Human Rights Watch/Asia
December 1994 Vol. 6, No. 14
THE MON: PERSECUTED IN
I. Summary 3
II. Human Rights Violations of the Mon by the Burmese Government 5
Arrests and Extrajudicial Executions of Suspected Rebels 5
Abuses Associated With Taxation 5
Forced Relocations 6
Forced Labor 8
III. Abuses of the Mon by the Thai Government 11
The Attack on Halockhani Camp and the Thai Response 12
The Treatment of Mon Migrant Workers by Thai Authorities 14
Thai Policy Towards Mon and Other Burmese Refugees 16
IV. Conclusions 19
V. Recommendations 21
To the State Law and Order Restoration Council 21
To the Government of Thailand 21
To the International Community 22
coming year will be critical to the international community's efforts to bring
about respect for human rights in
from the international community has resulted in some signs of movement by the
SLORC, the ruling military government of
1994, thousands of Mon continued to
stream into Thailand, where a small proportion were able to take refuge in
camps in Thailand established in 1990, but most became illegal workers. In
Mon, like the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups living along the border, have
been fighting an armed insurgency against the central government in
But there has been no "peace dividend" for the villagers. Abuses by the Tatmadaw continued, as Human Rights Watch/Asia found during a mission to the Thai-Burmese border in May 1994. A vast program of military expansion that led to an increase in troop strength from 180,000 in 1988 to an estimated 340,000 by late 1993 meant that the army was able to move into virtually every small town and village in formerly rebel-held areas. In other areas entire villages were forcibly relocated into areas within the army's control. The Tatmadaw required barracks, and villagers were forced to build them. They embarked on a series of major infrastructural projects that involved more forced labor and taxation without due process on a scale that was prohibitive. Villagers who would not or could not pay could be arrested, forcibly conscripted to work as porters for the military, beaten, tortured, or sometimes shot. Many villagers, particularly young males, still faced the possibility of arrest and interrogation or even execution on suspicion of supporting the insurgents.
On the Thai side, the Thai military razed two refugee camps in 1992 and in September 1993 moved 6,000 Mon to a camp on the Burmese side of the border, part of which was just one hour's walk from a Burmese military base. Refugees and migrant workers have been arrested and imprisoned in Thai immigration detention centers where they face additional abuse from police.
Mon are not the only Burmese minority to be caught between the two governments,
but their situation may be one of the most urgent because of two major
development projects taking place in their territory, a natural gas pipeline
and a 160-kilometer railroad. Both
projects have led to an increased military presence in the region, and the
latter, which began in late 1993, relies heavily on forced labor. The gas pipeline, a project that involved the
state petroleum companies of both
Rights Watch/Asia calls on the SLORC to cease immediately the practices of
arbitrary arrest and execution, forced relocations and forced labor and to
allow access to ethnic minority areas by independent international monitors. In its October 28 response to questions from
the U.N. special rapporteur to
Rights Watch/Asia also calls on the Thai government to end the refoulement of refugees and migrant workers. While it is acknowledged that the numbers of
migrants entering the country from
call upon the international community to pass a firm resolution at the General
Assembly later this month. Individual governments must continue to press for
adherence to previous U.N. resolutions and the recommendations of the U.N.
special rapporteur whenever opportunities for
dialogue with SLORC representatives arise.
Foreign companies operating in
II. Human Rights Violations of the Mon by the Burmese Government
The Mon are one of the
major ethnic groups of
Arrests and Extrajudicial Executions of Suspected Rebels
arrest and extrajudicial execution of villagers accused by the Tatmadaw of
being sympathizers of the ethnic rebels has been well documented since 1988. These excesses of military power continued
into 1994, in striking contrast to the SLORC's highly publicized peace making
efforts to encourage "the remaining groups who still have not yet returned
to the legal fold...to join hands in building a peaceful, democratic and modern
union." One villager from Thanbyu
In December 1993, Aung Htein, a twenty-eight year-old farmer from my village, was caught in his fields near the village by soldiers from the 31st Light Infantry Brigade and brought back to the village. He was shot dead in front of all of us villagers for allegedly spying on the column...Farmers with fields outside the village had to report their schedule of working in the farm to the military. If he or she were found outside of their schedule, they were likely to be shot.
In his report of January 1994, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture noted the case of a Mon woman, Mi Taw, from Thanbyuzayat township who was raped in front of her husband when she went to visit him at the military base of Infantry Battalion No.31. Her husband was severely beaten, and his hand was broken.
Abuses Associated With Taxation
Mon interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Asia said they were leaving
before the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) came to power in
1988, rice-cultivating farmers in the Mon State, like farmers elsewhere in
Burma, were required to sell the government between four and ten Burmese-unit
baskets (150-400 kilograms) per acre of cultivated land at the government fixed
price of sixty Kyats (about US$0.60),
compared to a market price of between around 300 Kyats (about US$3.00). Then, as now, if a farmer's yield was
insufficient to cover the government tax because of poor harvests or other
reasons, he was forced to purchase rice at the market price and sell back to
the government. Those who failed to pay
this tax faced arrest by the military, as a Mon refugee from Mudon township,
Last October , twenty-two people from my village who could not sell the amount required were arrested by the Tatmadaw 62nd Light Infantry Division based in Mudon. An army unit of about twenty soldiers arrived in my village in the morning with a list of the people who could not sell the rice. The soldiers searched their houses and arrested them. All the people were put into an army truck and taken to Mudon. They were detained for fifteen to twenty days in the Mudon police station. Some of their families had to pay the rice tax by selling their cattle to bail them out. Daw Ein, a forty-seven-year-old woman who could not sell the rice to the government escaped arrest. While she was in hiding, the army came to her house and told her son to find her or he would be arrested instead of her.
Others interviewed complained of being taxed in lieu of working as a porter for the military or performing other forms of forced labor. These demands lacked due process, and both the amounts called for and the possibility of paying rather than having to perform forced labor differed radically among those interviewed. Frequently, villagers who had already paid some "porter fees" were still expected to undertake the work. Or, having paid one set of "taxes", were required to make further payments, as one villager from Thanbyu Zayat township reported . She described the different fees demanded:
In my village, all the household members have to pay a lot of fees to the Tatmadaw. Among them, porter fees are the most common. We have to pay 200 Kyats [the daily wage of a laborer is forty Kyats] a month for porter fees to the village headman, who gives it to the military. If you cannot afford to pay, you have to work as a porter for the Tatmadaw...They have to work at the military base at [X] village, or go along with the military column for one week or more. If you can pay a release fee of about 4,000 or 5,000 Kyats you are released immediately. We also have to pay "courier fees" of more than ten Kyats a month, and forced labor fees are twentyfive or fifty Kyats every day that you do not work at a military base or where they order you to work...As soon as one job finishes, they call us for another job the next day. The headman cannot plan in advance, so we have to gather every day and decide who has to go.
and sometimes entire villages in the
1988, Human Rights Watch/Asia and other international human rights
organizations have monitored forced relocations across the country. In 1988 and 1989, tens of thousands of poor
slum dwellers in
foreign diplomats, U.N. agencies and others able to witness these relocations,
they received international attention and condemnation. However, across the country such relocations
have also occurred in rural areas, particularly those inhabited by ethnic
minorities, where access is severely restricted. In 1994, a journalist who was allowed
unprecedented access to rural areas in the Kachin and
ethnic minority areas forced relocations were undertaken both as part of
military strategies to deprive the ethnic rebels of their support, and to
provide the military with free labor for their "development"
projects. The relocations have often
been accompanied by other forms of human rights abuses. Written orders addressed to village headman
have been sent by the local Tatmadaw officers, giving a date by which the
village must move to designated new sites.
Usually the new sites are close to military camps. The orders contain threats against people who
do not move within the timetable, saying that they will be considered rebels,
and that the area will be a "free-fire zone." While access by international organizations
has been almost impossible, cases have been documented by the U.N. special rapporteur to
In April 1992, villagers from Azin
and Butho in the
In his 1994 interim report to the U.N. General Assembly Professor Yokota quoted non-governmental sources as saying that there had been forced relocations in connection with development projects in the Mergui/Tavoy area. He noted especially relocations from around the Shwetapi, Baw Law Gyi, and B'saw Law areas.
the fact-finding mission in May, Human Rights Watch/Asia was able to interview
a nineteen-year-old Mon girl from Thanbyu Zayat township,
The soldiers returned in the evening. All the houses had been burnt to ashes. We had to sleep in the field for one week without shelter and enough food... Then, about ten soldiers from the same unit came back and told us to move near their base. Anyone found in the area would be shot dead without any questions, these areas were designated as free-fire zones and they would not allow any people to live there. After that some people moved to other villages far away, or to the Thai border. We did not want to move to their base because we had heard that there was a lot of forced labor and maltreatment there. I decided to go back to my husband's village, but I heard that his village had also been burnt down. So I finally decided to go to the Thai-Burma border. I am afraid to go back.
1988, forced labor in development and other projects, called "voluntary
labor" by the SLORC, has been systematically used across
Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, secretary-1 of the SLORC, in a speech to members of Burma's foreign service in April 1994, claimed that "voluntary labor" is done willingly by the Burmese people as a "noble act of charity" and that the Burmese attitude was different from that in the West, where "labor without wage is looked upon as an act involving loss of human rights." The "willingness" of the Burmese to submit to such labor, however, is belied by the testimony of refugees. Not only are the workers forced to put in long hours for no pay, but many either experience or witness physical punishment from the soldiers overseeing the projects.
of the most notorious forced labor projects is the 160-kilometer railroad
between Ye in
Of the twenty people interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Asia, most came from villages close to the railroad, but some were from villages as far as seven miles from the working site. In each case they explained that Tatmadaw soldiers had come to the village and ordered the village headman to provide them with household lists. Using this information, the officers determined how many people they could demand. Usually, each household was required to contribute one laborer, but in more than one instance a married couple had to go, leaving their children behind. In another case, an eighty-six-year-old man was forced to work at the site because he had no relatives. The only way to avoid doing the labor was to pay between 1,500 and 2,000 Kyats (about US$150 to $200).
The villagers described being forced to leave their homes and take food, blankets, cooking pots and other provisions necessary for their stay in one of five "work camps" (Chaung Dong, Kalaw Gyi, Pauk Pin Gwa, Nat Kyi Zin and Min Tha, all named after the nearest villages) close to the railroad site. One woman, whose husband was forced to work at a site twelve miles from where she was sent, said, "We were ordered at gunpoint and received no food or pay. Everywhere we were ordered to dig holes, and dig them very nicely." While most worked every day from to for two weeks, one man had been there for two months (see below).
The work included cutting down trees, breaking rocks, digging ditches, building embankments twelve feet wide and up to eight feet high, and clearing foliage one hundred to 150 feet from either side of the railroad track. Farms and fields along the railroad route were confiscated, without any compensation to the farmers. Two of those interviewed also reported having to build an army barracks and a helicopter landing area for a new military base near the work site.
Physical abuse and fines for people who could not execute their allotted tasks fast or proficiently enough for the Tatmadaw were reported to be common. One of the interviewees, twenty-eight-year-old man from Pauk Pin Kwin village, Ye Byu township, Tavoy said he had worked at the railroad conscription camp for two months and five days because he was the only male in his family. He described life at the work site to Human Rights Watch/Asia:
At the beginning of the railroad project, each quarter from our village [about thirty households] had to send five workers to the work site. But later, the local military ordered the people to assign one person from each family to always be at the work site until the task is finally completed. We do not know what the target date for completion of the railroad is.
It was very difficult for families like mine which have only one man. When I was at the work site, the rest of my family found it difficult to work the farm and grow food. When a man returns, women are expected to replace him at the work site...I saw some elderly people working there, and some children aged about twelve years. I also saw some pregnant women working there.
Three people were killed near me when the earth
collapsed as we were cutting through a hill for the railroad construction on
well as the railroad project, villagers reported that they and their neighbors
were forced to work on a multitude of different projects during 1993 and
1994. One twenty-eight-year-old Mon from
The army ordered us villagers to do a lot of different work without pay. They ordered us to provide food for them and bring it to them our own bullock-carts. If you do not own a cart, you have to carry the food on your back to the military base before the deadline. Sometimes we are summoned to work at their bases for days or weeks. When we arrived there, they ordered us to cut bamboo, cut down trees, dig trenches and build their barracks. They also ordered us to build fences for their camps, which took over one month. We were not allowed to go back home until the work was done. When we had to do long periods of work, the military told us to bring our own food. They did not provide any food for us. They also ordered women and children to guard the road near the village from attacks by rebels. They had to take note of everyone who used the road and report back to military. They had to go and guard the road for three days and nights each time.
SLORC insists that these projects are undertaken by "volunteers"
under a traditional system of corvée labor (a
form of unpaid labor owed by peasants and serfs to feudal rulers). In the government's response to the 1993 U.N.
Commission on Human Rights special rapporteur's
voluntary contributions of labor to build shrines and
religious temples, roads, bridges and clearing of obstructions on pathways is a
tradition which goes back thousands of years...In the villages and in the
border areas, Tatmadaw men and the local
people in the region have been contributing their voluntary labor for the past
four years or so. There is no coercion involved...those who accuse the
More recently, however, members of the SLORC, including Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt and local military commanders, have also claimed that the workers are paid, but that sometimes local corruption subverts the system. During the inspection of the railroad in March 1994, Gen. Maung Aye, the deputy commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw, "expressed his satisfaction at seeing local people willingly and competitively participate in the project in order to bring about development in their respective areas. He said the state is providing vast sums of money, both in local and foreign currencies for the people to participate actively and cooperate in the project." Of the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Asia, not one had ever received any payment from the Burmese authorities.
III. Abuses of the Mon by the Thai Government
the refugee populations, the Mon have suffered more than any other group from
harassment by Thai military authorities.
Thousands of Mon fled to
the first 12,000 Mon fled the fighting at Three Pagodas Pass, they were housed
in five camps in Thailand's Sangkhlaburi District under an agreement negotiated
by the Burma Border Consortium (BBC) and the Mon National Relief Committee (MNRC)
on one side, and Thai authorities (the district governor, the commander of the
Ninth Infantry Division and the Ministry of the Interior) on the other. In March 1991, Day Bung camp, the largest of
these camps with 2,462 refugees, was ordered to move by the Ninth Infantry
Division. Despite repeated calls by the
MNRC and BBC for a reprieve until after the rainy season, the refugees had to
move to Hla Brad and set up the new camp during heavy rains. Refugee organizations claimed that the army's
action was taken in retaliation for an attack by Mon rebels in February 1991 on
a Thai logging company's truck bringing out logs from inside the
In early 1992, three more camps, Baleh Hnook, Krone Krung and Panang Htaw, with a combined population of 5,066 people, were also ordered to close, and all residents were forced to move to Hla Brad. Hla Brad camp, renamed Loh Loe, became the largest refugee camp on the Thai/Burmese border, with over 8,000 residents. At that time there were two other Mon refugee camps in Sanghklaburi area, Pa Yaw (population 1,194), Pa Mark (population 501) and one further south in Kiri Khan District, Pra Chaub (population 1,015). Throughout the year new refugees continued to arrive in the camps, notably 300 people who had fled attacks on key commercial centers in Yebyu and Kya In Set Kyi townships in May.
the beginning of 1993, there was pressure from
the middle of these negotiations however, in April 1993, members of the Ninth
Infantry Division who had been on "maneuvers" near the Mon refugee
camps for over a month, entered two small adjacent camps, Aung Tha Pye, containing some 500 Burmans and students who fled
after the 1988 uprising, and the predominantly Tavoyan Democracy Village. The soldiers gave the residents three minutes
to collect what belongings they could carry and leave the area. They then set fire to all the houses with
flame throwers. The 545 residents from
the camps were forced to move to the hilltops on the border with
early September 1993, the MNRC was given until
The Attack on Halockhani Camp and the Thai Response
At on July 21, over one hundred troops from the Tatmadaw 62nd Battalion marched into a section of Halockhani camp, known as Kwan Saya, which housed 500 refugees. The soldiers arrested the camp leader and a teacher and rounded up all the men of the camp, forcing them to walk ahead as they set off on the three hour march to the main part of Halockhani. On the way, they were ambushed by a group of Mon and Karen rebels and forced to return to Kwan Saya. The Tatmadaw soldiers then looted and razed most of the houses in Kwan Saya before leaving, taking sixteen men with them, including the camp leader and teacher, who were hand‑cuffed. Speaking at a press conference on August 27, the commander of the Ninth Infantry Division explained that the incident occurred because of an attack by Mon rebels on the Tatmadaw in which one soldier was killed. The sixteen men were taken away because "They also needed some porters." Four of the sixteen men were later released, one of whom told journalists that he had "been beaten, burnt with cigarettes and nearly drowned before being released." It is not known where the remaining twelve are.
the fires started in Kwan Saya, all the refugees from
Halockhani fled back into
these appeals, on August 23, Lt. Gen. Sanan Khachonklam, the officer-in-charge of border affairs for
the Thai Supreme Commander's Joint Operations Center, declared it was Thai
policy for all illegal immigrants to be sent back home, whether they came for
economic or political reasons. He held a
joint press conference at
this period, all access to the New Halockhani camp by the UNHCR and the MNRC
was delayed for so long that it was impossible for them to conduct an
assessment of the situation. Two
August 13, two drunken Thai Border Patrol police attempted to rape two Karen
girls. A Mon man was shot in the chest
as he tried to defend the girls. It was
later reported that the two policemen had been arrested. This was not an isolated incident. Human Rights Watch/
At eight in the evening I went to camp committee's house and explained what had happened. The committee chairman said he was also afraid to talk to the policeman. He did not want any problem with the Thai police, so he asked me to stay in another house. My neighbors said the policeman was drinking whiskey all day and got really drunk. At night, he looked for me from house to house and pointed his gun at people threatening them to make them find me...The next day, at seven in the morning, I returned home with my friends thinking he had already left. But he was still sleeping in my bedroom when we got there. Two hours later his friend, the same policeman who came the other day with him, came and woke him up. Then they left. That incident really frightened me. I feel unsafe here.
the refugees were camped out at New Halockhani, the Thai authorities continued
to repatriate migrant workers through the camp (see below). Some 400 people were sent to the camp in the
first week, and a further 500 people arrived in four army trucks on August 17. With their supplies being shared among so many
new arrivals, and health problems mounting, all the refugees had returned to
their former camp inside
the return of the refugees coincided with the signing of an agreement between
the state petroleum companies of
The two refugee camps razed to the ground by Thai troops in April 1992 (Aung Tha Bwe and Democracy village) were close to the route of the pipeline, and the Mon refugee camp at Loh Loe was only a few miles from Nat Ei Daung. It is hard to escape the conclusion that both the burning of the camps in 1992 and the relocation from Loh Loe to Halockhani were connected to negotiations on the pipeline deal. The relocation to Halockhani meant that the refugees, some of whom are suspected by the SLORC of having contacts with Mon rebels (as evidenced by the arrest of the sixteen men from Halockhani), were brought under the control of the nearby Tatmadaw base at Three Pagodas Pass. In this sense the relocation was not unlike the forced relocations that are taking place inside Burma (see above).
Furthermore, it is likely that this pipeline will be built by the local people in conditions of forced labor described in this report. This is a view shared by the UNHCR representative in Thailand, who in September said, "There seems to be a general pattern of making use of the local labor force without paying them...I know slave labor has been used for other purposes, and once the gas pipeline is to start, it is most likely that it will be done the same way."
The Treatment of Mon Migrant Workers by Thai Authorities
of the number of Burmese migrant workers in
In December 1993, a Thai persuaded me to work at a place called Walat. He said that I could get a better job there, and that there were many Mon and Burmese working there already. Four friends and I decided to go. When we arrived there, the Thai guy took all the money we had. We stayed one night in his house and the next day he took us to the local police station. We were forced to stay in the police compound and do all their cleaning, cooking and other work without any pay. There was a saw-mill near to the station, and sometimes we also had to go and work there. It was very hard work, and we were never given enough food or clothes or enough rest.
In March we tried to escape...but were arrested nearby and sentenced to one month in another police cell. A friend who worked nearby heard of our arrest and came and paid Bt 3,000 [about US$120] to get us all released...Today, when I came here with my friend a plain clothes policemen stopped us. He asked for Bt 2,000 [about US$ 80] to avoid arrest. He let my friend go and get the money...I am so scared, but living here is less dangerous than in Burma.
In response to the increase in migrant workers, Thai authorities took a pragmatic approach, legalizing some workers and cracking down hard on others. In January the Ministry of the Interior allocated 54.6 million Baht ($2.1 million) to increase police manpower, set up checkpoints, arrange mobile patrol units to prevent illegal crossings, and establish detention centers for Burmese arrested for illegal entry in six provinces, Ranong, Kanchanaburi, Songkhla, Chiang Mai, Nong Khai and Prachin Buri. In stark contrast, in August the Labor and Social Welfare Minister announced, "The Interior Ministry has now issued an 11-point decree giving illegal Burmese immigrants opportunities to work lawfully in Thailand." It is likely that only those immigrants working in industries which are currently suffering from labor shortages will be given permits. This particularly applies to the fishing industry located in Ranong, where the deputy governor was quoted as saying, "About 100 per cent of our unskilled workforce are Burmese."
much the same way that prostitutes have been jailed while their pimps go free,
it was the migrant workers who were penalized, not their employees. Thai firms now had the flexibility to use
foreign workers for as long as labor shortages in Thailand continue, and the
authorities would then able to repatriate them to Burma. Following their arrest, illegal immigrants
had to pay a Bt 2,000 fine (about US$80) before they would be released from
jail to be deported from
Abuses also accompanied deportation procedures. Thai officials regularly deported between 250 and 500 migrant workers through Mon refugee camps, originally Loh Loe and then after Loh Loe was moved, through Halockhani. Having spent up to three months at the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok, the "illegals" were sent to Kanchanaburi police station, where they stay had to stay for between a week and a month, in over crowded and unsanitary conditions. From there they were taken by an army truck, with armed guards, to Halockhani camp. The refugee support organizations use their supplies to help the deportees, many of whom were reported to be extremely malnourished and weak after up to four months in Thai detention. Humanitarian NGOs working with the Mon reported that on one occasion, a deportee carried off the truck was dead. Some of the deportees returned to Burma, but many preferred to deal with the Thai labor recruiters who haunt the border and pay vast sums to secure a return to Bangkok. One worker interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Asia in May 1994 explained:
When we got to Kanchanaburi there were about 900 illegal Burmese in the jail. The room was so crowded, we could not bear it. After six days I was sent back to Burma with 300 others. All of us were put into a cattle truck with no roof, covered with barbed wire. It took five hours to get to Halockhani camp. The truck did not stop on the way, and no food was given to us. We arrived at the border check point at 1pm and were forced to get down from the truck and sit in the hot sun for 45 minutes while the Thai Border Patrol Police checked the numbers of deportees. They then ordered us to go back to Burma, and said that if we returned we'd be arrested again. Twelve police escorted us until we got to the border check point...When they left I headed for Three Pagodas Pass...I got a broker to take me to Sankhlaburi for Bt100 [about US$84] and from there I paid another broker Bt 800 [about US$32] to get back to Bangkok.
Thai Policy Towards Mon and Other Burmese Refugees
of the Mon refugees and migrant workers is exacerbated by the fact that
Thailand does not recognize anyone from Burma as a refugee. The first large influx of refugees from Burma
came in 1984 when some 9,000 ethnic Burmese Karen refugees fled fighting. At that time a vast international effort was
providing support for some 500,000 Cambodian refugees on Thailand's western
border, and the Thai government was reluctant to see a similar situation on its
eastern border. Believing that without
an international aid effort they would soon return to Burma, it gave those in
the border camps de facto refugee status, allowing them to remain on Thai
soil. Thus, while the UNHCR and the
International Committee of the Red Cross did not get involved, NGOs who worked
through the Committee for the
Coordination of Services to Displaced Persons in
While there is still no official recognition of Burmese as "refugees", the Thai government does make distinctions between categories of immigrants which it defines as:
those who crossed into
2) those who arrived for economic reasons after 1976 (33,000);
3) those who have fled border fighting since 1984 (60,000);
4) 300,000 illegal workers; and
5) 2,500 "students" seeking political sanctuary.
Thai policy towards the third and fifth categories of
immigrants has always been to allow them to stay on the understanding that they
would be sent back to
Thailand's decision to allow the refugees to stay on Thai soil has always been subject to the vagaries of political and economic circumstances, both within the Thai government and between that government and the SLORC. When refugees first appeared in large numbers in Thailand, relationships between Thai intelligence officers and ministries and the ethnic rebels, built up over the course of forty years of fighting the Rangoon government, was such that they were tolerated as people in need of support. These relationships included turning a blind eye to illegal cross-border trade, from which the rebels profited, and logging deals between the rebels and Thai companies.
After the SLORC took power in 1988, it began to open up the economy and offered Thai companies direct access to logging and fishing contracts, and the attitudes of some sectors of the Thai administration towards the rebels began to change. Throughout 1993, the economic relationship between the SLORC and the Royal Thai Government continued to improve, and pressure by Thai authorities on the political wings of the ethnic minority rebel groups steadily increased: their economic base, taxes on the illegal trade between Thailand and Burma, was eroded as Thailand facilitated the capture of key routes by the Tatmadaw; their offices in Bangkok and other cities were closed; their ability to travel both within Thailand and to countries abroad was stopped.
The refugees were caught up in these developments. On January 8, 1994, Khachatphai Burutphat, Deputy Secretary General of the Thai National Security Council said, "Under the original plan these people [Burmese refugees] will be sent back to Burma once the situation has improved and there is no fighting...In order to promptly control these refugees, concerned authorities would form an apparatus in order to oversee these people. At the beginning, strict action will be taken against them." Behind Khachatphai's statement was the prospect of cease-fire negotiations between the SLORC and the Karen, Karenni and Mon rebels. The SLORC has signed cease-fire agreements with twelve ethnic groups since 1989, most notably with the Kachin Independence Organization in February 1994. Since then, Thailand has pressed rebels based along its border to negotiate with SLORC. The Thai National Security Council, which appears to be directing Thailand's Burma policy, considers that an end to the civil war in Burma will favor Thai commercial and security interests and help stem the increasing flow of Burmese refugees into Thailand.
It must be remembered, however, that while thirteen groups have signed cease-fires, a further six ethnic groups and the Burman students who took up arms after 1988 remain at war with the SLORC. On the Thai border, the largest of these groups is the Karen National Union. They have refused to enter into talks without international monitors in a neutral zone, while talks with the Mon have been stalled since July 1994, when it became clear that the SLORC would not allow for discussion of anything other than military issues. One of the issues which the Mon wished to address was the access to repatriated refugees by international humanitarian NGOs.
In addition, abuses not related to military conflict continue to play a major part in pushing the refugees into Thailand. In such circumstances, it cannot be assumed that a cease-fire negotiation will ensure the safe return of refugees.
To facilitate the repatriation of Burmese, a Thai/Burmese Regional Border Committee was formed in 1993. The committee was also to assist in other border problems: fishing rights, illegal logging (in Burma), tourism, narcotics and "prevention of disputes over unclear borderlines and promotion of good mutual understanding". At an April 29, 1994 meeting, Thailand agreed to "arrest 'terrorists' traveling on false passports through Bangkok" and in return it agreed to "open a check point to take back" the 300,000 Burmese illegal immigrants in Thailand, "if it could be proven that they were Burmese citizens," according to Thai Defense Minister Vijit Sookmark. At an August 7 meeting of the committee the Burmese "asked the Thais to provide an advance list of names of the returnees." This was a particularly disturbing development since name lists given to the Burmese government in the absence of other safeguards could lead to increased persecution of the refugees and their families.
While it is believed that the "students" would not be among those returned in this way, Human Rights Watch remains concerned about many individuals in the refugee camps who could be identified by the SLORC as dissidents or supporters of the armed opposition. These people would almost certainly be arrested in Burma. In effect, under the terms of these agreements, the Thai authorities would be in danger of repeating the gross abuses of the Tak repatriation in 1989 in which some 350 students were sent back to Burma under guarantees by Thailand and Burma that they would not face persecution if they returned. An unknown number were arrested when they returned to Burma, including at least eleven young men who received eighteen- and twenty-year prison sentences.
and disturbing addition to the Thai policy has been to prevent new arrivals
from entering the country. In April,
over 3,000 refugees from the
report has documented systematic violations of internationally recognized human
rights committed by both the Burmese and Thai governments against the Mon. In Burma, arbitrary arrests, torture and in
some cases extrajudicial executions of persons suspected of being rebel
sympathizers continued in 1994, in contravention of the basic right to life,
and Articles 5 and 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concerning
torture and arbitrary arrest. The
violations also contravene Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions which
bans under any circumstance in a situation of armed conflict the use of torture
or extrajudicial killing. The SLORC
became a signatory, with no reservations, to the Geneva Conventions on August
22, 1992. At a signing ceremony in
The arrest of villagers in the Mon State who were unable to pay the high rates of taxation demanded by the army was in violation of Article 11 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights which states that, "No one shall be imprisoned merely on the ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation."
Whole villages were also forced to move to new sites near army bases, in violation of international customary law and the basic human rights standards of the United Nations. The SLORC claim that some of the relocations are undertaken for military reasons, but the practice clearly violates minimum standards for the treatment of civilian populations contained in the Geneva Conventions and accompanying Protocols. Article 17 of Protocol II (1977) states that, "The displacement of the civilian population shall not be ordered for reasons related to the conflict unless the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand." The International Committee of the Red Cross, in their Commentary on the Additional Protocols, clarified this statement to the effect that, "Clearly, imperative military reasons cannot be justified by political motives. For example, it would be prohibited to move a civilian population in order to exercise more effective control over a dissident ethnic group."
The practice of forced relocations for economic reasons, as practiced by the Burmese military, also contravenes international standards. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 12, for example, states, "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home..." and Article 17 (2) states, "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property." More recently, the UN Commission on Human Rights resolution 1993/77, entitled "Forced Evictions" states, "The Commission on Human Rights...affirms that the practice of forced evictions constitutes a gross violation of human rights; ...urges governments to undertake immediate measures, at all levels, aimed at eliminating the practice of forced evictions...; recommends that all governments provide immediate restitution, compensation and/or appropriate and sufficient alternative accommodation or land...to persons or communities that have been forcibly evicted."
The practice of forced labor violates several International Labor Office Conventions which Burma ratified in 1930, including Convention No.29 "Concerning Forced Labor." Under the terms of this convention, Burma is obliged "to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labor in all its forms within the shortest possible period." Article 10 of the convention states, "Forced or compulsory labor exacted as a tax and forced or compulsory labor to which recourse is had for the execution of public works by chiefs who exercise administrative functions shall be progressively abolished." (our emphasis). In the case of such work, until its abolition (and Burma has had over sixty years to abolish it) the administrators must ensure;
(a) That the work to be done or the service to be rendered is of important direct interest for the community called upon to do the work..
(b) That the work or service is of present imminent necessity
(c) That the work or service will not lay too heavy a burden upon the present population
(d) That the work or service will not entail the removal of the workers from their place of habitual residence
(e) That the execution of the work or the rendering of the service will be directed in accordance with the exigencies of religion, social life and agriculture.
In a speech to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in January 1994, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions said the conditions of forced labor in Burma were "in flagrant violation of ILO Conventions 29 and 105 concerning forced labor."
who escaped these abuses by fleeing to Thailand faced further persecution and
human rights violations there. In
violation of the common international standards set out in the U.N. Convention
Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which
Mon who have been unable to apply for asylum and unable to live with the
prevailing human rights abuses in
Following arrest, the workers are held in inhuman conditions in immigration detention centers and regular police cells for periods of one month or more. During detention, women are subject to sexual abuse by Thai officials. These practices violate international standards concerning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment during detention.
Finally, the practice of mass deportation through Halockhani camp was in violation both of standards of treatment of persons in detention and of Article 22 of the UN International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families which states, "Migrant workers and members of their families shall not be subject to collective expulsion. Each case of expulsion shall be examined and decided individually."
In June 1994, following a UNHCR official fact-finding tour to the Thai/Burmese border, the Bangkok representative of UNHCR, Ruprecht von Arnim, said, "[T]his Office has determined that a durable solution for the Myanmar refugee in Thailand could only be envisaged as a result of agreements between the Myanmar authorities and the various groups concerned, which would ensure the voluntary repatriation of the refugee in conditions of safety and dignity to their country of origin....The Office recognized that the process could be lengthy and require both effort and patience on the part of all those concerned. UNHCR also informed of its willingness [sic] to both monitor and assist in any voluntary repatriation operation that could eventually take place, once all elements are in place to allow for such an operation."
situation for Mon seeking asylum or work in
To the State Law and Order Restoration Council
To the Government of
To the International Community
Human Rights Watch/Asia (formerly
Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization
established in 1978 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized
human rights in
 At the end of the 1994, mid-level representatives
from several governments visited
 These include military cease-fire agreements with some armed opposition groups, and two meetings between democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and SLORC leaders. See Human Rights Watch/Asia, "Human Rights in the APEC region: 1994," Vol.6, No.13 (New York: Human Rights Watch, November 1994) p.7.
report is based on interviews with refugees and relief workers in
 Prof. Yokota, "Addendum to the interim report on
the situation of human rights in
 To estimate ethnic populations in
 The NMSP was founded in 1958 and is a member of the ethnic alliance, the National Democratic Front.
 Amnesty International, "Burma: Extrajudicial Execution and Torture of members of ethnic minorities," ASA 16/05/88, (London: Amnesty International, May 1988); Prof. Yokota, "Report on the situation of human rights in Myanmar," E/CN.4/1993/37 (Geneva: U.N. Commission on Human Rights, February 1993); Amnesty International, "Myanmar: The climate of fear continues," ASA 16/06/93 (London: Amnesty International, October 1993).
 "Statement by Foreign Minister U Ohn Gyaw in the General Debate at the Forty-ninth Session of the United Nations General Assembly" (New York: Union of Myanmar Mission to the United Nations, October 11, 1994) p.12.
 Nigel Rodley, "Report of the Special Rapporteur," E/CN.4/1994/31 (Geneva: U. N. Commission on Human Rights, January 6, 1994) p.85.
 The official rate of exchange is 6K=$1, however, the unofficial rate is as much as 120K=$1. In this report the exchange rate used is that of the government's Foreign Exchange Certificates 100K=$1.
 See, for example, Asia Watch, "Human Rights in
 Martin Smith, "Humanitarian and development aid
 Amnesty International, "No Law At All," p.24.
Brunnstrom, "Slaves of new
 Amnesty International, "No Law At All," p.25.
 Prof. Yozo Yokota, "Interim report on the
situation of human rights in
 "Junta leader defends forced labor," United
ganged villagers flee to the border," The Nation, (
 Village headmen and local council officials in
 Land ownership is a murky area of Burmese law. As in
many socialist states,
 Union of Myanmar, "Rebuttals of the Allegations
made in the Report on the Situation of
Human Rights in
 In its response to questions from the U.N.
special rapporteur to
 Radio Burma, quoted in the BBC Summary of
World Broadcasts, (
 The BBC is a member of the Committee for the
Coordination of Services to Displaced Persons in Thailand (CCSPDT) a coalition
of nongovernmental organizations (NGO) formed in 1984 primarily to deliver aid
to refugees from
 The MNRC is a committee of Mon, initially allied to the NMSP but increasingly attempting to distance itself from them, which administers all aid from the BBC and other NGOs.
"Refugees and the Environment," Refugee Participation Network
 "Pushed to the Edge", The Nation,
 In their response to questions from the U.N. special rapporteur to
 Maj. Gen. Chalong Chotikakham, quoted in "Army denies Mon fleeing rights
abuse," The Nation,
 "Troops order Mon refugees to return to
camp," The Nation,
 "UNHCR seeks halt to planned expulsion of
Mon refugees," The Nation,
 "Army insists Mon refugees must return to
cops held for trying to rape refugees," Bangkok Post,
military defends repatriation of
 Paul Sherer, "Pact is
signed for $1 billion
 See James Fahn,
"Thai-Burma pipeline raises concern," The Nation,
 Paul Sherer, "Pact is signed..."
 Tunya Sukpanich,
"Illegal alien workers swarming into
 See Asia Watch and Women's Rights Project, A Modern
form of Slavery: Trafficking of Burmese
Women and Girls into Brothels in
 "Rising Burmese influx causes alarm," Bangkok
 The Nation, January 19 and
 See among
others, "Dilemma over Burmese labor," The Nation,
answer to labor woes," The Nation, Editorial,
 See Amnesty International, "
 "Illegal workers" arrested in
 This incident took place in May 1994. The NGO requested anonymity.
 Rodney Tasker, "Last
Refuge," Far Eastern Economic Review,
 There were similar crack-downs on Burmese students in
 Radio Thailand Network, quoted in BBC Summary
of World Broadcasts,
 These are: The Karen National Union (some 3,500 men under arms); the New Mon State Army (some 800-1,000 men); Khun Sa's Mong Tai Army (18,000 men) in the Shan State; the Rohingya Solidarity Organization and Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (some 500 men between them)on the Bangladesh border; and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland on the Indian border (some 1,000 men); and the All Burma Students' Democratic Front on the Thai border and in the Kachin State (some 2,000 men).
 The SLORC has offered the Mon twelve small,
disconnected "rings" of territory.
It has refused to discuss issues such as Mon participation in the
political process and cultural rights. It has also refused to discuss
international NGO access to the
 Delegates to the Regional Committee are mainly
military. the head of the SLORC delegation is Southeastern Commander Colonel Khet Sein (whose area of command includes
 Lt. Gen. Chetha Thanacharo, Radio
 "Talks Planned on Repatriation,"
"Student" is used to describe all political dissidents who
 See The War is Growing Worse and Worse US Committee for Refugees, (Washington: USCR, May 1990).
 ICRC, Commentary on Additional Protocols of 1977 (Geneva: Martinus Nitjhoff, 1987), p.1472.
 U.N. Commission on Human Rights, resolution E/1993/77, (Geneva: UNCHR, March 10, 1993).
 ICFTU, "Speech by the representative of the ICFTU", (Brussels: Conference of the ICFTU, January 31, 1994).
 This convention was adopted on
Human Rights Watch/Asia, A Modern Form of Slavery and Amnesty International,"
 Gen. Charan Kullavanich, "Statement at 45th Session of the
Executive Committee of the Programme of the UNHCR",
 Liz Claiborne Inc., recently announced that they would
no longer be using factories in