UNION OF MYANMAR
Head of state: Senior General Than Shwe
Head of government: General Soe Win
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
International Criminal Court: not ratified
The human rights situation deteriorated during the year, as the authorities stepped up repression against both armed and peaceful political opposition throughout the country. The UN Security Council placed Myanmar on its formal agenda. Widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, amounting to possible crimes against humanity, were committed in the course of military activities in Kayin State and Bago Division. As the authorities continued with plans to draft a new Constitution, activists were pressured into resigning from political parties. Scores of arrests continued throughout the year of people engaged in peaceful political activities or other non-violent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and association. At the year end most senior opposition figures were imprisoned or administratively detained, among more than 1,185 political prisoners held in deteriorating prison conditions. At least two people were sentenced to death.
The National Convention to draft principles for a new Constitution concluded a session in January and reconvened in October, without the National League for Democracy (NLD), the main opposition party. Legislation criminalizing adverse comment on the Constitution remained in place, while delegates were restricted from open discussion. The authorities announced that most decisions on the draft Constitution's principles had been made, including on areas relating to the role of the military and on citizens' rights and duties.
The UN Security Council placed Myanmar on its formal agenda in September. The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution and the UN Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, who continued to be denied access to the country. The UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs visited Myanmar in May and November.
Members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) expressed dissatisfaction with the slow pace of reforms in Myanmar and renewed calls for the release of political prisoners. The International Labour Organization (ILO) expressed grave concern at the lack of progress by the authorities on forced labour. The European Commission initiated a new humanitarian aid programme to treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
Crimes against humanity
Military operations against the Karen National Union (KNU) in eastern Kayin (Karen) State and neighbouring districts increased. More than 16,000 were displaced by the conflict. Villagers reported widespread and systematic commission of acts constituting violations of international humanitarian and human rights law on a scale that amounted to crimes against humanity. Destruction of houses and crops, enforced disappearances, forced labour, torture and extrajudicial killings of Karen civilians increased. Many villagers faced food shortages after the authorities banned them from leaving their village to farm or buy food. The use of land mines by both the armed wing of the Karen National Union and the tatmadaw (Myanmar army) also increased. Other violations included acts of collective punishment, such as prolonged closures and other movement restrictions, the burning of whole villages and the reported killing in February in northern Kayin state of a village headman and other civilians. In other areas skirmishes took place between the Shan State Army-South and the army, with the loss of civilian life.
The widespread practice of forced labour was reported throughout the year in Kayin, Mon, Rakhine and Kachin states, and in Bago Division. Prisoners were reported to have increasingly been required to act as porters for the military, and to have been subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment. A number of prisoner porters attempting to escape were reportedly killed. The ILO expressed concern that the authorities' continued threats of legal action against people making "false" complaints of forced labour presented a significant obstacle to joint co-operation in addressing the issue. In response to specific requests by the ILO, by the end of the year the authorities had released two people imprisoned in connection with the legal filing of reports of forced labour and dropped prosecutions of others. A six-month moratorium on the prosecution of those making complaints about forced labour was promised in July.
Political trials were conducted according to laws which criminalized the peaceful exercise of human rights and in proceedings which did not meet international fair trial standards. Arrests took place without warrants and defendants were denied the right to legal counsel or counsel of their choice. Detainees were held incommunicado for lengthy periods.
- Former student leaders and prisoners of conscience Htay Kywe, Ko Ko Gyi, Paw U Tun, Min Zeya and Pyone Cho were detained in late September and held incommunicado until the end of the year. The authorities stated that this was to "prevent insurgency".
- U Aung Thein, 77, a member of the NLD's Central Committee, was arrested with three others in April; all four were sentenced in July to 20 years' imprisonment. U Aung Thein was said to have "confessed" to possessing a satellite telephone used to speak to NLD leaders outside the country.
- Win Ko, an NLD member from Bago Division, was reported to have been sentenced to three years' imprisonment in October for collecting signatures calling for the release of detained political leaders. He was charged with selling illegal lottery tickets.
- Refugees Chit Thein Tun and Maung Maung Oo were abducted from India to Myanmar by an unknown armed group. They were handed over to the Myanmar authorities and tortured while held incommunicado. They were sentenced to death in a secret trial on charges of exploding a bomb on the Myanmar-India border.
Prisoners of conscience and senior NLD leaders Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo, Daw May Win Myint, and Dr Than Nyein, all held without charge or trial, had their detention extended by the maximum term of one year. The latter two have been held since October 1997, and were detained beyond the expiry of their seven-year prison sentence. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was held in increasing isolation and permitted only infrequent visits by her doctor.
A number of releases took place during 2006.
- Two human rights defenders, lawyer U Aye Myint and Su Su Nwe, imprisoned in October 2005 for seven years and 18 months respectively in connection with reporting forced labour and land confiscation by the local authorities, were released in June and July.
- U Shwe Ohn, a senior Shan political figure and writer in his 80s, was released from house arrest after the expiry of his detention order in February.
- At least two members of the KNU detained since the early 1980s, who were in poor health, were released in September and October.
Already poor prison conditions deteriorated during the year. The authorities imposed new restrictions on the quantity of food that prisoners were able to receive from relatives, and reduced the budget for food granted to prison authorities. Medical shortages in prisons were reported. Visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were suspended in January after the ICRC refused to accede to conditions that they be accompanied by members of government affiliated agencies. Partly as a result of poor prison conditions, many prisoners of conscience were in poor health including Dr Than Nyein, a doctor and NLD MP-elect, suffering from liver disease and other complaints.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Torture and other forms of ill-treatment during interrogation and pre-trial detention were frequently reported. Torture in prison was believed to have increased. Attempts by relatives to seek redress were met with official resistance, harassment and pressure to withdraw complaints.
- Ko Thet Naing Oo, a former political prisoner, was severely beaten by police and fire brigade officers in Yangon in March and died the same day.
Deaths in custody
At least six political prisoners died in prison. Torture, poor diet and inadequate medical treatment were believed to have contributed to their deaths. Many had been held in prisons distant from their families, depriving them of necessary food and medicine.
- Thet Win Aung, 35, a student activist and prisoner of conscience, died in Mandalay Prison in October. He had been tortured on arrest in 1998, and was serving a 59-year prison sentence. He had suffered numerous health complaints in prison, including malaria and mental illness, and had been held for protracted periods in solitary confinement.
Freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association
Legislation restricting the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association continued to be rigorously enforced. Access to the Internet remained restricted. The government blocked many websites and placed periodic blocks on free internet e-mail services.
From April members and supporters of both the NLD and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy were subjected to threats and harassment. Meetings were disrupted, and the state-run press regularly denounced and threatened the NLD, accusing it of plotting to incite unrest in the country. By the end of the year hundreds of NLD members were reported by the official press to have resigned.
AI country reports/visits
- Myanmar: Human rights violations continue in the name of national security (AI Index: ASA 16/002/2006)
- Myanmar: The UN Security Council must act (AI Index: ASA 16/007/2006)
- Myanmar: Ko Thet Win Aung, prisoner of conscience, dies in prison (AI Index ASA 16/015/2006)
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