You are on page 1of 5


Human Rights Council


Since August 19, 2007 there has been a series of peaceful protests across Burma as monks,
activists and ordinary citizens challenge misrule and repression. On September 26, the Burmese
military government responded with violence. Thousands of protestors have been seized and
taken away.

Meanwhile, in eastern Burma, a 45-year catastrophe has reached one of its worst moments, as
the country's military junta escalates its attacks against the area's ethnic minorities. The
government's efforts to assert control over ethnic border areas have emptied over 3,000 villages
in a decade, an average of almost one village each day over the past ten years. The forces of
Burma's military junta, the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC), are mortaring villages,
looting and burning homes to the ground, and destroying crops in an effort to obliterate the
livelihoods of rural communities.

Myanmar gained independence from British colonial rule in 1948 and has been ruled by military
in one form or another since. The current regime has ruled since the September 1988 creation
of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). SLORC (renamed SPDC in 1997)
violently suppressed 1988 pro-democracy protests with wide-scale arrests and killings of
activists and declared martial law in 1989, imprisoning opposition National League for
Democracy (NLD) leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The situation in the government has allowed Myanmar to become the centre of a regional drugs
trade, and the military government continues to fight an array of ethnic armed insurgencies that
continue to drive significant refugee flows into Thailand and Bangladesh.

Multiparty elections in 1990 gave the NLD a decisive victory, but the militars refused to relinquish
power. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has remained in government custody since May 2003, while a
National Convention to draft new constitution has moved in fits and starts and failed to produce
real change.

Over 500,000 displaced people live in constant insecurity in eastern Burma, and over 30,000
more have been displaced because of this most recent offensive. Those who are captured by
the Burmese army face forced labor, conscription, torture, rape and even execution. The rest are
unable to return to their homes for fear of stepping on landmines laid after their escape. Instead,
the displaced live in makeshift camps in the jungle, enduring some of the worst health conditions
in any world crisis today.

As this crisis escalates, it threatens to destabilize not only Burma but the region at large. The
increasing refugee exodus places a burden on neighboring states, and regional politicians are

- 1-
Human Rights Council

concerned that epidemics of HIV/AIDS and other diseases will spill over into their own

A popular uprising was forcibly crushed in 1988 and mass demonstrations were not seen again
until 2007, when a small string of protests about living standards gained momentum among a
public normally too crowded to voice any dissent.

The armed forces - and former rebels co-opted by the government - have been accused of
large-scale trafficking in heroin

The largest group is the Burman people, who are ethnically related to the Tibetans and the
Chinese. Burman dominance over Karen, Shan, Rakhine, Mon, Chin, Kachin and other
minorities has been the source of considerable ethnic tension and has fuelled intermittent
separatist rebellions.

Military offensives against insurgents have uprooted many thousands of civilians.

A largely rural, densely forested country, Burma is the world's largest exporter of teak and a
principal source of jade, pearls, rubies and sapphires. It is endowed with extremely fertile soil
and has important offshore oil and gas deposits. However, its people remain very poor and are
getting poorer.

Activists argue that French oil interests fuel oppression by co-operating with the junta in a joint
venture to exploit gas. They allege that France has been blocking tough European Union
sanctions against the military.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, is ruled by a military junta which suppresses almost all dissent
and wields absolute power in the face of international condemnation and sanctions. The
generals and the army stand accused of gross human rights abuses, including the forcible
relocation of civilians and the widespread use of forced labor, which includes children. To make
the matter worse, BaganNet, Myanmar main ISP has been shut down by so-called “maintenance
reasons” and most of the telecommunication services have been cut off or tapped. Information
flow out of the country has been strictly monitored and even the amateur photographers are
warned to be very careful as the Junta is hunting down the sources.

Human Rights Watch welcomed the release on October 19 of the 2007 annual internal
displacement survey carried out by the nongovernmental Thailand Burma Border Consortium
(TBBC) and its local partner organizations. The TBBC found that as of mid-2007 there were
503,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in surveyed sites in eastern Burma. The report states
that 99,000 IDPs were believed to be in hiding from Burmese army patrols, 109,000 were in

- 2-
Human Rights Council

military-controlled relocation sites, and 295,000 people were in areas controlled by armed
groups with some ceasefire arrangements with the ruling State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC). The TBBC surveyed IDPs in Tennasserim Division, Mon State, Karen State and Pegu
Division, Karenni State and southeastern Shan State.

As well as attacking monks and democracy protestors in Rangoon, Burma’s military junta is
forcing ethnic minority villagers to flee their homes in the country’s border areas, The
international community must not ignore the dire humanitarian situation fueled by army abuses
in rural Burma.

Human Rights Watch continues to receive reports of serious abuses by the army during
counterinsurgency operations in ethnic minority areas. In July, for example, Burmese army
attacks against villages in Mon Township of northern Karen State displaced more than 200
civilians. In separate incidents during the same period, troops of Light Infantry Battalions 378
and 388 summarily executed three people. Such abuses against civilians are part of the ongoing
counterinsurgency campaign begun in early 2006 against forces of the Karen National Union
(KNU) from northern Karen State, which has caused the displacement of more than 40,000
civilians. In the areas cleared of civilians, an estimated 43 new Burmese army camps have been
established. Others have found a way to enter Thailand to escape the Burmese army, joining an
estimated 150,000 refugees who have been housed in 10 sprawling camps along the border for
more than 20 years.

The Thailand Burma Border Consortium’s authoritative work shows the alarming scale of forced
displacement caused by the Burmese army’s methodical brutality against ethnic minorities , the
government sends soldiers to burn villages and makes civilians carry out dangerous forced labor
during military operations .

Military abuses are also occurring in other ethnic areas of Burma. In mid-2007 in eastern Shan
State, more than 500 villagers from areas along the Mekong River were forced to flee their
homes by army abuses, including routine forced labor, beatings, sexual violence, and pillage by
Burmese troops and their ethnic Lahu militia allies. They have moved to the Loi Kaw Wan IDP
settlement bordering Chiang Rai province of Thailand, already home to more than 3,000
displaced persons. There are four other IDP sites along the border with Thailand housing Shan
IDPs, and Thailand denies access to any Shan refugees. Hundreds of Chin people from western
Burma have also fled to India in the aftermath of the government’s recent crackdown on
protesters and threats and pressure by local officials in Chin State to attend mass rallies in
support of military rule.

Despite ongoing Burmese military offensives against its ethnic populations, Thailand in May
pressured the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to stop its refugee
status determination process, leaving newly arrived asylum seekers without protection. Burmese
asylum seekers in Thailand are subject to abuses by Thai security forces and forcible return to

- 3-
Human Rights Council

the risk of persecution (refoulement) in Burma, a breach of international refugee law. Thousands
of recent arrivals from conflict areas in Burma waiting for refugee status determination by Thai
authorities are not provided food and shelter until they are registered, a laborious process that
takes several months.

Other international research organizations have also documented ongoing abuses by the
Burmese army against civilians in ethnic minority areas. According to satellite imagery surveys
conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Burmese army
units destroyed scores of villages in northern Karen State during 2006-2007. Many military
bases were constructed to support their control over the area. The satellite imagery shows
sequences of villages with human activity, with subsequent images showing deserted and burnt

In June, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released a rare public statement
condemning attacks against civilians in eastern Burma, which it said constituted frequent and
widespread violations of international humanitarian law. The ICRC was also concerned about
the use of convict labor to support military operations. Thousands of prisoners have been forced
to carry army supplies, undertake construction labor, and, in a practice called “atrocity
demining,” forced to walk ahead of Burmese army soldiers to trigger potential landmines. When
convict porters fall behind or get sick, they are often summarily killed, according to information
collected by Human Rights Watch. Using civilians as “human shields” or conducting summary
executions are war crimes.

The United States has pressed for almost a year to have the issue officially placed on the
Human Rights council's agenda. Faced with strong opposition from China, the council took
action September 15 during consultations, voting 10 to 4 with one abstention.

The Security Council decision and the planned briefing are important steps that will strengthen
the U.N. official's mission According to U.S. officials, the United States plans to sponsor a
resolution calling for an all-inclusive political process and the release of opposition leader Aung
San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. The resolution would also call on the Burmese regime
to ensure access and security for humanitarian workers, to take steps to end violence against
the ethnic Karen minority, and to address HIV/AIDS and trafficking in drugs and persons.

On September 15, the situation in Burma was officially placed on the agenda of the U.N.
Security Council.

Human trafficking is also a major problem in the country, according to the State Department. In
its Trafficking in Persons report for 2006, the department said Burma does not fully comply with
the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

- 4-
Human Rights Council

Burmese men, women and children are trafficked to Thailand, China, Bangladesh, Malaysia,
Korea and Macau for domestic service, forced and bonded labor in industrial zones and
agricultural estates, and prostitution, according to the report. The Burmese military has been
implicated in trafficking persons for forced labor, and there have been reports of forced
enlistments of children in the Burmese army. The regime's economic mismanagement, human
rights abuses and forced labor policy are driving factors behind the country's large human
trafficking problem, the report says.

Burma chronically under funds health issues, spending less than $1 a year per person on health
and education. The regime's budget for HIV/AIDS now totals $75,000 annually, an amount that
was increased three times during the year

At the end of 2005, Burma had one of the most serious HIV/AIDS epidemics in Asia, with about
360,000 infected, according to the United Nations. The regime's response to HIV/AIDS remains
ambivalent, the State Department says, and it has impeded humanitarian operations. In August
2005, the AIDS Global Fund terminated its Burma operations when it could no longer ensure
that its funds would go to those in need rather than to regime coffers.

The flows of Burmese refugees throughout the region, illicit narcotics, HIV/AIDS and the human
rights situation inside Burma are a threat to international peace and security. About 200,000
refugees who have fled conflict and persecution in Burma now live in Thailand, Malaysia, India
and Bangladesh. As many as 3,000 ethnic Karen refugees entered Thailand in 2006 after
several military offensives against opposition forces in Burma. As conditions worsen, hope for
the refugees' safe return diminishes.

- 5-