Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1991

Burma is a military dictatorship ruled by the 19-member State
Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which seized power
in September 1988 after suppressing massive, countrywide,
prodemocracy demonstrations. These demonstrations had led to
the resignation of long-time military ruler Ne Win, whose
policies had isolated Burma from the international community
and engendered economic decline. The military imposed martial
law and established the SLORC, headed by the armed forces
commander-in-chief, as Burma's governing body. Members of this
council are all senior military leaders. Although the military
held a relatively free election in May 1990, it did not
transfer power to the victorious party, which was headed by the
leaders of the 1988 demonstrations. Moreover, it took further
steps in 1991 to prolong its rule until a constitution and
civilian leadership acceptable to the military can be
produced. Such preconditions could well take years to fulfill.
The military Government enforces martial law by posting troops
in major urban centers and by a pervasive security apparatus
composed of the military's Directorate of Defense Services
Intelligence (DDSI) as well as several police intelligence
agencies under the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs. An
11 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew; surveillance of government employees
and private citizens; restrictions on contact with foreigners;
arrests, harassment, and torture of political activists; and
repeated denunciations of agitators and foreign interference
buttress the military's control.
The military Government justifies its security apparatus as
necessary to maintain law and order and to combat numerous
ethnic insurgencies, though in recent years these have posed no
threat to the country's major population centers. Insurgent
groups engage in small-scale fighting, mostly in remote areas,
in hopes of lessening domination by the ethnic Burman majority.
Apart from the Karen National Union (KNU), these groups are
financed mostly through trafficking in and/or producing
After Ne Win's 26-year rule reduced what was once Southeast
Asia's richest land to a U.N. -designated "least developed
country", the new military Government formally abandoned his
"Burmese Way to Socialism," opening up the economy to permit
modest expansion of the private sector and attract foreign
investment as well as badly needed foreign exchange. It has
failed, however, to address fundamental problems: highly
centralized decisionmaking; significant restrictions on private
commercial activity; an overvalued currency; rapid monetary
expansion; a timid, bloated bureaucracy; and disproportionate
funding for military purposes.
Politically motivated arrests decreased in 1991, perhaps due to
reduced activity by opposition groups that had been previously
devastated by arrests of their members. Burma's deplorable
human rights situation did not otherwise measurably improve.
Politically motivated arrests continued throughout the year,
particularly after the award of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize to
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Torture, arbitrary
detentions, and compulsory labor persisted. The military
Government's program for ralocating many urban poor continues
to wreak hardship, though some experts believe it also may
serve legitimate long-term objectives. Freedom of speech, the
press, assembly, and association remain practically nonexistent.
The military continued to negate the right of the people to
change their government by failing to implement the results of
the 1990 elections, in which the opposition National League for
Democracy (NLD) won over 80 percent of the seats in a new
National Assembly. The new Assembly has never been allowed to
meet, 70 of its 485 members have been arrested on political
charges, nearly 20 have fled the country, at least 6 have
resigned, and a,t least 1 has died in custody.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no verifiable reports of government-directed
political or extrajudicial killings in 1991. There were
sufficient credible reports, however, to suggest that a few
civilian deaths resulted from brutality in prison, including
denial of medical treatment. Several political prisoners,
including elected National Assembly member U Tin Maung Win and
writer Ba Thaw (also known as Maung Thawka) , died under
circumstances aggravated by poor treatment in custody. There
were also credible reports that over 100 political prisoners
and common criminals died while performing forced labor under
inhumane conditions.
While there was no clear evidence that any summary executions
were carried out against civilians in 1991, some knowledgeable
observers believe that secret extrajudicial killings
occasionally occur. A number of death sentences were publicly
announced after trials which fell far short of international
standards. However, well-placed observers believe that none
was actually carried out.
      b. Disappearance
The number of people who disappeared during 1991 seems to be
far smaller than in 1988 and 1989, but accurate estimates are
again impossible. Family and friends assume that those who
have disappeared are under detention or have died in jail.
Some who disappeared were later reported as arrested. Others
may have dropped out of sight or quietly attempted to leave the
country for fear of arrest. A handful of youths continued to
join student insurgent groups fighting the regime, while others
were impressed as army porters.
Authorities seldom responded to inquiries from embassies or
from families concerning the whereabouts and welfare of
disappeared or jailed people. The few replies routinely
consisted of only general statements that such people were
arrested for violations of existing laws.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Substantial evidence documents that torture, beatings and
mistreatment of political detainees continued to take place in
Burmese prisons and detention centers operated by the DDSI.
Maltreatment includes sleep and food deprivation; beatings of
prisoners severe enough to cause permanent injury; suffocation;
cigarette burns; electrical shocks to the genitals and
elsewhere; and forcing prisoners to squat or assume unnatural
positions for lengthy periods. Techniques designed to
intimidate and disorient prisoners prior to interrogation are
also routinely practiced. Prisoners assigned to forced labor.
such as sugarcane harvesting and road construction in remote
areas, were reportedly given inadequate food, water, medical
care, and protection from the elements.
Guards and prison physicians also have deprived political
prisoners of needed medical treatment. Imprisoned antiregime
activists have received beatings after requesting medical
attention, according to several well-sourced reports. Despite
repeated expressions of concern by foreign governments and
international hiiman rights organizations, the regime made no
apparent effort to investigate charges of torture or to punish
members of the security forces involved. The military
Government routinely denied that it engaged in torture or
condoned the practice.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The regime arbitrarily detained or arrested hundreds of people
during 1991, though exact figures are not available. Most were
held only a short time and released after interrogation, but
significant numbers were subsequently rearrested. Detainees
were commonly accused of violating criminal statutes, although
some were simply held without trial. Detention and
interrogation of political party officials occurred regularly,
either as harassment or reprisals for antigovernment statements
or actions. In connection with the insurgent activity in the
Irrawaddy Delta and the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Aung
San Suu Kyi, for example, the military Government arrested 9
Members of Parliament, over a dozen leaders of small political
parties, and well over 200 rank and file members of opposition
groups. While most detainees were members of political parties
or people involved in distributing antigovernment literature,
businessmen and other private citizens were also subject to
arbitrary detention.
In July the military, without public announcement, extended by
6 months the house arrest of National League for Democracy
General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi, who in October was awarded
the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. The decision was taken under the
provisions of the "Law to Safeguard the State From the Dangers
of Subversive Elements"—also the basis for her initial year of
house arrest which began in 1989. In August the military
Government amended this law to authorize further 1-year
extensions of arbitrary detention without charge or trial for
up to 5 years. Aung San Suu Kyi has never been formally
charged. Similarly, former Prime Minister U Nu has been held
under house arrest since December 1989.
Even before the establishment of martial law, there was no
provision in Burmese law for judicial determination of the
legality of detention. Under martial law people have no
pretrial rights. There is also no bail for defendants in
martial law proceedings, though bail may be granted by civilian
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Burma remained under martial law throughout 1991. Official
spokesmen on numerous occasions emphasized that the military
Government rules according to martial law and is not bound by
any constitutional restrictions. Military tribunals continue
to exercise jurisdiction over all cases involving defiance of
orders issued by the SLORC or local military commanders.
Tribunals can mete out the death penalty, a life sentence, or a
minimum of 3 years' imprisonment with labor irrespective of
existing legal provisions.
The tribunals are free to svmunon or reject witnesses, and to
consider or ignore evidence. The accused is not presumed
innocent and has no right to a defense attorney. When allowed
to participate,, a defense attorney's role is severely limited.
Lawyers have been warned that an overly aggressive defense
could jeopardize both attorney and client. Subject to certain
conditions, appeal is possible. Sentences of 3 years'
imprisonment may be appealed to the regional commander within
30 days. In cases involving the death sentence, life
imprisonment, or sentences of over 3 years, appeals may be
lodged within 30 days with the army commander-in-chief.
Significantly, among dozens of cases known to be tried by
military tribunals, there have been no reports of acquittals or
of any convictions being overturned on appeal.
In 1991 the military courts continued to hand out heavy
sentences to political prisoners, ranging up to 25 years'
imprisonment for peaceful opposition activity. Also in 1991,
some political sentences were arbitrarily extended. For
example, opposition leaders Chit Khine and Kyi Maung had been
sentenced in 1990 to 7 and 10 years' imprisonment, respectively,
but in 1991 their prison terms were each extended by an
additional 10 years.
The number of political prisoners in Burma remains impossible
to estimate, but credible sources suggest that as many as 2,000
may be in jail. Rangoon's Insein Prison as well as prisons in
Mandalay, Tharrawaddy, Kalemyo, and at least three other
locations reportedly hold political prisoners. The military
Government denies holding any political prisoners and maintains
that all those jailed are common lawbreakers and insurgent
"terrorists." However, the military Government's own
propaganda makes clear that it considers such acts as
possession of opposition literature and tape recordings to be
tantamount to "terrorism." Despite martial law, civil suits
and common crimes of no interest to the State are left to
civilian courts. Though corruption remains widespread and
judges are vulnerable to pressure from military authorities,
some informed sources report that these civilian courts have
become somewhat more professional and fair in handling
nonpolitical cases since 1988. Most political cases are
handled by military courts. Some basic due process rights,
including the right to a public trial and to be represented by
a defense attorney, are generally respected by civilian judges.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The State continued to intrude extensively into the lives of
private citizens during 1991. Forced entry and warrantless,
unannounced searches of private homes were often conducted.
The military Government strictly monitored the travel,
whereabouts, and activities of many Burmese, including
political leaders elected in 1990. A ubiquitous system of
neighborhood informers reported on dissidents and critics of
the military Government. Civil servants and political party
officials were also ordered to report whether any of their
relatives had fled the country or contacted insurgent
organizations. Security personnel selectively monitored
private correspondence and telephone calls. Contacts or
communications involving foreigners were subject to especially
intense scrutiny, and government employees were generally
required to obtain advance permission from higher authorities
before meeting with foreigners.
The military Government continued a program of forced
resettlement, involving an estimated half-million people
throughout the country since 1989. While the military
Government described all those forced to move as "squatters,"
some people had been living on these properties for many years
and had constructed permanent houses. Persons who protested
resettlement were subject to arrest, and there were credible
reports that the authorities continued to use intimidation and
threats of force against reluctant neighborhoods. Unconfirmed
reports also allege official involvement in land speculation in
areas vacated through the resettlement program. The military
Government has resettled people, almost totally at their own
expense, to "new towns" which are far from their previous
residences. Occupants cjuite often live on abandoned rice paddy
land, subject to flooding in the rainy season, without adequate
transportation, medical facilities, or sanitation. However,
conditions at some resettlement sites were generally improving
in 1991, and some outside experts accept the military
Government's explanation that the resettlement program serves
legitimate long-term urban planning objectives. They do not,
however, endorse the forceful methods often used to move people.
      g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
There were no confirmed reports in 1991 of deaths from the use
of excessive government force to put down peaceful opposition
demonstrations. There was, however, one credible report that
at least two people suffocated to death in an overcrowded
police van immediately after wholesale arrests on suspicion of
insurgent activity.
The Burmese Army has battled diverse insurgencies for- more than
four decades. These conflicts have resulted in numerous human
rights violations on both sides, including mistreatment and
killing of prisoners, neglect of sick and wounded, impressment
of civilians for porter duty, and indiscriminate attacks on
In 1991 there were some reliable reports of deaths of impressed
Burmese army porters. The Burmese military continues to use
civilian corvee labor and prison labor in combat areas. There
were reliable reports, for example, that several hundred
prisoners were sent from Rangoon's Insein prison to work as
porters in the military's Irrawaddy Delta campaign. Credible
reports from multiple sources indicate that porters carry
ammunition, supplies, and wounded under the harshest
conditions. Other well-placed sources also note that they are
subject to hostile fire as well as maltreatment at the hands of
Burmese soldiers. They are placed at the head of columns to
detonate mines and booby traps and to spring ambushes. When
porters are wounded, fall ill, or become unable to continue
their work, they are left unattended to die. At the end of
their service, survivors often must find their own means to
return home.
Government-controlled media routinely cited numerous examples
of insurgent violence causing civilian and military deaths,
including several reports that the KNU and other insurgent
organizations killed civilians during attacks on villages and
ambushes along transportation routes. There were also credible
reports that the KNU executed two people accused of spying for
the military Governraent after a "trial" by the opposition
Democratic Alliance of Burma.
As in past years, Burmese authorities denied impartial
observers permission to travel to areas of heavy insurgent
activity ostensibly for security reasons. Information about
human rights abuses by either side in those areas is therefore
all but impossible to verify.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Severe restrictions on freedom of speech persisted throughout
1991. Though the degree of enforcement varied, the military
Government did not tolerate opposing views and criticism.
Private citizens remained reluctant to express opinions for
fear of government informers. The military Government
continued to ban publications which criticized its programs and
Government propaganda repeatedly denounced various foreign news
organizations for interference in Burma's affairs. Censors
occasionally banned issues of newsmagazines with articles
criticizing regime practices or reporting activities of
opposition figures or groups. While the military Government
continued to discourage listening to foreign radio broadcasts,
these remained a major source of information for the Burmese
people and even the military.
The military Government continues to operate the mass media,
including television, radio, and the only newspapers, the
Working People's Daily and Rangoon's City News. Military
officials appoint newspaper editors and approve editorials in
advance. Especially for domestic news, journalists must
observe strict publishing and broadcast guidelines. The
military Government receives the product of several wire
services, but selects and edits international news before
publication or broadcast. All forms of communication—domestic
and imported books and periodicals, stage plays, motion
pictures, and musical recordings—are officially controlled and
censored. Criticism of the military Government, its officials,
or sectors of the economy it controls or partially controls is
not permitted.
In 1991 the official media spearheaded the military
Government's determined propaganda campaign against "decadent"
Western culture. Burmese were discouraged from adopting
Western styles of music, dance, and dress. Nevertheless,
foreign audio and video recordings, as well as modern Western
clothing, remained widely available and extremely popular in
University teachers and professors are subject to the same
restrictions on freedom of speech, political activities, and
publications as other government employees. These include
freguent warnings against criticism of the military Government;
repeated instructions not to discuss politics while at work;
and strictures against joining or supporting political parties,
engaging in political activity, and meeting foreign officials.
The military Government began a purge of civil servants and
teachers in September, accusing them of lack of political
loyalty and "deceptive practices." At least several hundred,
and perhaps thousands, were fired from their jobs.
Virtually the entire Burmese university system was closed from
the time of the 1988 disturbances until May 1991. Prior to the
opening of the new academic year in October 1991, all educators
were required to complete questionnaires concerning their
loyalty to the military Government and their personal political
views. In actions separate from the purge described above,
several dozen teachers and administrators were reportedly
dismissed because the authorities deemed their answers
insufficiently supportive of official policy. Similar
mandatory questionnaires were distributed during 1991 to other
civil servants and political party officials, who were then
faced with a choice between renouncing their political views or
likely arrest. Students were allowed to return to viniversity
only after they and their parents signed promises not to engage
in any ant i government activity. When Rangoon and Mandalay
students nevertheless staged prodemocracy demonstrations on
December 10 and 11, the military Government once again
announced the indefinite closure of all universities, colleges,
and technical schools.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The military Government does not respect the right to freedom
of peaceful assembly. A martial law edict prohibiting outdoor
assemblies of more than five people was again unevenly
enforced, but political demonstrations were strictly banned.
Political parties were required to request permission from
military authorities even to hold internal meetings of their
own membership. The military's intimidation generally served
to discourage public expressions of antigovernment sentiments.
However, on December 10 and 11, hundreds of university students
demonstrated peacefully in Rangoon and Mandalay in support of
detained Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and for
democracy. The military Government responded by sending in
large numbers of heavily armed troops, arresting well over 100
people, and closing all of the country's higher education
institutions for an indefinite period. In a few other reported
instances of opposition political activity, security forces
intervened swiftly to arrest participants in unauthorized
meetings and to halt distribution of antigovernment leaflets.
The right of association exists only for those organizations
permitted by law and duly registered with the military
Government. Moreover, the military Government severely
restricts the activities of even these organizations.
Seventy-five political parties remained formally legal at the
end of 1991, but they were effectively paralyzed through
arrests, intimidation, and constant surveillance. Under
intense government pressure, the leading opposition National
League for Democracy (NLD) dropped several detained leaders
from its Central Executive Committee and expelled General
Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi from the party.
Trade associations and professional bodies, like other
organizations, are permitted only if sanctioned by the military
Government, which strictly monitors their activities. Members
are not free to discuss politics or criticize the regime. The
military Government took steps during 1991 to establish tight
control over the hitherto independent Burmese Chamber of
Commerce. The old chamber was dissolved and replaced by an
association packed with government officials.BUEMA
      c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is provided for in law and widely observed
in practice. The great majority of Burmese are Buddhist, and
the military Government frequently proclaims its commitment to
Buddhism in seeking to establish its own legitimacy. Sizable
numbers of Christians, Muslims, and animists exist among
various minority ethnic groups. While generally allowing these
groups to practice freely, security services monitor the
activities of some religious communities. The military
Government recpaires all religious organizations to register,
and subjects religious publications to the same control and
censorship imposed on secular ones. In 1991 there were
numerous, but often unsubstantiated, reports that government
troops committed abuses against Muslim populations in Arakan
State, including destroying of mosques and Muslim cemeteries
and carrying out several hundred arrests and beatings, and
dozens of rapes. While the area is inaccessible to independent
observers and many of the accusations appear exaggerated,
credible sources report that upwards of 20,000 Muslim refugees
fled from Arakan State to Bangladesh. The military Government
has denied allegations of abuse while acknowledging that a
relatively small number of arrests were made, largely for
illegal currency transactions and smuggling. Some refugees have
claimed that the Burmese Army forcibly uprooted civilian
populations, an apparent response to actions of at least two
insurgent groups in Arakan State that seek to achieve autonomy
through armed struggle.
In the fall of 1990, the authorities arrested upwards of 100
politically active Buddhist clerics, outlawed several groups of
opposition monks, and took other repressive measures in
reaction to organized passive opposition by monks in Mandalay
and elsewhere. While only a handful of monks were reportedly
arrested in 1991, little information emerged on the whereabouts
or fate of those monks previously detained. Restrictions on
unauthorized religious groups remained in force, and military
authorities continued to monitor activities in and around
Buddhist monasteries and pagodas.
Religious groups can and do establish links with coreligionists
in other countries, although such links are reportedly
monitored by the military Government. The Catholic Church, for
example, 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 activities. Permanent missionary establishments
have not been permitted since the 1960 's.
As part of its large-scale "urban development" program in
recent years, the military Government has taken control of
several Christian and Muslim properties throughout Burma. In
1991 credible sources report that more than 10 Muslim mosques
were seized by the military Government nationwide. Muslim
cemeteries were reportedly destroyed in Mandalay, Moulmein, and
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Although Burmese citizens have the legal right to live anywhere
in the country, an estimated 500,000 poor urban residents have
been -forcibly relocated to rural areas since 1989. Except for
limitations in areas of insurgent activity, Burmese citizens
may travel freely within the country but must inform local
authorities of their temporary place of residence. People who
fail to report either guests or intentions to stay overnight to
the authorities are subject to a jail term, and arrests are
occasionally made. Throughout the year, the military
Government imposed an 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew on the entire
country. In most cases, the curfew was strictly enforced.
Burmese authorities do not recognize the right of everyone to
leave his or her own country. Passport applicants must justify
the reason for each trip abroad, generally supported by an
employment offer or similar document. Legal requirements,
bureaucratic procedures, and corruption cause long delays in
obtaining passports. Emigrants must reimburse the military
Government for "educational expenses" before receiving exit
permission and are severely limited in what they may take with
them. Those who leave the country illegally may return but
must go through judicial proceedings.
Burmese citizens who leave the country legally are generally
allowed to return to visit relatives. However, the law does
not recognize dual citizenship, and acquiring citizenship in
another country results in loss of Burmese nationality. While
those who take citizenship in another country are legally
banned from returning, the military Government has shown
flexibility within the last 2 years in permitting some former
Burmese to visit for brief periods. Emigrants wishing to
return permanently are required to reapply for Burmese
citizenship, and approval is not guaranteed. Noncitizen
residents, including ethnic Indians and Chinese born in Burma
who hold foreigners' registration cards, must obtain prior
permission to travel.
Foreign refugees or displaced people may not resettle or seek
safe haven within Burma. The military Government treats people
claiming to be refugees as illegal immigrants and expels or
imprisons them.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Burma is governed solely by the military, and the Burmese
people do not have the right or the ability peacefully to
change their government. In the past 3 years, active duty
military officers replaced civilians in important positions
throughout the bureaucracy. The military occupied every
cabinet-level position except that of foreign minister,
numerous director general and subordinate posts, and key
positions previously held by technocrats in the economic
On May 27, 1990, the military Government held Burma's first
national election involving multiple parties in 30 years.
While the election campaign was severely restricted and several
leading opposition figures were barred from participation,
election day procedures were free and fair.
In the election, the National League for Democracy (NLD)
received nearly 60 percent of valid votes cast and over 80
percent of the parliamentary seats. By the end of 1991,
however, the military Government still had not transferred
power. Meanwhile, it arrested most of the leadership of the
NLD. In late 1991, the military Government exerted pressure
against NLD leaders at the national, state, division, and
township levels by querying them about whom they considered to
be the leader of their party. The leaders were given to
understand that neither the name of jailed NLD Chairman Tin Oo
nor that of detained General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi would
be appropriate answers. By the end of 1991, a total of over 90
elected opposition parliamentarians were either in custody, in
exile, or dead. Dozens of politically active people, including
parliamentarians and leaders of minor opposition parties, were
detained and pressured to denounce the Nobel Prize. In July
the military Government also retroactively amended the election
law to provide for disqualification of elected parliamentarians
on a wide range of grounds, including conviction for vaguely
defined crimes involving "moral turpitude." The authorities
now insist that transfer of power to a civilian government can
occur only after completion of a protracted constitutiondrafting
process under its control. The conditions it has
imposed effectively negate the election results and ensure
indefinite military rule.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
No internal human rights organizations are allowed to exist. A
group called Amnesty International of Burma, established during
the 1988 prodemocracy demonstrations, was subsequently denied
registration as a legal organization. The military Government
resents outside scrutiny of its human rights record. It is
only selectively willing to discuss human rights problems with
foreign governments or nongovernmental organizations and
routinely denies visas to foreign officials other than U.N.
experts concerned with human rights. The military consistently
denies charges of abuses and criticizes other governments and
independent organizations for interfering in its affairs.
Many nongovernmental organizations and governments have
repeatedly and publicly expressed concern over various human
rights abuses in Burma. The February 1990 meeting of the
United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) appointed an
"independent expert" who visited Burma to examine Burma's human
rights situation and who subsequently presented a confidential
report to the UNHRC ' s 1991 session. The UNHRC decided to keep
the case of human rights in Burma under review for another
year, and a new independent expert visited Burma in October.
While the expert met with senior Burmese officials and visited
Insein prison, the government-arranged and supervised program
provided little scope for interaction with the Burmese people.
In November the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution
urging Burma's government to establish a democratic state and
to allow all citizens to participate freely in the democratic
process. The resolution, which Burma's U.N. representative
rejected as "interference" in Burma's internal affairs, also
expressed concern about Burma's "grave" human rights situation
and recalled an appeal by the U.N. Secretary General for the
release of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Burma's numerous ethnic minorities have been underrepresented
in the military Government and largely excluded from the
military leadership. These minorities have their own distinct
cultures and languages. Despite recently increased government
attention to the problem, economic development among minorities
continued to lag 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. People of nonethnic Burmese ancestry, primarily
Indians and Chinese, are denied full citizenship and excluded
from government positions. In addition, some have been denied
national identity cards, especially in Arakan State. Indian
and Chinese minorities continue to play an important role in
the economy—a situation resented by many Burmans . Social
prejudice against the country's Muslim community has in the
past erupted into violence and prompted official actions
infringing on the practice of Islam. Multiple, reliable
sources indicate that the military occasionally requires
minority populations to provide without compensation vehicles,
equipment, and lodging for soldiers.
Women in Burma have traditionally enjoyed a relatively high
status. They exercise the same basic rights as men and have an
active role in business. They keep their own names after
marriage and often control family finances. Female
participation is low in the minuscule industrial sector and in
the bureaucracy. There are no women's rights organizations in
There is no violence directed specifically against women and
authorities appeared generally to treat detained women better
than men. Although Burmese culturally view rape with great
abhorrence, there were nonetheless widespread unconfirmed
reports of rapes committed in 1991 by Burmese soldiers against
Muslim women in Arakan State, as well as some allegations of
such incidents elsewhere in the country.
 Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
After seizing power in 1988, the military banned the workers'
and peasants' organizations established by the previous
Government. Several political parties established workers'
organizations or committees to consider labor issues, but there
continue to be no trade unions and no independent labor
movement in Burma. Workers are not free to form or join trade
unions of their own choosing, and leaders of unofficial labor
associations are subject to arrest. Workers do not have the
right to strike and none did so in 1991.
In April 1989, the United States suspended Burma's eligibility
for trade concessions under the Generalized System of
Preferences program (GSP) pending steps to afford its labor
force internationally recognized worker rights. In 1990 a
United States interagency government committee declined a
formal request to reconsider the suspension.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers have no right to organize and bargain collectively.
Military authorities are the sole arbiter of workers' issues.
The regime abolished labor arbitration boards which, while
government controlled, at least theoretically provided means
for airing labor disputes. No special export processing
economic zones exist.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Burma's legal code does not prohibit forced labor. The
military Government routinely employs corvee labor on its
myriad building projects and, according to credible reports,
officials at times accept bribes to excuse people from work.
The Burmese army has for decades conscripted civilian males to
serve as porters. According to numerous eyewitness reports
this past year, the army continued to take youths off the
streets in various cities in minority areas. Women are now
also being impressed as cooks and launderers for soldiers in
front-line areas, according to one report. Military
authorities commonly permit conscripted persons and their
families to pay money in lieu of serving as porters.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Children aged 13 to 15 may work 4 hours a day. The penalty for
employers who disregard this regulation, 2 years in prison,
generally is not enforced. In cities, working children are
highly visible. Many spend their nights on the street,
according to numerous reliable sources. They are hired at
lower rates than adults for the same kind of work, and economic
pressure forces them to work not only for their survival but
also to support their families.
Burmese law requires children to attend school through the
fourth standard, usually reached between the ages of 12 and
15. The Department of Basic Education estimates, however, that
38 percent of children aged 5 to 9 never enroll in school. Of
those who do, less than 30 percent complete the fourth grade.
Two-thirds of Burma's primary school children, primarily in
rural areas, leave school for economic reasons. In the higher
grades, the drop-out rate for girls is double that of boys.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is a legally prescribed 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. Workers have 21 paid holidays a year.
While there is a government mandated minimum wage, it is
insufficient to provide a decent standard of living. The
actual average wage rate for casual laborers in Rangoon is
about twice the official minimum. Wages continue to lag far
behind inflation. There are numerous provisions to protect
health and safety 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.