U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
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. Nevrtheless, 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 whoattemped 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 th ohers 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 basicfredom 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
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 sgnd 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 UNCHR 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
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Although secret, extajuicial 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 jal. 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
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 declin inthe 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 retrial period. The most common forms of maltreatment during this
period were sleep and food deprivation coupled with round-the-clock
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
cauesafter 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
permite every 2 weeks.
The Government continued to bar the International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC) from visiting detainees or convicted prisoners of any
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
boundby ny 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 SLRC 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
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 he LD, 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
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 emloyees wre 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 ther se. Some foreign journalists, including television crews, continued to be granted access to the
country, but their movements and contacts were closely
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 er 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, motl 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 t us 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 urese 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 inidnts 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 source sindicated 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 Rappoteu 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 nes ad other programming from
abroad. No seizures of satellite receivers, however, were reported in
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--domesti ad 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 amoe 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 deie 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 i and arund 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. Onthe 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, inluding 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 staye aboad 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
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 passort
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 Memoradum
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
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 reios 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
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
beencoditions 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 t idicate 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 unler 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
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
deveopent among minorities continued to lag and many still live at the
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-documentd hman 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 o he 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 treatmet han 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
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
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,acording 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
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
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 unabe o regain
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 chidre 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
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