Written by U Ne Oo on 1999-10-15

15 October 1999


Dr U Ne Oo

Adelaide, Australia

I. Burma in the Year 1998-1999

In reviewing this year's human rights and political developments in Burma, one can only describe it as a year of stalemate and setbacks [1]. The international community's efforts to bring dialogue to Burma were unsuccessful mainly because of the ruling military junta's refusal to enter negotiation with the opposition party, The National League for Democracy. The autocratic military rulers in Burma are beginning to reveal teveal their true colours with regard to the issues of democracy and human rights, free-market economy and open society. As the junta have no will to share state power, it ignored the offer by the opposition to accommodate the military within a new democratic administration. Despite promises made in 1988/89 to transform Burma to a free-market economy, the non-progressive Burmese military leaders have been seen in recent years to retreat back to isolationist economic policies of the socialist era [2] . On > . On account of the severity of the military's repression of opposition, combined with the continuing non-cooperation with the United Nations and international community, it can be concluded that the military junta has no intention to negotiate with the opposition or to relinquish state power.

As a direct consequence of the lack of observance in the rule of law and due processes, corruption within government has become common. There is disturbing evidence emerging about Burmese military units as well as top-rankiop-ranking officials being involved in the illicit drug trade. The Burmese military government has been well known for its complicity in drug money-laundering activities from the time it came into power in September 1988. Recently, reliable reports have indicated that some top level Burmese military leaders have been involved in the production and sale of heroin and amphetamine-type-stimulants to neighbouring countries and to the world [3] .

As the year ends, the junta has made no effort to solve the protr protracted refugee problem in Burma. The military government continues to use forced labour, forced relocation and to confiscate agricultural land, especially in ethnic minority areas. The result has been further outflows of refugees to neighbouring countries. The problems for internally displaced people as well as `dispersed people' (a form of internal displacement) continue within the country [4].

Because of escalating human rights problems, the UN General Assemblyssembly since 1991 has been strengthening its resolution on Burma. The military junta, however, has adopted an attitude of `non-cooperation' towards the General Assembly resolutions and United Nations' human rights mechanism. Due to the junta's non-cooperation, the International Labour Organisation expelled the junta delegate from participating in ILO meetings.

Large scale and protracted refugee problems in neighbouring countries, continuing political instability and human rights abuses against Burmese citizens and the increas increasing production and distribution to the world of illicit drugs indicate that the situation in Burma has become a threat to international peace and security. The UN and international community must take practical steps to solve the problems in Burma.

It is world renown fact that the Burmese democracy leadership is committed to non-violent endeavours in bringing about political changes in Burma. However, because the military at the top-ranking level are now involved in institutionalised corruption, non-violent political action alone will not be adequate to redress the problems. The United Nations Security Council and international community must intervene where necessary to deal with Burmese military leaders who are directly involved with the illicit drug trade. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights must also launch an investigation into the serious human rights violations, such as death in custody cases and the massacres that took place in Shan State in Eastern Burma [5] . Efforts should alsots should also be made to bring justice to the criminals involved in the drug trade as well as the perpetrators of human rights violations against the citizens of Burma.

The situation in Burma calls for a serious engagement of the UN and the international community. An integrated approach which links humanitarian action with the protection of human rights will be needed to tackle Burma's refugee and displaced peoples problem. International humanitarian action should be formulated within the framework of peacekeeping and longer term democratic institution building. Political and human rights problems must be addressed in a comprehensive manner and tackled in an integrated fashion by concerned actors, i.e.national political forces, the United Nations and the international community. The United Nations General Assembly must firstly set the rule of engagement with both the military junta and the democratically elected legislators.

II. Intransigence of Military Leadership

Despite the international community annal community and democratic opposition's desire to promote reconciliation with the military leadership, the Burmese military junta is refusing to enter into meaningful dialogue with the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party. By observing the behaviour of the military junta it can be concluded that the military authorities will not voluntarily engage in dialogue or pave the way for a transition to democracy. The international community and the United Nations must employ more vigorous and effective strategies in dea in dealing with the situation in Burma in order to prevent a possible escalation of political and human rights conflict in Burma.

As for the questions of human rights in Burma, the UN General Assembly first considered it in 1991 and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights was appointed in subsequent year. The military government, on the other hand, has never admitted there is a human rights problem in Burma nor has it agreed with the UN General Assembly appointing the Human Rights Special Rapporteur. Not surprisingly, the Burmthe Burmese junta has adopted the attitude of `non-cooperation' towards the United Nations and its human rights mechanism [6] . It follows that the communications from the Special Rapporteur have not been officially replied to by the Burmese military government [7] . The ILO Commission of Inquiry for forced labour in Burma has also received the same treatment from the military government.

The military government's non-cooperation with the United Nations, combined with continuincontinuing refusal to authorise the visit of the Special Rapporteur to Burma calls for more substantial effort to be made by UN General Assembly in implementing its resolution. In particular, the UN General Assembly should point out in its resolution that the junta's non-cooperation with the United Nations mechanisms indeed are in violation of United Nations Charter 55 & 56.

This report focuses on four subjects described in the UNGA resolution: (1) forced labour (2) the situation of refugees (3) repression of political dissil dissidents and (4) the question of the transition to democracy. Because the UN General Assembly resolutions are non-binding on its member states and, therefore, the United Nations cannot enforce compliance of the Burmese military government. However, one possible solution is for the UN General Assembly to spell out the details of its resolution in a more descriptive manner. In this way, the international community and all concerned political actors can follow through in implementing the resolution.

2.1 Forced Labour

The practice of forced labour under the current military regime has been extensively documented by international human rights organisations and especially by the UN Special Rapporteur since 1992. The General Assembly in its 1996 Session took another step to authorise the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to conduct an inquiry into the practice of forced labour by the Burmese military Government. The ILO's Governing Body consequently set up its commission of inquiry and its findis finding and recommendations were brought to the attention of the 53rd UN General Assembly in 1998. The 53rd Session of UN General Assembly urged the Government of Myanmar to ``... implement the recommendations of the ILO Commission of Inquiry regarding the implementation of the Forced Labour Convention, and encourages further communication between the Government and the ILO". The ILO, in accordance with its competence and mandate, took measures to rewrite the Village and Towns Acts in Burma.

From the outset of tset of that inquiry, the Burmese military government ignored the invitation from ILO Commission of Inquiry to participate in the discussion. The ILO's request to rewrite Village and Town Acts and for the compliance with other recommendations were not met. Since the Burmese military junta failed to comply with the request of the ILO Director-General, the ILO Governing Body subsequently expelled the delegate of SPDC/SLORC from participating in future meetings [8] . It is clear that to redress the si the situation of forced labour on the ground, the UN General Assembly must authorise the sending in of in-country human rights monitors to Burma.

2.2 Refugees and Internally displaced people

The plight of Burma's refugees and displaced people continues in 1998-99 because the United Nations and international community's failure to tackle the root causes of displacement. The extent of the problem of refugees and displaced people in Burma is summarised in the United States Committee for Refugees' yearly report as: [9]

More than 238,000 Burmese refugees were in neighboring countries in 1998: 140,000 in Thailand, 40,000 in India, 53,000 in Bangladesh, 5,100 in Malaysia, and an unknown number in China. About 350,000 Burmese lived in refugee-like circumstances in Thailand. Many may have fled Burma because they feared persecution. An estimated 500,000 to one million Burmese were internally displaced.ally displaced. Although a general lack of access and information made this number difficult to verify, a May 1998 USCR site visit to Burma confirmed that internal displacement is a significant crisis there.

Currently, an estimated 53,000 Rohingyas including 21,000 residual cases under the care of UNHCR have been in Bangladesh. There has been little progress in the UN supervised repatriation program for the Rohingyas during this year.

There are unknown numbers of ethnic Chin displaced persons in India's Nodia's North Eastern States of Mizoram, Manipur and Assam, in addition to 40,000 Burmese refugees which include student activists. Initial investigations from local Chin human rights groups cited the forced relocation from expanded military control and the accompanying forced labor, extortion, confiscation of land, religious persecution, and so-called ``Burmanization'' plan of the military government as the root cause of the displacement.

The largest number of Burmese refugees reside in Thailand. Root causes fouses for the flight of these refugee have also been forced labour, forced relocation within the context of counter-insurgency campaigns and the confiscation of property, i.e. food and basic items by government troops [10]. Amnesty International in June 1999 reports details of its findings regarding the refugees from Karen, Karenni and Shan States [11] . Although there appears to be a decrease in the use of forced labour in central Burma, all these reports indicate the e the continued practice of forced labour and portering by government troops in ethnic minority areas. One should also note that, since 1992, Burmese military in their counter-insurgency operation have been increasingly targetting the civilian population instead of the rebels.

As a result of the counter insurgency campaign in Karen State, i.e. forced relocation, an estimated 480,000 Karen people (30 % of the population) are internally displaced since 1992. In addition, 84,000 Karens took refuge in Thailand under the car the care of the UNHCR.

In Karenni State, there have been 20,000-30,000 people forcibly relocated since 1996. These people were forced to remain in life-threatening conditions in the relocation centres, lacking sanitation, safe drinking water, food and proper medical care. The military use these displaced people in relocated sites as pool of forced labour [12] .

During March 1996 and April 1998, the Burmese military orderd more than 300,000 people who live in an area covering 70,000 square square miles in Shan State to move to relocation sites. These relocation orders were given as counter-insurgency measures to cut off Shan rebels operating in that area [13] . The increasing incidents of Burmese troops looting and pillaging villagers' properties are confirmed by Amnesty International. This is due to tatmadaw (army) officers not providing their troops with adequate supplies therefore troops in effect live off the villagers [14] .

In addition to these to these ethnic minority refugees in border camps, Thailand also has to house an estimated 350,000 displaced Burmese and 2700 student dissidents. Thailand, in recent years, has allowed the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to care for these refugees. It appear that the time is appropriate for the United Nations and the international community to help solve the refugee problem in Burma. The Royal Thai Government should address the Burmese refugee problem at this United Nations General Assembly. The international community and ty and the United Nations must assist Thailand in solving the root causes of the Burmese refugee problem. Recent cases of Kosovo and East Timor are good examples of how international solidarity can bring a change to intractable problems. These cases have also set an international precedence for necessary humanitarian intervention whenever necessary.

2.3 Repression of Political Dissidents

After the NLD requested in August 1998 to convene the parliament in Burma, SPDC/Sa, SPDC/SLORC have intensified its campaign to destroy the opposition. In suppressing political dissents, SPDC/SLORC goes to extraordinary lengths to intimidate and destroy its opponents. The SPDC/SLORC counter any anti-government movement, including that of non-violent resistance, as if it has been engaged in a military operation. For example, to arrest a person believed to be responsible for distributing anti-government leaflets in Pegu City, the Military Intelligence units took hostage all relatives and family family members including the 3 year old daughter of that person [15]. The military government's application of such terrorist methods appears to be widespread throughout Burma . Recently, the NLD also reports a similar incident. In Latputta Township in Irrawaddy delta, local authorities have arrested the NLD Organising Committee members on politically motivated charges. The witnesses who testified the innocence of these NLD members were also arrested and sentenced to ced to two years [16] . The Military government does not even tolerate wearing yellow as an expression of dissent [17] .

As the military government ignores opposition requests to convene a parliament, the leadership of the National League for Democracy set up the 10-member Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP) with the support of 251 MPs. The CRPP in particular has the mandate to act on behalf of the people's parliament. The Bu. The Burmese military responded to the formation of the CRPP with a large scale arrest on NLD members, including 200 MPs [18] . Since the formation of the CRPP, the SPDC has orchestrated a no-confidence motion against at least 13 MPs, including one CRPP member. This was done by coercing MPs' constituents into signing petitions and withdrawing support for their representatives. People may be coerced with fines, prison terms, threats of forced labor, and forced resignation from jobs. Djobs. Deception regarding the content of the petitions has also been practiced [19] .

The SPDC/SLORC Secretary-1 General Khin Nyunt's personal vendetta against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has also been a great obstacle to achieving political negotiation. In an attempt to exploit the personal hardship of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under pressure to meet her seriously ill husband, the military intelligence have exerted pressure in the hope that Aung San Suu Kyi would leave Burma.ve Burma. The result of such a personal vendetta against Aung San Suu Kyi had particularly sad consequences for the late Michael Aris [20].

In March 1999, the military government voluntarily allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to investigate and contact freely all prisoners in Burma. Despite such a positive step, we continue to receive report of the arrest and interrogation of suspected dissidents [21] . Inhuman detentions have also been resulting in deaths in custody of some supporters of the NLD. A well know example has been the death of James Leander Nichols who is also the honourary council to some EU countries. These inhuman practices must be investigated by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the responsible persons must be brought to justice [22].

2.4 Questions on the Transition to Democracy

On the question of political transition, the Secretary-General has been authorised by UNGA to use by UNGA to use his good office to contact and mediate between the disputing parties. However, the Special Envoy of Secretary-General has mostly been refused entrance to Burma. It has also become a common pattern that the UN Special Envoy would be allowed once, and only once , to Rangoon while the General Assembly is in Session (so that Burmese junta receives one positive note on resolution !). Then, he be refused of visit to Burma at all other times. Therefore, the UN Secretary-General's good office mission has not been effective for mediation in Burma. The author believes that the Secretary-General's good office should be formally expanded to include other high level diplomats from major democracies in the form of the United Nations Contact Group for Burma.

As for the issue regarding the specific form of new administration, this author believes the best arrangement is SPDC/SLORC's cabinet to function as the Executive branch and democratically elected parliament as the Legislature. Therefore, the UN General Assembly must recognise the CRPP (i.e. Burma's Parliament) as legitimate body to work as the Legislature. This can be done by UN General Assembly recognising the formation of CRPP as well as the mandate of the CRPP. The UN General Assembly must also call upon all governments and international bodies to support the CRPP, as it has been made by the Inter-Parliamentary Union [23] :

The Inter-Parliamentary Union:


To the author's view, there is no question about political fairness in the interim arrangement offered to the junta in 1998 [24]. .The CRPP, so far, has not been making moves to establish itself as an alternative government of Burma. The international community and, especially, the UN General Assembly must appreciate CRPP's role in current political environment and must judiciously guide all concerned parties towards a transition to democracy.

III. The Burmese military leaders' complicity in the drug-trade

A sharp increase in opium-poppy cultivation had been reported after the signing of thee signing of the 1989 ceasefire agreement between the Burmese military and Wa ethnic rebels -- formerly the Communist Party of Burma. As a return for signing the ceasefire, the Burmese military had allowed Wa rebels to freely engaged in opium businesses. The former drug-warlords have also been given the opportunity to set up legal businesses within Burma.

As a result of this ceasefire policy in Shan State, there has been a reduction in actual fighting between the Burmese army and Wa rebel. However, since there are other rebel groups which continue resistance in Shan State, the SPDC/SLORC continue to apply forced relocation scheme. As a result, the Shan villagers are fleeing to Thailand to take refuge [25] . On the other hand, local commanders and Burmese military units began to be involved in the production of heroine.

In the last few years, the ethnic rebels in Shan State have directed their efforts into the production and sales of amphetamine-type-stimulants. One reliable report indicates that top-ranking junta leaders, including Secretary-1 of SPDC, are involved in a share of this illicit drug trade [26] .

The virtually free production and sales of illicit drugs have serious impact on the region and on the world. Thailand, with its affluent population and the best economy in the region, has become the main target of export for illicit drugs from Burma. Australia has also become the main target for Burmese heroin [27] .

With growing eviden .

With growing evidence of Burmese military authorities at its highest level being involved in the illicit drug trade, the international community should no longer ignore the impact and consequences of this problem. The institutionalised corruption within the Burmese military is not only a threat to international peace and security, but it is also an obstacle to the peaceful resolution of political conflicts in Burma. The UN General Assembly and especially the UN Security Council must take immediate measures to solve the drug problem. As a firs a first step, efforts must be made to bring those military leaders together with Burma's drug-lords before the International Criminal Court.

IV. Assessment on New Initiatives

During 1998-99, the International Community has had initiatives with the aim of solving the political problem and improving the human rights situation in Burma. In November 1998, the United Nations has made the so-called `dollars-for-democracy' offer to the Burmese military junta. In August-1999, the Australianstralian Government also offered to set up a national human rights commission in Burma. The following is an assessment of these initiatives and a suggestion on how the UN General Assembly may use its influence to help in these efforts.

4.1 United Nations `Dollar-for-Democracy' deals

The international media first reported the United Nations offer for substantial (humanitarian) aid in return for dialogue in Burma in November 1998. Initiatives for this arrangement were reportedly made in OctoberOctober 1998 while the UN General Assembly was in session. The report also suggested to rescind the NLD calling of parliament and, possibly, holding of a new election. This suggestion raises two important questions: (1) the operational issues for independent humanitarian organisations (2) the suggestion to hold a new election.

Regarding operational issues for humanitarian organisations, one obstacle is SPDC/SLORC refusing to allow the operation of independent NGOs within Burma. The National League for Democracy has also expreso expressed its view that the humanitarian agencies must consult with elected representatives [28].

The suggestion for a new election has been frequently floated by the international media. For example in 1992, a team of NGO experts from International Council for Voluntary Agency recommended ``a process and timetable to lead to new elections and a return to democracy.... and .... recognition of the results of the 1990 election " [29]9] . SPDC/SLORC was also receptive to this suggestion at that time [30] . Some people within the international community have often put forward suggestions for a new election simply because they have an illusion that an election will solve this political crisis.

Unfortunately, a new election will not solve problems such as framing a new constitution, the role of military within government and the issues of ethnic minorities. The best solution to all these problems is the UN General Assembly sembly to formally recognise the Committee Representing the People's Parliament as well as the mandate of CRPP. In other words, a new election should be held only with the approval of CRPP or Burma's Parliament.

4.2 Creation of a National Human Rights Commission

During the ASEAN Ministers' meeting in July 1998, Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer put forward a suggestion to Burmese military authorities to establish an independent human rights commission. In the following weeks, Ausks, Australia's Human Rights Commissioner has visited Rangoon and met with both military authorities and leaders of NLD. The Australian human rights community has the experience in assisting establishment of such a commission in the Asia-Pacific Region, such as in Indonesia in 1993.

There is no doubt about the need for a human rights commission in Burma. However, to the views of the author, a better approach may be that the United Nations first authorised the deployment of an in-country human rights mission, with the mandate todate to set up a national human rights commission. The National Human Rights Commission in Burma may be set up with the help of Australian expertise at appropriate time. The independence of such a commission should be assured by the supervision of UN Commission on Human Rights and Special Rapporteur. Such a commission must also be approved by the elected representatives. The United Nations General Assembly should therefore, as a first step, make an arrangement to deploy an in-country human rights monitors to Burma, along with otheth other international humanitarian organisations.

V. Recommendations

At this UN General Assembly, the international community should support the recognition of CRPP and Burma's Parliament as the Legislative body for Burma and also make initiatives to solve Burma's refugee problem. Efforts should also be made to curb heroine production and illicit drug trafficking. The international community and United Nations must also bring to justice to those responsible for human rights abuses and top military officers involved in drug trafficking.

5.1 Recommendation to the 54th Session of UNGA

The 54th Session of United Nations General Assembly:

5.2 Recommendation to UN Security Council

The United Nations Security Council:


[1] Donald M. Seekins, ``Burma in 1998: Little to Celebrate'', Asian Survey, Vol. XXXIX, No. 1, January/February 1999.

[2] Mya Maung, ``The Burma Road to the Past", Asian Survey, Vol. XXXIX, No.2 March/April 1999.

[3] Desmond Ball, ``Burma and Drugs: The regime's complicity in the global drug trade''e global drug trade'', Working Paper 336, Strategic and Defense Studies Centre, Australian National University, April 1999.

[4] Report by UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar, E/CN.4/1999/35, 22 January 1999. Para. 47.

[5] Amnesty International, ``Myanmar: Atrocities in the Shan State", AI Index: ASA 16/05/98, 15 April 1998.

[6] Report of Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, A/53/364, 10 September 1998.

``49. In conclusion on the subject of forced labour, the Special Rapporteur wishes to make two observations. First, the proceedings and report of the Commission of Inquiry of the ILO clearly indicate that the attitude of the regime in Myanmar towards the Commission was the same as that which the regime had adopted towards the Special Rapporteur, the Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly - that is to say, an attitude of total non-cooperation, in violation of the obligations that Myanmar had fr had freely undertaken under the Charter of the United Nations and relevant ILO Conventions. Secondly, the conclusions of the Commission of Inquiry of the ILO confirm all the serious concerns that the Special Rapporteur has highlighted in his reports to the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights concerning the laws on and the practice of forced labour in Myanmar.

Ibid. Para. 17, 18.

[8] Resolution on the Widespread use of Forced Labor in Myanmar, 83rd Session of International Labor Conference, 2 July 1999.

[9] United States Committee for Refugees, Country Report 1998.

[10] Report by Special Rapporter for Human Rights in Myanmar, E/CN.4/1999/35, 22 January 1999.

[11] Amnesty International, ``Myanmar: the Kayin(Karen) state militarization and human rights", AI Index ASA: 16/12/99; ``Myanmar: Aftermath, Three years of dislocation in the Kayah Son in the Kayah State", AI Index ASA:16/14/99; and ``Myanmar: Update on Shan State", AI Index ASA 16/13/99, 30 June 1999.

[12] Amnesty International, AI Index: ASA 16/13/99, 30 June 1999.

[13] United States Committee for Refugees, Country Report on Burma 1998.

[14] Amnesty International, AI Index: ASA 16/13/99, 30 June 1999.

[15] Amnesty International, Urgent Action 183/99, ASA 16/19/99, 27 July 1999.

nld1">[16] NLD Statement 55(9/99), 13 September 1999.

[17] Interview with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on 5 October 1999, transcript disseminated by ALTSEAN. " Four persons who wear yellow dress on 9-9-99 were arrested and sentenced to seven years imprisonment, since opposition groups were suggesting to wear yellow in solidarity with anti-government groups.

[18] The CRPP Briefings by Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma. The text can also be found in http://www.physics.adelaide.edu.au/ ~ uneoo/crpplink.html.

[19] CRPP Notifications: No. 8, 16 February 1999; No. 10, 18 February 1999; No. 12, 24 February 1999; No. 13, 25 February 1999; No. 17, 30 March 1999; No. 26, 5 May 1999.

[20] 20/4/99: SPDC/SLORC, NLD and ASSK after the death of Micahel Aris.(http://www.physics.adelaide.edu.au/~uneu/~uneoo)

[21] 9 October 99: BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. Scores of workers at Kyemon (The Mirror) newspaper were arrested in late September by MI units and two were reported dead because of torture.

[22] Report by Special Rapporteur, A/53/364, 10 September 1999. Recommendations: Para.61

``61. Further, the Special Rapporteur recommends that an independent inquiry be held into the circumstances of the deathshe deaths of Mr. Nichols in June 1996 and of U Thein in February 1998, while detained in Insein Prison, in the light of any evidence that may be gathered from fellow prisoners and prison officials and, indeed any other persons, so that action may be taken against the individuals who may have been responsible for their deaths or harsh treatment.

[23] Inter-Parliamentary Union Resolution on Burma (Myanmar), 16 April 1999.

[24] 05/01/98: Transitional Phase and Prospect for Change in Burma (http://www.physics.adelaide.edu.au/~uneoo)

[25] Amnesty International, ``Myanmar: Update on the Shan State", AI Index: ASA 16/13/99, 30 June 1999.

[26] Desmond Ball, `` Burma and Drugs: The regime's complicity in the global drug trade '', Working Paper 336, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, April 1999.

[2">[27] Far Eastern Economic Review, 9 September 1999.

[28] Conference on Humanitarian Aid to Burma, by the Burma Fund, Washington, 24 May 1999.(http://www.burmafund.org/ )

[29] International Council of Voluntary Agencies, Mission to Burma Report , 1992.

[30] However, the SPDC/SLORC's position on the new election may now have changed since the death of Michael Aris. This is because the Burmese military no longer have the foundation to exclude Aung San Suu Kyi from any new election or participation in the government.

BURMA -- Time for UN Engagement