Covering events from January - December 2004

In October the Prime Minister was placed under house arrest and replaced by another army general. Despite the announcement of the release of large numbers of prisoners in November, more than 1,300 political prisoners remained in prison, and arrests and imprisonment for peaceful political opposition activities continued. The army continued to commit serious human rights violations against ethnic minority civilians during counter-insurgency operations in the Mon, Shan and Kayin States, and in Tanintharyi Division. Restrictions on freedom of movement in states with predominantly ethnic minority populations continued to impede farming, trade and employment. This particularly impacted on the Rohingyas in Rakhine State. Ethnic minority civilians living in all these areas continued to be subjected to forced labour by the military.


In May the government convened the National Convention in order to draft a new Constitution. The Convention did not involve most political parties, including the National League for Democracy (NLD). Twenty-eight ceasefire groups participated, 13 of which raised issues about greater local autonomy. The Convention adjourned in July and did not reconvene.

In October Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt, who had also been head of Military Intelligence (MI), was removed from power and placed under house arrest. He was replaced by State Peace and Development Council (SPDC, the military government) Secretary 1 General Soe Win. Other cabinet members thought to be allied to General Khin Nyunt, including Home Minister Colonel Tin Hlaing, were also removed and held under house arrest. The same month the SPDC stated that they would carry out the seven-point "road map" to democracy announced by General Khin Nyunt in August 2003.

Ceasefire talks between the Karen National Union (KNU), a Karen armed opposition group, and the SPDC continued sporadically during the year but no ceasefire was agreed. Skirmishes between the KNU and the army continued in the Kayin State and Tanintharyi Division. Fighting between the army and the Shan armed opposition group, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-South), continued in south-eastern Shan State. The army expanded its presence in southern Ye township, Mon State, where the Hongsawati Party, a breakaway faction of the ceasefire group, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), had fought against the central government.

Although the NLD headquarters reopened in May, all other NLD offices remained closed, amid reports of SPDC repression of NLD members. Such tactics included withdrawal of business licenses, short-term detention, and travel restrictions for members' peaceful political opposition activities.

Political arrests and imprisonment

Over 1,300 political prisoners remained in prisons throughout the country, including many who had already served their sentences. NLD General Secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest throughout the year. NLD Vice-Chairman U Tin Oo was transferred to house arrest from Kalay Prison in February. Some prisoners were released after they had served their sentences.

At least 33 prison sentences were handed down for political reasons. Among those sentenced were NLD district officials from Mandalay and Ayeyarwaddy Divisions, and Shan State; former political prisoners; and student activists. At least two groups of political activists were given sentences of between seven and 22 years' imprisonment in April and May, reportedly for having contact with opposition political groups in exile.

  • U Ohn Than, a former political prisoner, was arrested in September and sentenced in October to two years' imprisonment for disturbing public order. He had reportedly staged a peaceful one-man protest outside City Hall in Yangon, calling for political freedoms.
  • At least 24 political prisoners remained in detention after they had served their sentences. They included six student leaders and around 10 alleged members of the Communist Party of Burma, the majority of whom had been imprisoned since 1989 or 1991. They also included two prisoners of conscience, Daw May Win Myint and Than Nyein, both NLD MPs elect, who suffered severe and chronic health problems during the year.

At least three people died in custody or shortly after being released from prison.

  • Prisoner of conscience and lawyer Min Thu, arrested in 1998 in connection with the preparation of a history of the student movement, died in Insein Prison in June. He had reportedly been ill-treated in prison in 2001, when authorities held prisoners in cells normally used to keep military dogs while they investigated a prison hunger strike.

An unknown number of MI personnel and other government officials were arrested amid reports of widespread corruption. Colonel Hla Min, Information Division of the Defence Ministry, and several others were detained in Insein Prison at the end of the year.


Approximately 40 political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience and possible prisoners of conscience, were among 9,248 prisoners released in late November. The SPDC said they had been wrongfully arrested by the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB), which the SPDC abolished on 22 October. However, the SPDC did not clarify whether the releases were of criminal or political prisoners.

  • Prisoner of conscience and prominent student leader Paw U Tun, alias Min Ko Naing, was released on 19 October after more than 15 years in prison.

Human rights violations against ethnic minorities

The vast majority of Rohingyas continued to be effectively denied the right to a nationality under the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law. Rohingyas in northern Rakhine State routinely had to receive permission and pay a fee in order to leave their villages, which greatly inhibited their ability to trade and seek employment. Rohingyas were also frequently subjected to forced labour.

  • In January young single women from Kyong Kanya village, Khaw Za village tract, southern Ye township, Mon State were forced to serve and entertain army officers. Male villagers were forced to purchase alcohol for the army. This practice by the army was repeated in other areas of southern Ye township where the Hongsawati Party had been active.
  • A Shan farmer from Murngkhun village, Non Laew village tract, Laikha township, Shan State, was forced to transport troops with his tractor so frequently that he did not have sufficient time to farm. In January troops accused him of not wanting to transport them, kicked him off his tractor, and broke his arm by stamping on it.
  • A Rohingya man from northern Maungdaw township reported that villagers from nine village tracts had to build a road for the security forces beginning in February.


No one was brought to justice for the attacks by government supporters against the NLD on 30 May 2003 in Depeyin, Sagaing Division, when an unknown number of people were killed or injured, nor did any independent investigation take place.

Death penalty

Nine people sentenced to death for high treason in November 2003 for conspiring to assassinate government officials and bomb government buildings had their sentences commuted during the year. Among them were prisoners of conscience Thet Zaw, editor of First Eleven sports magazine; U Aye Myint, a lawyer; and Min Kyi, a lawyer, who had their sentences commuted to three years' imprisonment in May. The same month Shwe Mann, a fourth prisoner of conscience in the same case, had his death sentence commuted to "transportation for life". U Aye Myint, Min Kyi and Shwe Mann were accused, among other things, of passing information about forced labour to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The ILO raised the cases of these three men with the SPDC in March after it had interviewed them at Insein Prison. The three said that they had been tortured during initial interrogation after their arrest in July 2003. In October, the four men had their sentences further reduced to two years in prison. Five other men sentenced to death in the same case had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment in May, and one of the five had his sentence further reduced to five years' imprisonment in October. No executions were reported.

International initiatives

The UN Special Envoy for Myanmar received permission for one trip to Myanmar in March, when he met NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who indicated her willingness to work with General Khin Nyunt's government. The UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar was not allowed to visit the country.

In April the UN Commission on Human Rights extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar for a further year. In December the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing "grave concern at... the ongoing systematic violation of human rights" in Myanmar.

Following the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in October, which the SPDC attended as a member for the first time, the European Union Common Position that provides for some sanctions against Myanmar was strengthened on the basis of the lack of progress in lifting restrictions on political activity in the country.

In March the ILO Governing Body postponed implementation of a Plan of Action for Myanmar, which provided for a facilitator to hear complaints about forced labour and find a solution. The decision was taken in light of the death sentences handed down to three men who had passed information to the ILO (see above). In November the ILO Governing Body announced the reinstatement of measures originally adopted at the International Labour Conference in June 2000, which called on all ILO members and international organizations to examine their relations with the SPDC and their operations in Myanmar to ensure that they did not result in forced labour.

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