12. The Freedom of Movement, Assembly and Association
Throughout 2002 the SPDC continued to interfere with and monitor the movement of people in Burma. Similarily, the rights of assembly and association continued to be effectively denied especially in border areas, despite the release of Aung San Suu Kyi in May. There was however, a temporary and partial easing of restrictions on the NLD which briefly gave rise to climate of hope for improved conditions in the future. However, by the end of the year Aung San Suu Kyi was clearly encountering increasing and serious harassment on her political trips outside the capital.
There has been overall a notable absence of the freedoms of assembly and association throughout the period of military rule in Burma, especially since the 1988 coup and formation of the SLORC. Under the SPDC these freedoms have been further restricted, and labor unions, student unions and private civic associations are all banned. Through its extensive intelligence network and administrative procedures, the SPDC systematically monitors the travel of all citizens, especially the movements of politically active people in the country. All residents in Burma are required to carry national identity cards, showing their citizenship status, normal place of residence, date of birth, name of father, and so on. Since 1990 these cards are also required to contain information on the holders’ ethnicity and religion. All residents and citizens of Burma are required to apply for these cards, with the exception of the Muslim Rohingya minority, who are not considered citizens by the government (see chapter on minority rights for further information). As possession of these national identity cards is mandatory in order to buy train or bus tickets, to register with a local council outside one’s normal place of residence, to vote in any future election, or to enroll in institutions of higher learning, those without such cards face severe restrictions on their freedom of movement.
Citizens with proper identification are able to travel freely within the country except for limitations in areas of ethnic armed activity. However, there is the requirement that any person who spends the night at a place other than his registered domicile must inform the police in advance, and that any household that hosts a person not domiciled there must submit to the police a guest list. The name of the overnight guests must be reported to and registered with the local authorities. SPDC Order 1/90, issued on May 22, 1990 stated: "action will be taken against all those who fail to report people illegally residing in their home."
Authorities sometimes enter homes during night hours to check registration documents of occupants, as part of government efforts to monitor people’s movements. Security forces also commonly search private premises and other property without warrants. In addition, curfews have also been enforced in parts of Burma.
12.2 International Travel
Leaving the country legally requires the possession of specific government authorization, which it is extremely difficult to obtain. The SPDC carefully scrutinizes prospective travel abroad. This produces rampant corruption as many applicants are forced to pay large bribes to obtain passports to which they are otherwise entitled. The official board that reviews passport applications denies applicants in some cases soley on political grounds. All college and higher education graduates who obtain passports (except for certain government employees) are required to pay a specific education clearance fee to reimburse the government for the cost of their education. The authorities on occasion restrict the issuance of passports to young women applicants seeking work abroad, reportedly to prevent young women from being enticed to travel abroad for jobs in the commercial sex industry. Burmese citizens are required to return their passports to the authorities each time they re-enter the country, and a new passport application must be submitted each time they want to travel outside the country.
In August 2002, new Burmese passports were to be issued with a microchip embedded in them which carries identifying information about the passport holder. This innovation would not be noteworthy were it not for the authoritarian nature of the regime and the opportunities this presents for increased surveillance. UN special envoy Razali Ismail, part owner of Iris corporation which won the contract to install the new system, dismissed such concerns. He said, "Must you think of things in such sinister terms? Anyway, it’s only for those people who want to travel outside. In most cases, those will be government people." (Source: BBC / The Washington Times August 15, 2002)
12.3 Restrictions on the Movement of Women
As part of a programme to prevent young women from being trafficked into the sex industry in neighbouring Thailand and China, measures were established in 2002 to prevent the movement of young women into these countries. "Authorities from the SPDC set up human trafficking prevention committees in all states and divisions. These committees are set up even at ward and village levels in eastern and southern Shan State regions. Once the committees are formed they are ordered to collect data about young men and women between the ages of 16 and 25. These committees are thoroughly checking people travelling to the border areas, and if they suspect any young woman, her parents are summoned and told to escort their daughter back home." (Source: DVB, 19 December 2002)
Despite these restrictive measures, hundreds of thousands of young Burmese people very often have no option but to travel to neighbouring countries in order to simply make a living.
12.4 Restriction on Movement of Migrant Workers to Thailand
From May to September 2002, the border with Thailand was closed. As many Burmese people rely on Thailand to obtain such basic neccessities as an income and health care this caused great hardship. In Tachelik, opposite Mae Sai in Thailand, it was reported that Burmese caught by the SPDC authorities with wet trousers were automatically sentenced to six months imprisonment, on the assumption that they had waded across the Moei River and evaded immigration control. Those with dry trousers found loitering near the riverbank were given three months imprisonment. (Source: Irrawaddy)
On 13 October 2001, a new law came into effect which imposed harsh penalties on those seeking to leave Burma illegally. This is part of an effort by the regime to stem migration flows. Large billboards have been erected in many townships accussing those who wish to leave Burma of "fleeing the country". Checkpoints near border areas such as Myawaddy reportedly even have orders to turn back young people to stop them from migrating. Ironically, money repatriated by these workers is crucial in helping many people in Burma to survive.
As a result of a MOU (memorandum of understanding) reached with Thailand in November 2001, the SPDC agreed to establish a series of reception centers to facilitate the deportation of migrant workers back to Burma. Currently the only center to be operational is located in Myawaddy, across the border from Mae Sot, Thailand. At this center deportees go from table to table to be screened by five different state branches. These include the Ministries of Health and the Interior, the police, the immigration authorities and the army and/or DKBA. The deportees are photographed and have their fingerprints taken. These are then checked against existing files. Those who have been deported on two previous occasions are reportedly sentenced to seven years imprisonment. The remainder are transported back to their home towns, mostly at their own expence, and there made to sign a pledge to the local authorities that they will never attempt to illegally migrate again.
Returned migrants suspected of involvement in opposition groups are handed over to military intelligence for identification by former pro-democracy activists who have recently surrendered to the regime. Deportees are also subjected to a mandatory blood test without any explanation at the reception center. This test is used to check migrants for a number of communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. A number of human rights organizations have protested this mandatory HIV/AIDS testing, and the reported separation of 20 individuals who reportedly tested positive for HIV/AIDS. Such mandatory testing contravenes UN HIV Principles and Guidelines to which both Thailand and Burma are signatory.
12.5 Laws Restricting the Freedoms of Assembly and Association
The most far-reaching law prohibiting free association and assembly is Order 2/88, which SLORC issued on the day it assumed power. This law outlaws strike centers and the gathering of more then 5 people in one place. While this law has not often been enforced, there are many other laws which have. The most frequently used law is the 1907 (1957) "Unlawful Association Act" which allows for the detention of up to five years of anyone who is a member of or assists in any way an association outlawed by the regime. A number of organizations, including political parties, student unions, profession groups, religious associations, as well as armed opposition groups, have been declared illegal under this Act. This Act contravenes international human rights standards; and its incompatibility with international standards is underlined by the arbitrary, indiscriminate, and heavy-handed manner in which it is applied, usually to suppress peaceful dissent.
Order 1/90 was issued on 22 May 1990 to remind people that,"action will be taken against all those who fail to report people illegally residing in their homes."
Noting that under existing laws any person not normally residing in a house who stays for one night or more must be registered at the local township office, this order threatens to charge persons failing to do so under section 124 of the criminal code, "for failing to disclose to the authorities concerned either an act or a conspiracy that amounts to high treason."
The order was issued after two members of the ABSDF were arrested after hiding in Rangoon for some time. Another regulation, SLORC Order 1/91, issued on April 30, 1991, prohibits public servants from engaging in party politics.
Since July 1998, the SPDC has used section 5/1 (g) of the 1961 Habitual Criminal Offenders Act against NLD MPs in order to restrict the activities of the NLD. This Act puts repeat offenders on permanent bail, forcing them to sign up with local authorities on a daily basis. This 1961 Act was intended to be applied only to monitor and restrict habitual criminals and not to limit, monitor and control political activity. The SPDC has misapplied this act, and used it to issue restraining orders against NLD MPs. These orders, which force MPs to remain within a prescribed area, violate the provisons of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In 2002, the SPDC relaxed restrictions on political opposition members, and the NLD (particularily in Rangoon) enjoyed more freedom of movement. Prior to 2002 for example, ordinary NLD members visiting the NLD Headquarters were questioned by military intelligence personnel and sometimes prevented from entering. In 2002 people were able to leave and enter the building at will. (Source: DVB)
12.6 Restrictions on Foreigners in Burma
Government servants are generally required to obtain advance permission before meeting with foreigners. In 2002 military intelligence agents continued to monitor the movements of foreigners and to question citizens about conversations with foreigners, however this seemed less frequent than in previous years. Burmese embassies abroad issue tourist visas, valid for one month, however, select categories of applicants, such as foreign human rights advocates, journalists and political figures, continued to be denied entry visas unless traveling under the agency of a sponsor acceptable to the SPDC and for a purpose approved by the authorities. In 2002, although some areas of the country remained closed to foreigners for security reasons, the authorities permited travel to most other destinations. Rangoon-based diplomats generally must apply ten days in advance for travel outside the capital. Throughout 2002 international NGO’s were often required to have a government representative accompany them on all field visits. (Source: US State Department, 2002)
International Non-governmental Organization (INGOs) are subjected to monitoring and restrictions by the SPDC. In order for INGOs to operate programs inside Burma, they must obtain Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) from top generals in the SPDC (an exception is the INGOs which are in Arakan State under the UNHCR mandate for the Rohingya repatriation.) One of the restrictions in these ‘MOUs’ states that "…(NGO) representatives and personnel shall not interfere with the political and religious affairs of Myanmar and shall abide by the laws and regulations of Myanmar."
As most INGOs do not wish to jeopardize their programs, they instruct their staff to avoid activities that would put them in disfavor with the junta, including association with the NLD or INGOs working for Burmese people in other countries, which are often associated with the democratic opposition. (For more information on INGOs working in Burma see chapter on Situation of Health and Education).
Example of Restrictions on Foreigners in Burma
Burma Police Block Suu Kyi Visit
On 25 February, officials from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) were prevented from seeing Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The police refused to let them through a checkpoint blocking the road to the house. The two officials were at the end of a week-long visit to Burma to check whether the government had put an end to the practice of forced labour. A spokesman for the ILO in Geneva said the terms of the visit required officials to be allowed freedom of movement and access to leading political figures. The head of the ILO delegation, Francis Maupain said he was "very disappointed" not to have been allowed to see Aung San Suu Kyi. Policemen refused to lift a barrier as cars carrying Mr Maupain and ILO secretary Richard Horsey approached her lakeside home. (Source: BBC)
12.7 Restrictions on Political Parties
In 1988 political parties were allowed to form for the first time in decades. Over 200 such parties were formed, yet as of 1993, following the 1990 elections which were never honoured, only 7 remained legal. Notably, among the first parties to be de-registered were those which represented ethnic minorities and those which had collectively called for a federal constitution in their party manifestos. However, some of the parties which were formed by the ethnic minority groups that had made cease-fire agreements with the SLORC between 1989 and 1993, were removed from the list of "unlawful associations."
At the beginning of January 2002, the SPDC directed regional military intelligence personnel to compile the details of government employees who were relatives of active NLD members. The directive emerged at a time when the NLD headquarters was planning to accept new members. Authorities systematically compiled the details and personal history of U Win Maung, who is the brother of U Saw Ngwe Saw, the NLD joint secretary of Kya-in Seikkyi Township in Karen State. U Win Maung is currently an assistant director of Rangoon Electricity Distribution Department. Local authorities compiled the names and personal histories of relatives, who are government employees, of members of various NLD Organizing Committees, NLD Humanitarian Assistance Committee, NLD Youth Wing, and NLD Women’s group. In some townships, houses of NLD members were searched at odd hours of the night for unregistered guests. In certain wards, only the houses of some NLD members were handpicked and searched. (Source: DVB)
12.8 Prohibition of Free and Independent Trade Unions
Burma ratified the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948 (No. 87) in 1955 and is bound, as an ILO member, to apply the principles of freedom of association. However, the SPDC has been criticized for not bringing its laws into compliance with Convention No. 87 by refusing to recognize independent trade unions and harassing workers who attempt to organize.
Several of Burma’s laws relate to freedom of association and union organizing, but each is inconsistent with international standards and ignored in practice. The SPDC does not recognize any independent labour unions in Burma. Rather, civil servants, who form the majority of the white collar work force, are compelled through various coercive means, to join the Union Solidarity and Development Organization. The SPDC actively suppresses attempts by workers to organize, and workers who try to form or join such unions are liable to be harassed, arrested and tortured. They are also under constant surveillance by the police and military intelligence.
12.9 The Union Solidarity and Development Association
The Union Solidarity and Development Organization (USDA) has recently gained international attention for its’ role in the harassment of Aung San Suu Kyi. Throughout 2002 it was employed by the SPDC to intimidate, obstruct and harass Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD on her visits around the country. Although it is clearly an instrument of the state, SPDC officials utilize the USDA to mask and distance their role in initiating such human rights abuses and to give such actions the appearance of popular grass roots support. On previous occasions, USDA members have been used by the SPDC to deface NLD billboards and to attack vehicles in which Aung San Suu Kyi and her entourage were traveling in.
The USDA was formed on 15 September 1993, about 2 weeks after the SPDC announced that they were holding a national convention to write a new constitution. The USDA is registered with the Ministry of Home Affairs, and although it is not a political party, some claim that it was created to rival the opposition National League for Democracy for popular support. The USDA mandate is to support the activities and policies of the military, and the association was created by the junta to give the illusion that the regime enjoys popular support from its citizens. Membership in the USDA is virtually compulsory for school children, civil servants and anyone seeking the favor of the generals.
The organization claims that membership is voluntary, and that the purpose of the association is essentially social, yet even at the basic and middle school levels, students are pressured to become members. This pressure includes the incentive that if the students have fulfilled their "social" requirements, they receive extra marks on their final examination and recommendations from their schoolteachers. Members of all ages are given social and economic incentives for joining. USDA members have the privilege of attending vocational, language, management and other courses.
The organization claims to be non-political, and members are required to stay away from party politics, yet since its formation the USDA has been directly involved in opposing the NLD, and recently has been involved in organizing events to call for the abolishment of the NLD. USDA members, along with the police and MIS forces have been actively involved in pressuring NLD members to resign, and in coercing or often forcing other citizens to sign papers stating their "loss of trust" in the NLD, the CRPP, and/or certain elected MPs. In another disturbing trend, USDA members and leaders have been increasingly involved in the arbitrary arrests of those suspected to be in opposition to the regime, going along with SPDC and MIS agents, or even sometimes alone. The USDA has also achieved the power that enables members and leaders to call upon people to "contribute" their labor for free. USDA involvement in forced labor has been especially notable over the last few years.
The USDA claims further to be fully supported by their own businesses, such as the Myan-Gon-Myint Group of Companies. Yet the organization receives the majority of its support, both direct and indirect from the military regime. In contrast to attacks on the NLD, the military’s ‘New Light of Myanmar’ consistently praises the USDA. In September 2000, Senior General Than Shwe addressed the USDA annual general meeting and praised it as, "a reliable force, serving the historic duty of undertaking tasks in line with our three main national causes…"
When Lt.-Gen. Win Myint flew into Beijing on 25 October 2002, he was greeted not by his title as a senior member of the SPDC, but as vice-president of the USDA. China is the only country to have recognized and forged party-to-party ties with the USDA.
The tight relationship between the SPDC and USDA can further be seen through the power and privileges that comes to USDA members. In the past, BSPP members were appointed by the military as Township PDC authorities. Now it is USDA members that are appointed to these prestigious posts.
Examples of Forced Attendance at Mass Rallies
USDA Rallies around Burma to Support Regime
In January 2003 Burma’s military junta staged mass rallies in major cities around the country as talks with the democratic opposition faltered. The events were organised by the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), the military’s de facto political party. Beginning in the capital Rangoon from January 8, soon after the important January 4 Independence Day celebrations, the rallies were held in various cities and divisions including the northern city of Mandalay and southern Kayin state bordering Thailand, reportedly attracting crowds of up to 44,000. At the rallies, USDA spokesmen made speeches promoting the junta’s achievements over the last dozen years since a bloody 1988 pro-democracy crackdown and disallowed 1990 elections. "All of us understand that the government has been carrying out tasks to maintain national consolidation, peace and stability, to develop infrastructure, strengthen the economy, develop human resources, promote social skills and to forge international cooperation," one said. (Source: AFP)
Anti-Thai Rally in Shan State
On 1 June the SPDC held a public rally in Kengtung, Shan State, denouncing Thailand. "There wasn’t any ill will against Thailand involved on the part of the people," said one Kengtung resident who attended the rally. "The Burmese (authorities) like to hold rallies. They want us there. It is not good for us to dodge them. So we go there. The speakers pretend to give speeches and we pretend to listen. In the end, when they raise their fists and shout slogans, we do the same and go back home a hurry to have our meal. It’s all very normal."
Another source dismissed Rangoon’s report that 20,000 people were present at the rally as an exaggeration."The field (Myoma Sports Ground) wouldn’t hold more than 3,000," he said. Another rally had been held the day before in Taunggyi, Shan State’s capital, to denounce, "external elements that interfere in the internal affairs of Myanmar." (Source: SHAN)
Mass Rally Denouncing Shan and Karen Insurgents
On 6 July 2002, Radio Myanmar reported:
"A mass rally to oppose and denounce Shan United Revolutionary Army (SURA) and Karen National Union (KNU) insurgents, who are deemed to be undermining peace and stability in the border areas, was held at the People’s Sports Ground in Taunggyi, Shan State South on 2 June. The function was attended by over 21,000 people from departments, members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), the Myanmar War Veteran Organization (MWVO), the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association (MMCWA), the Women Affairs Committee, the Red Cross, auxiliary fire brigades, local people from 20 wards, 12 villages of Pantin Village tract, and students of Taunggyi District. " (Source: Radio Myanmar)
12.10 Other Social Organizations in Burma
No independent human rights and pro-democracy groups are allowed to operate inside Burma. Those that did in 2002 were able to do so only from outside the country. People in Burma are only allowed to associate with social organizations approved by, and under the control of the SPDC. In addition to the USDA, the government backs it’s own organizations, and pressures the population to join them. Government sponsored organizations include: The Myanmar Medical Association (MMA), Myanmar Red Cross (MRC), Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association (MMCWA), Myanmar Anti-Narcotic Association, Auxiliary Fire Brigade, Parent Teacher Associations, Women’s Welfare Association and the Myanmar Nurses Association (MNA).
The extent to which these organizations, which are located at township levels across the country, are dominated by the SPDC, varies. However, the organizations are generally led by senior officials with military backgrounds, or the wives of senior officials, military officers, or USDA members, as is often the case with the chairpersons of the local MMCWA. Members of these organizations are expected to participate in pro-military and USDA rallies, or anti-opposition rallies, and often the political agendas of the regime have more precedence in the organization then the actual social issues the organizations are supposed to address.
A select number of local NGOs, mostly religious and church-backed organizations, are able to operate limited social programs. However, SPDC laws confine them to religious activities. These groups are not allowed to be registered as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Burma and are instead registered under the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs. This non-NGO status limits these oganizations’s access to overseas funding and their ability to conduct in-country training with foreign experts. Local NGO programs are also under constant surveillance from the SPDC and SPDC backed social organizations. For the most part, individuals in SPDC controlled areas of Burma who desire to work for their communities have no alternative but to join government sanctioned organizations. (Source: HRW)
12.11 Restriction of Villagers in Border Conflict Areas
Roadblocks and Checkpoints in Conflict Areas
Travel within the country continues to be monitored and numerous checkpoints exist along all major travel-routes. In areas of conflict, these checkpoints multiply dramatically. During military operations or at times of political tension, more checkpoints are opened and roads are often blocked off.
In July 2002, Amnesty International released a report entitled, Myanmar, Lack of Security in Counter-insurgency areas areas. The report noted that despite improvements in some urban centers, human rights abuses committed by the Tatmadaw and its’ allies against ethnic populations in and next to war zones in Burma continued unabated. These included draconian restrictions of freedom of movement, assembly and association. (See also toture, extra-judicial executions and forced labour chapters) For example, the Karen Human Rights Group has documented how villagers suspected of being in contact with or even related to anti-SPDC guerillas are subject to arbitary detention, torture and execution. Similarily, those villagers who have fled from the prospect of being confined to relocation sites and have become IDPs (internally displaced persons) also face hazards. In addition to the hardships of living in the forest, the SPDC soldiers view them as enemies and they are often shot on sight if detected by SPDC forces. When IDPs attempt to flee to Thailand their movement is obstructed by Tatmadaw landmines and patrols.
In areas of ethnic insurgency, there are often severe restrictions placed upon movement. In "brown" or "black" areas, people wishing to leave their villages often must obtain a permission slip from local officials before they can go out to tend their farms, or travel. These permission slips are usually only obtained if a "fee" is paid. In relocation sites, people are often not allowed to return to their land, as they have been warned that anyone moving about in their former fields and towns will be shot on sight. In addition, it is common for the army to burn houses and place landmines in the former fields and towns of relocated people to further prevent them from returning.
Example Incidents of Restriction of Movement and Conscription of Villagers in Conflict Areas
(for more information see chapter on Internally Displaced People and Forced Relocation)
On 16 March 2002, SPDC troops summoned village heads in Baw-ga-li area, Karen State for a meeting. At the meeting, the Der-doh village head failed to attend and as a result the SPDC soldiers showed a bomb from an RPG launcher, a round from a G-3 rifle and a piece of charcoal to the others village heads who came and said that they would kill all the Der-doh villagers they found. In addition, they issued an order to ban villagers from Klay-soe-khee and Baw-ga-li villages of east Pa-leh-wah area from traveling out of the area. (Source: KIC)
In early April 2002, people in Kaeng-Tung township, Shan State were ordered by LIB 533 to provide food for troops on security duty during the visit of Secretary-1 of the SPDC and his entourage. On the day of the visit, villagers of Yaang Khum Mu and Yaang Kwaai villages were ordered not to leave their villages’ limits. The troops informed the villagers that anyone who failed to comply with the order would be shot on sight. (Source: SHRF)
On 9 June 2002, troops from LIB 577 stationed in the village of Wan Soap Huay Saowa ordered the villagers to stay indoors. Wan Soap Huay Saow is a village situated in the motor road between Larng Khur and Murng Pan township, Shan State. Due to their heavy casualties in the battle with the SSA near the Thai border, these Burmese soldiers punished the villagers in Murng Pan township. As the villagers could not leave their homes, they were in great difficulties to make a living. (Source: Freedom)
On 9 November 2002, in Karrenni State, a Shadaw relocation camp resident, Lu Reh, 31, was arrested by Burmese troops from LIB 302 while he was working in his paddy field. Because he had stayed in his fields for two days, the troops accused him of having violated the relocation camp regulations. Lu Reh was then sentenced to one month’s imprisonment. The military authorities have imposed tight restrictions on camp residents. In recent years they have not been allowed to sleep in their paddy fields outside the camp. (Source: KNAHR)
Restriction against the Civilians’ Movements near Pipeline Area
About 210 miles gas pipeline passes through hundreds of paddy fields, fruit plantations and rubber plantations in Ye, Thanbyuzayat, Mudon and Kyaikmayaw Townships in Mon State and Pa-an Township in Karen State. Since the gas pipeline passes their plantations, when villagers go to their plantations or paddy fields they have to walk over the pipeline. After parts of the gas pipeline were bombed in April/May 2002 by opposition groups, authorities in the northern part of Ye Township, Mon State, where the majority of the pipeline is located, and in Yebyu Township, Tenasserim Division, issued restrictions on civilians’s movement, especially the movement of farmers, who regularly travelled in the area. The authorities accused local villagers in these areas of cooperating with rebel armed forces. The authorities ordered to farmers and villagers not to go near the pipeline at night.
In May 2002, the authorities from Ye Township area further ordered the civilians in surrounding villages to stay away from the pipeline at all times. The village authorities and local army personnel warned that if villagers approached the pipeline during the day they would be beaten and if they went at night time they would be shot. In an order issued by LIB No. 299 in the southern part of Ye Township, they authorities officially declared that anyone who crossed the pipeline late in the evening or at night would be shot.
In some villages, the authorities displayed this order on the village offices’ blackboards. Many villagers who owned plantations around the gas pipeline area faced increasing difficulties in travelling to their plantations. There are many plantations around the gas-pipeline in both the southern and northern part of Ye Township and some hundred families, who depend on these plantations for their livlihood, were affected by this order. The order was instituted during harvest time, and as a result many farmers lost their crops.
On 8 May, a 40 year old woman from Koe-mile village crossed the pipeline while traveling to her planation. This woman was arrested by soldiers from LIB No. 299 and then beaten. After she was beaten, despite the fact that she had suffered many injuries the soldiers forbid her from seeking treatment at the town’s hospital. Similar movement restriction against civilians, especially farmers, were also instituted in Mudon Township, Mon State. In this Township, the gas pipeline passes through many hundred acres of paddy farms and farmers have to travel to their paddy fields every day. Sometimes, the farmers arrived back late to their homes in villages. In May, the village authorities and militia declared that all farmers must stay away from the pipeline route between 6pm and 6am. Maj. Naing Win of IB 31 instructed the militia force in every village that they have right to shoot anyone found in the gas pipeline area during these times. (Source: HURFOM)
12.12 Restriction on the Movements of Religious Minorities
In 2002 it was still virtually impossible for Muslim Rohingya people to move within Arakan State or to other parts of Burma from Arakan State. Only citizens carrying identity cards are free to travel within the country, which precludes movement by those unable to meet the restrictive provisions of the "citizen law." In the past, Rohingya (Bengali-speaking Muslims) who wanted to travel outside their village could apply to the local SPDC authorities for permission. However on 7 June 2000, a meeting was held by Maj. Gen. Aung Htwe, the commander of the Western Command in Arakan state capital Akyab (Sittwe), and was attended by members of all Township PDC, Districts PDCs, the Director of Immigration, the Head of the MI and Director of the NaSaKa (Western Area Command) Headquarters. Following this meeting Rohingyas were no longer allowed to travel within their own localities unless they carried with them recommendations or exit passes from the Township PDC, District PDC, Military Intelligence, or Area Commander of the NaSaKa. In addition, they had to fill out "Form-4" issued by the Department of Immigration. To obtain these documents, the Rohingya traveler has to pay a sum of kyats 2,800 to the authorities to process an Exit Pass that is usually valid only for 24 hours. Any Rohingya who is found to be traveling with improper documentation, is accused of illegally trying to immigrate and is jailed for 3 years. (Source: ARNO)
In most cases, passes are only granted for a twelve-hour period; only on rare occasion are Muslims permitted to stay outside their village overnight. To travel further, for instance, to the Township capitals at Maungdaw or Buthidaung or the state capital at Sittwe is virtually impossible. The only Muslims able to travel to Sittwe, or further to Rangoon, are those who can afford to bribe SPDC officials. Reportedly, Muslim traders have paid bribes of 500,000 kyat to be able to travel to Rangoon. (Source: Narinjara News)
Example Incidents of Restrictions on the Movement of Religious Minorities
Curfew in Sittwe
On 2 December 2002 a curfew was imposed in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, after a tense situation arising from reports of the rape of a Rakhine girl and the murder of two people by a group of Muslim fishermen. As the news spread, a large number of the students at Sittwe University became enraged and began to gather to "take action against the perpetrators." The news stirred up widescale discontent among the majority Rakhine community in Arakan State. The previous year, in February 2001, a race riot broke out in Sittwe after Muslim Rohingya youths reportedly teased a Rakhine girl. In the aftermath, the police, with the help of Burmese military troops arrested hundreds of Rakhine youths as young as ten years old who have been missing ever since. (Source: Narinjara)
Burmese Muslims Flee Western Burma to Escape Food Scarcity
By 29 June 2002, Narinjara reported that at least thirty Burmese Muslims including women and children from Maungdaw Township, Arakan State had left their homes due to lack of food. The artificial food crisis was caused by SPDC officials forcibly buying large quantities of rice from the farmers without leaving behind enough for their consumption in a "rice collection drive." Another problem for the villagers is the scarcity of work, as they are not allowed to travel to even nearby villages for work unless they obtain a travel permit. In order to get a travel permit villagers must obtain written permission from at least three official departments and pay a bribe. One elderly woman resident reported: "There are more women than men in the village at present, and we are scratching everywhere for a grain of rice to eat. But due to travel restrictions we are confined in large prison-like villages from where we cannot go out even to do menial labour in the nearby villages or town. Our children are just like ‘bamboo sticks’ without adequate nourishment, and at least twelve children and some grown-ups have died because of diarrhoea and fever caused by lack of nutrition." (Source: Narinjara)
12.13 Restriction on the Movements and Harassment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD
Beginning on 30 January 2002 with the Latha Township office, the NLD was able to reopen 35 out of 300 offices by June. The SPDC’s move to grant permission to reopen NLD offices, combined with the release of some political prisoners and the greater freedom of movement enjoyed by NLD members in general, gave rise to hopes that a political thaw was underway. Secret talks, brokered by UN Special Envoy Razali Ismail of Malaysia, had been taking place between the SPDC and the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi since the end of 2000. Although they excluded the ethnic minorities, it was hoped by many that the talks would usher in a new political era for Burma. After much speculation Aung San Suu Kyi was released from 19 months of house arrest on 5 June 2002. Colonel Hla Min said, "She can travel. We will sort of cooperate because she is a prominent person," indicating that her freedom was unconditional. The last time Aung San Suu Kyi had attempted to travel outside the city was September
2000 and had resulted in her being placed under house arrest. Both to test her freedom and to reorganize the NLD after a long period of suppression, Aung San Suu Kyi embarked on a series of trips throughout the country. The first of these in June was pointedly to Mandalay, which had been her previous destination. There she was met by a large jubilant crowd and experienced no interference from the authorities. Other trips soon followed throughout the year to Chin, Mon, Shan and Arakan States. On these trips she was met by enthusiastic crowds and engaged in activities such as giving speeches, attending meetings, re-opening offices and re-erecting NLD billboards. On her fourth trip outside Rangoon, to Tachilek, Shan State, the SPDC even allowed Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time in 14 years to fly by plane. On all her trips the SPDC always provided "security details." These troops were obstensibly for her protection, however their primary function was to monitor her activities. (Source: Irrawaddy)
During her November trip to Tachilek, SPDC surveillance became ostentatious and was used by military intelligence officers to harass Aung San Suu Kyi and her party. As the NLD’s convoy made its way from Taunggyi to Maymyo, a military intelligence van sped up to take videotape Suu Kyi’s car from in front of the convoy. As the van rushed to get ahead of the convoy, one of the NLD escort motorcycles crashed on the roadside. In the town of Muse only about 200 people had turned out to see her as military intelligence officers had instructed people to stay away. "Local intelligence videotaped Aung San Suu Kyi even when she went to rest room," U Lwin, NLD spokesperson said. "She told authorities that it wasn’t appropriate, but they continued." (Source: Irrawaddy)
Despite attempts by police to intimidate and deter them, large crowds did however manage to turn out in Kyaukme and on later trips such as the one to Myauk-Oo, in Arakan State in December. At one point the authorities prepared to disperse the crowd with high pressure water hoses. Daw Suu reportedly said, "I cannot stand by and watch people being bullied in this manner," and climbed atop the fire-engine and and requested the authorities to cease their actions, which they did. She then thanked them for their co-operation and asked the crowd to disperse. After this incident, admist growing international concern about the lack of progress in negotiations, Aung San Suu Kyi criticized those SPDC offcials responsible for this harassment and for their failure to enter into substantive talks.
12.14 Statements and Interviews
Following reports of the harassment of opposition groups in Burma, on 1 January 2003, British Foreign Office Minister Mike O’Brien said: "I am deeply concerned at reports of harassment and intimidation of ordinary people before and during Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent trips within Burma, and at reports of restrictions imposed on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as she travels. I am also appalled by reports that a Minister in the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) dissuaded people from meeting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and that the government sponsored Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) distributed leaflets making personal attacks on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her family. I have spoken to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on a number of occasions in the last few weeks and we agreed that Burma cannot make progress until we see a real will for political reform from the SPDC. I call on Senior General Than Shwe to enter into a serious dialogue with the NLD and other opposition parties in Burma. Part of that process of development must be to allow opposition groups and the people of Burma the right to express their political views freely and to make substantial steps towards restoring democracy."(Source: News Department, Downing Street (West), London SW1A 2AH UK)
Interview with Senior NLD Official about Aung San Suu Kyi’s Travel Plans
Date: 17 December 2002,
Conducted and published by: DVB
DVB : How difficult is it to travel around?
U Lwin : "There are many difficulties. Road conditions are not as good as in Shan State. Another factor is regional security. Military and authorities in Arakan State find it more difficult to move about than in Shan State. Right or wrong, they need to act as needed. There are Muslim extremists there. Departmental officials, therefore, need to check very thoroughly. In Shan State, you can go about as you like even if you forget your national registration [identity] card. That does not work in Arakan State. Responsible officials concerned reminded us to take our national registration cards along. This is because they check everyone coming in or going out over there. They check the national registration card. The situation is different from Shan State." (Source: DVB)
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