Excerpt: Report Says Burma Human Rights Record Remains Extremely Poor
(Dept. of State's 2002 Report on Human Rights Practices in Burma) (2360)
The highly authoritarian military regime in Burma demonstrates minimal concern for the human rights of its citizens, according to the 2002 U.S. Department of State Report on Human Rights Practices. Last year, the report says, members of the regime "committed numerous, serious human rights abuses."
"In ethnic minority areas, security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings and rape, forcibly relocated persons, used forced labor, and conscripted child soldiers," the report says.
In addition, the report implicates the Burmese regime in disappearances, arbitrary arrest, trafficking in persons, forced child labor, and severe restrictions on freedom of speech and religious worship.
The regime, it says, "did not allow domestic human rights organizations to function independently and remained generally hostile to outside scrutiny of its human rights record."
The complete Department of State report on Burma can be found online at:
Following are excerpts from the Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 for Burma:
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 31, 2003
Burma is ruled by a highly authoritarian military regime. In 1962 General Ne Win overthrew the elected civilian government and replaced it with a repressive military government dominated by the majority ethnic group. In 1988 the armed forces brutally suppressed prodemocracy demonstrations, and a junta composed of military officers, called the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), led by Senior General Than Shwe, took control. Since then the SPDC has ruled by decree. The judiciary was not independent, and there was no effective rule of law.
The regime reinforced its firm military rule with a pervasive security apparatus, the Office of Chief Military Intelligence (OCMI). Control was implemented through surveillance of government employees and private citizens, harassment of political activists, intimidation, arrest, detention, physical abuse, and restrictions on citizens' contacts with foreigners. The SPDC justified its security measures as necessary to maintain order and national unity. Members of the security forces committed numerous, serious human rights abuses.
The country had a population of approximately 50 million. The country was extremely poor; the estimated annual per capita income was approximately $300. Four decades of military rule and mismanagement resulted in widespread poverty, poor health care, and declining educational levels. Primarily an agricultural economy, the country also had substantial mineral, fishing, and timber resources. Extensive state influence over the economy, widespread corruption, and poor infrastructure has led to rapidly deteriorating economic conditions.
The regime's human rights record remained extremely poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Citizens did not have the right to change their government. In ethnic minority areas, security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings and rape, forcibly relocated persons, used forced labor, and conscripted child soldiers. Disappearances continued, and members of the security forces tortured, beat, and otherwise abused prisoners and detainees. Citizens were subjected to arbitrary arrest without appeal. Arrests and detention for expression of dissenting political views occurred on numerous occasions. The SPDC arrested approximately 45 persons, including some NLD members, for political activities during the year; most were released within days. The Government also released approximately 550 political prisoners since talks began with the NLD in 2000. By year's end, an estimated 1,300 political prisoners (including members and supporters of ethnic armed groups) remained in prison. Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening, although conditions improved in some prisons since the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was allowed access. The judiciary was not independent.
The SPDC continued to restrict severely freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and travel. During the year, persons suspected of or charged with prodemocratic political activity were subjected to regular surveillance and occasional harassment. The junta restricted freedom of religion, coercively promoted Buddhism over other religions, and imposed restrictions on religious minorities. The regime's control over the country's Muslim minority continued, although acts of violence against Muslims decreased from last year. The regime regularly infringed on citizens' privacy; security forces continued to monitor citizens' movements and communications systematically, search homes without warrants, and relocate persons forcibly without just compensation or legal recourse. The SPDC also continued to forcibly relocate large ethnic minority populations in order to deprive armed ethnic groups of civilian bases of support. The regime continued to restrict freedom of movement and, in particular, foreign travel by female citizens. On May 6, the regime released opposition leader and National League for Democracy (NLD) General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi from almost 20 months of house detention and has allowed her to travel within the country since that time. The regime also loosened restrictions on NLD activities and generally allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to meet representatives of foreign governments and international organizations. The regime closely monitored NLD activities at NLD offices as well as the activities of other political parties throughout the country. The junta recognized the NLD as a legal entity; however, it restricted their activities severely through security measures, harassment, and threats. The NLD was permitted to reopen approximately 90 out of 300 offices countrywide. The SPDC did not allow domestic human rights organizations to function independently and remained generally hostile to outside scrutiny of its human rights record. However, in 2001 and during the year, it allowed the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma to conduct missions to the country. It also allowed the International Labor Organization (ILO) to establish a liaison office in Rangoon. Violence and societal discrimination against women remained problems, as did discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities. There were no policies that discriminated against persons with disabilities. The regime continued to restrict worker rights, ban unions, and used forced labor for public works and for the support of military garrisons. Other forced labor, including forced child labor remained a serious problem, despite recent ordinances outlawing the practice. The forced use of citizens as porters by SPDC troops--with attendant mistreatment, illness, and sometimes death--remained a common practice as did recruitment of child soldiers by the SPDC. Trafficking in persons, particularly in women and girls mostly for the purposes of prostitution, remained widespread, despite increased regime efforts to publicize dangers to potential victims.
Ethnic armed groups including the Karen National Union (KNU), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), and the Shan State Army-South (SSA) reportedly also committed human rights abuses, although on a lesser scale; abuses included killings, rapes, forced labor, and conscripted child soldiers.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life Amnesty International (AI), and groups like the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) and the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), which have been associated with armed ethnic resistance groups, reported numerous cases throughout the year of military troops killing civilians in border areas and areas of ethnic resistance, often after confiscating property or torturing the individuals (see Sections 1.g. and 5). Interviews by foreign observers documented similar abuses....
Brutal treatment by soldiers also caused deaths among those conscripted as military porters and laborers. There were unconfirmed reports by various groups indicating that porters and laborers who no longer physically were able to work sometimes were abandoned without medical care or were killed (see Section 6.c.)....
There are laws that prohibit torture; however, members of the security forces reportedly tortured, beat, and otherwise abused prisoners, detainees, and other citizens. They routinely subjected detainees to harsh interrogation techniques designed to intimidate and disorient. There were reports in past years that prisoners were forced to squat or assume stressful, uncomfortable, or painful positions for lengthy periods. There continued to be many credible reports that security forces subjected 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. Persons forced into porterage or other labor faced extremely difficult conditions, beatings, and mistreatment that at times resulted in death. From June 7 to June 20, SPDC troops forced more than 130 civilians to serve as porters near Keng Tung, Shan State. According to the SHRF at least seven persons died due to mistreatment (see Section 6.c.). SPDC soldiers beat, raped, and killed persons who resisted relocation or forced conscription and forced labor. There were numerous reports that SPDC troops looted and confiscated property and possessions from forcibly relocated persons, or persons who were away from their homes; these materials often were used for military construction. There were reports of SPDC troops who confiscated privately owned vehicles for military transport without compensating the vehicle owners....
On August 17, Captain Zaw Min Oo reportedly entered Yusomoso, a mainly Catholic village in Timoso township in Kaya State (east of Karen State) where, according to a reliable source, the Captain raped a 4-year-old child. Military authorities reportedly offered the villagers approximately $20 (20,000 kyat) to drop the case. In October the SHRF reported that two SPDC soldiers used their rifle butts to beat and rape a woman who was doing her laundry by the river in Kaen-Tung township. They allegedly threw her into the river while she was still unconscious. The woman survived and she and her husband complained to their village headman and the community leader. No action was taken due to fear of the police and SPDC township authorities. Also in October, a group of six or seven SPDC troops reportedly raped two women in Murng-Khark township....
In May the SHRF and Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN) alleged the military used rape as a systematic weapon of war against the ethnic populations in Shan State. The report described 173 incidents of rape or sexual violence against 625 women and girls committed by soldiers from 52 military battalions between 1992 and 2001. Given the brutality of the rapes, (the report stated that 25 percent of the rapes resulted in death), the incidence of rapes by officers (83 percent), and the impunity with which they were carried out, the report concluded that the rapes were condoned by the military regime in order to terrorize and subjugate the Shan. There were corroborating reports on rapes and sexual violence, by the military in Shan State and elsewhere, including first hand accounts from rape victims documented by credible foreign observers. According to a report by Refugees International, rape of ethnic women by the SPDC troops similarly was prevalent in Karen, Mon, and Karenni regions....
The 1974 Constitution permits restrictions on religious freedom, stating that "the national races shall enjoy the freedom to profess their religion... provided that the enjoyment of any such freedom does not offend the laws or the public interest." Most religious adherents duly registered with the authorities generally were free to worship as they chose; however, the regime imposed restrictions on certain religious activities. In practice the regime restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom, and coercively promoted Buddhism over other religions in some ethnic minority areas....
The regime also carefully scrutinized prospective travel abroad. Such control facilitated rampant corruption, as many applicants were forced to pay large bribes. Bribes for passports were sometimes as high as $3,000 (approximately 3.6 million kyat), the equivalent of more than 10 years' salary for the average citizen. The official board that reviews passport applications has denied passports on political grounds. All college graduates who obtained a passport (except for certain government employees) were required to pay a special fee to reimburse the regime for the cost of their education. Citizens who emigrated legally generally were allowed to return to visit relatives, and some who lived abroad illegally and acquired foreign citizenship also were able to return....
Children also suffered greatly from the junta's severe and worsening neglect of health care. The junta cut government expenditures on public health care even more sharply than it cut spending for education. Government expenditures for civilian health care in 1998-99 were equivalent to only 0.3 percent of GDP. Government studies sponsored by U.N. agencies in 1997 found that, on average, 131 of 1,000 children died before reaching the age of 5 years, and that only 1 out of 20 births in rural areas was attended by a doctor. Those same studies indicated that, among children under 3 years of age, 37 percent were malnourished, and 13 percent were malnourished severely. The World Health Organization considered the country's health care system to be extremely poor....
Although the law sets a minimum age of 13 for the employment of children, in practice the law was not enforced. Child labor has become increasingly prevalent and visible. Working children were highly visible in cities, mostly working for small or family enterprises. In the countryside, children worked in family agricultural activities. Children working in the urban informal sector in Rangoon and Mandalay often began work at young ages. In the urban informal sector, child workers were found mostly in food processing, street vending, refuse collecting, light manufacturing, and as tea shop attendants. According to government statistics, 6 percent of urban children worked, but only 4 percent of working children earned wages; many were employed in family enterprises....
Trafficking of women and girls to Thailand and other countries, including China, India, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and countries in the Middle East, for sexual exploitation, factory labor, and as household servants was a problem. Shan women and girls were trafficked across the border from the north; Karen and Mon women and girls were trafficked from the south. There was evidence that internal trafficking generally occurred from poor agricultural and urban groups to areas where commercial sex work flourished (trucking routes, mining areas, and military bases) as well as along the borders with Thailand, China, and India. Men and boys also reportedly were trafficked to other countries for sexual exploitation and labor, but this appeared to be a small percentage of overall trafficking. While most observers believed that the number of these victims was at least several thousand per year, there were no reliable estimates of the total number....
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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