricted her freedom to leave
her compound or to receive visitors.
The government monopoly newspaper, television, and radio remained
propaganda instruments. These official media normally did not
report opposing views except to criticize them. Editors and reporters
remained answerable to military authorities and reportedly were
compelled to publish progovernment articles in nonofficial media.
While the English language daily, New Light of Myanmar continued
to include many edited international wire service reports on foreign
news, domestic news hewed strictly to and reinforced government
policy. Illegal copies of international news magazines were sold
by street vendors.
All forms of domestic public media were officially controlled
or censored. This strict control in turn encouraged self-censorship
on the part of writers and publishers. Citizens were generally
unable to subscribe directly to foreign publications, but a limited
selection of foreign newspapers could be purchased in a few hotels
and stores in Rangoon (see Section 1.f.). A limited supply of
international newsmagazines and a sizable number of private publications
on nonpolitical problems were available to the public, but censors
frequently banned issues or deleted articles deemed unwelcome
by the Government.
The Government issued few visas to journalists after April 1997
and held less than a handful of press conferences on topical subjects.
Several journalists who entered the country as tourists were detained
and deported by the authorities.
Foreign radio broadcasts, such as those of the British Broadcasting
Corporation, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, and the Norway-based
Democratic Voice of Burma, remained the principal sources of uncensored
information. The authorities continued to restrict the reception
of radio and satellite television broadcasts, although restrictions
are not enforced strictly in many cases. Penalties of up to 3
years' imprisonment for operation of an unlicensed satellite television
receiver can be imposed. Licenses were almost impossible to obtain
by politically active citizens. Many citizens ignored the licensing
regulation without penalty.
A series of totalitarian decrees issued by the Government in 1996
designed to strengthen its control over all forms of political
expression and citizens' access to information remained in force
during the year. Order 5/96 in 1996 prohibited speeches or statements
that "undermine national stability" as well as the drafting
of alternative constitutions. A 1996 amendment to the television
and video law imposed additional restrictions and stiffer penalties
on the distribution of videotapes not approved by the censor.
Also in 1996, the Government decreed that all computers, software,
and associated telecommunications devices would be subject to
government registration. During the year, the Government began
to offer Internet services to a small number of customers. At
least two companies associated with the Government provide electronic
mail service; however, Internet communications are restricted
University teachers and professors remained subject to the same
restrictions on freedom of speech, political activities, and publications
as other government employees. These included warnings against
criticism of the Government; instructions not to discuss politics
while at work; strictures against joining or supporting political
parties; engaging in political activity; or meeting foreigners.
Government employees also are coerced into joining the military
Government's mass mobilization organization, the Union Solidarity
and Development Association (USDA). Teachers continued to be held
responsible for propagating SPDC political goals among their students
and for maintaining discipline and preventing students from engaging
in any unauthorized political activity.
Following student demonstrations in December 1996, the Government
closed the universities and even primary and secondary schools
to prevent further demonstrations. Primary and secondary schools
reopened in August 1997. After 2 years, several universities were
opened for abbreviated refresher course and examinations for 2
weeks in August. Dissatisfaction with the limited time for education
prompted several student demonstrations. The authorities arrested
student protest leaders, and universities held exams, only to
be closed again within a few weeks. The Government did not reopen
the Medical University during the year.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government restricts freedom of assembly. Its prohibition
of unauthorized outdoor assemblies of more than five persons remained
in effect, although it was enforced unevenly. The 10 existing
legal political parties remained required to request formal permission
from the authorities to hold internal meetings of their members,
although some members still met without official permission.
In September 1997, the authorities reversed a position barring
party meetings and allowed the NLD to celebrate the ninth anniversary
of the party's founding, the largest gathering held by the NLD
since 1990. In May the authorities also allowed the NLD to hold
a 2-day party congress on the anniversary of the 1990 elections.
The authorities also permitted several public gatherings of NLD
members and supporters on various holidays with little or no interference.
The authorities allowed holiday celebrations to take place in
Aung San Suu Kyi's compound, but police restricted the size of
the gatherings, and their suspension of restrictions was sporadic.
On June 25, security forces blocked NLD members from entering
Aung San Suu Kyi's compound and beat them, slightly injuring some.
Riot police prevented student demonstrations on August 24 by charging
them with batons. There were no injuries.
The USDA continued to hold large-scale rallies in support of government
policies. In September and October, large anti-NLD rallies were
organized by the Government in every state and division. Participants
were required to attend. There were no reported incidents in which
the authorities interfered with religious groups' assemblies or
other outdoor gatherings during the year.
The Government restricts freedom of association. Aside from officially
sanctioned organizations like the USDA, the right of association
existed only for organizations, including trade associations and
professional bodies, permitted by law and duly registered with
the Government, such as the Myanmar Women's Entrepreneur Association.
Only a few continue to exist, and even those are subject to direct
government intervention and take special care to act in accordance
with government policy. This group includes apolitical organizations
such as the Myanmar Red Cross and the Myanmar Medical Association.
Only 10 political parties remain legally in existence and most
The SPDC's repression of the NLD continued; it harassed NLD members
for petty offenses, and arrested and convicted NLD supporters
for political crimes, especially those personally associated with
NLD General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi.
c. Freedom of Religion
Adherents of all religions duly registered with the authorities
generally enjoyed freedom to worship as they chose; however, the
Government imposed some restrictions on certain religious minorities.
In recent years, Buddhists continued to enjoy a privileged position.
In some areas members of other religious minorities reportedly
were forced by the Government to help construct pagodas. The Government
has made special efforts to link itself with Buddhism as a means
of asserting its own popular legitimacy. Photographs of SPDC officials
paying homage or making donations at pagodas throughout the country
appear regularly in the official newspaper. Aung San Suu Kyi was
able to visit religious sites in Rangoon several times during
The Government monitored the activities of members of all religions,
including Buddhism, in part because congregation members have
in the past become politically active. The authorities continued
to regard the Muslim and Christian religious minorities with suspicion.
Moreover, there is a concentration of Christians among some of
the ethnic minorities against whom the army has fought for decades.
Religious publications, like secular ones, remained subject to
control and censorship. Christian bibles and Muslim Korans translated
into indigenous languages could not be imported legally, although
this ban is not enforced in some areas. It remained difficult
for Christian and Muslim groups to obtain permission to build
new churches and mosques.
Religious groups of all faiths were able to establish and maintain
links with coreligionists in other countries and travel abroad
for religious purposes; however, the Government reportedly monitored
these activities. Foreign religious representatives usually were
allowed visas only for short stays but in some cases were permitted
to preach to congregations. Permanent foreign missionary establishments
have not been permitted since the 1960's, but some elderly nuns
and priests working in Burma since before independence in 1948
have been allowed to continue their work.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration,
Although citizens have the legal right to live anywhere in the
country, both urban and rural residents were subject to arbitrary
relocation (see Section 1.f.). Except for limitations in areas
of insurgent activity, citizens could travel freely within the
country but must notify local authorities of their whereabouts.
The Government restricted the freedom of movement of NLD General
Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi (see Section 2.a.). Aung San Suu Kyi
attempted to leave Rangoon four times, beginning in July. Each
time military authorities blocked her movement and in one instance
forcibly returned her to the capital.
Those residents unable to meet the restrictive provisions of the
citizenship law, such as ethnic Chinese, Arakanese, Muslims, and
others must obtain prior permission to travel. The Government
carefully scrutinized prospective travel abroad. This produced
rampant corruption as many applicants were forced to pay large
bribes to obtain passports to which they were otherwise entitled.
The official board that reviews passport applications denied passports
in some cases apparently on political grounds. All college graduates
who obtained a passport (except for certain government employees)
were required to pay a special education clearance fee to reimburse
the Government for the cost of their education up to matriculation.
Citizens who had emigrated legally generally were allowed to return
to visit relatives, and some who had lived abroad illegally and
acquired foreign citizenship were able to return to visit. The
Government on occasion restricts the issuance of passports to
female applicants under the age of 25 seeking work abroad, reportedly
to prevent young women from being enticed to travel abroad to
jobs that are in fact in the commercial sex industry.
Restrictions on foreign travelers have been eased as part of an
effort to promote tourism. Burmese embassies issued tourist visas,
valid for 1 month, within 24 hours of application. However, select
categories of applicants, such as foreign human rights advocates,
journalists, and political figures continued to be denied entry
visas unless traveling under the aegis of a sponsor acceptable
to the Government, and for purposes approved by the Government.
Many travelers were questioned at length and asked to sign oaths
indicating that they were not part of these categories before
their visas were issued. The authorities detained and deported
several journalists (see Section 2.a.). One foreign citizen who
entered the country illegally after previously being expelled
for antigovernment activity was sentenced to 5 years in prison.
He was released after 90 days and deported. The Government arrested,
convicted, and later deported 18 foreign activists (see Section
1.e.). Although some areas of the country remained closed to foreigners
for security reasons, the authorities permitted travel to most
other destinations. Rangoon-based diplomats must apply 10 days
in advance for travel outside the capital.
At year's end, there were still 21,000 Rohingya Muslims remaining
in refugee camps in Bangladesh. The United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees' (UNHCR's) repatriation program, which since 1992
had succeeded in returning approximately 238,000 refugees to Burma
and had been scheduled to end on August 15, 1997, halted prematurely
when the Rohingyas as a group rejected repatriation and demanded
resettlement in Bangladesh. While the Government agreed to resume
repatriation of those remaining, this repatriation has yet to
commence. This repatriation is proceeding slowly.
The Rohingyas refused to return because they feared human rights
abuses, including religious persecution and other government restrictions.
The UNHCR reported that authorities cooperated in investigating
isolated incidents of renewed abuse of repatriated citizens. However,
returnees complained of restrictions imposed by the Government
on their ability to travel and to engage in economic activity.
A few thousand students and dissidents continued to live in exile
in Thailand. The approximately 100,000 Burmese residing in refugee
camps in Thailand in January were joined during the year by thousands
of new arrivals fleeing army attacks against insurgencies in the
Karen, Karenni, and Shan ethnic areas.
The Government does not allow refugees or displaced persons from
abroad to resettle or seek safe haven. The Government has not
formulated a policy concerning refugees, asylees, or first asylum.
There were no reports of the forced return to a country where
they feared persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Despite the overwhelming desire that citizens demonstrated in
the 1990 elections for a return to democracy, they continued to
be denied the right to change their government.
Since 1962 active duty military officers have occupied most important
positions throughout the Government, particularly at the policy
making level, but also extending to local administration. Despite
the appointment of several civilians to the Cabinet in 1992, the
military Government's policy of placing military or recently retired
military officers in most key senior level positions in all ministries
has continued unabated. In the SPDC Government formed in November
1997, only 12 of the 41 ministers appointed were civilians. The
authorities thwarted all efforts to convene the Peoples' Parliament
that was elected in 1990. The last civilian cabinet member, Foreign
Minister U Aung Gyaw, was retired in November and replace with
a diplomat, U Win Aung, who began his career in the military services.
Following the NLD's victory in the 1990 elections, the SPDC nullified
the election results and disqualified, detained, arrested, or
drove into exile many successful candidates. Since then, 280 of
the 480 members of parliament-elect have been disqualified, resigned
under pressure, gone into exile, been jailed, or died. A total
of 43 successful candidates from the election remain in prison.
More than 150 have been detained without charge in what the Government
calls "exchanges of views."
Rather than accept the will of the citizenry as expressed in the
1990 election, the SPDC (then known as the SLORC)) convened a
National Convention in 1993 to draw up principles for a new constitution.
The SLORC hand-picked most delegates, and carefully stage-managed
the proceedings; even limited opposition views were ignored. The
SLORC tasked the Convention with drafting a new constitution designed
to provide a dominant role for the military services in the country's
future political structure. In 1995 the NLD delegates withdrew
from the convention pending agreement by the authorities to discuss
revising the Convention's working procedures to permit debate
and meaningful participation in formulation of a new constitution.
Two days after its withdrawal, the NLD was expelled formally.
The National Convention continued its deliberations until it adjourned
in March 1996. It has not reconvened. The provisions that it adopted
were designed to ensure the large-scale involvement of the military
services in all levels of government--including reserving 25 percent
of seats in the Parliament to appointed members of the military
services, and reserving key government posts for military personnel
as well. In addition it adopted provisions that prohibited, among
other things, anyone "under acknowledgment of allegiance"
to a foreigner or who has received any type of assistance from
a foreign source, from participating in the Government. These
provisions apparently were designed to exclude Aung San Suu Kyi,
who is married to a British subject.
Women and minorities are underrepresented in the Government and
the top ranks of government services and excluded from military
leadership. There are no female members of the SPDC, ministers,
or Supreme Court judges.
Members of certain minority groups continue to be denied full
citizenship (see Section 5).
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government does not allow domestic human rights organizations
to exist, and it remained generally hostile to outside scrutiny
of its human rights record. Approximately 14 nonpolitical, humanitarian,
international NGO's continued project work. A few others established
a provisional presence while undertaking the protracted negotiations
necessary to set up permanent operations in the country.
Disturbed by the severe criticism contained in 1995 resolutions
adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) during the
year, the authorities continued to refuse to meet with UNHRC representatives.
In his reports to the UNHRC, Special Rapporteur for Burma, Rajsoomer
Lallah, who was repeatedly denied entry into the country, criticized
the human rights violations committed against ethnic minorities
as a result of the SPDC's policy of forcible relocations and continued
recourse to forced labor, including citizens' forced labor as
porters. The authorities allowed the visit of U.N. Special Envoy
to Burma, Alvaro de Soto in January, who visited the country to
discuss political issues. After many delays, de Soto was permitted
to return to Burma in October.
The Government denied entry to staff of the International Labor
Organization (ILO) Special Commission of Inquiry into forced labor
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
The Government continued to rule by decree and was not bound by
any constitutional provisions concerning discrimination.
Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, appears
to be relatively infrequent. Married couples often live in households
with extended families, where social pressure tends to protect
the wife from abuse. In June the Government's Social Welfare Training
School organized a seminar to train school instructors to help
protect women from violence. Trafficking in women and girls remains
a serious problem.
There were reliable reports that many women and children in border
areas, where the Government's control is limited, were forced
or lured into working as prostitutes in Thailand. It is unknown
how many young women have been induced or coerced into working
as prostitutes, but a common practice is to lure young women to
Thailand with promises of employment as a waitress or domestic
servant. The military forces continued to impress women for military
porterage duties (See Sections 1.c. and 1.g.).
In general women traditionally have enjoyed a high status, exercising
most of the same basic rights as men and taking an active role
in business. Consistent with traditional culture, women keep their
names after marriage and often control family finances. However,
women remained underrepresented in most traditional male occupations,
and a few professions continued to be effectively barred to women.
The burden of poverty, which is particularly widespread in rural
areas, fell disproportionately on women. The Government restricts
foreign travel by young women (see Section 2.d.). In July the
Attorney General banned women from marrying foreigners; however,
the Government does not enforce this ban consistently in response
to a high profile case in which false marriages were used to lure
women into prostitution (see Section 1.f.).
Women did not consistently receive equal pay for equal work. There
were no independent women's rights organizations, and no government
ministry was charged specifically with safeguarding women's interests.
The Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association, a government-controlled
agency, provided assistance to mothers. A professional society
for businesswomen, the Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs' Association,
formed in 1995, provided loans to new businesses.
Despite operating various child welfare programs, the Government
allocated few resources to programs for children. According to
government studies conducted with U.N. assistance, although education
is compulsory, 65 to 75 percent of children do not finish primary
school, and only 5 percent complete secondary school. Government
budget allocations for education have declined steadily since
Child prostitution of young females, especially those from the
ethnic minority Shan state sent or lured to Thailand, continued
to be a major problem.
Government efforts to stop trafficking in young women are modest
and ineffective. The Government makes it difficult to obtain passports
or marry foreigners. Most citizens who are forced or lured into
prostitution cross the border into Thailand without passports.
The rising incidence of HIV infection has increased the demand
for supposedly "safer" younger prostitutes. The army
conscripts children as young as the age of 14, especially orphans
and street children; they are deployed to training camps where
they support the military forces. In combat areas, children have
been forced to serve as porters, where beatings and other mistreatment
The military forces continue to force children to labor as porters,
and often subjected them to beatings (see Sections 1.f. and 1.g.).
There are credible reports that Muslims in the western state of
Rakhine were compelled by the Government to build Buddhist pagodas
as part of the country's forced conscription labor program.
People With Disabilities
Official assistance to persons with disabilities is extremely
limited. There is no law mandating accessibility to buildings,
public transportation, or government facilities. While there are
several small-scale organizations to assist the disabled, most
disabled persons must rely on their families to provide for their
welfare. Disabled veterans receive available benefits on a priority
basis. Because of land mine detonations, Burma has a very high
rate of amputee injuries.
The country's myriad ethnic minorities have long resented the
dominance of the country's Burman majority. The minorities have
been largely excluded from the military leadership. In recent
years, the SPDC has sought to pacify these ethnic groups by means
of negotiated cease-fires, grants of limited autonomy, and promises
of development assistance.
The Government included a large number of ethnic minority representatives
in the National Convention and permitted extended debate on the
problem of minority autonomy. However, the ethnic minority populations
continue to complain that their concerns have not been addressed
adequately by the Government. Economic development among minorities
has continued to lag, leaving many persons living at or below
Since the focus of hostilities against armed insurgencies has
been in the border areas where most minorities are concentrated,
those populations have been victimized disproportionately by the
general violence associated with the military forces' activities.
Even in areas pacified under cease-fire arrangements, forced labor,
village relocations, and other infringements on the rights of
ethnic minorities continue to be imposed by local army and insurgent
Since only persons who can prove long familial links to Burma are accorded full citizenship, ethnic populations, such as Muslims, Indians, and Chinese, continued to be denied full citizenship and are excluded from government positions. Persons without full citizenship face restrictions in domestic travel and are barred from certain advanced university programs in medicine and technological fields (see Section 2.d.). Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against minorities persists. Ethnic minority languages are not taught in public schools. There are few minority language publications. Ethnicity is indicated on some national identity cards.
Section 6 Worker Rights
Free trade unions do not exist, and even former government-controlled
ones were dormant. Strikes are rare; however, in December 1997,
workers in a foreign-owned textile factory in Pegu staged a successful
4-day strike. Following the intervention of the Department of
Labor, workers and management reached a compromise that included
higher wages and improved working conditions.
Because of its longstanding violation of ILO Convention 87 on
Freedom of Association, Burma was cited for continued failure
to implement the convention by the June 1998 ILO Conference. The
Conference criticized the lack of progress and the absence of
cooperation on the part of the Government.
No unions are affiliated internationally.
In 1989 the United States suspended Burma's eligibility for trade
concessions under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)
program, pending steps to afford its labor force internationally
recognized worker rights.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers do not have the right to organize and bargain collectively
to set wages and benefits. The Government's Central Arbitration
Board, which theoretically provides a means for settling major
labor disputes, continued to exist but in practice was dormant.
Township-level labor supervisory committees exist to address minor
The Government unilaterally sets wages in the public sector. In
the private sector, wages are set by market forces. The Government
pressures joint ventures not to pay salaries greater than those
of ministers or other senior employees. Some joint ventures circumvent
this with supplemental pay, including remuneration paid in foreign
exchange certificates, as well as through incentive and overtime
pay and other fringe benefits. Foreign firms generally set wages
near those of the domestic private sector but follow the example
of joint ventures in awarding supplemental wages and benefits.
There are no export processing zones. However, there are special
military-owned industrial parks, such as Pyin-Ma-Biu near Rangoon,
which attract foreign investors and often manufacture for export
by offering cheaper labor than is available elsewhere. These are
tantamount to export processing zones in many respects.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor remains a serious problem. At widespread
locations throughout the country, international observers have
confirmed that the Government routinely coerces forced labor by
citizens for local projects. In July a special ILO Commission
of Inquiry found that the Government widely and systematically
violated its obligations under ILO Convention 29, which prohibits
forced labor. In March 1997, following an investigation of the
country's forced labor practices, the European Union Commission
revoked benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences.
From 1992 to 1996, the Government supplemented declining gross
investment with a significant increase in uncompensated citizen
"contributions," chiefly of forced labor, to build or
maintain irrigation, transportation, and tourism infrastructure
projects. During 1996 the Government introduced an initiative
to use military personnel for infrastructure projects. This initiative
and the increasing use of heavy construction equipment resulted
in a decline since 1996 in the use of unpaid labor on physical
infrastructure projects, especially for irrigation projects and
railroad building. Nonetheless, the use of forced labor remains
There have been conflicting reports about the use of forced labor
on individual projects by both government and nongovernmental
actors. Refugee accounts of some instances of forced labor on
private projects appear to be credible. The Government has denied
wholly or in part requests by observers from outside the country
to conduct independent visits and investigations. In September
the U.S. Department of Labor issued a detailed report on forced
labor practices in Burma.
In some areas, government authorities forced members of non-Buddhist
religious minorities to help construct pagodas.
The army continued to force citizens--including women and children--to
work as porters, which led to mistreatment, illness, and death,
while conducting military actions against ethnic insurgents (see
Sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.g.). The Government does not specifically
prohibit forced and bonded labor by children. While bonded labor
is practiced, forced labor occurs in military porterage and in
situations in which a family or household is required to contribute
labor to a particular project. Children are called upon by parents
to help fulfill that obligation without opposition by the Government
(see Section 6.d.).
Trafficking in women and girls for forced prostitution is a serious
problem (see Section 5) in neighboring countries.
The ILO report of its Commission of Inquiry described widespread
and systematic use of forced labor in violation of ILO Convention
29 on forced labor. The Government refused to permit the Commission
to visit. In compiling 6,000 pages of documentation from outside
Burma, the Commission concluded that there is abundant evidence
showing pervasive use of forced labor in the country. The ILO
Commission stated that women, children, and the elderly are unduly
required to perform forced labor; porters often are sent into
dangerous military situations, rarely receive medical treatment;
and are almost never compensated. The Commission stated that forced
laborers frequently are beaten and that some women performing
forced labor were raped or otherwise abused sexually by soldiers.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
Although the law sets a minimum age of 13 for the employment of
children, in practice the law is not enforced. Working children
are highly visible in cities, mostly working for small or family
enterprises, and in family agricultural activities in the countryside.
Children working in the urban informal sector in Rangoon and Mandalay
often start work at young ages. Children are hired at lower pay
rates than adults for the same kind of work. In the urban informal
sector, child workers are found mostly in food processing, selling,
refuse collecting, light manufacturing, and as tea shop attendants.
Despite a compulsory education law, almost 40 percent of children
never enroll in school, and only 25 to 35 percent complete the
5-year primary school course. The law does not specifically prohibit
forced and bonded labor by children; while bonded labor is not
practiced, forced labor by children occurs. The military Government
not only tolerates child labor, but also uses children as porters
in infrastructure development and in providing other services
to military forces (see section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Only government employees and employees of a few traditional industries
are covered by minimum wage provisions. The minimum monthly wage
for salaried public employees is $2.00 (600 kyats) for what is
in effect a 6-hour workday. This sum is supplemented by various
subsidies and allowances. The minimum wage does not provide a
worker and family with a decent standard of living. The low level
of pay in public employment fosters widespread corruption. Urban
laborers earn about $0.70 per day (200 kyat), while rural agricultural
workers earn about half that rate. Modern sector workers earn
substantially more than day labor; a skilled factory worker earns
about $15 per day (4,500 kyat). Wage increases continued to lag
far behind inflation.
Surplus labor conditions and lack of protection by government
authorities continue to dictate substandard conditions for workers.
The Law on Fundamental Workers Rights of 1964 and the Factories
Act of 1951 regulate working conditions. There is a legally prescribed
5-day, 35-hour workweek for employees in the public sector and
a 6-day and a 44-hour workweek for private and state enterprise
employees, with overtime paid for additional work. The law also
allows for a 24-hour rest period per week, and workers have 21
paid holidays a year. Such provisions actually benefit only a
small portion of the country's labor force, since 70 percent of
the labor force is engaged in rural agriculture.
Numerous health and safety regulations exist, but in practice
the Government has not made the necessary resources available
to enforce the regulations, although workers may in principle
remove themselves from hazardous conditions, in practice workers
cannot expect to retain their jobs if they do so.
[end of document]
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