Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,
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
into deep economic decline, is believed by many to continue to
wield considerable influence. The judiciary is not independent of
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.
an estimated $200 to $300 per year on a cash basis or about $600
to $800 on a purchasing power parity basis. Primarily an
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
year's end, about 33,000 remained in camps across the border.
An estimated 10,000 new asylum seekers entered
year. A few thousand students and dissidents remained in exile in
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.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS</b>
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.
As in previous years, private citizens and political activists
continued to "disappear" 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
solitary confinement, use of dirt-floored "doggie
cells." 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
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 "knowingly disseminating false
information." 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 "subversive" 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
3 years' imprisonment for selling videotapes of NLD weekend
rallies; two comedians from
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 "undermine national stability" 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
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
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
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 "Visit
Myanmar Year 1996," 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
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
"consultations" 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 "under
acknowledgement of allegiance" 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
"inaccurate, intrusive, and politically motivated." 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
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 "safer" 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.
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
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 "self-administration,"
which the authorities plan to accord to a few groups under the
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
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 "special paragraph" 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
"contributions," 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 "contributions" 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