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Burma - The Land of Fear
 


Burma, a country of around 50 million people is ruled by fear. A military machine of 400,000 soldiers denies a whole nation its most basic rights. Aung San Suu Kyi, pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate, symbolises the struggle of Burma's people to be free.

  • Introduction
       
  • Brief History
       
  • Human Rights
       
  • Ethnic Groups
       
  • Economy
       
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  • Aung San Suu Kyi
       
     
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    Human Rights
     
     
     

    Since an army coup overthrew Burma's last democratically-elected government in 1962, military-run or dominated regimes in Burma have been among the world's worst violators of human rights. An already serious level of abuses climbed higher after the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) (renamed the State Peace and Development Council in November 1997) seized power in September 1988. The junta removed all pretence of civilian administration and marked its arrival by massacring thousands of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Rangoon and other Burmese cities and towns.

    Today, says Amnesty International, "torture has become an institution" in Burma. Reports by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other groups have repeatedly detailed a gruesome litany of abuses, including murder, torture, rape, detention without trial, massive forced relocations, and forced labor Even before 1988, Burma's army faced allegations of serious human rights abuses, especially in its campaigns against ethnic groups along the country's borders. These severe violations continue today, including arbitrary executions and forced labor of villagers as military porters in combat zones. Children have been particularly hard hit, both as direct physical victims of military abuse and as members of affected families. In 2001, conditions in Shan State and Karen State deteriorated as the junta launched wide-scale military operations. Hundreds of thousands of people in those areas have fled their homes to avoid conscription as porters or worse abuses. While some have reached safety in Thailand, most remain internally-displaced persons (IDPs). Only a few who are near the Thai frontier receive even a little external food or medical assistance.

    These gross violations are added to ongoing suppression of other fundamental freedoms. Today, the most basic of globally recognized civil and political rights are not respected by Burma's generals, despite the fact that Burma is signatory to several of the most important international human rights treaties. There is no freedom of expression. Even art exhibitions must be approved by military authorities. Beyond sports and romance magazines, the few independent publications that survive are subject to severe censorship. The regime's Press Scrutiny Board orders articles even obliquely critical of official actions inked over or torn from offending issues, while state newspapers are filled with crudely virulent attacks on democratic forces.

    Broadcast media are even more closely controlled. State-monopoly radio and television offer endless images of the junta's generals cutting ribbons and making speeches. Burmese do seek other sources for accurate news. International radio stations such as the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Voice of America, the Democratic Voice of Burma, and Radio Free Asia estimate that their Burmese audience is perhaps greater per capita than anywhere else in the world.

    The junta's efforts to quash free expression continue. A 1996 SLORC decree provides up to 20 years' imprisonment for anyone publicly opposing the junta's policies. Under the 1996 "Computer Science Development Law;' unlicensed possession of a fax machine or modem is punishable by I 5 years in jail. These are among many repressive measures enforced without regard to international standards or Burma's own constitution. In Burma, the law is what the generals say it is; it can and does change from day to day.

    Freedom of association and assembly are denied. Political gatherings are banned. Political parties such as the National League for Democracy (NLD) are closely monitored and its members harassed or arrested. Amnesty International estimates that there are at least 1,300 political prisoners detained or imprisoned under severe conditions in Burmese jails. Many prisoners have died in detention. Among the current political prisoners are victorious NLD candidates in May 1990 elections in which the NLD won over 80% of the seats.

    Labor unions are not allowed. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has detailed the junta's use of massive and widespread forced labor in Burma, often under dangerous conditions. In October 2000, after repeatedly failing to receive convincing assurances that the junta is acting to end forced labor, the ILO took the unprecedented action of urging all ILO members, including governments, labor unions and employers, to review their ties to the regime.

    Some of the worst forced labor abuses have been reported from southeastern Burma, where a billion-dollar pipeline is being developed by a consortium of America's UNOCAL and France's TOTAL oil companies and the Burmese regime. Forced labor has also been used on tourism development projects. In March 1997, the European Union withdrew Burma's trade privileges because of the prevalence of forced labor and other abuses.

    Religious repression is another long-time feature of military rule. Burma is a predominantly Buddhist country, and the military regime demands that Buddhist clergy support its rule. Troops have invaded monasteries to remove Buddhist leaders who supported human rights and the democracy movement.

    Burma also has sizable Muslim and Christian communities. Muslims in southwestern Burma are continuing targets for army attacks. Over a quarter million fled to Bangladesh during a major army offensive in 1989, and approximately 25,000 more escaped in 1997. Dozens of mosques were ransacked and destroyed as anti-Muslim riots reportedly instigated by the Burmese military flared in several Burmese cities in March 1997, and a new spate of attacks in the Arakan region was reported in late 2000. Christian churches are also closely monitored by the army, and church activities country-wide are restricted. In some border areas, especially the Chin Special Division and the Karen State, churches have been wrecked by soldiers and religious differences exploited by the junta to promote discord among minority ethnic groups.

     

    for further information:

    You can buy these books from Amazon using the links below and anything you buy will raise money for The Burma Campaign UK.
       
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    Burma's Revolution of the Spirit: The Stuggle for Democratic Freedom and Dignity.
    Forward by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

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    Living Silence: Burma Under Military Rule By Christina Fink
    Zed Books, 2001
       
     
      Human Rights Reports:
  • Amnesty International. Annual Report 2004.
       
  • Human Rights Watch reports on Burma
       
  • Oo Win Naing. Cries From Insein.
    Bangkok: All Burma Students' Democratic Front, 1996