United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Burma, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa850.html [accessed 7 October 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 is ruled by a highly authoritarian, military regime that has been condemned for its serious human rights abuses. Heading the latest version of a military dictatorship that has presided over the country with an unyielding grip for more than three decades is the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which took power in September 1988 after harshly suppressing massive prodemocracy demonstrations. Longtime dictator General Ne Win, whose policies had pushed Burma to the margins of the international community and driven the country into a deep economic decline, resigned shortly before SLORC's emergence. Nevertheless, he continued to wield the power behind the scenes. The SLORC, headed by the armed forces commander and composed of senior military officers, permitted a relatively free election in 1990. However, it failed to honor the results which were an overwhelming rejection of military rule or to cede power to the victorious party headed by prodemocracy movement leaders. Instead, the SLORC attacked the coalition of winning political parties through detentions, house arrests, and intimidation. Since General Than Shwe became Chief of State in April 1992, the SLORC has taken some modest steps to lessen its harsh rule, including reopening the universities and releasing over 2,000 political prisoners. In January 1993, the SLORC inaugurated a national convention to begin work on a new constitution. However, SLORC officials stage-managed the proceedings and overrode even limited opposition, interrogating and harassing delegates who attempted to deviate from the regime's position, and even sentenced one prodemocracy delegate to 20 years in prison for distributing information critical of the convention proceedings. It seems clear that the SLORC's domination of the convention, which has no mandate from the people, is to ensure adoption of a constitutional blueprint effectively guaranteeing the military's continued hold on power. The Government reinforces its rule via a pervasive security apparatus led by the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI) and the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB). Control is buttressed by restrictions on contact with foreigners; surveillance of government employees and private citizens; and arrests, detentions, harassment, intimidation, and mistreatment of political activists. The Government justifies its security measures as necessary to maintain order and national unity, although several 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. After Ne Win's 26-year rule reduced southeast Asia's richest land to a U.N.-designated "least developed country," the SLORC abandoned the "Burmese Way to Socialism" in 1988, opening up the economy to permit private sector expansion and attract investment and badly needed foreign exchange, which has resulted in a limited improvement in the economy. The Government has hindered development of the private sector, however, by failing to address fundamental problems: restrictions on private commerce; constantly changing rules and regulations; overcentralized decision making; a bloated bureaucracy; a greatly overvalued currency; poor civilian infrastructure; and grossly disproportionate military spending. There was no marked increase in the level of human rights abuses in 1993, in large measure because the SLORC had already been so successful in intimidating the Burmese people. At the same time, Burmese authorities took only limited steps to correct longstanding, serious human rights violations. The Government's use of forced labor especially as porters for the army as well as forced resettlement of civilians continued, causing hundreds of deaths due to disease, harsh treatment, and overwork. Five hundred or more Burmese remained in prison for political reasons, including more than 40 parliamentarians elected in 1990; approximately 200,000 Rohingyas (Burmese Muslims from Arakan State) remained in refugee camps in Bangladesh; a few thousand students and dissidents continued as exiles in Thailand; and roughly 71,000 Burmese live in ethnic minority camps in Thailand near the Burma border. Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest, her fifth year of detention by the SLORC, without being charged or having access to legal proceedings. The SLORC persisted in denying basic freedom of speech and assembly, and arbitrary intrusions into private life remained pervasive. In a closed trial, in October, the regime sentenced 12 dissidents, including one of the delegates to the National Convention, to 20 years in prison for distributing anti-SLORC information. The SLORC ignored a comprehensive resolution on Burma adopted by consensus in 1993 at the U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) calling for an end to human rights violations in Burma, the unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners, and the implementation of the 1990 elections. On the positive side, the SLORC commuted all death sentences handed down since it took power; released over 700 persons believed to be political prisoners; permitted the first-ever meetings between political prisoners and foreign visitors; and allowed additional family visits to Aung San Suu Kyi. Over 50,000 Rohingyas returned to Arakan State in 1993, and the Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding in November with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) providing for a presence in Arakan State to monitor the repatriation and reintegration of Rohingyas from Bangladesh. Nonetheless, on balance, in view of the persistent abuses by the SLORC, including its use of forced labor, its wholesale denial of basic political rights, and blatant manipulation of the national convention, Burma must continue to be judged a serious violator of international human rights norms. The expressions of deep concern by the international community about the human rights situation in Burma in successive resolutions adopted since 1991 by the UNHCR and the U.N. General Assembly have failed thus far to have an appreciable impact on the SLORC's behavior.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Although secret, extrajudicial killings reportedly were carried out in recent years, there were no such reports in 1993. As in the past, credible sources reported many deaths among those impressed for forced labor projects and porterage. There were no confirmed incidents of summary executions of civilians in 1993. In late February, U Win Ko, a deputy-elect of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and finance minister in the opposition National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), was murdered in Kunming, China. Burmese authorities have denied any involvement, and independent sources suggest other parties were responsible. U Hla Pe, who served as the NCGUB's Minister of Education and Health and Minister of Information, was murdered in Bangkok in mid-June. There is, however, no evidence as to the perpetrators.
The number of disappearances in 1993 was probably little changed from the previous year, but accurate estimates are impossible since the Government will not provide information on these cases. Family and friends assume that those who have disappeared are under detention or have died in jail. Family members can generally determine that relatives have been arrested, but the process of obtaining information can take a long time. Some who disappeared were later reported as arrested. Others may have dropped out of sight or quietly attempted to leave the country for fear of arrest. Authorities rarely responded to inquiries from families concerning the whereabouts and welfare of disappeared or jailed relatives. The few replies routinely consisted of only general statements that such people were arrested for violations of existing laws.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Fragmentary evidence documents that mistreatment of political detainees continued to take place in Burmese prisons and detention centers operated by the security services. There has been a decline in the number of detentions, during which the worst abuse reportedly occurs. Political detainees are held incommunicado, with family or lawyers unable to visit during what can be a protracted pretrial period. The most common forms of maltreatment during this period were sleep and food deprivation coupled with round-the-clock interrogation. In recent years, severe beatings and forcing prisoners to squat or assume unnatural positions for lengthy periods have also been reported, and techniques designed to intimidate and disorient prisoners prior to interrogation have been routine. Such practices as electrical shocks to the genitals, suffocation, and cigarette burns have also been reported in the past, but there were no confirmed reports of these practices in 1993. During 1993 there were no reports alleging torture of convicted political prisoners or deaths linked to the conditions of their imprisonment. Khin Maung Myint of the leftist People's Progressive Party (PPP) died in prison in 1993, apparently of natural causes after repeated stays in a prison medical facility despite his family's request for his transfer to a civilian hospital. Interviews by U.S. citizens and Congressional visitors on private travel with SLORC-selected prisoners at Insein prison near Rangoon indicate an overly harsh prison regimen, i.e., little exercise, no reading or writing materials for many if not most prisoners, poor nutrition, years of solitary confinement for some, and illness induced by sleeping on concrete cell floors. Student leader Min Ko Naing, who met with two visiting American Congressmen at Insein Prison in August, displayed the effects of serious physical and psychological abuse. A few prominent prisoners, such as former NLD Chairmen Tin Oo and Kyi Maung, were provided limited reading material and bungalow accommodations. Those interviewed acknowledged receiving medicine as well as supplemental food brought by their families during 15-minute visits permitted every 2 weeks. The Government continued to bar the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from visiting detainees or convicted prisoners of any kind.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Arbitrary arrest and detention are practiced routinely by the SLORC. Throughout the year at least scores of political activists were detained for low-level political protests, such as handing out opposition flyers, painting political graffiti, or shouting opposition slogans. Some detentions coincided with the startup of sessions of the national convention or with various political anniversaries. Shortly after the January 9 launching of the national convention, for example, the authorities announced the arrest of 23 activists including Nay Lin, a youth organizer for the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma, who allegedly painted graffiti on a Rangoon wharf. Some students were picked up for staging a brief demonstration on June 7 at a suburban campus of Rangoon University. Several NLD members, including at least one successful candidate in the 1990 election, were detained after taking part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Aung San's tomb. Between June and August, the authorities also arrested 12 persons, including the writer Ma Thida and the successful NLD candidate and delegate to the national convention, Dr. Aung Khin Sint, for distributing opposition literature. In what was widely recognized as a warning to others, all were convicted in mid-October and given harsh 20-year prison sentences. While most detainees were members of political parties or engaged in overtly political activities, businessmen and other private citizens were also subject to arbitrary detention, particularly as the increase in private economic activity in 1993 led to additional scrutiny of businesses by security forces. The military again extended the house arrest of former NLD General Secretary and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The decision was taken under the provisions of the Law to Safeguard the State from the Dangers of Subversive Elements also the basis for her initial year of house arrest which began in 1989. As amended in August 1991, the law authorizes 1-year extensions of arbitrary detention without charge or trial for up to 5 years. Aung San Suu Kyi has never been formally charged. The authorities have offered her an opportunity to substitute foreign exile for her current house arrest, but she declined to leave the country. The military Government again allowed her husband and two sons to visit her in 1993. The authorities refused a proposed visit by a group of fellow Nobel Laureates seeking her release. There is no provision in Burmese law for judicial determination of the legality of detention. Bail may be granted by civilian courts in some circumstances. The number of political detainees not sentenced by year's end was impossible to determine accurately.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Throughout 1993 the Government continued to rule by decree and was not bound by any constitutional provisions guaranteeing fair public trials or any other rights. Until abolished in September 1992, military tribunals exercised jurisdiction over all cases involving defiance of orders issued by the SLORC or local commanders. These tribunals could mete out only three sentences the death penalty, life imprisonment, 3 years or more imprisonment with labor regardless of existing laws. On January 1, however, a government decree codified an existing moratorium on capital punishment by commuting all previous SLORC-imposed death sentences to life imprisonment. It also capped all other prison terms at 10 years for anyone convicted during the SLORC era. After denying for years that it held any political prisoners, in April 1992, the Government announced its intention to free those persons "detained politically" who did not represent a threat to state security. Between that time and the end of 1993, the SLORC announced the release of more than 2,000 persons, although fewer than 200 were publicly identified. The failure to identify most released persons invites suspicions about whether they were actually political prisoners, but opposition activists believe this was generally the case. Reliable sources indicate that some of those released in 1993 were monks imprisoned for participating in 1988 prodemocracy rallies and a 1990 boycott action, including prominent Rangoon Abbot Thu Mingala; prodemocracy businessman Ye Htoon; and numerous Karens and others suspected of supporting the 1991 Irrawaddy Delta insurgency. The 1992 decree also implicitly acknowledged that political prisoners had been held not only in Rangoon's Insein Prison but also in over 20 upcountry locations many of which were still believed to hold some political prisoners at the end of 1993. The remaining political prisoners included former military officers Tin Oo and Kyi Maung, both of whom had served as chairmen of the NLD, comedian Zargana, student leader Min Ko Naing, and lawyer U Nay Min. Since September 1992, civil courts have handled civil and criminal cases, as well as political trials. Civilian courts have reportedly become fairer in handling nonpolitical cases since 1988, but remain plagued by corruption, inordinate delays in processing cases and appeals, and poor training and unprofessional behavior on the part of some court officers. Some basic due process rights, including the right to a public trial and to be represented by a defense attorney, are generally respected by civilian judges. Judges are appointed by the Supreme Court with the approval of the SLORC (which also names justices to the Supreme Court). At present, judges must be at least law officers with legal training. Defense attorneys are permitted to call and cross-examine witnesses, but their primary purpose is to bargain with the judge to obtain the shorest possible sentence for their clients. Cases, almost all political, which are tried in courtooms in prison compounds are not open to the public. In such cases, while defendants may have access to a defense attorney, counsel appears to serve no purpose other than to provide moral support. Reliable reports indicate that in political cases due process is largely ignored and verdicts manipulated.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The State continued to intrude extensively into the lives of private citizens during 1993. Forced entry and warrantless, unannounced searches of private homes were often conducted. Through its extensive intelligence network, the Government closely monitored the travel, whereabouts, and activities of many Burmese, particularly those known to be politically active. Security personnel selectively monitored private correspondence and telephone calls. Contacts or communications involving foreigners were subject to especially intense scrutiny, and government employees were required to obtain advance permission before meeting with foreigners. Despite some efforts by the Government to improve its image by meeting in October with the head of the British Broadcasting Corporation Far Eastern Service, official propaganda continued in 1993 to take aim at various foreign news services, and private citizens were generally unable to subscribe directly to foreign publications. Two international newsmagazines were distributed through official channels and were available to the public at large, but censors occasionally banned issues or deleted articles criticizing local conditions or reporting opposition activities. Foreign radio broadcasts remained a prime source of information for the people and even for the military, despite the Government's hostility to this news source. The authorities sought to register the growing number of television satellite receivers but appeared ready to tolerate their use. Some foreign journalists, including television crews, continued to be granted access to the country, but their movements and contacts were closely monitored. In its most intensive and egregious infringement of privacy rights, the Government continued its program of forced resettlement, involving an estimated half-million urban residents throughout Burma since 1989. While most of those forced to move were described as "squatters," some people had been living in and paying rent on their former home sites for many years and had constructed permanent houses. The Government has made people move, almost totally at their own expense, to "new towns" which are far from their previous residences. "New town" occupants often live on former rice paddy land, subject to flooding in the rainy season, without adequate transportation, medical facilities, shelter, or sanitation. In 1993 conditions at some resettlement sites improved, but, according to international observers, such improvements were often unable to keep pace with the rate of new arrivals. Some outside experts accept the Government's explanation that the resettlement program serves legitimate long-term urban planning objectives, but they do not endorse the forceful methods used to move people.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
The Burmese Army has battled diverse insurgencies for more than four decades in conflicts that have resulted in widespread human rights violations, including mistreatment and killing of prisoners, rape, neglect of the sick and wounded, impressment of civilians for porter duty, and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. While the Government was responsible for the bulk of these abuses (the Burmese armed forces nearly doubled the number of combat units since 1988), insurgent groups have also violated humanitarian principles. Insurgent groups, such as the Karen, Mon, and Karenni, continued to engage in small-scale fighting, mostly in remote areas, to try to gain greater autonomy from the dominant ethnic Burman majority. Some receive limited outside support from private international humanitarian and religious organizations. The Shan United Army (SUA) also claims to be fighting for greater autonomy but engages primarily in drug trafficking. Several former insurgent groups with which the Government now has cease-fire accommodations likewise are important narcotics trafficking organizations. The continued suspension of large-scale military offensives against insurgents in Karen state and elsewhere, together with ongoing government efforts to reach a peace accord with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), sharply reduced the level of fighting during 1993. In 1993 the use of forced porterage continued, with attendant casualties. Most of these deaths, roughly estimated to be in the hundreds, were from disease and overwork, though reports of mistreatment and rape were also common. The Burmese military also continued to use corvee labor and prison labor in combat areas. There were unconfirmed reports, for example, that on at least two occasions a combined total of as many as 700 inmates from a prison near Rangoon were taken to work as porters in eastern Burma. Credible reports from multiple sources indicated that porters have carried ammunition, supplies, and the wounded under the harshest conditions. Other well-placed sources also note that they are subject to hostile fire as well as maltreatment at the hands of Burmese soldiers. When porters are wounded, ill, or unable to continue their work, some have been reportedly left unattended to die. At the end of their service, survivors often have had to find their own means to return home. It was also credibly reported that some members of the military used sham threats of impressment to extort money from villagers. Forced rural resettlement displaced ethnic minority villagers in Karen and Kayah states and contributed to an increase of about 6,000 Burmese in camps on the Thai side of the border. Local sources reported some amelioration of conditions following the completion of the railroad to Loikaw for Catholic villagers in Kayah State who had been resettled in March 1992, and that many returned to their original homes. Reports from Karen State suggest rural relocation schemes continued to play a key role in the Government's counterinsurgency strategy. Despite this evidence that the Burmese authorities were not prepared fully to implement their obligations under the Geneva Conventions, in April and November the Government for the first time permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to conduct two short seminars on humanitarian law for groups of military officers. Antigovernment groups were responsible for violence causing civilian and military deaths, including reported killings of civilians during attacks on villages and ambushes or mining of transportation routes. In two separate incidents in February and March, over 100 confirmed civilian deaths resulted from military conflicts involving the narcotics-trafficking Shan United Army. Credible reports indicate Karenni insurgents executed at least eight captured Burmese soldiers, and civilian deaths in a transport train blown up by a land mine were attributed to Mon activists. Additionally, reliable multiple sources indicated that Karen insurgents resorted to forced labor for porterage and impressed youths into military service.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Severe restrictions on freedom of speech and the press persisted throughout 1993. Although the degree of enforcement varied, the Government generally continued to demonstrate little tolerance for opposing views or criticism. Private citizens remained reluctant to express opinions for fear of government informers. The U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) Special Rapporteur deplored the "pervasive atmosphere of fear and repression" in Burma in his report adopted by the UNHRC in March. The Government exercised strict censorship of all news and publications produced in the country. Nevertheless, private magazines found it possible to publish articles on once taboo economic subjects, and some former political prisoners were allowed to publish on nonsensitive topics. The government-controlled press and broadcast services continued to publish some limited criticism and satire in 1993. The Government adopted a tolerant approach toward the increasing activities of the United States Information Service in Rangoon, permitting it to distribute publications and organize discussions which treated themes involving human rights and fundamental freedoms. The authorities' actions in attempting to register private satellites dishes and impose fines on the many Burmese who had set up unauthorized satellite television receivers slowed the spread of access to uncensored television news and other programming from abroad. No seizures of satellite receivers, however, were reported in 1993. The Government made heavy use of its monopoly of television and radio to pursue its political policies and, with the exception of coverage of some aspects of the national convention, did not accord air time to opposing views. The same was true of all newspapers two national dailies in Burmese and one in English, as well as daily papers published by the Rangoon city government and the Central (Mandalay area) Military Command. A revamping and renaming of the country's main daily in April resulted in increased publication of locally edited international wire service news, but that paper, as well as other newspapers, remained staunchly official organs, with military officials appointing editors and vetting editorials. Especially for domestic news, journalists had to hew to strict publishing and broadcast guidelines. All forms of media domestic and imported books and periodicals, stage plays, motion pictures, and musical recordings were officially controlled and censored. Persons working in these fields admitted to exercising self-censorship lest they run afoul of the authorities. 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, and meeting foreign officials. While all teachers remained subject to dismissal for political disloyalty, some left the profession voluntarily to escape the political pressure. The universities, closed for several years after the 1988 disturbances, were open for most of 1993. However, they were closed from December 1992 until mid-February in what many believe was a move to avoid student demonstrations during the startup of the politically sensitive national convention. Meanwhile, on the main campus of Rangoon University, fences built around the various faculties prior to the university's reopening remained in place, reportedly to help control potential student unrest. In a move also widely believed intended primarily to disperse and isolate students, a fifth national university opened outside Rangoon in November.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government does not respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. A prohibition on outdoor assemblies of more than five people was unevenly enforced, but political demonstrations were strictly banned. Political parties were required to request permission from the authorities even to hold internal meetings of their own membership. The military's intimidation generally served to discourage public expressions of antigovernment sentiments. In the few reported instances of unauthorized political activity, security forces generally intervened swiftly to detain or imprison participants in unauthorized meetings and to halt distribution of antigovernment leaflets. The authorities reportedly were quick to deploy a large-scale force in Mandalay in September when a spontaneous demonstration unexpectedly took on political overtones. The right of association existed only for those organizations, including trade associations and professional bodies, permitted by law and duly registered with the Government. Moreover, the Government severely restricted the activities of even these organizations. Ten political parties remained formally legal at the end of 1993 down from 75 at the beginning of 1992 but they were virtually paralyzed through arrests, intimidation, and surveillance. In February the authorities permitted a large private funeral to be organized for the wife of one-time oppositionist and former Prime Minister U Nu. While the Government denied visas to two sons living abroad, it permitted a daughter active in the Burmese opposition in India to attend.
c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is provided for in law. Despite the privileged position of Buddhists in government service, this right is widely observed in practice although there have been human rights abuses against some believers. Buddhist pagodas, Muslim mosques, and Christian churches operate openly with minimal interference, at least in those areas of central Burma accessible to independent observers. Christians, Muslims, and animists are particularly numerous among minority ethnic groups. While generally allowing these groups to practice freely, security services monitor the activities of religious communities. The Government requires all religious organizations to register and subjects religious publications to the same control and censorship imposed on secular ones. Restrictions on unauthorized religious groups remained in force, and the military continued to monitor activities in and around Buddhist monasteries and pagodas. The SLORC has been largely successful in halting political activism among the Buddhist clergy. Religious groups can and did establish links with coreligionists in other countries, although such links were reportedly monitored by the Government. The Catholic Church, for example, maintained ties to the Vatican. While foreign religious representatives were usually allowed only to obtain visas for short stays, in some cases they were permitted to preach to Burmese congregations. Though permanent missionary establishments have not been permitted since the 1960's, some foreign Catholic nuns and at least one priest continued to reside upcountry, most working in homes for the aged. As part of its large-scale "urban development" program in recent years, the Government has taken control of several Christian and Muslim properties throughout Burma, including cemeteries. On the other hand, school authorities in Rangoon eventually exempted Muslim students from bowing to their teachers, when those students complained the action resembled a practice used in Buddhist worship.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Although Burmese citizens have the legal right to live anywhere in the country, both urban and rural residents have been subject to arbitrary relocation. Except for limitations in areas of insurgent activity, Burmese citizens could travel freely within the country but had to inform local authorities of their temporary place of residence. People staying overnight with friends or relatives within their home cities or villages were also required to report this to the authorities. People who failed to report either guests or intentions to stay overnight to the authorities were theoretically subject to a jail term, and arrests were occasionally made. Noncitizen residents, including ethnic Indians and Chinese born in Burma who hold foreigners' registration cards, had to obtain prior permission to travel. Though travel strictures continued to ease, the Government maintained controls on departure from the country. While the authorities simplified certain requirements for obtaining a passport, other requirements plus bureaucratic procedures and corruption still presented formidable hurdles. Those traveling abroad to work, however, encountered fewer difficulties, particularly as Burmese authorities sought to increase hard currency earnings from the taxes they impose on such persons' earnings. Emigrants, by contrast, were required to reimburse the Government for "educational expenses" before receiving exit permission 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 found it easier to obtain permission to do so. Even some who had stayed abroad illegally and acquired foreign citizenship found it easier to return to visit or do business. In a move widely believed to be intended to encourage wealthy older overseas Burmese to retire in Burma, the Government announced in May that Burmese abroad would have 2 years to reapply for citizenship lost through naturalization in another country. At about the same time, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that Burmese abroad holding expired travel documents could obtain new passports or an extension of their old ones. Obtaining these benefits, however, remained subject to government approval on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, some Burmese living abroad, particularly those who had traveled or remained abroad illegally, continued to fear subjecting themselves to potential punitive action by Burmese authorities if they should return to Burma. By September, 14 persons had been allowed to resettle in Burma, and another 14 had had their Burmese passports extended or replaced. In 1993 foreigners were allowed into the country in increasing numbers on an individual, rather than only on a tour group, basis. The authorities also took several steps to liberalize travel for foreigners within Burma, though large areas of the country remained off limits on security grounds. Tourist and family visit visas are routinely granted for 2 to 4 weeks, and can be extended on a case-by-case basis. However, select foreigners, 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. A private voluntary organization, Medecins Sans Frontieres/ Holland, is now operating in Burma and has foreign personnel assigned to Rangoon on a permanent basis. In April 1992, following the flight into Bangladesh of an estimated 265,000 Muslims from Arakan State in order to escape military repression, the Governments of Bangladesh and Burma signed a Memorandum of Understanding providing for the voluntary repatriation of the refugees. However, Burma, unlike Bangladesh, did not accept a role for UNHCR in the repatriation process at that time. In the absence of an adequate international monitoring presence in Burma, most Rohingyas were reluctant to return to Arakan. After a private visit by High Commissioner Sadako Ogata to Burma in late July and subsequent talks between the Burmese authorities and UNHCR representatives, the Government of Burma signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UNHCR in November which provides that the UNHCR will have a presence in Arakan State and will have access to all returnees. The agreement is intended to cover the monitoring and administration of the return to Burma in safety and dignity of about 200,000 Rohingyas who remain in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Of those who fled between late 1991 and mid-1992, some 50,000 were repatriated to Burma in 1993. Foreign refugees or displaced persons may not resettle or seek safe haven in Burma. The Government treats people claiming to be refugees as illegal immigrants and expels or imprisons them.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Burma is governed solely by the military, and the Burmese people do not have the right or the ability peacefully to change their government. Since 1988 active duty military officers have occupied many important positions throughout the bureaucracy, particularly at the policymaking level. Despite the appointment of several civilians to the Cabinet in 1992, military or recently retired military officers have continued to occupy most cabinet-level positions, numerous director general and subordinate posts, and key positions once held by technocrats in the economic ministries. In the 1990 election the NLD and associated parties achieved an overwhelming victory. The SLORC subsequently set aside the results and disqualified, detained, arrested, or drove into exile many successful candidates, including most of the NLD leadership. By the end of 1993, 174 of the 485 deputies elected had either been disqualified, resigned under pressure, gone into exile, been detained, or died. At least 46 successful candidates from the election or prominent NLD activists were serving prison sentences. In 1992 the SLORC held discussions with selected representatives of the few political parties which had not been banned outright, with a view to staging a national convention to write a new constitution without the participation of most leading members of the democratic opposition. The national convention finally opened on January 9 and continued intermittently throughout the year until September 16, when it finally adjourned until the following January. Of the approximately 700 delegates attending, only about 150 held mandates from the 1990 elections. Members of six of the eight interest groups represented were selected by the SLORC. Using these groups as a majority, the Government forced through its own rules, its own agenda, and finally its own principles for a new constitution, guaranteeing continued military control of the Government. During an intermediate stage, representatives of the NLD and minority groups were able to put forward some proposals clearly at odds with government preferences. But the authorities carefully controlled the level of visible opposition by censoring presentations, declaring unwelcome documents off-limits to the public, forbidding discussion from the floor, and intimidating individual delegates behind the scenes. There has been no genuine public discussion of the process that will be used to arrive at a new constitution. One NLD victor in the 1990 election and national convention delegate, Dr. Aung Khin Sint, was convicted and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for distributing opposition literature to his fellow delegates. In some regions where government forces exercise limited or no control, including in cases where the Government has reached an accommodation with former insurgent groups, indigenous populations have considerable autonomy in running their own political and economic affairs. Even in government-controlled areas, they generally retain their social and cultural institutions.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
No internal human rights organizations are allowed to exist. The Government continued to oppose outside scrutiny of its human rights record but permitted somewhat greater access in 1993 for some journalists, nongovernmental organizations, and foreign government officials wishing to examine the country's human rights situation. Burmese authorities allowed UNHRC Special Rapporteur Professor Yokota to conduct another fact-finding mission in the country in November 1993. In 1991, 1992, and again in 1993, the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) adopted increasingly strong resolutions urging the Burmese Government to end human rights abuses and undertake genuine democratic reform. The 1993 UNGA resolution called on the Government to release unconditionally Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained political leaders and to respect the expressed will of the Burmese people by implementing the results of the 1990 elections. The UNHRC Special Rapporteur appointed in March 1992, Professor Yozo Yokota, visited Burma in December 1992 and presented his report in February 1993. He returned to Burma in November 1993 to fulfill his mandate as Special Rapporteur. The report offered a harsh catalog of human rights abuses in Burma and called for far-reaching remedial action. In later reviewing the report, the UNHRC took special aim at the refusal of Burmese authorities to accord Dr. Yokota the "full and unreserved cooperation" and access to persons of his choice that had been conditions of his mission. The Government, for its part, disputed the Special Rapporteur's mandate and rejected many of his findings.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
Women in Burma in general 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, participation of women remained low in the minuscule industrial sector and in the bureaucracy; a few professions, such as forestry and geology, are entirely barred to women. Women do not consistently receive equal pay for equal work. There continued to be no women's rights organizations in Burma or government agency specifically devoted to safeguarding women's interests. There was no nationwide pattern of violence directed specifically against women. However, reliable reports continued to indicate that many Burmese women and children in the border areas were forced or lured into serving as prostitutes in Thailand by criminals and criminal organizations. Recruitment of these women generally occurred in remote areas where Burmese officials were unable to prevent the practice. In 1993, impressment, including of women, for military porterage duties continued, with attendant casualties. Although Burmese culturally view rape with great abhorrence, in 1993 there continued to be a consistent pattern of reports alleging rapes of ethnic minority women in border areas by Burmese soldiers.
In mid-July the Government issued a law stipulating children's rights and containing provisions covering their protection and custody, education, employment, and judicial treatment. Burmese authorities also adopted in September a "National Program of Action" for the survival, protection, and development of the country's children. By year's end it remained unclear whether the Government intended to give the program the political impetus needed to ensure the interministerial cooperation and resource allocation required to make it a success. Government and UNICEF figures indicated the plight of children to be worse than was earlier realized. Infant mortality is high (94 per 1000); 37 percent of children under 3 are severely or moderately malnourished; 31 percent of children aged 5 through 14 suffer from iodine deficiency; only 62 percent of children enroll in primary school; and only 25 percent of children complete the prescribed 5-year course.
Burma's numerous ethnic minorities, which have their own distinct cultures and languages, have been underrepresented in the Government and largely excluded from the military leadership. Despite recently increased government investment in the border areas in road, hospital, and school construction, economic development among minorities continued to lag and many still live at the subsistence level. Since only people who can prove long familial links to Burma are accorded full citizenship, some people not of ethnic Burmese ancestry, primarily Indians and Chinese, continued to be denied full citizenship and to be excluded from government positions. Individuals without full citizenship are also barred from certain advanced university programs in medicine and technological fields and are often the object of prejudice. However, Indian and Chinese minorities continued to play an important role in the economy a situation resented by many Burmans. In Arakan State, some Rohingyas, who in general do not enjoy full citizenship, have also have been denied national identity cards. Though a limited number of outside observers were able to visit Arakan State, albeit on a government-controlled basis, credible reports continued to emerge of discrimination and travel restrictions for Muslims in the area. The well-documented human rights abuses which precipitated the original Rohingya exodus, however, appeared to have largely subsided. At the same time, claims that Buddhists from elsewhere in Arakan State were being resettled nearer the border in previously Muslim areas were reliably confirmed. Multiple, reliable sources indicated that the military occasionally required minority populations in the border regions to provide without compensation vehicles, equipment, and lodging for soldiers.
The SLORC continued to associate itself closely with the majority Buddhist religion, giving wide publicity to the participation by its members in various Buddhist rites and ceremonies. While this reportedly was a cause of concern among some members of other religions, the Government in fact continued to permit members of the major non-Buddhist faiths to practice their religion. Religious organizations, however, remained subject to registration and censorship controls applicable to the entire population. Restrictions on Muslims in Arakan State appear to be result primarily from their lack of full citizenship and to discrimination on ethnic grounds.
People with Disabilities
Official assistance to persons with disabilities is extremely limited. There is no law mandating accessibility to government facilities for those with disabilities. A small number benefit from the services of the Mary Chapman School for the Deaf in Rangoon, which recently began receiving government patronage, or from modest religious-associated assistance programs funded through private donations. Most disabled persons, however, must rely on traditional family structures to provide for their welfare, and many become destitute. The principal exception is disabled members of the military, who receive medical attention, rehabilitation, and financial assistance, though most veterans receive such benefits only for a few years after discharge. Reliable reports indicate that high-ranking officers receive better treatment than the rank and file. Since 1986 Burmese authorities have permitted representatives of the ICRC to work in Burma to upgrade provision of orthopedic prostheses. Because of both landmines and train-related accidents, Burma has one of the highest rates of amputees in the world.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
In 1993 there continued to be no right of association among workers in Burma. Workers were not free to form or join trade unions of their own choosing, and leaders of unofficial labor associations, such as youth organizer Nay Lin of the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma, were subject to arrest. A new labor law was promised in connection with the drafting of a new constitution, but it is doubtful the document will ensure the right of workers to organize freely. At a minimum, any trade unions which might form are expected to be firmly under government control. Workers are not permitted to strike, and there were no reported instances in 1993 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. In 1990 the U.S. Government declined a formal request to reconsider the suspension. In June 1993, the International Labor Organization (ILO) Conference cited Burma in a "special paragraph", its strongest form of censure, for its longstanding failure to take "the necessary measures in legislation and practice to guarantee to all workers and all employers without any distinction and without prior authorization the right to organize even outside the existing trade union structure should they so wish."
b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers continued not to have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Government arbitration boards, which once theoretically provided a means for airing labor disputes, were abolished in 1988. The Government unilaterally sets wages in the public sector. In the private sector, wages are set by market forces. In a job-scarce economy, this means employers determine wage levels. The Government pressures joint ventures not to pay salaries greater than those of ministers or other high-level employees. Joint ventures circumvent this via 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 practice of joint ventures in awarding supplemental wages and benefits. No special export processing zones exist.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Burma's legal code does not prohibit forced labor. The military routinely employed corvee labor on its myriad building projects and, according to credible reports, officials accepted bribes to excuse some people from work. Forced labor was used in constructing the railroad line opened in 1993 to Loikaw, capital of Burma's Kayah State. The Burmese Army has for decades impressed civilian males to serve as porters. According to reliable reports, in 1993 the army continued to abduct youths off the streets, chiefly in minority areas but also in some urban areas of central Burma. Women were also occasionally impressed as porters, cooks, and laundresses for soldiers in frontline areas, according to credible reports. Military authorities commonly permitted conscripts and their families to pay them money in lieu of porter duty. In June a Burmese diplomat in Singapore organized the confinement and forced return to Burma of a group of 11 Burmese seamen transiting Singapore en route from Australia to Thailand after the men prevailed in a wage dispute with the help of the International Transport Federation. All remained free in 1993 but are unable to regain employment abroad.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Children aged 13 to 15 may work 4 hours a day. The "Child Law" of July 14, 1993, governs most matters concerning children under the age of 16. It gives each such child the right to "engage in work in accordance with law and its own volition." To date, the "law" referred to includes both the Factories Act of 1951 and the Children Pledging of Labor Act, this latter being an Indian law from 1933 still on the books. In theory, the penalty for employers disregarding this regulation was 2 years in prison, but there were no reports of any prosecutions in 1993 for illegally employing children, despite the fact that, in cities, working children were highly visible. They were hired at lower pay rates than adults for the same kind of work, and economic pressure forced them to work not only for their survival but also to support their families. Burmese law requires children to attend school through the fourth standard, usually reached between the ages of 12 and 15. The Department of Basic Education estimated, however, that 38 percent of children aged 5 to 9 never enroll in school. Of those who do, less than 30 percent complete the fourth grade. Two-thirds of Burma's primary schoolchildren, principally in rural areas, leave school for economic reasons. In the higher grades, the drop-out rate for girls is double that for boys.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Depressed economic conditions and lack of attention by government authorities continued to dictate substandard conditions for workers. The Law on Fundamental Workers Rights of 1964 and the Factories Act of 1951 regulate working conditions. There is a legally prescribed 5-day, 35-hour workweek for employees in the public sector and a 6-day, 44-hour workweek for private and parastatal sector employees, with overtime paid for additional work. Workers have 21 paid holidays a year. Only government employees are protected by minimum wage provisions. The minimum wage was raised in March to $3 per day (20 kyats) at the official exchange rate, but less than $0.20 at the unofficial, free market rate. The Government raised wages for public employees by 25 percent in March, but pay in the state sector remained far below the amount needed to provide a decent standard of living or counter the practice of taking bribes. The actual average wage rate for casual laborers in Rangoon was about twice the official minimum. Wages continued to lag far behind inflation. To protect health and safety at workplaces, there are numerous regulations pertaining to room size, ventilation, fire hazards, and the availability of latrines and drinking water. In practice, these were seldom enforced, particularly in the private sector.