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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Burma

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Burma, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis 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 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. Since April 1992, the SLORC has taken some modest steps to lessen its harsh rule. Universities were reopened, many political prisoners were released, and steps were taken to reform the economy. But in January 1993 the SLORC established the "National Convention," a body ostensibly tasked with working out a new Constitution. Overwhelmingly 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 military intelligence, 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 many longstanding insurgent groups have reached accommodations with the SLORC in recent years and the others pose little threat to major population centers.

Burma is primarily an agricultural country, although it 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.

Despite an appearance of greater normalcy fostered by increased economic activity, in fact the Government's unacceptable record on human rights changed little in 1994. Out of sight of most visitors, Burmese 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. The use of porters by the army--with all the attendant maltreatment, illness, and even death for those compelled to serve--remained a standard practice and probably even increased. The Burmese military forced hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ordinary Burmese (including women and children) to "contribute" their labor, often under harsh working conditions, to construction projects throughout the country. The forced resettlement of civilians also continued.

Four hundred or more political prisoners remained in detention, including approximately 40 parliamentarians elected in 1990. Although she has yet to be charged with any crime, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi began her sixth year of house arrest in July. In extending her arrest, the SLORC circumvented its own amended statute limiting house arrest to 5 years and ignored repeated U.N. General Assembly and U.N. Human Rights Commission resolutions calling for her release and that of all other prisoners of conscience.

The SLORC continued to restrict severely basic rights to free speech, association, and assembly. In July and August the authorities arrested five persons for trying to smuggle out information on conditions in Burma to the outside world. Through use of pressure and outright threats, the Government gathered 4 million Burmese at political rallies in January to endorse its political agenda. The authorities continued to control discussion at the national convention.

More than 100,000 Rohingyas (Burmese Muslims from Arakan State) remained in refugee camps in Bangladesh, pending repatriation under an ongoing program overseen by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). A few thousand students and dissidents continued in exile in Thailand, while at year's end roughly 70,000 Burmese were residing in ethnic minority camps near the border in Thailand.

Several positive developments occurred, including the February decision to allow a nonfamily member to visit Aung San Suu Kyi. Also, after years of refusing to acknowledge her status as the leader of Burma's prodemocracy forces, in September SLORC Chairman Than Shwe and DDSI Chief Khin Nyunt met with Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time since she was placed under house arrest. An unknown number of political prisoners was released, including prominent political satirist Zargana, although the number of public announcements of such releases declined compared to 1993. By midyear, the Government agreed to study a draft Memorandum of Understanding to govern visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Burmese prisons. The Government permitted the UNHCR to open an office in Rangoon and to work in the Rohingya refugee processing area. A limited number of international nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) were allowed to set up operations or expand existing ones.

Despite these positive moves, there was by year's end no clear sign that the SLORC was yet ready to take the kind of decisive action needed to break with its past, reach a political settlement with the country's democratic forces, and restore the basic human and political rights once enjoyed by the people of Burma.


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 did not take any action against military personnel responsible for extrajudicial killings or other abuses. The Government did not carry out the death sentences imposed after a summary trial of four civilians charged with killing a student in Rangoon in January.

b. Disappearance

As in previous years, private citizens and political activists continued to "disappear" temporarily for several hours to several days. DDSI officials usually picked up individuals for questioning without the knowledge of their family members, and in most cases released them soon afterward. However, many people continued to be conscripted by the military for porterage or other duties 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 1994, political detainees were held incommunicado for long periods. These detainees were routinely subjected to harsh interrogation techniques designed to intimidate and disorient. The most common forms of maltreatment were sleep and food deprivation coupled with round-the-clock questioning. There were also reliable indications that authorities sometimes physically abused prisoners and pretrial detainees. In recent years, there have been credible reports of beatings and 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 1994.

The regimen at Insein prison near Rangoon remained unacceptably harsh, including permanent solitary confinement for 250 of the approximately 4,000 inmates, little or no exercise, no reading or writing materials for all but a tiny minority of prisoners, poor nutrition, and inadequate medical care. A few prominent political prisoners, such as former National League for Democracy (NLD) Chairmen Tin Oo and Kyi Maung, continued to be provided limited reading material and bungalow accommodations. 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 were reliably reported to be much worse at some upcountry locations, particularly Thayet and Thayawaddy prisons, to which scores of Insein's political prisoners were transferred in June.

In February U.S. Congressman Bill Richardson was able to meet with Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and four other political prisoners, writer Ma Thida, former NLD central committee member Win Tin, former Aung San Suu Kyi administrative aide Win Htein, and former student leader Min Ko Naing. The health of Min Ko Naing, whom the Congressman had met the previous year at Insein prison, appeared to have improved somewhat but he continued to show signs of mental and physical suffering from his 5 years of solitary confinement.

The Government continued to bar the ICRC from visiting detainees or convicted prisoners of any kind, but its discussions with the Government concerning such access intensified.

Beyond its harsh treatment of prison inmates there continued to be credible reports that security forces subjected ordinary citizens to harassment and physical abuse. The military routinely seized 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 maltreatment that sometimes resulted in death (see Section 1.g.).

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 Burmese law for judicial determination of the legality of detention, and political detainees have no opportunity to obtain release on bail. Because of the high level of intimidation discouraging overt political activity, detentions for public antigovernment activities were less frequent in 1994 than in the early 1990's. Nonetheless, in the course of the year scores of political activists were detained for low-level political protests, such as handing out opposition flyers or attempting to organize demonstrations. Such detentions often coincided with various political anniversaries. For example, in July a group of high school students was detained in Rangoon for participating in protest activities to mark the anniversary of Ne Win's destruction of the Rangoon University Student Union building. Most of these cases ended with eventual release of the detainees.

However, in July Khin Zaw Win, a former local contract employee of the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), was detained at Rangoon airport, questioned secretly, and charged in late August with trying to smuggle antigovernment materials and confidential government information out of the country. As a result of Khin Zaw Win's arrest, four others, including the writer San San Nwe and her daughter Myat Mo Mo Tun, together with two NLD winners in the 1990 election, Khin Maung Swe and Sein Hla Oo, were also picked up and accused of abetting the effort to get information on Burma to the outside world, including to the U.N. Human Rights Commission's Special Rapporteur on Burma, Professor Yozo Yokota. All five were found guilty in October and received sentences ranging from 7 to 15 years for "spreading false information injurious to the State" and other minor offenses.

In January the military informed former NLD General Secretary and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi that her house arrest had been extended for another year. This was done despite the fact that in 1994 she reached the 5-year legal limit of detention without charge or trial. In February the authorities announced, apparently for the first time, that the initial year of the former NLD leader's house arrest had been pursuant to a decision of the previously unknown "Central Body" and that the 5-year clock began to run only after that time.

Streetside guard posts were removed from in front of Aung San Suu Kyi's house in January, but the conditions of her detention did not change. She continued to receive visits from her immediate family. In mid-February the authorities also permitted U.S. Congressman Bill Richardson, along with an official from the United Nations and a New York Times reporter, to meet with the former NLD leader, the first such visit by outsiders other than family members since her house arrest began. In August a Buddhist monk resident in the United Kingdom was likewise permitted to see Aung San Suu Kyi prior to the SLORC's meeting with her in September.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Throughout 1994 the Government continued to rule by decree and was not bound by any constitutional provisions guaranteeing 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 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 the country of the right to a fair trial and the rule of law. The judiciary is not independent of the executive.

Some basic due process rights, including the right to a public trial and to be represented by a defense attorney, were generally respected. However, the Supreme Court appoints judges with the approval of the SLORC (which also names justices to the Supreme Court).

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. In an effort to head off student unrest, in January the authorities apprehended, charged, tried, and sentenced to death four persons accused of involvement in the murder of a student from the Rangoon Institute of Economics--all within the space of 2 days. The sentences, however, appear not to have been carried out.

The Government continued to release political prisoners in 1994 although the exact numbers could not be verified. Approximately 400 political prisoners remained in jail at year's end, including at least 40 parliamentarians elected in 1990. Both prominent political satirist Zargana and M.

P.-elect Nai Tun Thein were freed during the year.

Political prisoners were held not only in Rangoon's Insein prison but also in some of the country's more than 20 upcountry prisons. For example, the monk who led the 1990 movement to withhold spiritual services from the military, Ye Wa Da, reportedly remained in Mandalay prison, while two other prominent monks, Da Ma Wa Ya and Wi Thu Ta, were believed to still be in custody in Myitkyina. Among the many well-known prisoners of conscience who continued to be held either at Insein or elsewhere were former NLD leaders Tin Oo and Kyi Maung, former National Convention delegate Dr. Aung Khin Sint, the writer Ma Thi Da, and lawyer U Nay Min, who was reportedly transferred in the course of the year from Insein to the infamous Thayet prison.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The military rules unchecked by any outside authority and the State continued to interfere extensively and arbitrarily into 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. 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 throughout the country, albeit on a smaller scale than in past years. 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 forcibly relocate villages in rural areas, especially those with large ethnic minority populations.

Also, those able to remain in established cities and towns were subject to arbitrary seizure of their property. Many residents of Mandalay were compelled early in the year to cede large parcels of prime downtown real estate to the authorities for road-widening projects decided upon without any public consultation or endorsement. Widespread reports indicate the Mandalay city government threatened to charge demolition costs to those in affected areas who wavered in tearing down their own homes. Beyond these seizures for public purposes there were consistent reports of pressure being applied to force individuals to cede parts of their property to government or military officials, in some cases for these officials' personal use. Automobiles and other movable property also remained vulnerable to arbitrary seizure. In rural areas, military personnel confiscated livestock and food supplies during periodic sweeps to procure porters.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

For more than 4 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. For most of the year the SLORC continued to pursue efforts to engage insurgent groups in cease-fire talks and refrained from launching major military offensives. However, in late December, fighting between the Burmese Army and the Karen National Union (KNU) and the All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) broke out when Burmese forces sought to take advantage of an internal dispute among the Karen. In general, combat and attendant human rights abuses remained at a persistent but low level in areas controlled by those ethnic insurgent groups.

In November the Government allowed the ICRC to conduct a course in Rangoon on humanitarian law during armed conflict.

In conjunction with the military's campaign against drug trafficker Khun Sa and his Shan United Army, as many as several thousand civilians were press-ganged into working as porters in jungle areas in or near combat zones. According to reliable reports, Burmese military sweeps for porters reached such urban areas as Rangoon, Mandalay, and Moulmein. Military authorities commonly demanded as much as $230 (10 times the minimum monthly wage) to avoid service. It was also credibly reported that some members of the military used sham threats of impressment to extort money. There were numerous credible reports that soldiers abused porters; when wounded, ill, or unable to work, they were sometimes left unattended in harsh conditions to die. There were also continuing reports of rape, particularly of ethnic minority women by soldiers.

Antigovernment insurgent groups were also responsible for violence, causing both civilian and military deaths. There were also credible reports that members of these groups committed serious human rights violations. The narcotics-trafficking Shan United Army is reported to have brutalized villagers and impressed porters in the course of fighting against the Burmese army and to have extorted protection fees from local merchants. In early May, insurgents from the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) detonated a series of bombs in towns and villages near the western border of Arakan State resulting in several deaths and injuries.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Severe restrictions on freedom of speech and the press persisted throughout 1994. The security services continued to clamp down on those who expressed opposition political views or attempted to provide outsiders with information at variance with the government-approved image of the country (see Section 1.d.). Many more have refrained from speaking out for fear of arrest and interrogation by police or military intelligence.

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. 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.

Practically all forms of media were officially controlled and 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. Some international newsmagazines and a sizable number of new 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.

Foreign journalists, including television crews, were granted increased access to the country, but their movements and contacts were closely monitored. Despite government hostility to them, foreign radio broadcasts such as those of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Voice of America, and Democratic Voice of Norway remained prime sources of uncensored information. The Government also allowed the U.S. Information Service to conduct a wide range of programs. Foreign television remained in limbo. After its imposed September 1993 registration deadline for satellite dishes, the Government failed to approve additional licenses or clarify who in the future would be allowed to have foreign television. Late in the year, the Government cracked down on video rental shops in Rangoon, forcing the withdrawal from circulation of most foreign language videos.

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 maintaining discipline among their students and preventing them from engaging in any unauthorized political activity. The universities, closed for several years after the 1988 disturbances, were open for most of 1994. However, the university midyear break was extended until August 18, presumably to lessen the chance of unwanted student activities in conjunction with various sensitive political anniversaries falling in July and early August.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government does not respect these rights. In January the Government organized a series of 26 stage-managed mass rallies throughout the country which were attended by approximately 4 million people. The meetings of this government-initiated group, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), were orchestrated by government authorities as a mass demonstration of support for the SLORC's political objectives. With few exceptions, attendance was coerced, with explicit threats of penalties to those who contemplated staying away. Multiple reports indicate that at one rally in Pyay, a few people were trampled to death when attendees ran from rally monitors attempting to seize those in the crowd who had called out dissenting views.

For others, the Government prohibition on unauthorized outdoor assemblies of more than five people remained in effect, albeit unevenly enforced. Political demonstrations were strictly banned, but even religious groups sometimes encountered problems holding outdoor gatherings. Legal political parties were required to request permission from the authorities even to hold internal meetings of their own membership.

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, out of an original 75 in 1992, remained legal at the end of 1994, but even the few which remained legal were virtually immobilized.

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 contributed an elaborate prayer hall, which was dedicated at the foot of the revered Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon. This campaign has led to increased government support for Buddhism in keeping with the Government's strong nationalistic views.

The Government monitors the activities of members of all religions in part because they have in the past become 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. The SLORC has been largely successful in halting political activism among the Buddhist clergy, and by year's end, many, though not all, monks arrested earlier had been released and most quietly resumed their religious duties.

Religious publications, like secular ones, remained subject to control and censorship. Christian Bibles translated into indigenous languages could not be imported.

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. Permanent foreign missionary establishments have not been permitted since the 1960's, but a few foreign Catholic nuns, and at least one priest resident in Burma since independence, continued to reside upcountry.

It has proven extremely difficult for Christian and Muslim groups to obtain permission to build new churches and mosques. For example, although there are more than 5,000 mosques in Burma, the newest reportedly dates to 1975. There were isolated incidents in which the Government destroyed places of worship as a result of infrastructure projects. Also, the Government continued to remove cemeteries from urban areas, even though many non-Buddhist religions consider these to be sacred ground. In March four trustees of a Muslim cemetery in Mandalay were taken into custody in the course of protests by Muslims over destruction of an historic graveyard and religious buildings.

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 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. 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.

Though travel strictures continued to ease, the Government maintained tight controls over travel abroad. The Government board that reviewed passport applications denied passports in some cases apparently on political grounds. Emigrants were required to reimburse the Government for "educational expenses" before receiving exit permits and were severely limited in what they could take with them. Burmese citizens who left legally were generally allowed to return to visit relatives, and those wishing to extend their stays usually had little difficulty obtaining permission to do so. Some who had lived abroad illegally and acquired foreign citizenship found it easier to return. In most instances it was impossible for Christian groups to obtain permission for their would-be clergy to travel abroad to pursue religious studies.

The Government continued to ease restrictions on foreign travelers. However, select categories such as human rights advocates and political figures continued to be denied entry visas unless traveling under the aegis of a sponsor acceptable to the Government. Although large areas of the country remained off-limits to foreigners for sercurity reasons, the authorities did open up a number of new domestic destinations. Except during clashes with the Shan United Army, foreigners continued to be able to travel from northern Thailand into Tachilek and Kentung in easternmost Shan state.

The pace of the repatriation of Muslims from Bangladesh accelerated. By year's end more than 130,000 of those who fled the country had returned. The UNHCR indicated cooperation with the authorities had been good and that it had not detected any signs of renewed action against the Rohingyas.

The Government does not allow refugees or displaced persons to resettle or seek safe haven.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Despite the overwhelming desire the Burmese people 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 has accelerated. 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. By the end of the year, 198 of the 485 deputies elected had either been disqualified, resigned under pressure, gone into exile, been detained, or died. Approximately 40 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 a new constitution that will guarantee a dominant role for the military in the country's future political structure. Although the SLORC leadership met with detained prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on two occasions, at year's end it remained unclear whether the Military Government is prepared to begin a genuine dialog with its opponents to achieve a peaceful political settlement.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government does not allow internal human rights organizations to exist, and it remained generally hostile to outside scrutiny of its human rights record (see Section 1.d. and 2.d.). However, in July Burmese Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw agreed in principle to hold consultations with the U.N. Secretary General regarding the human rights situation. Subsequently, Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw met with U.N. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Marrack Goulding during the U.N. General Assembly and in Rangoon in November with Rafeeudin Ahmed, Deputy Head of the United Nations Development Program. At year's end both sides had agreed to continue their discussions.

In keeping with his mandate, in November the Government allowed U.N. Special Rapporteur Yozo Yokota to travel to Burma. However, in its written response to the Rapporteur's interim report, the Government denied allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape, and indicated that instances of arbitrary arrest and detention and forced labor were undertaken in "accordance with the law."NGO representatives previously denied visas were able to travel to remote areas of the country and several others began negotiations with the Government to establish humanitarian programs. In May ICRC representatives met with top government officials, and the SLORC agreed to accept a draft memorandum of understanding regarding prison visits.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status


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.

Women did not consistently receive equal pay for equal work. There are no women's rights organizations in Burma or any government agencies specifically devoted to safeguarding women's interests.

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 duped into working as prostitutes, but a common practice is to lure young women to Thailand with promises of employment as a waitress or domestic (See Thailand Report.). Also, the Burmese military continued to impress women for military porterage duties, and there was a steady pattern of reports of rape of ethnic minority women by Burmese soldiers.


Despite the establishment of various child welfare programs, the Government allocated few resources for programs relevant to children, and cut the share of the national budget for education to 16 percent, with a mere 0.4 percent allocated to social welfare services (versus almost 38 percent for the military).

Many families allowed their young daughters to travel to Thailand to work as prostitutes. The rising incidence of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection has increased demand for younger prostitutes.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Burma's myriad ethnic minorities have long resented the dominance of the country's Burman majority. The minorities have been underrepresented in the Government and largely excluded from the military leadership. Over the last few years and continuing in 1994, 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. 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.

Government investment in the border areas in road, hospital, and school construction has been modest at best and economic development among minorities has 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 and to be excluded from government positions. People without full citizenship are not free to travel domestically and are barred from certain advanced university programs in medicine and technological fields (see Section 2.d.). Anti-Chinese sentiment continued to increase.

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 must rely on traditional family structures to provide for their welfare. Since 1986 Burmese authorities have permitted representatives of the ICRC to upgrade provision of orthopedic prostheses. Because of landmines and train accidents, Burma has one of the highest rates of amputee injuries in the world.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

There continued to be no functioning trade unions. Workers were not free to form such groups, and leaders of unofficial labor associations remained subject to arrest. 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.

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

The law does not contain provisions prohibiting forced labor. As the military stepped up its program of road, rail, dam, and other infrastructure projects, its recourse to forced labor also increased. It was conservatively estimated that many hundreds of thousands--if not more--of ordinary citizens were compelled to contribute labor to these public works, undertakings unsanctioned by any democratically elected authority. Two very large projects using forced labor drew international attention. From April to July, almost the entire adult population of Mandalay city was forced, along with thousands from outlying areas, to contribute labor or money to rehabilitate the moat around the Mandalay palace compound in preparation for the "Visit Myanmar Year." In southern Burma, tens of thousands of villagers were dragooned into clearing terrain and building embankments in harsh conditions along the route of the new Ye-Tavoy railway.

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 a quarter complete the basic education 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 parastatal 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 public employees (based on the market exchange rate) is $6.00 (600 kyat), but this sum is supplemented by various subsidies and allowances. The general daily minimum wage is $0.20 (20 kyats). These wage rates apply to the lowest level of government workers and some manual laborers; workers in the private sector are much better paid. The actual average wage rate for casual laborers in Rangoon rose slightly in 1994 to about three times the official minimum, still well below subsistence levels. Wage increases continued to lag far behind inflation.

Numerous health and safety regulations exist on the books, but in practice the Government has not made the necessary resources available to those charged with their enforcement. By 1994 an International Labor Organization-supported training program for members of factory safety committees had reached about 400 persons, out of an estimated 2.43 million workers employed in registered and unregistered enterprises.

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