Location Map of Burma (Myanmar's former name)
Human Rights Report on Burma
_ US State Department’s Report
Burma is ruled by an authoritarian military regime that enforced its firm grip on power with a pervasive security apparatus. The State Peace and Development Council, led by Senior General Than Shwe, was the country's de facto government. In 1990 the National League for Democracy won more than 80 percent of the seats in a general parliamentary election, but the regime ignored the results. During the year the regime’s deplorable human rights record worsened. Security forces committed extrajudicial killings, custodial deaths, disappearances, torture, rape, and forcible relocation of persons, used forced labor and conscripted child soldiers. Citizens did not have the right to change their government. Although the government revoked its original order to the International Committee for the Red Cross that it close all of its five field offices, it has not granted the International Committee for the Red Cross permission to continue all of its activities from those offices. The army increased attacks on ethnic minority villagers in Bago Division and Karen State in an attempt to drive them from their traditional land. The government abused prisoners and detainees, held persons in harsh and life threatening conditions, and routinely used incommunicado detention. More than 1,100 people continued to languish in jails for the peaceful expression of their political views. National League for Democracy General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi and Vice Chairman Tin Oo remained incommunicado and under house arrest. The government restricted freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement. The government harassed and created difficulties for domestic human rights NGOs, and international NGOs encountered a restrictive environment. Violence and societal discrimination against ethnic minorities continued, as did trafficking in persons, including state-sponsored forced labor and widespread sexual exploitation of women and children. During the year the government released just a few political prisoners, among them labor activists Su Su Nway and Aye Myint, but arrested 17 others, including five leaders of the 88 Generation Group.
At year’s end, the regime reportedly intended to promulgate a new constitution and handpicked the delegates to attend the National Convention, which was suspended in 1996 and reconvened in 2004. The National Convention did not permit free debate and, for that reason, the National League for Democracy has not participated since 1995. Apart from its Rangoon headquarters, the National League for Democracy offices nationwide remained closed. Although the regime allowed UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari to visit twice during the year, there was no discernable improvement in the government’s human rights record or lessening of its harsh treatment of democratic opponents. Moreover, it continued to refuse permission for UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Paulo Sergio Pinheiro to visit the country.
U.S. human rights and democracy goals include the unconditional and immediate release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 1,100 other political prisoners, an immediate end to military attacks on ethnic minorities, initiation of a credible and inclusive political process leading to national reconciliation, and unrestricted access for humanitarian assistance providers. The United States engaged in active bilateral and multilateral efforts with key partners and players in the Asia region, as well as the EU and like-minded countries, to raise international pressure on the regime to affect meaningful political reform.
The United States worked aggressively and multilaterally to press for change in Burma. Such efforts included support for the UN process led by Under-Secretary-General Gambari, the UN special rapporteur on human rights, as well as for the work of the International Labor Organization, the office of the UN high commissioner for refugees, and other international organizations. With the strong support of the United States, the UN Security Council agreed to place Burma on its permanent agenda on September 15. Following his two trips to Burma during the year, UN Under-Secretary-General Gambari briefed the Council on the continued deterioration of freedoms and called on the regime to release political prisoners, engage the democratic opposition in dialogue, stop its attacks on ethnic Karen civilians, and permit greater access to humanitarian organizations. The United States urged Burma's neighbors to press the regime to release all political prisoners and initiate a credible and inclusive political process.
The United States was a vocal advocate for the rights of democracy activists, including Aung San Suu Kyi. First Lady Laura Bush chaired a session on the situation in Burma in New York concurrently with the UN General Assembly. Speaking to key ASEAN leaders on the sidelines of the APEC summit in November, President Bush described the situation in Burma as "totally unacceptable" and encouraged them to engage the country more actively to improve its human rights record and move toward democracy. The United States also pursued the goal of promoting democracy and respect for human rights through vigorous public diplomacy and democracy programs. Following the regime’s May announcement that it had prolonged Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention for another year, the United States again called on the government to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners and to initiate meaningful dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic minority political groups.
The United States, EU members, and other nations have imposed a variety of sanctions on the junta. These sanctions signaled international disapproval while exerting pressure on the regime to end its human rights abuses and allow for genuine democracy. The U.S. Congress voted overwhelmingly to renew the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act for a fourth year, and President Bush signed the bill on August 1. U.S. sanctions included bans on the export of financial services by U.S. citizens, on imports from the country, and on new U.S. investment and a full arms embargo. Sanctions also blocked all bilateral aid to the government, Generalized System of Preferences privileges, and funding through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and Export-Import Bank programs. The United States maintained visa restrictions on Burma’s senior military and government officials and opposed all new lending or grant programs by international financial institutions.
The United States also supported journalist training, civil society development, and scholarship programs inside the country and among exile communities to prepare citizens to assume leadership roles during a political transition. The United States promoted the rule of law and democracy by providing information on human rights, democratic values, and governance issues through speaker programs, exchange programs, publications, and other information outreach. U.S. officials in the country regularly disseminated news from Web sites blocked by government censors. U.S. courses on civics and good governance inspired political activists to create their own Burmese-language versions of the courses, as well as improving their organizational and speaking abilities. The United States also supported humanitarian assistance programs in the country and along the Thai border serving Burmese refugees. All U.S. humanitarian and democracy-related assistance was channeled through NGOs; none of the funding benefited the military regime.
The United States also sought an end to the egregious human rights abuses perpetrated by the army, many of which were carried out against ethnic minority civilians in border regions. The regime harassed and created difficulty for domestic human rights groups and dismissed all outside scrutiny of its human rights record. Several U.S.-funded groups working along Burma’s borders documented human rights abuses inside the country, including murder, rape, and forced labor. During travel throughout the country and along the Thai-Burma and Thai-Bangladesh borders, U.S. officials personally interviewed victims of violence. The U.S. Government also helped facilitate access for U.S. and UN investigations into human rights abuses and maintained close contact with influential members of the political opposition about initiatives supporting the struggle for democracy in the country.
There was no change in the regime’s infringement on religious freedom. The regime continued to monitor public meetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious ones. It systematically restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom, discouraged or prohibited Muslims and Christians from constructing new places of worship, forced Muslims to tear down their own houses of worship, and in some ethnic minority areas used coercion to promote Buddhism over other religions. During the year the United States responded by redesignating Burma as a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for the eighth consecutive year. Several U.S.-funded organizations along Burma’s borders provided information on the serious repression faced by minority ethnic and religious groups in Burma, including Rohingya Muslims and Christians in ethnic areas.
The United States continued to press the regime to respect workers’ rights and unions and to discontinue its use of forced labor. The United States actively supported the work of the International Labor Organization liaison office in Rangoon, which sought to bring the regime into compliance with its international labor obligations. At the International Labor Organization’s Governing Board meeting in November, the United States supported consideration of further actions to address the regime’s lack of progress on the development of an adequate mechanism to address forced labor complaints.
To address the serious problem of trafficking in persons, the United States approved funding for NGO-implemented antitrafficking programs intended to raise awareness among vulnerable Burmese and to support antitrafficking efforts of local NGOs. The United States also pressed the regime to improve implementation of its antitrafficking law and to cooperate with NGOs and UN agencies such as the International Labor Organization on the serious issue of forced labor and the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls.
Released on April 5, 2007