U.S. Department of State


Burma Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996


Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,

January 30, 1997.


Burma continued to be ruled by a highly authoritarian military

regime widely condemned for its serious human rights abuses. The

military Government, known as the State Law and Order Restoration

Council (SLORC), headed by armed forces commander General Than

Shwe and composed of top military officers, seized power in

September 1988 after harshly suppressing massive prodemocracy

demonstrations. Retired dictator General Ne Win, whose

idiosyncratic policies had isolated Burma and driven the country

into deep economic decline, is believed by many to continue to

wield considerable influence. The judiciary is not independent of

the executive.


The SLORC permitted a relatively free election in 1990, but it

failed to honor the results--which were an overwhelming rejection

of military rule--nor to cede power to the victorious

prodemocracy forces. Instead, the SLORC attacked the coalition of

winning parties and their leaders through intimidation,

detention, and house arrest. In January 1993, the SLORC

established the "National Convention," a body

ostensibly tasked with drafting a new constitution.

Overwhelmingly made up of delegates handpicked by the military

forces, the SLORC has carefully stage-managed the Convention's

proceedings and ignored even limited opposition views. Despite

having no legal mandate, the SLORC appears determined to draft a

constitution that would ensure a dominant role for the military

forces in the country's future political structure.


The Government reinforces its rule via a pervasive security

apparatus led by military intelligence, the Directorate of

Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI). Control is buttressed by

selective restrictions on contact by citizens with foreigners,

surveillance of government employees and other private citizens,

harassment of political activists, intimidation, arrest,

detention, and physical abuse. The Government justifies its

security measures as necessary to maintain order and national

unity, although most major insurgent groups have reached

accommodation with the SLORC in recent years. Members of the

security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses.


Burma is a poor country, with an average per capita income of

an estimated $200 to $300 per year on a cash basis or about $600


to $800 on a purchasing power parity basis. Primarily an

agricultural country, Burma also has substantial mineral,

fishing, and timber resources. Since 1988 the Government has

partly opened the economy to permit expansion of the private

sector and to attract foreign investment. Some economic

improvement has ensued, but major obstacles to economic reform

persist. These include extensive overt and covert state

involvement in economic activity, excessive state monopolization

of leading exports, a bloated bureaucracy prone to arbitrary and

opaque governance, poor human and physical infrastructure, and

disproportionately large military spending.


The Government's severe repression of human rights increased

during 1996, even as increased economic activity fostered the

appearance of greater normalcy. Out of sight of most visitors,

citizens continued to live subject at any time and without appeal

to the arbitrary and sometimes brutal dictates of the military

dictatorship. Citizens do not have the right to change their

government. There continued to be credible reports, particularly

from ethnic minority-dominated areas, that soldiers committed

serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killing and

rape. Disappearances continued, and members of the security

forces beat and otherwise abused detainees. Prison conditions

remained harsh. Arbitrary arrests and detentions continued for

expression of dissenting political views. Several hundred, if not

more, political prisoners remained in detention, including

approximately 20 Members of Parliament (M.P.'s) elected in 1990.

The judiciary is subject to executive influence, and the

Government infringes on citizens' rights to privacy.


The SLORC intensified restrictions on basic rights to free

speech, press, assembly, and association. Political party

activity remained severely restricted. Although the authorities

recognize the chief opposition party, the National League for

Democracy (NLD), as a legal entity, they detained more than 260

NLD M.P.'s elected in 1990 in connection with the Party's

Convention in May. While most were released shortly thereafter,

seven remain in custody. The SLORC's relentless harassment of the

NLD continued with the arrest in August and later conviction of

26 NLD activists on charges of spreading disinformation and

threatening the stability of the State. In September the SLORC

again prevented the NLD from holding its first All-Burma Congress

and detained more than 560 NLD members and supporters, most of

whom they released after questioning. In December, in the wake of

student demonstrations, the SLORC detained more than 200 NLD

activists and supporters whom they accused of aiding and abetting

the student protests. At year's end, more than 147 NLD activists

and supporters who had been arrested during the year remained in



The SLORC restricted the political activities of opposition

leader Aung San Suu Kyi (it held her under house arrest from 1989

until July 1995). Beginning in late September, it prevented her

from addressing public gatherings of her supporters, and confined

her to her compound from December 6 to December 29.


Although more than 220,000 Rohingyas, Burmese Muslims from

Arakan state, who fled to Bangladesh in 1992 had returned by

year's end, about 33,000 remained in camps across the border.


An estimated 10,000 new asylum seekers entered Bangladesh this

year. A few thousand students and dissidents remained in exile in

Thailand. Approximately 90,000 citizens were residing in ethnic

minority camps along the Thai-Burma border, among these thousands

of new arrivals driven out by army attacks in the areas

controlled by the Karen and Karenni ethnic minorities.

Discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, violence

against women, and child prostitution remained problems.


The Government restricts worker rights and uses forced labor.

The use of porters by the army--with attendant mistreatment,

illness, and even death for those compelled to serve--remained a

common practice. The military authorities continued to force

ordinary citizens (including women and children) to

"contribute" their labor on a massive scale, often

under harsh working conditions, on construction projects

throughout the country. During the year, the military began using

soldiers instead of civilians at certain infrastructure projects,

following the issuance of directives in 1995 to end the practice

of forced civilian labor. Child labor is also a problem.


The SLORC has given no sign of willingness to cede its hold on

absolute power. The generals have continued to refuse to

negotiate with prodemocracy forces and ethnic groups for a

genuine political settlement to allow a return to the rule of law

and respect for basic human rights.




Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person,

Including Freedom from:</b>


a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing


There was no evidence of an explicit or systematic government

policy encouraging summary killings. However, there continued to

be credible reports of instances of brutality and killings of

civilians by the military, particularly in areas dominated by

ethnic minorities and among those impressed as porters. The

Government's general disregard for human rights has created a

climate clearly conducive to such abuses.


b. Disappearance


As in previous years, private citizens and political activists

continued to &quot;disappear&quot; temporarily, for periods

ranging from several hours to several weeks. DDSI officials

usually apprehended individuals for questioning without the

knowledge of their family members. In many, though not all, cases

they released them soon afterward. At the same time, large

numbers of people continued to be conscripted by the military for



porterage or other duties, often without the knowledge of

their family members. The whereabouts of those conscripted, as

well as of prisoners transferred for labor or porterage duties,

remained difficult to determine (see Sections 1.g. and 6.c.).


c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or



Political detainees continued to be held incommunicado for

long periods. The authorities routinely subjected detainees to

harsh interrogation techniques designed to intimidate and

disorient. The most common forms of mistreatment were sleep and

food deprivation, coupled with round-the-clock questioning; some

detainees were also kicked and beaten. In recent years, there

have been credible reports that prisoners were forced to squat or

assume unnatural positions for lengthy periods.


There continued to be credible reports that security forces

subjected ordinary citizens to harassment and physical abuse. The

military forces routinely confiscated property, cash and food,

and used coercive and abusive recruitment methods to procure

porters. Those forced into porterage or other duties faced

extremely difficult conditions and mistreatment that sometimes

resulted in death. There were many reports that soldiers raped

women who were members of ethnic minorities.


Prison conditions are harsh. The regimen at Insein prison near

Rangoon remained extremely harsh, including widespread use of

solitary confinement, use of dirt-floored &quot;doggie

cells.&quot; It also involves little or no exercise, no mosquito

nets, no reading or writing materials for many prisoners, poor

nutrition, and inadequate medical care. A handful of prominent

political prisoners were housed in separate bungalow

accommodations on the prison compound. Most prisoners were

permitted to receive medicine as well as supplemental food

brought by their families during the 15-minute visits permitted

every 2 weeks.


Conditions for political prisoners were reliably reported to

be much worse at some upcountry prisons. NLD M.P.-elect, U Hla

Than, a political prisoner serving a 20-year sentence in Insein,

died on August 2, after being transferred from the prison to

Rangoon General Hospital with a terminal illness. His family had

sought permission to allow him to die at home, but the Government

insisted that he renounce his mandate as an NLD parliamentarian,

a condition that the family and the Party rejected. His family at

first understood that Hla Than died of tuberculosis, but later

the Government said that he had died of AIDS. Responding to

foreign journalists at a press conference in September, the

Government asserted that Hla Than had been well-cared for in

prison, but that the AIDS diagnosis had only been made in July.

It is clear that Hla Than did not receive proper medical

treatment throughout his illness because the Government had made

the AIDS diagnosis too late.


d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile


There is no provision in the law for judicial determination of

the legality of detention. The SLORC routinely practiced

arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention. Prior to being

charged, detainees rarely have access to legal counsel or their

families, and political detainees have no opportunity to obtain

release on bail.


With the increase in political activism in the wake of Aung

San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest in July 1995, the number

of cases of arbitrary arrest and detention increased. The most

egregious cases involved the detention during the week of May 19

of approximately 260 NLD M.P.'s-elect in conjunction with the

Party's May 26-28 convention. Although all but a few are believed

to have been released, elected M.P.'s in the group have been

subjected by the SLORC to intense pressure to relinquish their

electoral mandates. As of year's end, 25 had done so, primarily

as the result of threats against their family members or business

interests. Again in September, the SLORC cracked down on the NLD,

arresting more than 560 NLD activists and supporters to prevent

the convening of its first All-Burma Congress. Although the SLORC

claims to have released all those detained, the NLD believes that

many persons remain in detention. Yet again in December, in the

wake of student demonstrations, the SLORC detained more than 200

activists, supporters, and others, in addition to at least 263

students whom they had detained and released, and whom they

accused of aiding and abetting the student protests. Authorities

confined Aung San Suu Kyi to her compound from December 6 to

December 29. Since mid-December, she has been severely restricted

in her ability to receive visitors.


The number of NLD members and activists arrested since May 19

and still in detention at the end of the year totaled at least

147, including at least 17 M.P.`s-elect. None of those arrested

can reasonably be considered to have engaged in activities

violently threatening to the State. U Win Htein, Aung San Suu

Kyi's personal secretary, was arrested in June (along with two

other NLD activists) and sentenced on August 15 to a 7-year

prison term for &quot;knowingly disseminating false

information.&quot; The charges related to statements made by him

on an Australian television program earlier in the year. On

August 26, he was sentenced to an additional 7 years for

undermining the economy by having assisted in the production of a

videotape of rice fields in the Delta region.


In June, 19 NLD activists--including two M.P.'s-elect from

Mandalay-Sagaing, and Chin state--were arrested on charges of

possessing &quot;subversive&quot; literature on passive

resistance. The 19 were each sentenced to 7 years in prison.


The SLORC was prepared to go to considerable lengths in its

campaign to harass and intimidate the NLD. For example, in March

a party benefactor from Mandalay, Sein Hla Aung, was sentenced to

3 years' imprisonment for selling videotapes of NLD weekend

rallies; two comedians from Mandalay, Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw, who

performed skits critical of the SLORC on the Nobel Laureate's

compound, were sentenced along with two others to 7-years'

imprisonment; and Leo Nichols, a friend and benefactor of Aung

San Suu Kyi, was arrested in April for possessing unauthorized

telephones and a facsimile machine. He received a maximum 3-year

sentence, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on June 22 while in

custody, and died a few hours later in Rangoon General Hospital.

The harsh treatment he received in prison almost certainly

hastened his death.


Forced exile is not used as a method of political control.

However, in 1990, when the SLORC refused to recognize the results

of the elections and pressured successful candidates to resign,

some of them responded by going into exile.


e. Denial of Fair Public Trial


The judiciary is not independent of the executive. The SLORC

names justices to the Supreme Court who, in turn, appoint lower

court judges with the approval of the SLORC. Pervasive corruption

further serves to undermine the impartiality of the justice



The court system, as inherited from the United Kingdom and

subsequently restructured, comprises courts at the township,

district, state, and national levels.


Throughout the year, the Government continued to rule by

decree and was not bound by any constitutional provisions

guaranteeing fair public trials or any other rights. Although

remnants of the British-era legal system were formally in place,

the court system and its operation remained seriously flawed.

Particularly in the handling of political cases, ongoing

unprofessional behavior by some court officials, the misuse of

overly broad laws, and the manipulation of the courts for

political ends continued to deprive citizens of the right to a

fair trial and the rule of law.


Some basic due process rights, including the rights to a

public trial and to be represented by a defense attorney, were

generally respected except in sensitive political cases. Defense

attorneys are permitted to call and cross-examine witnesses, but

their primary role is to bargain with the judge to obtain the

least severe possible sentence for their clients. Most court

proceedings are open to the public. However, in political cases,

trials are held in courtrooms located in prison compounds and are

not open to the public. In these instances, defense counsel

appears to serve no other purpose than to provide moral support,

since reliable reports indicate that verdicts are dictated by

higher authorities. In the case of Win Htein, defense counsel was

prevented from attending his trials because the authorities

withheld permission.


In contrast with past years, there have been virtually no

publicly announced releases of prisoners believed to be held for

political reasons. To date, only one such announcement involving

four persons appeared in the press. At year's end, at least

several hundred--if not many more--political prisoners remained



f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, and



Military authorities ruled unchecked by any outside authority,

and the State continued to interfere extensively and arbitrarily

with the lives of private citizens. Through its extensive

intelligence network, the Government closely monitored the

travel, whereabouts, and activities of many citizens,

particularly those believed to be politically active. Security

personnel selectively screened private correspondence and

telephone calls and conducted warrantless searches of private

premises. At times the Government attempted to jam foreign radio

broadcasts, and private citizens were generally unable to

subscribe directly to foreign publications (see Section 2.a.).

Government employees were required to obtain advance permission

before meeting with foreigners.


The SLORC continued to move citizens out of cities to

peripheral new town settlements, though not on the same scale as

in the early 1990's. While facilities in some of these areas have

improved over time, residents targeted for displacement continued

to be given no option but to move, usually on short notice. In

Hlaing Thaya township near Rangoon, residents were relocated

again after having been moved in 1992. The military forces also

continued to relocate by force hundreds of rural villages,

especially in ethnic minority areas. Approximately 30,000 Karenni

were displaced, as were tens of thousands of Shan villagers.


Those in established cities and towns were subject to

arbitrary seizure of their property. In a number of urban areas,

residents were compelled to cede land for road-widening


projects decided upon without any public consultation nor

endorsement. Other long-term city residents were required to cede

land for commercial redevelopment and were compensated at only a

fraction of the value of their lost homes. In rural areas,

military personnel at times confiscated livestock and food

supplies. Even the resting places of the dead were not spared as

the Government took over several cemeteries for development and

gave families only a few weeks to relocate their ancestors'



g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law

in Internal Conflicts


For more than four decades the army has battled diverse ethnic

insurgencies. These ethnic minority insurgent groups have sought

to gain greater autonomy from the dominant ethnic Burman

majority. In 1989 the SLORC began a policy of seeking cease-fire

agreements with most ethnic insurgent groups along the borders.

In late 1995, government troops attempted to move into

Karenni-held areas of Kayah state, leading to the breakdown of

the cease-fire with the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP)

that the SLORC had negotiated in June 1995.


In January the army began an offensive against the KNPP, which

continued throughout the year. In June the military forcibly

relocated 96 Karenni villages having an estimated population of

20,000 to 30,000 as part of its campaign to deny the guerrillas

local support. Also in January, the SLORC negotiated a cease-fire

with alleged drug trafficker Khun Sa and his Mong Tai Army.

Although the cease-fire succeeded in breaking up the majority of

Khun Sa's forces, dissident elements continued to fight the

Government, which prompted a campaign of relocation against the

Shan people. As many as 50,000 persons may have been forced to

move from their villages.


In conjunction with the military's campaigns against the

Karen, Karenni, and the remnants of Khun Sa's Mong Tai Army, it

was standard practice for the military authorities to coerce

thousands of civilians living in jungle areas in or near combat

zones into working as porters. There were also many reports that

soldiers raped female members of ethnic minorities. In the

regions controlled by insurgent groups involved in the illegal

narcotics trade, civilians were reliably reported to have been

subjected by the army to forced labor as well.


Antigovernment insurgent groups were also responsible for

violence, including the use of mines, causing both civilian and

military deaths.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:</b>


a. Freedom of Speech and Press


The Government continued to impose severe restrictions on

freedom of speech and the press. The security services continued

to repress those attempting to express opposition political

views, and many more refrained from speaking out for fear of

arrest and interrogation. The major exceptions were Aung San Suu

Kyi and NLD vice-chairmen Tin Oo and Kyi Maung, who gave speeches

every weekend in front of Aung San Suu Kyi's residence to those

willing to risk being detained by military intelligence

authorities. However, in September the authorities prohibited the

weekend speeches as part of the Government's campaign to prevent

the NLD from holding its Party Congress. The barriers in front of

Aung San Suu Kyi's house remained in place, and the weekend

speeches were barred at year's end.


All forms of domestic public media were officially controlled

and/or censored. This strict control in turn encouraged

self-censorship on the part of writers and publishers. Private

citizens were generally unable to subscribe directly to foreign

publications, but a limited selection of foreign newspapers could

be purchased in a few hotels in Rangoon. A limited supply of

secondhand copies of international news magazines and a sizable

number of private publications on nonpolitical issues were

available to the public, but censors frequently banned issues or

deleted articles deemed unwelcome by the Government.


The government-monopoly television, radio, and newspaper media

remained propaganda instruments. With the exception of reporting

on some limited aspects of the National Convention, these

official media did not report opposing views except to criticize

them. Editors remained answerable to military authorities. While

the English-language daily New Light of Myanmar continued to

include many international wire service reports of foreign news,

domestic news hewed strictly to and reinforced government policy.



Many foreign journalists, including television crews, were

able to visit and report on developments, though the Government

sometimes restricted and monitored their movements. At the same

time, it denied visas to other journalists, or their issuance was

so delayed as to render a planned visit impossible. It harassed

journalists during the abortive September NLD Party Congress and

subsequently during student demonstrations.


Foreign radio broadcasts, such as those of the British

Broadcasting Corporation, Voice of America, and Norway-based

Democratic Voice of Burma, remained prime sources of uncensored

information. The authorities at times attempted to jam or

otherwise interfere with the reception of these broadcasts (see

Section 1.f.). The Government allowed some official foreign news

services to conduct a range of programs.


The authorities continued to restrict the reception of

satellite television broadcasts. Penalties of up to 3 years'

imprisonment for operation of an unlicensed satellite television

receiver can be imposed. Licenses, however, were almost

impossible to obtain by ordinary citizens.


During the year, the Government issued a series of Orwellian

decrees designed to strengthen its control over all forms of

political expression and its citizens' access to information. In

June the SLORC issued Order 5/96, which prohibited speeches or

statements that &quot;undermine national stability&quot; as well

as the drafting of alternative constitutions. In July the

Government amended the television and video law to impose

additional restrictions and stiffer penalties on the distribution

of videotapes not approved by the censor. In September the

Government decreed that all privately owned computers, software,

and associated telecommunications devices would be subject to

government registration. The law required government permission

for all communications by computer.


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, or

meeting foreigners. Teachers continued to be held responsible for

propagating SLORC political goals among their students and for

maintaining discipline and preventing students from engaging in

any unauthorized political activity.


b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association


The Government does not respect these rights. The Government's

prohibition on unauthorized outdoor assemblies of more than 5

people remained in effect, albeit unevenly enforced. For example,

3,000 to 4,000 persons regularly gathered in front of Aung San

Suu Kyi's residence to listen to her speak at weekly talks until

authorities stopped the speeches in September. At the time when

the Government prevented the NLD Congress, it also erected

barricades at her residence and imposed additional restrictions

on her freedom to leave the premises. Aung San Suu Kyi has been

unable to speak to the public since September, except briefly on

two occasions.


The Government curtailed student demonstrations in December.

It did, however, permit students to demonstrate for several days

early in the month. Riot police eventually curtailed the

demonstrations, using water cannons and batons. After detaining

and releasing hundreds of students, the Government closed the

universities to prevent further demonstrations.


Legal political parties remained formally required to request

permission from the authorities to hold internal meetings of

their members, although some members still met without official

permission. These persons, like those attending Aung San Suu

Kyi's addresses, remained liable to arrest for these activities.

In the NLD's attempt to hold a Party Congress, the authorities

temporarily detained hundreds of supporters; several dozen remain

in jail. The Government's own mass mobilization organization, the

Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), continued to

hold large-scale rallies in support of government policies. In

many cases, it coerced attendance, using explicit threats of

penalties for those who contemplated staying away. Religious

groups, by contrast, sometimes encountered problems holding

outdoor gatherings.


Aside from officially sanctioned organizations such as the

USDA, the right of association existed only for the few

organizations, such as trade associations and professional

bodies, permitted by law and duly registered with the Government.

Only a handful continued to exist, and even those were subject to

direct government intervention or took special care to act in

accordance with government policy. This included such benign

organizations as the Myanmar Red Cross and the Myanmar Medical



c. Freedom of Religion


Adherents of all religions that were duly registered with the

authorities generally enjoyed freedom to worship as they chose,

although Buddhists continued to enjoy a privileged position. In

recent years, the Government made special efforts to link itself

with Buddhism as a means of asserting its own popular legitimacy.

For example, the SLORC continued its construction of two pagodas

to house a venerated Buddha tooth relic from China, which is

expected to be available for loan for periodic visits. The SLORC

also renovated the Shwedagon Pagoda to commemorate its eighth

anniversary in power.


The Government monitored the activities of members of all

religions, in part because such members have, in the past, become

politically active. The Muslim and Christian religious minorities

continued to be regarded with suspicion by authorities. Moreover,

there is a concentration of Christians among the particular

ethnic minorities against whom the army has fought for decades.

Religious publications, like secular


ones, remained subject to control and censorship. Christian

bibles translated into indigenous languages could not legally be

imported or printed. It remained extremely difficult for

Christian and Muslim groups to obtain permission to build new

churches and mosques. There were credible reports of incidents in

which the Government removed cemeteries in constructing

infrastructure projects in urban areas. In December the

Government ordered the removal of Christian, Chinese, and

Buddhist graves from the Kyandaw Cemetery in Rangoon to make way

for a planned real estate development.


Religious groups have established links with coreligionists in

other countries, although these activities were reportedly

monitored by the Government. Foreign religious representatives

were usually allowed visas only for short stays but in some cases

were permitted to preach to congregations. Permanent foreign

missionary establishments have not been permitted since the

1960's, but seven Catholic nuns and four priests working in Burma

since before independence in January 1948, continued their work.


d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel,

Emigration, and Repatriation


Although citizens have the right to live anywhere, both urban

and rural residents were subject to arbitrary relocation (see

Section l.f.). Except for limitations in areas of insurgent

activity, citizens could travel freely within the country but

were required to notify local authorities of their whereabouts.

Those residents unable to meet the restrictive provisions of the

citizenship law (e.g., Chinese, Arakanese Muslims, etc.), were

required to obtain prior permission to travel.


The Government carefully scrutinized all prospective travel

abroad, and rampant corruption resulted in many applicants having

to pay bribes to obtain passports to which they were legally

entitled. The official board that reviews passport applications

denied passports in some cases on apparent political grounds. In

January the Government began restricting the issuance of

passports to young female applicants seeking work abroad. The new

procedures are reportedly intended to prevent young women from

being enticed to travel abroad to jobs that in fact are in the

commercial sex industry. All college graduates obtaining a

passport (except for certain government employees) were required

to pay a special education clearance fee to reimburse the

Government. Citizens who emigrated legally were generally allowed

to return to visit relatives. Even some citizens who had lived

abroad illegally and acquired foreign citizenship were able to

return to visit.


In anticipation of the Government's planned &quot;Visit

Myanmar Year 1996,&quot; restrictions on foreign travelers were

eased. Burmese embassies issued tourist visas, valid for 1 month,

within 24 hours of application. However, select categories of

applicants, such as some human rights advocates and political

figures, continued to be denied entry visas unless traveling

under the aegis of a sponsor acceptable to the Government.

Although some areas of the country remained off-limits to

foreigners for security reasons, the authorities allowed travel

to most destinations.


In 1996 approximately 23,000 of the Rohingya Muslims who fled

to Bangladesh in 1992 returned to Burma, bringing the total

number of returnees to about 220,000. In comparison with 1995,

the pace of repatriation slowed, with over 30,000 still in camps

across the border at year's end. The U.N. High Commissioner for

Refugees reported that the authorities cooperated in

investigating the isolated incidents of renewed abuse that were

reported. However, returnees complained of restrictions imposed

by the Government on their ability to travel and to engage in

economic activity. Since February an estimated 10,000 new asylum

seekers entered Bangladesh to escape economic hardship and the

abusive regime.


The Government does not allow refugees or displaced persons

from abroad to resettle or seek safe haven. The Government has

not formulated a policy concerning refugees, asylees, or first

asylum, and it is not a party to the 1951 U.N. Convention or its

1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees.


Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of

Citizens to Change Their Government</b>


Despite the overwhelming desire that citizens demonstrated in

the 1990 elections for a return to democracy, they continued to

be denied the right to change their government. Despite the

appointment of several civilians to the Cabinet in 1992, the

process of placing military or recently retired military officers

in most key senior level positions in the economic ministries has



Following the NLD's victory in the 1990 elections, the SLORC

set aside the election results and disqualified, detained,

arrested, or drove into exile many successful candidates. Since

then, 216 of the 485 Deputies elected have either been

disqualified, resigned under pressure, gone into exile, been

detained, or died. An estimated 28 successful candidates from the

election remain in prison.


Rather than accept the will of the citizenry, the SLORC

convened a National Convention in January 1993 to draw up

principles for a new constitution. The SLORC handpicked most

delegates and carefully orchestrated the proceedings; even

limited opposition views were ignored. Despite having no mandate

from the people, the SLORC tasked the Convention with drafting

principles for a new constitution designed to provide a dominant

role for the military services in the future political structure.

Representatives of the SLORC leadership met with prodemocracy

leader Aung San Suu Kyi on two occasions in late 1994, but did

not engage in a genuine dialog on the country's political future.

It instead proceeded with its own controlled

&quot;consultations&quot; on a new constitution. In November

1995, the NLD delegates withdrew from the Convention pending

agreement by the authorities to discuss revising the Convention's

working procedures. Two days later they were formally expelled.

The National Convention continued its deliberations until it

adjourned in March. The specific provisions adopted to date were

designed to ensure the major involvement of the military services

in all levels of government--to the point of reserving 25 percent

of seats in the Parliament to appointed, rather than elected,

members of the military services. In addition, provisions have

been adopted prohibiting, among other things, anyone &quot;under

acknowledgement of allegiance&quot; to a foreigner or who has

received any type of assistance from a foreign source, from

participating in the Government. These provisions are apparently

designed to exclude Aung San Suu Kyi who is married to an

Englishman and who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.


Women and minorities are underrepresented in the top ranks of

government service and excluded from military leadership. Members

of certain minority groups continue to be denied full citizenship

(see Section 5).


Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International

and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human



The Government does not allow domestic human rights

organizations to exist, and it remained generally hostile to

outside scrutiny of its human rights record. During 1995 the U.N.

Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) adopted a resolution severely

criticizing the Government for the human rights situation. The

resolution was based on a report by Professor Yozo Yokota, the

UNHRC's Special Rapporteur for Burma. The Burmese representative

at the Commission in turn rejected the criticism as

&quot;inaccurate, intrusive, and politically motivated.&quot; In

keeping with the Special Rapporteur's mandate, in October 1995,

the Government permitted Professor Yokota to undertake another

survey trip to Burma, after which he delivered a highly critical

review of the human rights situation to the U.N. General

Assembly's Third Committee. In December 1995, the U.N. General

Assembly adopted another consensus resolution deploring the

continued violation of human rights in Burma. Upset by this

severe criticism, the authorities refused to meet with UNHRC

representatives during 1996. The UNHRC Commissioner, Jose Ayala

Lasso, and the new Special Rapporteur for Burma, Rajsoomer

Lallah, tried unsuccessfully to arrange visits.


Approximately 12 nonpolitical international nongovernmental

organizations (NGO's) continued project work, while a few more

established a provisional presence while undertaking the

protracted negotiations necessary to set up permanent operations

in the country.


Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,

Disability, Language, or Social Status</b>


The Government continued to rule by decree and was not bound

by any constitutional provisions concerning discrimination.




Violence against women, including spousal abuse, is

infrequent. Married couples often do not live by themselves but

rather in households with extended families, where social

pressure tends to protect the wife from abuse. Trafficking in

women and girls remains a serious problem. There were reliable

reports that many women and children in border areas, where the

Government's control is limited, were forced or lured into

working as prostitutes in Thailand. It is unknown how many young

women have been deceived into working as prostitutes, but a

common practice is to lure young women to Thailand with promises

of employment as a waitress or domestic servant (see country

report for Thailand). In addition, the military forces continued

to impress women for military porterage duties, and there were

many reports of rape of ethnic minority women by soldiers (see

Sections 1.c. and 1.g.).


In general women 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, women remained underrepresented in most

traditionally male occupations, and a few professions continued

to be entirely barred to women. The burden of poverty, which is

particularly widespread in rural areas, fell disproportionately

on women.


Women did not consistently receive equal pay for equal work.

There were no independent women's rights organizations, and no

government ministry was specifically charged with safeguarding

women's interests. The Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare

Association, a government-controlled agency, provided assistance

to mothers. A professional society for businesswomen, the Myanmar

Women Entrepreneurs' Association, formed in 1995, provided loans

to new businesses.




Despite the establishment of various child welfare programs,

the Government allocated little funding to programs that aid

children. According to government data, education's share of

central government operating expenditures continued its decline

to 12 percent in 1994-95, the latest year for which such data was

available. Although education is compulsory, almost 40 percent of

children never attend school, and almost three-fourths fail to

complete 5 years of primary education.


Child prostitution of young females forced or lured into the

commercial sex trade in Thailand continued to be a major problem.

The rising incidence of HIV infection has increased the demand

for supposedly &quot;safer&quot; younger women.


People with Disabilities


Official assistance to persons with disabilities is extremely

limited. There is no law mandating accessibility to buildings,

government facilities, or public transportation. While several

small-scale organizations have programs to assist the disabled,

most disabled persons must rely on traditional family structures

to provide for their welfare. Disabled veterans receive available

benefits on a priority basis. Because of land mine detonations,

Burma has a very high rate of amputee injuries.


National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities


Burma's myriad ethnic minorities have long resented the

dominance of the Burman majority. Members of these minorities,

largely excluded from the military leadership, have been

underrepresented in the Government. Over the last few years and

continuing in 1996, the SLORC, in the name of national

solidarity, sought to pacify ethnic groups by means of negotiated

cease-fires, grants of limited autonomy, and promises of

development assistance.


The Government included a large number of ethnic minority

representatives in the National Convention and permitted extended

debate on the issue of minority autonomy. However, the ethnic

minority populations complained that their concerns have not been

addressed adequately by the Government, and none is satisfied

with the provisions on limited &quot;self-administration,&quot;

which the authorities plan to accord to a few groups under the

new constitution.


Government investment in the border areas in road, hospital,

and school construction has been modest, and economic development

among minorities continued to lag, leaving many living at barely

subsistence levels. Since the focus of the hostilities against

armed insurgencies has been in the border areas where most

minorities are concentrated, those populations have been

disproportionately victimized by the general brutalization

associated with the military forces' activities.


Since only people who can prove long familial links to Burma

are accorded full citizenship, ethnic populations such as

Muslims, Indians, and Chinese, continued to be denied full

citizenship and to be excluded from government positions. People

without full citizenship are not free to travel domestically and

are barred from certain advanced university programs in medicine

and technological fields. Anti-Chinese and anti-Muslim sentiment

remained pervasive.


Section 6 Worker Rights


a. The Right of Association


Free trade unions do not exist, and even former

government-controlled ones were dormant. Workers continued to be

unable to strike. There were no reported instances in which

workers attempted to strike, although there was an unconfirmed

report that workers in a government jute factory on occasion

failed to come to work. 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.


Because of its longstanding violation of International Labor

Organization (ILO) Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, the

Government received unusually harsh criticism at the ILO

Conference in June where the Committee on the Application of

Standards devoted a &quot;special paragraph&quot; to Burma in its

General Report. This action followed the last minute cancellation

in May of a visit by a high-level ILO technical assistance

mission while it was en route to Rangoon at the invitation of the



b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively


Workers do not have the right to organize and bargain

collectively to set wages and benefits. The Government's Central

Arbitration Board, which theoretically provides a means for

settling major labor disputes, nominally continued to exist, but

in practice was dormant. Township-level labor supervisory

committees remained in place to address various minor labor



The Government unilaterally sets wages in the public sector.

In the private sector, wages are set by market forces. The

Government pressures joint ventures not to pay salaries greater

than those of ministers or other senior employees. Joint ventures

circumvent this with supplemental pay, including remuneration

paid in foreign 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 example of joint ventures in awarding

supplemental wages and benefits.


There are no export processing zones.


c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor


In September, following an investigation of the country's

forced labor practices, the European Union Commission proposed to

withdraw benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences. In

recent years, the Government has increasingly supplemented

declining investment with uncompensated people's

&quot;contributions,&quot; chiefly of forced labor, to build or

maintain irrigation, transportation, and tourism infrastructure



The army continued to force citizens to work as porters, which

led to mistreatment, illness, and death. Citizens, including

women and children, were forced to labor under harsh working

conditions on construction projects throughout the country (see

Sections 1.c. and 1.g.).


The Government's statistics on these contributions and

infrastructure projects suggest that the market value of these

uncompensated &quot;contributions&quot; has increased since 1992.

According to the Prison Department exhibit in the Defense

Services Museum in Rangoon, the quantity of stone quarried by

prisoners increased more than fourfold between fiscal year

1988/89 and fiscal year 1994/95.


In June 1995, the Government issued a directive prohibiting

unpaid labor in national government projects. In June 1996, the

Government introduced an initiative to use military personnel for

infrastructure projects. The scale of these initiatives and their

impact on the use of civilian forced labor have yet to be

determined. Nonetheless, there were credible reports that forced

labor continued in a variety of projects throughout the country.


During 1996 there were repeated allegations that forced labor

was used in a project to build a pipeline across the Tenasserim

Division. The preponderance of evidence indicates that the

pipeline project has paid its workers at least a market wage.


In June 1995, the ILO Conference Committee on the Application

of Standards cited Burma in a second special paragraph for its

violation of ILO Convention 29 on forced labor. In November of

this year, the governing board of the ILO took action on an

Article 26 complaint, accusing the Government of systematic use

of forced labor, which could eventually lead to the appointment

of a Commission of Inquiry on the problem.


d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children


Although the law sets a minimum age of 13 years for the

employment of children, in practice the law is not enforced.

Working children are highly visible in cities, mostly working for

small or family enterprises. Children are hired at lower pay

rates than are adults for the same kind of work, and economic

pressure forces children to work not only for their survival but

also to support their families. Arts and crafts is the only

sector producing for the export market that employs a significant

number of children. Despite a compulsory education law, almost 40

percent of children never enroll in school, and only 27 percent

complete the 5-year primary school course.


e. Acceptable Conditions of Work


Surplus labor conditions and lack of protection by government

authorities continue to dictate substandard conditions for

workers, despite recent annual economic growth of at least 5

percent. 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

public sector employees, with overtime paid for additional work.

The law also allows for a 24-hour rest period per week, and

workers have 21 paid holidays a year. Such provisions actually

affect only a small portion of the country's labor force.


Only government employees and employees of a few traditional

industries are covered by minimum wage provisions. The minimum

monthly wage for salaried public employees is $3.75 (600 kyat),

but this sum is supplemented by various subsidies and allowances.

The low level of pay in public employment fostered widespread

corruption. The government minimum wage for day labor is $0.12

(20 kyat). The minimum wage does not a provide a worker and

family with a decent standard of living. Workers in the private

sector are much better paid. The actual average wage rate for

casual laborers in Rangoon was six times the official minimum.

Wage increases continued to lag far behind inflation.


Numerous health and safety regulations exist, but in practice

the Government has not made the necessary resources available to

those charged with their enforcement. Although workers may in

principle remove themselves from hazardous conditions, in

practice workers cannot expect to retain their jobs if they do