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Conditions In Burma and U.S. Policy Toward Burma - 2003-04-23


The Government of Burma severely abuses the human rights of its citizens. Patterns of abuses are worse in ethnic minority areas. These abuses include censorship, persecution, beatings, disappearances, extrajudicial executions, the curtailing of religious freedom, forced relocations, rapes, and forced labor, including conscription of child soldiers.

Several reports by non-governmental organizations have been published this year alleging human rights abuses by the Burmese military on Burmese civilians including rapes of hundreds of women between 1992 and 2001. The regime initially denied these charges but,after conducting investigations, conceded that it had identified five cases (out of the 173 presented by SHRF) whose circumstances approximate those described by SHRF.

The international community is calling for an independent investigation by competent officials from outside Burma conducting private interviews with victims in an atmosphere of security and free of reprisals. In March 2003, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Pinheiro visited Burma to discuss the human rights situation there, including prospects for an independent, credible investigation of the rape allegations. However, he cut his visit short when he learned that his supposedly confidential discussions with political prisoners were being monitored by Burmese authorities.

In August 2002, a Burma Army Captain raped a four-year-old girl in a village in Kayah State, and local officials attempted to cover up the crime when villagers first complained to them. However, the government has since taken action. The Captain was brought back to Rangoon in handcuffs, and the Commander and Deputy Commander of the Captain's battalion were relieved of command for their mishandling of the incident. Reportedly, there have been no reprisals against the villagers.

Burma was ranked as a Tier 3 country in the Department's 2002 Trafficking in Persons Report. Since the publication of that report, the GOB has tried to make more transparent that it is taking steps against sexual exploitation trafficking, which most often involves the clandestine movement of Burmese women and children from ethnic minority areas into Thailand.

The Myanmar National Committee on Women's Affairs has taken measures to help educate vulnerable populations on the dangers of trafficking by distributing booklets, producing some media programming and organizing community talks.

The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Attorney General's office have carried out arrests and prosecutions of traffickers. The effectiveness of these efforts appears to be uneven and difficult to evaluate given the government's overall credibility and the political climate in the country, but this represents what seems to be a genuine engagement of some senior government officials to fighting sex trafficking.

The GOB has also allowed some limited but important NGO and international organization activity to assist returning trafficking victims and educate officials, but the government needs to be open to much more of this kind of cooperation. The GOB has concentrated its efforts in fighting sex trafficking, although officials are aware that the international definition of trafficking in persons also encompasses labor exploitation.

The regime did allow a visit by Amnesty International (AI) in February 2003. During the visit, the AI delegation met with government ministers and other officials, as well as with Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the NLD. AI used their meetings with government officials to discuss the conditions under which political prisoners are held and to call for the immediate release of 19 prisoners on humanitarian grounds.

U.S. policy goals in Burma include a return to constitutional democracy, the institution of a rule of law, improved human rights, national reconciliation, counterterrorism efforts, regional stability, HIV/AIDS mitigation, combating trafficking in persons, accounting for missing servicemen from World War II, and more effective counternarcotics efforts. We encourage talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military government in the hope that it will lead to meaningful democratic change in Burma.

We also consult regularly, at senior levels, with countries with major interests in Burma and/or major concerns regarding Burmas human rights practices.

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