Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989

Burma's military leaders seized power in September 1988 and
lethally suppressed sustained, countrywide, prodemocracy
demonstrations. The 1988 popular uprising, unprecedented in
Burma's history, had ended the long rule of the Burma
Socialist Program Party (BSPP), under now-retired chairman Ne
Win who had drawn the nation into isolation and allowed it to
decline economically. The September 1988 military takeover
restored Ne Win's 26-year dictatorship by placing in power a
group of senior military officers subservient to Ne Win and
other top officials of the previous government. These men
form the current ruling body--the 19-member State Law and
Order Restoration Council (SLORC).
The SLORC has repeatedly assured the populace and the
international community that its stay in power is temporary
and that it will hold multiparty elections in May 1990. It
established an election commission and provided for the
registration of political parties, which reached as many as
233 during 1989. In practice, the military leadership has
maintained absolute control, keeping a heavy military presence
in Rangoon and other urban areas, enforcing martial law,
including a 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew, imposing extensive
surveillance on government employees and private citizens, and
launching an aggressive propaganda campaign in the
government-controlled media which inaccurately portrayed the
events of 1988. It also attempted to blame Burma's political
and economic instability on elements of the right and left, as
well as foreign governments and news organizations. Early in
the year, it tried to hinder opposition campaign efforts
through intimidation, and eliminated much of the opposition
through wide-scale arrests of the most popular party leaders
and other political activists.
Burma has fought various insurgencies since 1948. Some of the
ethnically based insurgents have fought for a measure of
autonomy, if no longer for outright independence, against
perceived domination by the Burmans, the majority ethnic
group. In recent years most insurgent groups, financed
primarily through narcotics production and trafficking, have
engaged only in small-scale fighting in areas on Burma's
borders. The Government has used their continued existence to
justify in part continued authoritarian rule, including the
operation of an extensive security apparatus. During 1989,
the Government sought accommodation with several
insurgent/narcotic trafficking groups, to gain short-term
advantages vis-a-vis other dissident groups, to reinforce a
split in the Burma Communist Party, and to secure areas for
teak and logging concessions.
Over the last 27 years, Ne Win's "Road to Socialism" reduced
what was once the richest country in Southeast Asia to one
designated by the United Nations as a "least developed"
country. The military leaders promised a new open-door
economic policy and passed a law to permit foreign investment
but did not develop an economic strategy. The leadership,
which lacked economic training or expertise, failed to address
past mistakes--highly centralized decisionmaking, a vastly
overvalued currency, uncontrolled monetary expansion, and an
ineffective banking system—and made a bad economy worse.
Burma's dismal human rights situation deteriorated even
further in 1989. Government control over the population and
interference in individual lives significantly increased, as
did credible reports of torture, wide-scale arbitrary arrests,
disappearances, and compulsory labor.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Although instances of government-instigated political killings
were fewer in 1989 than 1988 (after the widespread shootings
of demonstrators in 1988), there is substantial credible
evidence of an undetermined number of civilian deaths at the
hands of military government officials or individual soldiers
throughout the year. The Government repeatedly denied these
charges and, despite international criticism, made no apparent
effort to investigate or to bring perpetrators to justice.
In January numerous reports surfaced that some students who
fled after the September takeover were killed after returning
to their homes. These reports strongly indicated that a
number of returned students died after having been mistreated
while in government custody, and that the authorities
routinely informed the dead students' parents that their
children had died of disease. There were also credible
reports that throughout the year some political prisoners died
in jail as a result of torture or other mistreatment at the
hands of the authorities.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing deaths of men impressed as
Burmese army porters after they were forced to walk ahead of
troops through mine-infested terrain; deaths from gangrene
after troops abandoned injured porters; overladen porters
falling to their deaths from mountain paths; and ill-fed,
inadequately clothed porters dying of disease. Amnesty
International (AI) reported in August an eyewitness account of
a soldier shooting a porter who could no longer walk. In that
same report, AI also cited allegations of the killings of
other porters, including members of ethnic minorities, and
stated that their sources repeatedly accused the Burma Army
33rd Light Infantry Division of unlawful killings.
In some instances, soldiers reportedly committed murder and
the crimes were then officially covered up. While it was not
possible to confirm these reports, they are plausible and
highly detailed, containing names of victims and perpetrators,
addresses, military ranks, and sometimes regiment or division
and military identification numbers, as well as date, time,
and place of killing. Methods of killing reported included
stabbing, bayoneting, and shooting. The victims' ages ranged
from 13 to young adult.
There were unconfirmed reports of summary executions by
soldiers in the field. In one case, opposition leader Aung
San Suu Kyi charged during a June press conference that eight
students had been shot near a jade mine in Mohnyin township,
Kachin State, by soldiers who reportedly made an effort to
separate and kill students from among nonstudent youths
present. AI also expressed concern about several reports of
executions of students by soldiers in remote areas near the
Thai/Burma border.
As in past years, for security reasons, Burmese authorities
did not allow diplomatic observers to travel to areas of heavy
insurgent activity. Therefore, it was not possible for them
to gather directly information about alleged human rights
practices by the Government or by the insurgents in these
areas. Government-controlled media continued to cite numerous
examples of insurgent-generated violence that resulted in
civilian deaths, and AI cited reports that insurgent forces
had fired on civilian areas.
      b. Disappearance
It is impossible to estimate with any accuracy the number of
persons who disappeared and remained unaccounted for during
the year. Families and friends of many who disappeared
assumed the persons were under detention or died in jail,
whether this was the case or not (see Section l.d.). Others
may have been impressed to serve as army porters. Some
persons who disappeared may in fact be among the estimated
2,000 to 3,000 students hiding in the Thai/Burma border areas
and the 200 to 300 who have crossed into Thailand. During .
periods of mass arrests--March-April , July-September--some
persons disappeared but were later found to have been
detained. Some of these were subseguently released.
Burmese authorities are reluctant to respond to diplomatic
inquiries as to the whereabouts of Burmese and resident
foreigners, mostly South Asians, who have been jailed or
disappeared, and, if they reply, limit comments to general
statements that individuals were arrested for violations of
existing laws.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Diplomatic observers in Rangoon had a considerable body of
credible evidence--including eyewitness accounts--that
torture, beatings, and mistreatment of political detainees
were commonplace.
Instances of torture and mistreatment appeared more numerous
in 1989 than previously, but this may have been due to
increased reporting; most of the victims and their families
and friends were educated and had greater access to
foreigners. Physical and mental torture included beatings
that caused permanent damage; sleep and food deprivation;
cigarette burns; electrical shocks to the genitals and
elsewhere; and interrogations while the detainee was forced to
stand in water or to assume painful, unnatural positions for
long periods of time, (e.g., the "airplane" or "motorcycle"
postures which forced victims into a half-sitting stance with
arms outstretched; they were beaten if they collapsed).
Sometimes detainees were falsely told that family members had
died or were in trouble.
Despite public and private expressions of concern by foreign
governments and international human rights organizations over
charges of torture, the Government repeatedly denied that it
practiced or condoned torture and made no apparent efforts to
investigate the charges. In at least some cases, victims were
forced to sign a document stating that they had not been
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Government arbitrarily arrested or detained several
thousand persons during 1989. A government spokesman stated
on September 8 that "only" 811 persons, including 170
students, had been detained since the military takeover and
denied that it had arrested anyone for political beliefs.
However, the Government has asserted that it is a crime to
criticize the Government and its leaders; many have been
detained for this reason.
While exact numbers are unknown, a conservative estimate of
politically motivated arrests during 1989 would be at least
4,000. Many persons were arrested on ostensibly criminal
charges. For example, a prominent political figure and a
student leader, both members of the leading opposition party,
were arrested and sentenced to 3 and 10 years respectively for
alleged involvement in an abortion case, even though Burma's
abortion law is rarely enforced. Many others were accused of
"violating law and order." Regardless of the charges, most of
the estimated 4,000 persons arrested were either active
members of opposition political parties, persons involved in
peaceful antigovernment demonstrations or pamphleteering, or
students who returned home after having fled to Thailand or
the border area after the military repression in September
1988. In a September 1989 report, AI expressed continuing
concern about 3 students said to have been forcibly
repatriated from Thailand and arrested January 7 by Burmese
authorities, and about 22 returned students reportedly
detained January 10 and held incommunicado since then.
In the period from July 23 to August 12, the Government
released 18,752 prisoners from jails and prisons throughout
the country. All of these prisoners had been arrested prior
to the September 1988 takeover and most had been charged with
nonpolitical crimes. It was widely believed but unconfirmed
that the Government released them to make room for the large
numbers of persons arrested for political reasons from July to
Although arrests continued throughout 1989, there were several
distinct periods during which larger numbers than usual were
detained. Of the estimated 4,000 to 6,000 students who fled
to Thailand and the border following the military takeover, an
unknown number returned or tried to return to their homes;
many of these were taken into custody despite government
guarantees of their safety.
In March and April, authorities detained at least several
hundred political activists in Rangoon and Mandalay; by the
first of May, many of the best known leaders in Burma's
student opposition were in jail.
On July 20 the Government placed Burma's most popular
opposition figure, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her colleague. Tin
Oo, under house arrest where they have been held
incommunicado. Their detentions were followed by the largest
wave of arrests to date as authorities rounded up most of the
leadership of many of the country's major opposition groups.
Even before the establishment of military tribunals on July 18
(see Section I.e.), there was no provision in Burmese law for
a person in detention to seek a judicial determination of the
legality of his detention. Previously, in serious cases
involving national security, some persons were not formally
charged but instead were held under an antisubversion act in
indefinite detention without trial. In less serious political
and security cases, detention under the act was nominally
limited to 180 days. According to Burmese law, thoseBUBMA
designated "dangerous and destructive elements" can be placed
under house arrest without formal charges for up to 1 year, as
was the case with opposition leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin
Oo . However, under martial law and the military tribunals,
anyone violating martial law orders is subject to summary
justice. Individuals have no pretrial rights under martial
law, particularly since the establishment of the military
tribunals. The accused has no right to a defense lawyer,
although in at least some cases military authorities allowed
the presence of defense attorneys. There is no bail, although
some defendants gain release by bribing officials.
With regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Burma was under martial law throughout 1989. On July 18, the
Government invested regional military commanders with summary
judicial powers and gave them discretion to try offenders
either by courts formed under existing law or by military
tribunals. However, military tribunals have exclusive
jurisdiction over cases concerning defiance of orders issued
by the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC)
or regional military commanders, and can mete out the death
sentence, life imprisonment, or at least 3 years' imprisonment
with labor regardless of existing law. The tribunals also can
reject or summon witnesses. Trials are public only at the
township level, and never under the military tribunals. Under
Burmese law, attorneys are not provided at public expense, and
the accused is not presumed to be innocent.
In practice, military tribunals tried virtually all offenses —criminal or political—committed after the tribunals were
established, although civilian judges continued to hear some
earlier cases. On October 19, a military tribunal sentenced
to death an interpreter for a French journalist who allegedly
had helped the journalist film a beheading in 1988. During
trials, court officials must submit daily reports for military
review. Although reports were also given to the attorney
general, military authorities had the final say. The accused
were not guaranteed the right to a defense attorney. When
allowed to participate in a trial, a defense attorney's role
was severely limited. Lawyers were warned that an overly
aggressive defense jeopardized both client and lawyer. In
numerous cases, the tribunal refused to admit witnesses or
evidence central to the defense. Military tribunals imposed
heavy sentences on political prisoners. For example, a writer
was sentenced to 20 years with labor for allegedly exhorting
navy personnel to join in the 1988 prodemocracy
demonstrations, and a lawyer was given 14 years' labor for
providing "false" news to the British Broadcasting
Corporation. Appeal is theoretically possible, subject to
certain conditions: appeal of a sentence to 3 years'
imprisonment must be submitted to the regional commander
within 30 days; in cases involving the death sentence, life
imprisonment, or sentences over 3 years, appeals must be made
to the army commander-in-chief within 30 days. The army
commander-in-chief was designated final arbiter on all
tribunal decisions and sentences. In practice, military
authorities have been known to hamper the appeal process by
refusing to cooperate with and attempting to intimidate
It is impossible accurately to estimate the number of
political prisoners held at any one time. However, separate
reliable sources reported about 6,000 prisoners, including
2,000 students in Insein jail in April and about 2,000
political prisoners in Insein in September. It appears there
were at least 4,000 politically motivated arrests during the
year, many of which involved ostensibly criminal charges. The
Government denies holding any political prisoners (see Section
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or
In 1989 the State intruded extensively into the lives of
private citizens. Under martial law, forced entry and
warrantless searches of private homes and other premises were
commonplace and were often conducted without warning. The
Government strictly monitored the travel and whereabouts of
many individuals. A well-developed system of neighborhood
informers reported on dissidents and criticism of the
Government. Most people believed that security personnel
monitored private correspondence and telephone calls.
      g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
The Burmese army has fought various insurgencies for the past
four decades. These conflicts apparently have resulted in
numerous transgressions on all sides, such as the mistreatment
or killing of prisoners, neglect of the sick and wounded,
impressment of civilians for porter duty, and indiscriminate
attacks on civilian areas. Insurgents and the Government have
repeatedly accused each other of human rights violations. In
August, AI expressed concern over allegations of ill-treatment
and unlawful killing by the Burma army in insurgent areas. AI
also stated that several insurgent groups continued to attack
civilian targets.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Already severely restricted, freedom of speech and press in
Burma became virtually nonexistent in 1989. Imposition of
martial law overrode even nominal constitutional provisions
for freedom of expression. Although the Government permitted
the registration of politial parties, in practice opposing
views and criticism of the Government were not tolerated.
After popular opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi publicly
criticized the current leadership as well as former leader Ne
Win, she was placed under house arrest, as was the chairman of
her party, the National League for Democracy. Thousands of
other political activists were also detained after peaceably
expressing antigovernment views (see Section l.d).
Government workers were instructed not to discuss politics in
their offices at the risk of losing their jobs. They were not
allowed to join or support political parties and had to sign
statements promising they would not participate in political
activities. Even private citizens became reluctant to express
opinions out of fear of government-paid informers.
As government employees, teachers and college professors are
subject to the same restrictions on freedom of speech,
political activities, and publications, and fear of reprisal
as other civil servants. Content of lessons and lectures is
severely circumscribed.BUfiMA
As in the past, the Government runs and operates the mass
media, including television, radio, and the sole national
newspaper. The Working People's Daily. Newspaper editors are
appointed by the Government and editorials must be approved in
advance. Journalists are subject to strict publishing and
broadcast guidelines, especially on domestic matters. Even
international news is subject to prior review and selection.
All forms of communication—domestic and imported books and
periodicals, stage plays, motion pictures, and musical
recordings—are subject to government control and censorship.
Criticism of the Government, government officials, or sectors
of the economy controlled or partially controlled by the
Government is not permitted in the press. On May 26 the
Government announced a stricter enforcement of the 1962
Printers and Publishers Registration Law expressly to prohibit
political parties from releasing documents not previously
cleared by the Government. Also in 1989, the Government
imposed stricter regulations over video and audio cassette
rentals and for a period of time closed down all video and
cassette rental shops.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The right of assembly exists only for those organizations
permitted by law and duly registered with the Government. In
practice, however, even the activities of these organizations
are severely restricted. The martial law edict decreeing that
people are not allowed to gather in groups of more than five
was unevenly enforced. Assembly within the premises of
political parties has been limited to 50 persons. In fact,
however, some party members in groups of less than 50 have
been arrested on their premises for "violating law and
order." For a time, people were allowed to congregate at
government-sanctioned rock concerts, and in June and early
July authorities did not interfere with increasingly large
crowds that gathered to hear opposition leader Aung San Suu
Kyi. In mid-July troops beat with bamboo sticks or arrested
peaceful demonstrators for violating martial law regulations.
Trade associations and professional bodies, like other
organizations in Burma, are permitted only if sanctioned by
the Government. Their activities are strictly monitored and
their members are not free to discuss politics or express
criticism of the Government.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Burma is a secular state dominated by the Burman ethnic
group. Freedom of religion is provided for in the
Constitution and, even under martial law, is widely observed
in practice. The great majority of Burmese are Buddhist,
although there are sizable Christian, Muslim, and animist
minorities based principally in various minority ethnic groups,
While minority religious groups are allowed to practice
freely, security services monitor the activities of some
religious communities closely. Some persons of mixed Burman
and ethnic minority ancestry have been known to convert to
Buddhism as a way of strengthening their claim to be
considered ethnic Burmans.
There is considerable social prejudice against Muslims in
Burma. Occasionally this erupts in violence and has led to
government action infringing on the practice of Islam.
Religious groups can and do maintain links with coreligionists
in other countries, including the Catholic Church, which
maintains ties to the Vatican. Foreign religious
representatives are usually allowed only tourist visas and are
not permitted to preach, proselytize, or remain to carry out
missionary work. There is at least one long-time resident
foreign Catholic priest (Italian) in Burma.
All religious organizations are required to register with the
Government. Religious publications are subject to the same
governmental control and censorship as other publications. On
occasion, the Government has used a nationalization law to
take control of the property of religious organizations.
The Government in recent years promulgated two directives that
limit the right of assembly and association of Buddhist monks.
Acting through the government-controlled hierarchy of the
monkhood (Sangha), the State has prohibited monks from
attending various forms of public entertainment. While this
ostensibly has been done, in part, to maintain the moral
purity of the Sangha, it is also aimed at curbing the
political activities of monks, one of the most influential
groups in Burmese society and one which has been heavily
involved in the 1988 antigovernment protests.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Burmese citizens have the right to live anywhere in the
country. Except for limitations in areas of insurgent
activity, Burmese citizens can travel freely within the
country but must inform local authorities of their temporary
place of residence, a restriction greatly tightened under
martial law. In 1989 people who failed to report either
guests or intentions to stay overnight to the authorities were
subject to a jail term and arrests sometimes were made.
Noncitizen residents, including persons born in Burma who hold
foreigners' registration cards, must obtain prior permission
to travel. Legal requirements, bureaucratic procedures, and
corruption cause long delays in obtaining passports. Severe
limits are placed on what emigrants are allowed to take with
Burmese citizens who left the country legally are generally
allowed to return to visit relatives. However, Burma does not
recognize dual citizenship; acquiring citizenship in another
country results in the loss of Burmese citizenship. With few
exceptions, those who take citizenship in another country are
banned from returning to Burma. Emigrants wishing to return
permanently are required to reapply for Burmese citizenship.
Burmese who leave the country illegally cannot legally
return. There were reported instances of Burmese wishing to
return to visit ill or dying parents being denied permission
to enter Burma.
Burma does not permit foreign refugees or displaced persons to
resettle or seek safe haven within Burma. The Government
treats persons claiming to be refugees as illegal immigrants
and imprisons them, although it freed and deported a number of
imprisoned Vietnamese refugees in 1988.
Throughout the year, the Government imposed a 10 p.m. to 4
a.m. curfew on the entire country. In most cases, the curfew
was strictly enforced and violators were often punished. On
at least several occasions, riverboat passengers, stranded at
the jetty in Rangoon after curfew, were sent before a military
tribunal and sentenced to 3 years' imprisonment.
During 1989, and particularly in November and December, the
Government carried out a forced relocation of urban poor
countrywide, most often to inadequately prepared sites far
from jobs, schools, and extended families. In the great
majority of cases, there was no compensation. Those forced to
move were compelled to dismantle their old homes at their own
expense and also to bear the costs of purchasing a new site,
construction materials, and labor for building a new house, as
well as transportation expenses. There were many unconfirmed
reports that those without funds or assets to sell were moved
to reclaimed jungle sites miles from urban areas to cultivate
agricultural products to sell to nearby government factories
at controlled prices. The Goverment described all those
forced to move as "squatters," but in at least some instances
people had purchased their property and held deeds to it.
Some reportedly lived in apartments or houses coveted by the
military or were told they lived too near military
installations or government offices. At the same time, the
Government offered attractively priced, relatively luxurious
housing in areas of rapid real estate appreciation to
high-ranking military officers, and also provided houses and
land free of charge to former members of the now defunct Burma
Socialist Program Party which ruled Burma for 26 years.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
The Burmese people do not have the right or the ability
peacefully to change their government. In 1988 the military
seized power and suppressed a massive prodemocracy movement by
killing at least 1,000 peaceful demonstrators and injuring
many more countrywide. Throughout 1989 the SLORC tolerated no
dissent or criticism and controlled the population by
imposition of martial law, wide-scale arrests of political
activists, and intimidation. Although the SLORC allowed the
formation and registration of political parties and promised
elections scheduled for May 1990, its subsequent barring of
the major opposition figures from the elections virtually
eliminated hopes that this process would be free or fair.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government does not permit investigation of its human
rights practices, nor is it willing to discuss human rights
problems with outside government or nongovernmental
organizations. Requests for meetings specifically to discuss
broad human rights issues or individual cases are usually
deflected. The Government consistently denied charges of
human rights violations and publicly and repeatedly criticized
the U.S. Government and AI for what it called "fabricated"
reports of torture and other abuses and blamed both for
"interfering in Burma's internal affairs."
No internal human rights organizations exist. A group calling
itself Amnesty International of Burma, established during the
1988 prodemocracy demonstrations, was subsequently denied
registration as a legal organization by the Government and
apparently has been disbanded.
The Government is conscious of and resents the outside
scrutiny to which Burma's human rights record has been
subjected since its lethal suppression of prodemocracy
demonstrations in 1988. Burma was the subject of a U.N. Human
Rights Commission (UNHRC) decision in February 1989 and also
is scheduled to be discussed at the 1990 UNHRC meeting. AI
expressed concern about actions of the Burmese Government
several times during 1989. The Governments of the European
Community and of Australia on several occasions publicly
expressed concern over human rights abuses in Burma.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Burma's numerous ethnic minorities have their own distinct
cultures and languages. Economic development among minorities
has lagged, and many still live at the subsistence level.
This is due in part to geographic factors which impede
economic development in the rugged, isolated, border areas
populated by minorities. Minorities have been
underrepresented in the Government and are largely excluded
from the military leadership.
Persons of nonethnic Burmese ancestry, primarily Indians and
Chinese, while denied full citizenship and excluded from party
or government positions, continue to play an important role in
the economy, a factor resented by many majority Burmans.
The government press has repeatedly denigrated Westerners or
those with mixed blood in pejorative terms, such as
"long-noses" or "green eyes."
Women in Burma have historically played an active role in
society, but this varies with cultural traditions and ethnic
backgrounds. In general, Burmese women enjoy most of the same
legal rights as men. They keep their own names after
marriage, are active in trade, and often control family
There is no violence directed specifically against women in
Burma. Although women as well as men died or were injured at
the hands of the Government, and in some cases reportedly were
raped, indications are that authorities generally treated
women better than men in detention. While in 1988 there were
unconfirmed but persistent reports of rape of several women in
detention by soldiers or police, rape is viewed with great
abhorrence by Burmese society.
Burma is governed solely by the military. Members of the
armed forces and their families enjoy privileges not available
to others. For example, during the enforced closure of all
schools and universities, which lasted over a year, military
children were allowed to attend special schools often taught
by military spouses. At the same time, the military
leadership closed down private schools set up by political
parties for teaching poor children whose parents could not
afford privately funded tutors and threatened legal action
against those who taught children privately.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
There are no trade unions and no independent labor movement in
Burma. Workers do not have the right to organize
independently, to bargain collectively, or to strike. After
the Government violently suppressed prodemocracy
demonstrations in 1988, and imposed martial law, even
government-controlled workers' and peasants' mass
organizations were disbanded. There were no strikes in 1989.
In April the United States suspended Burma's eligibility for
trade concessions under the Generalized System of Preferences
program until the Government takes steps to afford its labor
force internationally recognized workers' rights. Again in
1989, as in previous years, committees of the International
Labor Organization (ILO) criticized Burma's legislation
imposing a single trade union structure which contravenes the
principles of ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association,
which Burma has ratified. The ILO committees, however,
expressed the hope that prospective political changes which
auger an end to the single party system would also lead to the
repeal of the single trade union law.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
As noted, workers have no right to bargain collectively.
Labor arbitration boards which, while government controlled,
at least theoretically provided an opportunity for the airing
of labor disputes, have been disbanded. The military
authorities are the sole authority over workers' issues. No
special economic zones exist in Burma.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Burma's legal code does not contain any statutory prohibition
of forced labor. For years the Burma army frequently
conscripted civilian males in the vicinity of military
operations (primarily in areas populated by ethnic minorities)
to serve as porters. On September 22, a government spokesman
acknowledged that the Burma army has traditionally used local
residents in insurgent areas as porters, but denied reports
that the military authorities had used students or other
detained youths. According to eyewitness and firsthand
reports during 1989, the Government conducted periodic
roundups on the streets of Rangoon and other major cities of
unemployed or those who could not prove employment. An
unknown number of these persons were impressed for duty as
Burma army porters in insurgent areas, while others were able
to bribe their way out of custody. Some reliable reports
strongly indicate that students and other political activists
also were taken from Rangoon to serve as porters or as
laborers in government mines or other installations.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Children between 13 and 15 may work for 4 hours a day. The
penalty for employers who disregard this regulation is 2 years
in prison. However, the regulation is not strictly enforced.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is a 5-day, 35-hour workweek for employees in the public
sector and a 6-day, 44-hour workweek for private and
parastatal sector employees, with overtime paid for additional
work. However, public sector employees seldom actually work
more than 6 1/2 hours a day. Workers have 21 paid holidays a
year, and there are numerous legal provisions to protect
workers' health and safety, but these are not strictly
enforced even for government workers. The legal minimum
government wage was raised in March from about $1.00 per day
to approximately $2.25 at current official exchange rates,
although at the more realistic free-market rate this works out
to about 21 cents a day. Wages commonly have lagged far
behind inflation and are not nearly enough for subsistence,
particularly in the case of large or extended families. In
the private sector, the minimum wage law applies only to
cheroot-rolling plants and rice mills. There are rules
governing health and safety conditions at workplaces,
pertaining to room size, ventilation, fire hazards, and the
availability of latrines and drinking water. In practice,
these are seldom enforced, particularly in the private sector