U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Burma
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Burma, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1b34.html [accessed 26 July 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
BURMABurma 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 the SLORC announced that the military Government had been renamed 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 Burma and driven the country into deep economic decline, may continue to wield considerable influence. The judiciary is not independent of the executive. 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, overwhelmingly made up of military officers, 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 will ensure a dominant role for the military services in the country's future political structure. 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 selective restrictions on contact 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 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 $200 to 300 per year on an exchange rate basis and $700 to $900 on a purchasing-power-parity basis. Primarily an agricultural country, it also has substantial mineral, fishing, and timber resources. Since 1988 the Government has partly opened the economy to permit expansion of the small private sector and attract foreign investment. Some economic improvement has ensued, but major obstacles to economic reform persist. These include extensive overt and covert state involvement in economic activity, state monopolization of leading exports, a bloated bureaucracy prone to arbitrary and opaque governance, corruption, poor human and physical infrastructure, and disproportionately large military spending. 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 SLORC 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 remained harsh. Arbitrary arrests and detentions continued for expression of dissenting political views. Many hundreds--if not more--political prisoners remained in prison, including approximately 31 parliamentarians elected in 1990. Since May 1996, at least 340 persons have been arrested and imprisoned for political reasons, and may remain in prison at year's end. The judiciary is subject to executive influence, and the Government infringes on citizens' rights to privacy. The SLORC maintained and at times intensified its restrictions on basic rights of free speech, press, assembly, and association. Political party activity remained severely restricted. Although the authorities recognize the chief opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), as a legal entity, they prevented the party from conducting normal day-to-day political activities. The Government closed many party offices throughout the country with no apparent legal justification. The regime refused to recognize the legal political status of key NLD party leaders, such as its General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi and the two party cochairmen, and it severely constrained their activities through security measures and threats. The regime stopped a party conference held on May 27 to mark the seventh anniversary of the 1990 elections by the use of physical restraints on NLD party members. The authorities detained or threatened to detain as many as 300 Members of Parliament-elect (M.P.?s-elect) and party activists from outside Rangoon to deter attendance. They also progressively tightened restrictions imposed in late 1996 on Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom to leave her compound and her ability to receive visitors. Although the Government eased restrictions on NLD gatherings in September that allowed the party to hold a congress marking the ninth anniversary of its founding, this action was only temporary, as authorities blocked subsequent meetings. The SLORC's repression of the NLD continued with the forcible closure of NLD offices upcountry and harassment of NLD members for petty offenses. It forced NLD members to work as military porters and arrested and convicted NLD supporters of political crimes, especially those associated personally with Aung San Suu Kyi. The Government imposed restrictions on certain religious minorities. In March the authorities did little to halt attacks on Muslims by Buddhist monks. The authorities initially did little to stop the rioting, and in some cases stood by and watched the looting of Muslim property, although they did deter physical harm to Muslims themselves. An estimated 42 mosques were damaged or destroyed throughout the country. The Government restricted freedom of movement. Thousands of citizens fled army attacks against insurgents, and remained in refugee camps in Thailand at year's end. Discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, violence against women, trafficking in women and girls, and widespread adult and child prostitution are problems. The Government restricts worker rights, bans unions, and uses forced labor for public works and to produce food for military garrisons. The forced use of citizens as porters by the army--with attendant maltreatment, illness, and even death for those compelled to serve--remained a common practice. The Government did not enforce 1996 military directives to cease the practice of forced civilian labor, and the practice remains widespread. Child labor is also a problem. The use of forced civilian labor on projects appeared to decrease. During the SLORC's antiinsurgency operations, 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, and other atrocities.