Human rights in burma

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    Chief Justice: Tun Tun Oo
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    Chairman: Mya Thein

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Human rights in Burma under its military regime have long been regarded as among the worst in the world.[1][2] International human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch,[3] Amnesty International,[4] and the American Association for the Advancement of Science[5] have repeatedly documented and condemned widespread human rights violations in Burma. The Freedom in the World 2011 report by Freedom House notes that "The military junta has... suppressed nearly all basic rights; and committed human rights abuses with impunity." In 2011 the "country's more than 2,100 political prisoners included about 429 members of the NLD, the victors in the 1990 elections."[6] As of July 2013, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, there were about 100 political prisoners in Burmese prisons.[7] [8] [9][10]

On November 9, 2012, Samantha Power, U.S. President Barack Obama's Special Assistant to the President on Human Rights wrote on the White House Blog in advance of the President's visit that "Serious human rights abuses against civilians in several regions continue, including against women and children."[11] The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly[12] called on the Burmese Military Junta to respect human rights and in November 2009 the General Assembly adopted a resolution "strongly condemning the ongoing systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms" and calling on the Burmese Military Regime "to take urgent measures to put an end to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law."[13]

Forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour are common.[14] The military is also notorious for rampant use of sexual violence as an instrument of control, including allegations of systematic rapes and taking of sex slaves by the military,[15] a practice which continued in 2012.[16]

Freedom of religion, minority rights, and genocide allegations

Evidence has been gathered suggesting that the Burmese regime has marked certain ethnic minorities such as the Karen, Karenni and Shan for extermination or 'Burmisation'.[18] This, however, has received little attention from the international community since it has been more subtle and indirect than the mass killings in places like Rwanda.[19] According to Amnesty International, the Muslim Rohingya people have continued to suffer human rights violations under the Burma junta since 1978, and many have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as a result[20] Violence against Christian communities such as the Kachin has also flared since fighting restarted in June, 2011 in the 2011–2012 Kachin Conflict.

Genocide allegations and crimes against Rohingya people

The Rohingya have consistently faced human rights abuses by the Burmese regime which has refused to acknowledge them as Burmese citizens (despite generations of habitation in Burma) and attempted to forcibly expel Rohingya and bring in non-Rohingyas to replace them.[21] This policy has resulted in the expulsion of approximately half of the Rohingya population from Burma.[21] An estimated 90,000 people have been displaced in the recent sectarian violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Burma's western Rakhine State.[22] As a result of this policy Rohingya people have been described as “among the world’s least wanted”[23] and “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.”[24][25] Since a 1982 citizenship law Rohingya have been stripped of their Burmese citizenship.[26] Rohingya are not allowed to travel without official permission, are banned from owning land and are required to sign a commitment to have not more than two children.[26] In 2012, a riot broke out between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, which left 78 people dead, 87 injured, and thousands of homes destroyed. It also displaced more than 52,000 people.[27] As of July 2012, the Myanmar Government did not include the Rohingya minority group–-classified as stateless Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh since 1982—on the government's list of more than 130 ethnic races and therefore the government says that they have no claim to Myanmar citizenship.[28]

2012 Rakhine State riots

Main article: 2012 Rakhine State riots

The 2012 Rakhine State riots are a series of ongoing conflicts between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. The riots came after weeks of sectarian disputes and have been condemned by most people on both sides of the conflict.[29]

The immediate cause of the riots is unclear, with many commentators citing the killing of ten Burmese Muslims by ethnic Rakhine after the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman as the main cause.[30] Whole villages have been "decimated".[30] Over three hundred houses and a number of public buildings have been razed. According to Tun Khin, the President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), as of 28 June, 650 Rohingyas have been killed, 1,200 are missing, and more than 80,000 have been displaced.[31] According to the Myanmar authorities, the violence, between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, left 78 people dead, 87 injured, and thousands of homes destroyed. It also displaced more than 52,000 people.[27]

The government has responded by imposing curfews and by deploying troops in the regions. On June 10, state of emergency was declared in Rakhine, allowing military to participate in administration of the region.[32][33] The Burmese army and police have been accused of targeting Rohingya Muslims through mass arrests and arbitrary violence.[31][34] A number of monks' organizations that played vital role in Burma's struggle for democracy have taken measures to block any humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya community.[35]

Continuing violence

On 30 June 2013, rioters in the west coast town of Thandwe burned two homes. The riot had started because of rumors that a Muslim man had raped an underage girl, or territory dispute between Rakhine and Muslim trishaw riders.[36] Three Muslims were injured in the fire. Roads in and out of the town were blocked and a government spokesperson said the Myanmar police were working to find the offenders.[37]

Freedom of speech and political freedom

A 2004 Amnesty International report stated that, between 1989 and 2004, more than 1,300 political prisoners have been imprisoned after unfair trials. The prisoners, including National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo, have "been wrongfully denied their liberty for peaceful acts that would not be considered crimes under international law", Amnesty International claims.[38]

The Freedom House report notes that the authorities arbitrarily search citizens' homes, intercept mail, and monitor telephone conversations, and that the possession and use of telephones, fax machines, computers, modems, and software are criminalized.

According to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), there were 1,547[39] political prisoners in Burma - the number had doubled from 1,100 in 2006 to 2,123 in 2008. As of April 2013, there were 176 political prisoners in Burmese prisons.[9][40]

Freedom of the press

Main article: Censorship in Burma

The Burmese media is tightly controlled by the government. Newspapers, journals and other publications are run under the Ministry of Information and undergo heavy censorship before publication. Reporters face severe consequences for criticizing government officials, policy, or even reporting on criticism. Restrictions on media censorship were significantly eased in August 2012 following demonstrations by hundreds of protesters who wore shirts demanding that the government "Stop Killing the Press."[41] The most significant change has come in the form that media organizations will no longer have to submit their content to a censorship board prior to publication, however, as explained by one editorial in the exiled press Irrawaddy, this new "freedom" has caused some Burmese journalists to simply see the new law as an attempt to create an environment of self-censorship as journalists "are required to follow 16 guidelines towards protecting the three national causes -- non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity, perpetuation of sovereignty -- and "journalistic ethics" to ensure their stories are accurate and do not jeopardize national security."[41]

Children's rights

According to Human Rights Watch,[42] recruiting and kidnapping of children to the military is commonplace. An estimated 70,000 of the country’s 350,000-400,000 soldiers are children. There are also multiple reports of widespread child labour.

Child soldiers

Child soldiers have and continued to play a major part in the Burmese Army as well as Burmese rebel movements. The Independent reported in June, 2012 that "Children are being sold as conscripts into the Burmese military for as little as $40 and a bag of rice or a can of petrol."[43] The UN's Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, who stepped down from her position a week later, met representatives of the Government of Myanmar on July 5, 2012 and stated that she hoped the government's signing of an action plan would "signal a transformation.”[44] In September, 2012 the Burmese Army released 42 child soldiers and the International Labour Organization met with representatives of the government as well as the Kachin Independence Army to secure the release of more child soldiers.[45] According to Samantha Power, a U.S. delegation raised the issue of child soldiers with the government in October 2012 however she did not comment on the government's progress towards reform in this area.[11]

State-sanctioned torture and rape

A 2002 report by The Shan Human Rights Foundation and The Shan Women's Action Network, License to Rape, details 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, involving 625 girls and women, committed by Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) troops in Shan State, mostly between 1996 and 2001. The authors note that the figures are likely to be far lower than the reality. According to the report, "the Burmese military regime is allowing its troops systematically and on a widespread scale to commit rape with impunity in order to terrorize and subjugate the ethnic peoples of Shan State." Furthermore, the report states that "25% of the rapes resulted in death, in some incidences with bodies being deliberately displayed to local communities. 61% were gang-rapes; women were raped within military bases, and in some cases women were detained and raped repeatedly for periods of up to 4 months."[46] The Burmese government denied the report's findings, stating that insurgents are responsible for violence in the region.[47]

A 2003 report "No Safe Place: Burma's Army and the Rape of Ethnic Women" by Refugees International further documents the widespread use of rape by Burma’s soldiers to brutalize women from five different ethnic nationalities.[48]

Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International also report frequent torture of prisoners, including political prisoners.

Forced labour

According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions several hundred thousand men, women, children and elderly people are forced to work against their will by the administration. Individuals refusing to work may be victims of torture, rape or murder. The International Labour Organization has continuously called on Burma to end the practice of forced labour since the 1960s. In June 2000, the ILO Conference adopted a resolution calling on governments to cease any relations with the country that might aid the junta to continue the use of forced labour.[49]

Right to organize labour

Trade unions were banned when General Ne Win came to power in 1962. In 2010, amid growing calls for reform to labour laws, unofficial industrial action was taken at a number of garment factories in Rangoon, causing concern at government level.[50] In October 2011, it was announced that trade unions had been legalised by a new law.[51]

Past condemnation and individual cases


In a landmark legal case, some human rights groups sued the Unocal corporation, previously known as Union Oil of California and now part of the Chevron Corporation. They charged that since the early 1990s, Unocal has joined hands with dictators in Burma to turn thousands of citizens there into virtual slaves under brutality. Unocal, before being purchased, stated that they had no knowledge or connection to these alleged actions although it continued working in Burma. This was believed to be the first time an American corporation has been sued in a U.S. court on the grounds that the company violated human rights in another country.[52][53]


The Freedom in the World 2004 report by Freedom House notes that "The junta rules by decree, controls the judiciary, suppresses all basic rights, and commits human rights abuses with impunity. Military officers hold all cabinet positions, and active or retired officers hold all top posts in all ministries. Official corruption is reportedly rampant both at the higher and local levels."[54]

Brad Adams, director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, in a 2004 address described the human rights situation in the country as appalling: "Burma is the textbook example of a police state. Government informants and spies are omnipresent. Average Burmese people are afraid to speak to foreigners except in most superficial of manners for fear of being hauled in later for questioning or worse. There is no freedom of speech, assembly or association."[55]

From 2005-2007 NGOs found that violations of human rights included the absence of an independent judiciary, restrictions on Internet access through software-based censorship,[56][57] that forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour were common,[58] and that sexual violence was abundantly used as an instrument of control, including systematic rapes and taking of sex slaves as porters for the military. A strong women's pro-democracy movement has formed in exile, largely along the Thai border and in Chiang Mai. There was also said to be a growing international movement to defend women's human rights issues.[15]

In a press release on December 16, 2005 the US State Department said UN involvement in Burma was essential[59] and listed illicit narcotics, human rights abuses and political repression as serious problems that the UN needed to address.[59]

According to Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP), on April 18, 2007, several of its members (Myint Aye, Maung Maung Lay, Tin Maung Oo and Yin Kyi) were met by approximately a hundred people led by a local official, U Nyunt Oo, and beaten up. Due to the attack, Myint Hlaing and Maung Maung Lay were badly injured and subsequently hospitalized. The HRDP alleged that this attack was condoned by the authorities and vowed to take legal action. Human Rights Defenders and Promoters was formed in 2002 to raise awareness among the people of Burma about their human rights.

See also

Human rights portal
Current events/Southeast Asia portal


External links

  • Burmese soldiers target Christians in recent attacks - 2 November, 2011
  • Human Rights Watch: Burma
  • Burma Campaign UK
  • Collection of reports on issues in Burma, maintained by Burma Center Prague
  • Amnesty International report on prisoners of conscience
  • International Confederation of Free Trade Unions' Burma Campaign
  • Freedom House's Burma ratings
  • Burma: Time for Change by Minority Rights Group International
  • , a report on the Burmese military regime's use of sexual violence in Shan State, by The Shan Human Rights Foundation and The Shan Women's Action Network
  • Karen Human Rights Group, Documenting the voices of villagers in rural Burma
  • Refugees International on Burmese refugees
  • Burma Project (Open Society Institute)
  • The Free Burma Coalition
  • Censorship in Burma: IFEX
  • The Boston Globe. November 16, 2005
  • Burma Labour Solidarity Organisation
  • Asian Human Rights Commission - Burma homepage
  • Rule of Lords Weekly column on human rights & the rule of law in Burma & Thailand
  • Chin Human Rights Organization
  • Human Rights abuse in Burma reported on by Guy Horton
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