The Worst of the Worst 2009 - Burma (Myanmar)

Country Scores

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 7
Status: Not Free
Population: 49,200,000
Capital: Rangoon

2008 Key Developments: The military regime in 2008 continued to persecute individuals associated with the popular protests of 2007, and the number of political prisoners rose sharply during the year. In early May, Cyclone Nargis devastated the country's Irrawaddy Delta region, but the government's delay in responding and obstruction of international relief efforts resulted in unnecessary losses. Despite the natural disaster, the junta proceeded with a previously scheduled constitutional referendum on May 10. Officials claimed that the new constitution, which entrenched military rule, was approved by 92.4 percent of voters, setting the stage for elections in 2010. However, reports of intimidation and vote-rigging led human rights groups to denounce the referendum as a sham.

Political Rights: Burma is not an electoral democracy. The ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) governs by decree; controls all executive, legislative, and judicial powers; suppresses nearly all basic rights; and commits human rights abuses with impunity. Military officers hold most cabinet positions, and active or retired officers hold most top posts in all ministries, as well as key positions in the private sector. In a system that lacks both transparency and accountability, official corruption is rampant at both the national and local levels.

Civil Liberties: The military government sharply restricts press freedom and either owns or tightly controls all daily newspapers and broadcast media. Crackdowns on the media continued in 2008, as the number of imprisoned journalists and bloggers rose from 9 at the beginning of the year to 14at year's end, with sentences as long as 59 years being imposed. The junta stepped up surveillance at internet cafes and sharply raised the fees for satellite dish licenses. The 2008 constitution provides for freedom of religion. It distinguishes Buddhism as the majority religion but also recognizes Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and animism. During the crackdown on the 2007 uprising, authorities raided monasteries and arrested thousands of monks, and those detained were reportedly abused and forcibly defrocked. Monasteries were subsequently kept under close surveillance. Academic freedom is severely limited. Freedoms of association and assembly are restricted, and authorities regularly use force to break up or prevent demonstrations and meetings. The judiciary is not independent. Judges are appointed or approved by the junta and adjudicate cases according to its decrees. Some of the worst human rights abuses take place in the seven states populated mostly by ethnic minorities, who comprise roughly 35 percent of Burma's population. In these border states, the military kills, beats, rapes, and arbitrarily detains civilians. Burmese women have traditionally enjoyed high social and economic status, but domestic violence is a growing concern, and women remain underrepresented in the government.

Trend Arrow: Burma received a downward trend arrow due to increased crackdowns on political activists.

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