United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Burma, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3534.html [accessed 1 April 2015]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
BURMA Burma continued to be ruled by a highly authoritarian military regime widely condemned for its serious human rights abuses. The military Government, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), headed by the armed forces commander and composed of top military officers, seized power in September 1988 after harshly suppressing massive prodemocracy demonstrations. Retired dictator General Ne Win, whose idiosyncratic policies had isolated Burma and driven the country into deep economic decline, is believed by many to 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--or to 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. In April 1992, the SLORC began taking some steps to lessen its harsh rule. The regime reopened universities, released some political prisoners, and introduced modest economic reforms. But in January 1993 the SLORC established the "National Convention," a body ostensibly tasked with working out a new constitution and primarily made up of delegates handpicked by the military. The SLORC has carefully stage-managed the Convention's proceedings and ignored even limited opposition views. Despite having no mandate from the people, the SLORC seems determined to draft a constitution that will guarantee a dominant role for the military in the country's future political structure. The Government reinforces its rule via a pervasive security apparatus led by 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, although almost all major insurgent groups have reached accommodations with the SLORC in recent years, and the others pose little threat to major population centers. Members of the security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses. Burma is a poor country, with an average per capita gross domestic product of about $200 to $300 a year. Primarily an agricultural country, Burma also has substantial mineral, fishing, and timber resources. Since 1988 the Government has slowly opened up the economy to permit expansion of the private sector and to attract foreign investment. Some economic improvement has ensued, but major obstacles to economic reform persist. These include restrictions on private commerce, constantly changing rules and regulations; overcentralized decisionmaking, a bloated bureaucracy, a greatly overvalued currency, poor infrastructure, and grossly disproportionate military spending. The Government's severe repression of human rights continued essentially unchanged during 1995, despite a few potentially significant moves on the political front and the appearance of greater normalcy fostered by increased economic activity. Out of sight of most visitors, citizens continued to live subject at any time and without appeal to the arbitrary and sometimes brutal dictates of the military. There continued to be credible reports, particularly from 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, and the judiciary is not independent of the executive. The use of porters by the army--with attendant mistreatment, illness, and even death for those compelled to serve--remained a standard practice. The military continued to force ordinary Burmese on a massive scale (including women and children) to "contribute" their labor, often under harsh working conditions, on construction projects throughout the country. A midyear directive ordering a halt to certain kinds of forced labor appeared to have only a limited impact. Although the Government continued to release some prisoners, it continued arbitrarily to arrest and detain citizens for the slightest expression of dissenting political views. Several hundred, if not more, political prisoners remained in detention, including approximately 20 Members of Parliament elected in 1990. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) closed its office in July as a result of the SLORC's refusal to accept the ICRC's standard modalities for conducting prison visits. The SLORC continued to restrict severely basic rights to free speech, press, assembly, association, and privacy. Worker rights are also severely limited. Political party activity remained severely restricted, and citizens do not have the right to change their government. By year's end, the Government had still not taken up Aung San Suu Kyi's call for a genuine dialog on political reform. The Government's rejection of the appeal of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) for a reform of the National Convention's working procedures led most of the Convention's elected representatives to withdraw in November. Although more than 196,000 Rohingyas (Burmese Muslims from Arakan State) who fled to Bangladesh in 1992 had returned to Burma by year's end, about 50,000 remained in camps across the border. A few thousand students and dissidents continued in exile in Thailand. Roughly 90,000 Burmese were residing in ethnic minority camps in Thailand, among them many thousands of new arrivals driven out by Burmese army attacks on the Karen and Karenni ethnic minority controlled areas. Discrimination against ethnic minorities and violence against women remained problems. Several positive developments occurred, most notably the release of Burma's foremost prodemocracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, her 2 top lieutenants, and 103 other political prisoners. Resident representatives of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were permitted to continue their work monitoring the return of the Rohingyas, and a limited number of international nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) were allowed to set up operations or expand existing ones. Despite these positive moves, by year's end the SLORC had yet to make a fundamental break with its past behavior and demonstrate a willingness to cede its hold on absolute power. Most importantly, the generals have failed thus far to begin negotiating with the country's prodemocracy forces and ethnic groups on a genuine political settlement to allow a return to the rule of law and respect for basic human rights.
Respect for Human Rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There was no evidence of an explicit or systematic government policy encouraging summary killings. However, there continued to be credible reports of instances of brutality and killings of civilians by the military, particularly in minority dominated areas and among those impressed as porters. The Government's general disregard for human rights has created a climate clearly conducive to such abuses.
As in previous years, private citizens and political activists continued to "disappear" temporarily for several hours to several weeks. DDSI officials usually picked up people for questioning without the knowledge of their family members and in many cases, though not all, released them soon afterward. At the same time, large numbers of people continued to be taken away by the military for porterage or other 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, remained difficult to trace (see Sections 1.g. and 6.c.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Again in 1995, political detainees were held incommunicado for long periods. Detainees were routinely subjected to harsh interrogation techniques designed to intimidate and disorient. The most common forms of mistreatment were sleep and food deprivation coupled with round-the-clock questioning, but some were also kicked and beaten. In recent years, there have been credible reports of prisoners being forced to squat or assume unnatural positions for lengthy periods. In the past, there have also been reports of practices such as electrical shocks to the genitals, suffocation, and cigarette burns, but there were no known instances of these techniques being employed in 1995. There continued to be credible reports that security forces subjected ordinary citizens to harassment and physical abuse. In rural villages the military routinely entered villages to confiscate property and food and used abusive recruitment methods to procure porters. Those forced into porterage or other duties faced extremely difficult conditions and mistreatment that sometimes resulted in death. There was a steady pattern of reports that soldiers raped ethnic minority women (see Section 1.g.). The regimen at Insein prison near Rangoon remained extremely harsh, including widespread use of solitary confinement, little or no exercise, no mosquito nets or reading or writing materials for virtually all prisoners, poor nutrition, and inadequate medical care. A handful of prominent political prisoners were housed in separate bungalow accommodations on the prison compound. Most prisoners were permitted to receive medicine as well as supplemental food brought by their families during the 15-minute visits permitted every 2 weeks. Conditions for political prisoners were reliably reported to be much worse at some upcountry locations, particularly Thayet and Thayawaddy prisons. Unlike in the past, in May the SLORC refused to allow visiting U.S. Congressman Bill Richardson to meet with political prisoners. Similarly, the SLORC refused a request by U.N. Special Rapporteur Yozo Yokota to visit several political prisoners during his October trip. Credible reports indicate a group of political prisoners at Insein prison was mistreated after smuggling information to Professor Yokota on conditions in that facility. The Government continued to bar the ICRC from visiting detainees or convicted prisoners of any kind. After the Government officially notified the ICRC that it was not prepared to accept the ICRC's standard procedures for conducting prison visits, the ICRC closed its Rangoon office in July, though not before indicating its willingness to renew discussions again should the SLORC change its mind.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The SLORC routinely practiced arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention. Prior to being charged, detainees do not have access to legal counsel or their families. There is no provision in the law for judicial determination of the legality of detention, and political detainees cannot obtain release on bail. Because of the high level of intimidation discouraging overt political activity, detentions for public antigovernment activities remained at a relatively low level. Nonetheless, the authorities continued to detain scores of political activists for low-level political activity, such as handing out opposition flyers or shouting political slogans in public. For example, in February at least 20 young people were arrested in connection with a short demonstration at the funeral of former Prime Minister U Nu; 9 were later sentenced to 7 years in prison. Other small groups of young people were detained in July for distributing flyers, and at year's end only a few were known to have been released. In June the authorities detained former National League for Democracy (NLD) acting chairman Kyi Maung, who had been released from prison only 3 months earlier. Kyi Maung and two of his four companions picked up at the same time were subsequently released. The other two were held and later tried in a summary procedure without benefit of legal counsel and sentenced to 7 years in prison. This included the former chairman of the Democracy Party, Thu Wai. At the same time, another former Democracy Party activist, Htway Myint, was also arrested, tried, and given a 7-year sentence. All three were convicted for allegedly violating the country's security laws when in fact they appear to have merely engaged in political discussions. In November three supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi were arrested and within days sentenced to 2 years in prison for objecting to the placement of traffic-control barriers by police in front of the NLD leader's residence. Forced exile is not used as a method of political control.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is not independent of the executive. The SLORC names justices to the Supreme Court, who, in turn, appoint lower court judges (with the approval of the SLORC). The court system, as inherited from the British and subsequently restructured, is comprised of courts at the township, district, state, and national levels. Throughout 1995 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. Many observers believe there has been an improvement over the last few years in judicial procedures, at least in the handling of nonpolitical cases. But ongoing unprofessional behavior by some court officials, pervasive bribe-taking, 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 of law. Some basic due process rights, including the right to a public trial and the right to be represented by a defense attorney, were generally respected except in sensitive political cases. 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, almost all 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 verdicts are dictated by higher authorities. During the first 3 months of the year, 105 persons believed to be political prisoners were released, including former NLD Member of Parliament-elect and one-time National Convention delegate Dr. Aung Khin Sint. This group also included former NLD chairman Tin Oo and former acting NLD chairman Kyi Maung. On July 10, Aung San Suu Kyi was freed unconditionally after serving 6 years under house arrest. During the remainder of the year, 49 other persons believed to have been political prisoners were released. By year's end, at least several hundred--if not many more--political prisoners remained incarcerated.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, and Correspondence
The military ruled unchecked by any outside authority, and the State continued to interfere extensively and arbitrarily in the lives of private citizens. Through its extensive intelligence network, the Government closely monitored the travel, whereabouts, and activities of many citizens, particularly those known to be politically active. Security personnel selectively screened private correspondence and telephone calls and conducted warrantless searches of private premises. On occasion the Government attempted to jam foreign radio broadcasts (see Section 2.a.). Government employees were required to obtain advance permission before meeting with foreigners. The SLORC continued to move people out of cities to peripheral new town settlements, though not on the same scale as in the early 1990's. While facilities in some of 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 also continued to relocate forcibly some rural villages, especially in ethnic minority areas. Those able to remain in established cities and towns were subject to arbitrary seizure of their property. In a number of urban areas, residents were compelled to cede land for road-widening projects decided upon 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. Automobiles and other movable property remained vulnerable to arbitrary seizure. In rural areas, military personnel at times confiscated livestock and food supplies.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
For more than four decades the Burmese Army has battled diverse ethnic insurgencies. These ethnic minority insurgent groups have sought to gain greater autonomy from the dominant ethnic Burman majority. In 1989 the SLORC began a policy of seeking cease-fire agreements with most ethnic insurgent groups. In late 1994, however, the army moved militarily against the largest remaining ethnic insurgent group, the Karen National Union (KNU). In late 1994, the KNU broke into two factions, in part because of government efforts to stir up religious tension between the Karen Christian and Buddhist communities. The Buddhist faction, known as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Organization (DKBO) subsequently allied itself with the Government. In January the Burmese army offensive led to the fall of Manerplaw, the longtime headquarters of the KNU and of semiexiled prodemocracy forces. Less than a month later, the KNU's last major defensive encampment along the Thai border also fell to army troops. These two incidents unleashed a flood of as many as 10,000 refugees into Thailand. Throughout the rest of the year, the DKBO staged cross-border raids resulting in injury and death, destruction of refugee camps, and the forced repatriation of some refugees. In June several thousand more fled to Thailand after troops attempted to move into Karenni-held areas of Kayah State, which led to the breakdown of the SLORC's cease-fire agreement with the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP). In connection with the military's campaign against the Karen, Karenni, and drug trafficker Khun Sa and his Shan United Army, as many as several thousand civilians were believed to have been coerced into working as porters in jungle areas in or near combat zones. According to reliable reports, military sweeps for porters or demands for porter "taxes" (i.e., cash payment instead of porter duties) reached as far as Rangoon and other urban areas in central Burma. It was also credibly reported that some members of the military used sham threats of impressment to extort money. Antigoverment insurgent groups were also responsible for violence; mines laid by insurgents caused both civilian and military deaths. At least one former insurgent group that concluded a cease-fire agreement with the SLORC is known to have used forced labor. In addition, the narcotics-trafficking Shan United Army brutalized and murdered villagers, conducted forced recruitment of boys, and impressed porters while fighting against the army and ensuring continued cultivation of opium by peasant farmers.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Severe restrictions on freedom of speech and the press persisted throughout 1995. The security services continued to clamp down on those attempting to express opposition political views, such as by handing out flyers or chanting slogans (see Section 1.d.). Many more refrained from speaking out for fear of arrest and interrogation. Major exceptions were Aung San Suu Kyi, and NLD Vice Chairmen Tin Do and Kyi Maung, who following Aung San Suu Kyi's release in July regularly gave short speeches in front of her residence to those willing to run the risk of being seen by military intelligence. 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. Private citizens were generally unable to subscribe directly to foreign publications. A limited supply of secondhand copies of international newsmagazines and a sizable number of private publications on nonpolitical issues were available to the public at large, but censors occasionally banned issues or deleted articles deemed unwelcome by the Government. The government-monopoly television, radio, and newspaper media remained propaganda instruments. With the exception of coverage of some limited aspects of the National Convention, these official media did not report opposing views but rather attacked those in the democratic opposition who dared to take issue with government policies. Editors remained answerable to military authorities. While the English-language daily New Light of Myanmar continued to include many international wire service reports on foreign news, domestic news hewed strictly to and reinforced government policy. Many foreign journalists, including television crews, were able to visit and report on developments in the country, although their movements were sometimes restricted and monitored. However, other journalists were denied visas or issuance was so delayed as to render a planned visit impossible. Foreign radio broadcasts, such as those of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Voice of America (VOA), and Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma, remained prime sources of uncensored information. The authorities at times attempted to jam or otherwise interfere with the reception of these broadcasts. However, the head of the BBC's Burmese service was officially received in May, and two reporters for VOA's Burmese service were each allowed to remain in the country for several months. The Government also allowed some foreign government-sponsored information programs. The authorities took new steps to restrict the use of satellite television. After imposing a September 1993 deadline for registering satellite dishes, they failed to approve additional licenses or clarify who in the future would be allowed to have access to foreign television. In June the Government issued an official warning threatening up to 3 years' imprisonment for operation of an unlicensed satellite television receiver. 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; and strictures against joining or supporting political parties, engaging in political activity, or meeting foreign officials. Teachers continued to be held responsible for propagating SLORC political goals among their students and for maintaining discipline and preventing students from engaging in any unauthorized political activity.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government does not respect these rights. The government prohibition on unauthorized outdoor assemblies of more than five people remained in effect, although authorities enforced it unevenly. For example, at times between 2,000 and 3,000 people were able to gather in front of Aung San Suu Kyi's residence to listen to her weekly talks. However, legal political parties remained formally required to request permission from the authorities to hold internal meetings of their own membership. During one weekly gathering at the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, three people were arrested for confronting policemen about the placement of barriers to control the crowd (see Section 1.d.). Despite these restrictions, the NLD leadership held internal meetings, traveled upcountry to meet with its supporters, and hosted large public gatherings. Citizens engaged in these activities, including those attending Aung San Suu Kyi's addresses, remained subject to arrest at any time for their activities. Late in the year, the Government's own mass mobilization organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), orchestrated a series of rallies as a mass demonstration of support for the SLORC's political objectives. With few exceptions, attendance was coerced, with explicit threats of penalities for those who contemplated staying away. Religious groups, by contrast, sometimes encountered problems holding outdoor gatherings. In addition to 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. Only a handful continued to exist, and even those were subject to direct government intervention or took special care to act in line with government policy. This included such benign groups as the Myanmar Red Cross and the Myanmar Medical Association. Only 10 political parties (compared to 75 in 1992) remained legal at year's end
c. Freedom of Religion
Adherents of all religions duly registered with the authorities generally enjoyed freedom to worship as they chose, although Buddhists continued to enjoy a privileged position. In recent years, the Government has made special efforts to link itself with Buddhism as a means of asserting its own popular legitimacy. For example, during the year the military arranged the visit of a venerated Buddha tooth relic from China and after the visit organized construction of two massive new pagodas to commemorate the event. Consistent reports indicate some overzealous local officials forced even non-Buddhists to contribute to Buddhist construction projects. Credible reports continued to surface of Buddhist missionaries dispatched by the central Government and local military personnel actively working to expand Buddhism, sometimes through compulsion, in minority areas. The Government monitors the activities of members of all religions, in part because they have in the past been politically active. Security services demanded that religious groups seek prior authorization to conduct services out of doors. These regulations were also in effect in and around Buddhist monasteries and pagodas. Religious publications remained subject to the same control and censorship imposed on secular ones. Christian Bibles translated into indigenous languages could not be imported. It remained extremely difficult for Christian and Muslim groups to obtain permission to build new churches and mosques. Religious groups were able to establish links with coreligionists in other countries, although these activities were reportedly monitored by the Government. Foreign religious representatives were usually only allowed visas for short stays, but in some cases were permitted to preach to Burmese congregations. In August Roman Catholic Cardinal Josef Tomko was able to visit Rangoon and upcountry locations. Permanent foreign missionary establishments have not been permitted since the 1960's, but seven Catholic nuns and four priests working in Burma since before independence continued to reside upcountry. Credible reports continued of isolated incidents in which the Government removed cemeteries in the course of infrastructure projects in urban areas. These removals targeted adherents of many faiths, including Buddhists, but were a particularly serious problem for Muslims and Christians, who--unlike Buddhists--consider such "final resting places" to be sacred ground.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Although citizens have the legal right to live anywhere in the country, both urban and rural residents were subject to arbitrary relocation (see Section l.f.). Except for limitations in areas of insurgent activity, citizens could travel freely within the country but had to notify local authorities of their whereabouts. Those residents unable to meet the restrictive provisions of the citizenship law, (e.g., Chinese, Arakanese Muslims, etc.) had to obtain prior permission to travel (see Section 5). Rural farmers were also not free to leave the land at will. While the Government relaxed restrictions on passport issuance, it carefully scrutinized all prospective travel abroad. Many applicants were also forced to pay bribes to obtain passports to which they were entitled. The official board that reviews passport applications denied passports in some cases apparently on political grounds. All college graduates obtaining a passport (except for certain government employees) were required to pay a special education clearance fee to reimburse the Government. Citizens who emigrated legally were generally allowed to return to visit relatives, and even some who had lived abroad illegally and acquired foreign citizenship were able to return to visit. In January the authorities extended until the end of the year special procedures allowing former citizens residing abroad to reacquire citizenship. In anticipation of the Government's planned "Visit Myanmar Year 1996," restrictions were further eased on foreign travelers. As of September 1, Burmese embassies began issuing tourist visas within 24 hours and lowered visa fees. However, select categories of applicants, such as human rights advocates, certain journalists, and political figures, continued to be denied entry visas unless traveling under the aegis of a sponsor acceptable to the Government. Although some areas of the country remained off-limits to foreigners for security reasons, the authorities officially opened up a substantial number of new domestic destinations. In 1995 over 60,000 of the Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh in 1992 returned to Burma, bringing the total number of returnees to over 196,000. As the year progressed, however, the pace of repatriation slowed greatly, with over 50,000 still in camps across the border at year's end. The UNHCR reported that authorities cooperated in investigating the isolated incidents of renewed abuse which surfaced. However, the Government continued to refuse some independent observers access to repatriation areas. During the year, the Government appeared to have halted the practice of forcibly removing Muslims from elsewhere in Arakan State to the border townships. The Government was reportedly reluctant to allow the UNHCR to play a similar role along the Thai border in connection with the expected repatriation of large numbers of Mon returnees. The Government does not allow refugees or displaced persons from abroad to resettle or seek safe haven.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Despite the overwhelming desire citizens demonstrated in the 1990 elections for a return to democracy, they continued to be denied the right to change their government. Since 1988 active duty military officers have occupied an increasing number of important positions throughout the bureaucracy, particularly at the policymaking level. Despite the appointment of several civilians to the Cabinet in 1992, the process of placing military or recently retired military officers in most key senior level positions once held by technocrats in the economic ministries continued. Following the NLD's victory in the 1990 elections, the SLORC set aside the election results and disqualified, detained, arrested, or drove into exile many successful candidates. Since then 201 of the 485 Deputies elected have either been disqualified, resigned under pressure, gone into exile, been detained, or died. Approximately 20 successful candidates from the election remain in prison. Rather than accept the will of the citizenry, the SLORC convened a National Convention in January 1993 to draw up principles for a new constitution. The SLORC handpicked delegates, and proceedings have been carefully stage-managed; even limited opposition views have been ignored. Despite having no mandate from the people, the SLORC tasked the Convention with drafting principles for a new constitution ensuring a dominant role for the military in the country's future political structure. The SLORC leadership met with prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on two occasions in late 1994, but throughout the following year they failed to heed her call for genuine dialog on the country's political future and instead proceeded with their own controlled "consultations" on a new constitution. In late November, the NLD delegates withdrew from the Convention pending agreement by the authorities to discuss revising the convention working procedures. Two days later they were formally expelled. This left the Convention exercise almost solely in the hands of government appointees and definitively removed whatever semblance of claim it might once have had to represent the Burmese people. Minorities and women are underrepresented in the top ranks of government service and largely excluded from military leadership. Members of certain minority groups continued 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. However, the authorities continued formally to receive the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative. In February Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs Alvaro de Soto held talks with government officials, and during a visit in August he was also able to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi. Still, the SLORC remained unwilling to engage the U.N. in a substantive dialog about Burma's political future. After considering the January report of its Special Rapporteur for Burma, Professor Yozo Yokota, the U.N. Human Rights Commission adopted a resolution in March severely criticizing the authorities for their human rights abuses. The Burmese representative at the Commission in turn rejected the criticism as "inaccurate, instrusive and politically motivated." In keeping with the Special Rapporteur's mandate, in October the Government permitted Professor Yokota to undertake another survey trip to Burma, after which he delivered a highly critical review of Burma's human rights situation to the U.N. General Assembly's Third Committee. In December the U.N. General Assembly adopted another consensus resolution deploring continued violation of human rights in Burma. A limited number of nonpolitical international NGO's continued project work in Burma, while a few more established a provisional presence while undertaking the protracted negotiations necessary to set up permanent operations in the country. The ICRC closed its office after failing to gain access to Burmese prisons.
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.
In part because of the strong role of religion, violence against women, including spousal abuse, is not considered socially acceptable and occurs relatively infrequently. The trafficking of women and girls to Thailand for the purposes of prostitution remained a serious problem. In border areas, where the Government's control is limited, there were numerous reports of women being forced or lured into working as prostitutes in Thailand. While the number of young women tricked or forced into prostitution is unknown, a common practice is to lure young women to Thailand with promises of employment as a waitress or domestic (see Thailand report). Also, the military continued to impress women for military porterage duties, and reports of soldiers raping ethnic minority women remained widespread (see Sections 1.c. and 1.g.). In general, women in Burma have traditionally enjoyed a high status, exercising most of the same basic rights as men and taking an active role in business. Consistent with traditional culture, they keep their own names after marriage and often control family finances. However, women remained underrepresented in most traditional male occupations, and a few professions continued to be entirely barred to women. As elsewhere, the burden of poverty, which is particularly widespread in Burma's rural areas, fell disproportionately on women. Women did not consistently receive equal pay for equal work. There were no independent women's rights organizations, and no government ministry specifically targeted the safeguarding of women's interests. A government-controlled agency, the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association (MMCWA), provided some assistance to mothers, and a new professional society for businesswomen, the Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs' Association, was formed in 1995.
Despite the establishment of various child welfare programs, the Government allocated few resources for programs relevant to children, and once again cut the share of the national budget for education (to 13 percent), with a mere 0.5 percent allocated to social welfare services (versus an official 33 percent for the military). There is no pattern of societal abuse of children, although poverty and alcoholism sometimes lead to instances of abuse. Many families allowed their young daughters to travel to Thailand to work as prostitutes. The rising incidence of HIV infection has increased demand for younger prostitutes.
People with Disabilities
Official assistance to persons with disabilities is extremely limited. There is no law mandating accessibility to government facilities. While there are several small-scale organizations to assist the disabled, most disabled persons must rely on traditional family structures to provide for their welfare. Funding from the South Korean Red Cross allowed a prosthesis program begun by the ICRC to continue. Because of land mines and train accidents, Burma has one of the highest rates of amputee injuries in the world.
Burma's myriad ethnic minorities have long resented the dominance of the country's Burman majority. Over the last few years and continuing in 1995, the SLORC, in the name of national solidarity, has sought to pacify these ethnic groups by means of negotiated cease-fires, grants of limited autonomy, and promises of development assistance. By year's end, the Government had negotiated cease-fire agreements with 15 of 16 recognized ethnic insurgent groups, and talks with a final ethnic group, the Karen National Knion (KNU), were believed to be underway. However, the Government's settlement with the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) broke down after the Burmese army forcibly entered areas under KNPP control. The Government included a large number of ethnic minority representatives in the National Convention and permitted extended debate on the issue of minority autonomy. However, the ethnic minority populations complain that their concerns have not been addressed adequately by the Government, and none is satisfied with the provisions on limited "self-administration" which the authorities plan to accord a few groups under the new constitution. Government investment in the border areas in road, hospital, and school construction has been modest at best, and economic development of ethnic minority areas continued to lag, leaving many living at barely subsistence levels. Since the focus of the hostilities against armed insurgencies has been in the border areas where most minorities are concentrated, those populations have been disproportionately victimized by the general brutalization associated with the military's activities. Since only people 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. Those without full citizenship are not free to travel domestically and are barred from certain advanced university programs in medicine and technological fields. Anti-Chinese sentiment remained pervasive.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
There were no functioning trade unions; even former government-controlled ones were dormant. Workers continued to be unable to strike, and there were no reported instances of attempts to do so. In July 1989, the United States suspended Burma's eligibility for trade concessions under the Generalized System of Preferences Program, pending steps to afford its labor force internationally recognized worker rights. Because of Burma's longstanding violation of International Labor Organization (ILO ) Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, in June the ILO Conference Committee on the Application of Standards devoted a Special Paragraph to Burma in its general report. Following February meetings between ILO officials and government representatives in Rangoon, the lack of a constructive government response prompted the ILO to cancel plans for a followup visit.
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 on paper but in practice was dormant. Township-level labor supervisory committees remained in place to address various low-level labor concerns. 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 high-level employees. 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. No special export processing zones exist.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Despite government promises to alter the Village and Town Acts to withdraw the claimed statutory basis for forced labor in the country, at year's end the legislation was not changed. As the military continued its program of road, rail, dam, and other infrastructure projects, its recourse to forced labor remained at a high level. Hundreds of thousands--if not more--of ordinary citizens were compelled to contribute labor to these public works. In preparation for the "Visit Myanmar Year- 1996," in 1995 the Mandalay Moat Project was completed by using a combination of prison, military, and paid labor, and the Ye-Tavoy railroad in southern Burma continued to employ large-scale forced labor, including child labor, according to credible reports . In June the ILO Conference Committee on the Application of Standards cited Burma in a second Special Paragraph for its violation of ILO Convention 29 on forced labor. Although the Government refused to acknowledge its use of forced labor publicly, in June it issued an internal order instructing officials to use paid labor on large-scale infrastructure projects. By year's end, many instances of forced labor (or forced monetary contributions in lieu of labor) nevertheless continued to be reported.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Although the law sets a minimum age 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. Children are hired at lower pay rates than adults for the same kind of work, and economic pressure forces them to work not only for their survival but also to support their families. Arts and crafts is the only sector producing for the export market which employs a significant number of children. Despite a compulsory education law, almost 40 percent of children never enroll in school, and only 27 percent complete the 5-year primary school course.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Surplus labor conditions and lack of protection by government authorities continue to dictate substandard conditions for workers, despite recent annual economic growth of at least 5 percent. 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, 44-hour workweek for private and public sector 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 affect only a small portion of the country's labor force. Only government employees and employees of a few traditional industries are covered by minimum wage provisions. The minimum monthly wage for salaried public employees (based on the market exchange rate of 120 kyats = $1.00) is $5.00 (600 kyats), but this sum is supplemented by various subsidies and allowances. The minimum wage is insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. In particular, the low level of remuneration of public employment fostered widespread corruption. The government minimum wage for day labor is $0.16 daily (20 kyats). Workers in the private sector are much better paid. The actual average wage rate for casual laborers in Rangoon in 1995 was almost four times the official minimum, but still well below subsistence levels. Wage increases continued to lag far behind inflation. Numerous health and safety regulations exist on the books, but the Government has not made the necessary resources available to those charged with their enforcement. Although workers may in principle remove themselves from hazardous conditions, in practice workers cannot expect to retain their jobs.