Human rights in Myanmar
|This article is part of a series on the|
politics and government of
Human rights in Myanmar under its military regime have long been regarded as among the worst in the world. International human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science 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." As of July 2013, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, there were about 100 political prisoners in Burmese prisons.
On 9 November 2012, Samantha Power, US 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." The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly 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."
Forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour are common. The Burmese Military Regime 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, a practice which continued in 2012.
Freedom of religion, minority rights, and internal conflict
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'. 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. 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 Violence against Christian communities such as the Kachin has also flared since fighting restarted in June 2011 in the 2011–2012 Kachin Conflict.
Rohingya rebellion in Western Burma
The Muslim 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. This policy has resulted in the expulsion of approximately half of the Rohingya population from Burma. An estimated 90,000 people have been displaced in the recent sectarian violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Burma's western Rakhine State. As a result of this policy Rohingya people have been described as "among the world’s least wanted" and "one of the world's most persecuted minorities".
Since a 1982 citizenship law Rohingya have been stripped of their Burmese citizenship. 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. 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.
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.
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 13 years old Rakhine girl by Burmese Muslims as the main cause. Whole villages have been "decimated". 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. 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.
The government has responded by imposing curfews and by deploying troops in the regions. On 10 June, state of emergency was declared in Rakhine, allowing military to participate in administration of the region. The Burmese army and police have been accused of targeting Rohingya Muslims through mass arrests and arbitrary violence. A number of monks' organisations that played vital role in Burma's struggle for democracy have taken measures to block any humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya community.
On 30 June 2013, rioters in the west coast town of Thandwe burned two homes. The riot had started because of rumours that a Muslim man had raped an underage girl, or territory dispute between Rakhine and Muslim trishaw riders. 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.
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.
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 criminalised.
According to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), there were 1,547 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.
Political prisoners may be detained on charges seemingly unrelated to politics, complicating the case for their release. For example, National Democratic Force member and land rights activist Daw Bauk Ja was detained by police for medical negligence in 2013, though the detainment was linked to a 2008 death, the case for which had been withdrawn by family of the deceased in 2010. She had run for election in 2010 and also actively campaigned against the Myitsone Dam and took Yuzana Company to court for its land confiscations in Kachin State’s Hukawng Valley region.
Freedom of the press
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 criticising 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".
The most significant change has come in the form that media organisations 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 jeopardise national security."
According to Human Rights Watch, 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 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." 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 5 July 2012 and stated that she hoped the government's signing of an action plan would "signal a transformation.”
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. According to Samantha Power, a US 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.
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." The Burmese government denied the report's findings, stating that insurgents are responsible for violence in the region.
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 brutalise women from five different ethnic nationalities.
Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International also report frequent torture of prisoners, including political prisoners.
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.
Right to organise 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. In October 2011, it was announced that trade unions had been legalised by a new law.
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 US court on the grounds that the company violated human rights in another country.
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."
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."
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, that forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour were common, 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.
In a press release on 16 December 2005 the US State Department said UN involvement in Burma was essential and listed illicit narcotics, human rights abuses and political repression as serious problems that the UN needed to address.
According to Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP), on 18 April 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 hospitalised. 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.
- Internal conflict in Burma
- Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
- Censorship in Burma
- Internet censorship in Burma
- Rohingya people
- LGBT rights in Burma
- Burma VJ
- Burma Center Prague
- "A Special Report to the 59th Session of the United Nations". Geneva: Freedom House. 2003: vii–7.
ruled by one of the world's most repressive regimes.
- Howse, Robert; Jared M. Genser. "Are EU Trade Sanctions On Burma Compatible With WTO Law?" (PDF). Are EU Trade Sanctions on Burma Compatible with WTO Law?: 166+. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
repressive and abusive military regime
- Brad Adams. "Statement to the EU Development Committee". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 11 July 2006.
- Brad Adams. "Amnesty International 2009 Report on Human Rights in Myanmar". Amnesty International. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
- "Satellite Images Verify Myanmar Forced Relocations, Mounting Military Presence". ScienceMode. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- "Burma (Myanmar) (2011)". Freedom House. Retrieved 29 August 2011.
- "Myanmar set to release some 70 prisoners". The Myanmar Times. 24 July 2013. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- Weng, Lawi (24 July 2013). "Burma Govt Releases 73 Political Prisoners". Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- "Myanmar: Final push on political prisoners needed". Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). 27 September 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- "Burma Frees 56 Political Prisoners". Voice of America. 22 April 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
- Samantha Power. "Supporting Human Rights in Burma | The White House". Whitehouse.gov. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- "List of UN General Assembly Resolutions On Burma". Retrieved 4 January 2010.
- "UN General Assembly Resolution: Time f or Concrete Action" (Press release). International Federation for Human Rights. 20 November 2009. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
- "Myanmar: 10th anniversary of military repression". Amnesty International. 7 August 1998. Archived from the original on 24 August 2006. Retrieved 14 July 2006.
- "State of Terror report" (PDF). Women's League of Burma. 1 February 2007. Retrieved 21 May 2007.
- Human Rights Watch World Report 2012, Burma, http://www.hrw.org/world-report-2012/world-report-2012-burma
- UNHCR, Thailand Country page 2012, http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e489646.html
- Guardia, Anton La (24 June 2005). "Burma's 'slow genocide' is revealed through the eyes of its child victims". London: Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Thomson, Mike (5 March 2006). "New evidence backs claims of genocide in Burma". London: Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Burma - The Rohingya Minority: Fundamental Rights Denied, Amnesty International, 2004.
- A Handbook of Terrorism and Insurgency in South East Asia, Tan, Andrew T.H., Chapter 16, State Terrorism in Arakan, Islam, Syed Serajul Islam, Edward Elgar Publishing, ISBN 9781845425432, pg. 342, 2007
- "Burma unrest: UN body says 90,000 displaced by violence". BBC. 20 June 2012.
- Mark Dummett (18 February 2010). "Bangladesh accused of "crackdown" on Rohingya refugees". BBC. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
- "Myanmar, Bangladesh leaders "to discuss Rohingya"". AFP. 25 June 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
- Lucas Bento and Guled Yusuf (9 October 2012). "The Rohingya: Unwanted at Home, Unwelcome Abroad". The Diplomat.
- Jonathan Head (5 February 2009). "What drive the Rohingya to sea?". BBC. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
- "UN refugee agency redeploys staff to address humanitarian needs in Myanmar". UN News. 29 June 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- "Rohingyas are not citizens: Myanmar minister". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 1 August 2012.
- "Four killed as Rohingya Muslims riot in Myanmar: government". Reuters. 8 June 2012. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
- Lauras, Didier (15 September 2012). "Myanmar stung by global censure over unrest". Agence France-Presse in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
- Hindstorm, Hanna (28 June 2012). "Burmese authorities targeting Rohingyas, UK parliament told". Democratic Voice of Burma. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- Linn Htet (11 June 2012). "အ႘ရး႘ပၚအ႘ျခအ႘န ႘ၾကညာခ်က႙ ႏုိင႙ငံ႘ရးသမားမ်ား ႘ထာက႙ခံ". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- Keane, Fergal (11 June 2012). "Old tensions bubble in Burma". BBC News Online. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- "UN focuses on Myanmar amid Muslim plight". PressTV. 13 July 2012. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
- Hindstorm, Hanna (25 July 2012). "Burma's monks call for Muslim community to be shunned". London. The Independent. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- "Rohingya houses set ablaze in Thandwe". Mizzima. 1 July 2013. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
- "Rioters renew violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State", Jared Ferrie and Aung Hla Tun, The Star Online (Reuters), 1 July 2013
- "Amnesty International calls on authorities in Myanmar to release all prisoners of conscience", Amnesty International (ASA 16/011/2004), 7 December 2004, accessed 14 August 2012
- "List of Political Prisoners in Burma in 2008". Retrieved 12 January 2011.
- "Burma Frees 56 Political Prisoners". Voice of America. 22 April 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
- "Kachin activist Daw Bauk Ja arrested over 2008 death". Myanmar Times. 22 July 2013. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
- "Actions: No Political Prisoner Left Behind. Free Buak Ja". Burma Campaign UK. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
- Roughneen, Simon (15 August 2012). "MediaShift. In Burma, a Delicate Balance for New Freedoms of Speech". PBS. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- "My Gun Was as Tall as Me" : Child Soldiers in Burma, Human Rights Watch, October 2002, ISBN 1-56432-279-3
- "Two Burmese children a week conscripted into military, UN-verified accounts of child soldiers undermine junta's assurances on democratic reforms", Jerome Taylor, The Independent, 19 June 2012
- "Press Conference on Action Plan to End Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Myanmar", United Nations (New York), 5 July 2012
- "ILO in Talks with Kachins over Child Soldiers", Lawi Weng, The Irrawaddy, 5 September 2012
- License to Rape : The Burmese military regime's use of sexual violence in the ongoing war in Shan State, Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) and Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN), May 2002
- Warren Vieth (13 November 2005). "Personal Tales of Struggle Resonate With President". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 May 2011.
- No Safe Place: Burma's Army and the Rape of Ethnic Women, Betsy Apple and Veronika Martin, Refugees International, April 2003
- "Resolution concerning the measures recommended by the Governing Body under article 33 of the ILO Constitution on the subject of Myanmar", General Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO), 14 June 2000
- "Burma Rejects Labor Union Application". The Irrawaddy website. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
- "Burma law to allow labour unions and strikes". BBC News. 14 October 2011. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
- "Blood and Oil in Burma", Daniel Zwerdling, American Radio Works – NPR, March 2000
- "Announcement: Burma oil campaign, No Petro-dollars for SLORC", Pamela Wellner, Free Burma, 26 June 1996
- "Burma country report", Freedom in the World 2004, Freedom House, accessed 14 August 2012
- "Statement to the EU Development Committee", Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch, 31 August 2004, accessed 14 August 2012]
- "Internet Filtering in Burma in 2005: A Country Study". OpenNet Initiative.
- "Burma bans Google and gmail". BurmaNet News. 27 June 2006. Retrieved 28 June 2006.
- "Myanmar: 10th anniversary of military repression". Amnesty International. 7 August 1998. Retrieved 14 July 2006.
- "U.N. Involvement in Burma 'Essential', State Department Says", U.S. Department of State, 17 December 2005
- 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
- Minorities in Burma and Burma: Time for Change by Minority Rights Group International
- Licence to rape, 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
- Focus on Myanmar The Boston Globe. 16 November 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
- Burma 2012 Human Rights Report United States Department of State