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The Burmese government took no steps to improve its dire human rights record. The ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) continued to pursue a strategy of marginalizing the democratic opposition through detention, intimidation, and restrictions on basic civil liberties. Despite international condemnation, the system of forced labor remained intact.

In the war-affected areas of eastern Burma, gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law continued. There, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), and Karen National Union (KNU), as well as some other smaller groups, continued their refusal to agree to a cease-fire with the government, as other insurgent forces had done, but they were no longer able to hold significant territory. Tens of thousands of villagers in the contested zones remained in forced relocation sites or internally displaced within the region.

Human Rights Developments

The SPDC continued to deny its citizens freedom of expression, association, assembly, and movement. It intimidated members of the democratic opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) into resigning from the party and encouraged crowds to denounce NLD members elected to parliament in the May 1990 election but not permitted to take their seats. The SPDC rhetoric against the NLD and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, became increasingly extreme. On March 27, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, in his Armed Forces Day address, called for forces undermining stability to be eliminated. It was a thinly veiled threat against the NLD. On May 2, a commentary in the state-run Kyemon (Mirror) newspaper claimed there was evidence of contact between the NLD and dissident and insurgent groups, an offense punishable by death or life imprisonment. In a May 18 press conference, several Burmese officials pointed to what they said were linkages between the NLD and insurgents based along the Thai-Burma border, and on September 4 the official Myanmar Information Committee repeated this charge in a press release after Burmese security forces raided the NLD headquarters in Rangoon.

The SPDC released several high-profile political prisoners during the year, but continued to arrest individuals engaged in peaceful political activities. It extended clemency on medical grounds to NLD Youth member Tun Zaw Zaw, also known as Tun Tint Wai, on December 19 after his mother appealed for him to be released to seek treatment for an eye disease. He had served two years of a seven year prison term imposed on politically-motivated charges of forgery and cheating. Moe Thu (Sein Myint), former editor of the economics magazine Danna, was released on January 3, 2000, following the death of his wife. He had been in prison since June 1996. On May 22, the government released Cho Nwe Oo, who had been in prison since 1995 for a protest at the funeral of the former prime minister, U Nu. The thirty-two-year old doctor had two years of his sentence still to serve at the time of release. The government released six elderly men, five of them reportedly NLD members, shortly after a request for the release of the men and other prisoners made by the U.N. Secretary-General's special envoy for Burma, Razali Ismail, during his October 2000 visit to Burma. On October 20, the government released British activist James Mawdsley following strong protests earlier in the month by the British foreign ministry over reports that Mawdsley had been beaten in detention and a statement by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that he was being held unlawfully. He had served one year of a seventeen-year sentence for distributing pro-democracy leaflets in Burma.

There were also new arrests. On April 24, the SPDC detained a member of the Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP), the shadow legislature established by the NLD. Aye Tha Aung, chairperson of the CRPP's Committee on Ethnic Nationalities Affairs, was reportedly sentenced to twenty-one years of imprisonment in June to be served at Insein prison, where conditions were particularly harsh. In May, the authorities arrested Tint Wae, Kyaw Myo Min, and Ma Htay Htay for allegedly distributing the dissident newspaper MoJo, and sentenced them to seven years in prison. Later the same month, the government arrested over one hundred NLD members in an apparent attempt to suppress political protests to mark the tenth anniversary of the 1990 election.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued to monitor the conditions of thousands of prisoners, and was able to establish offices in Kengtung in Shan state, Pa-an in Karen state, and Moulmein in Mon state to begin to monitor the condition of civilians in eastern Burma.

On August 24, Burmese officials took action to prevent the freedom of movement of NLD General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi, Deputy Chairman Tin Oo, and a dozen other party members, forcing their two vehicles off the main road in the town of Dala, on the outskirts of Rangoon. Government forces refused to allow the party to proceed to the NLD branch office at Kunyangon, thirty miles from the capital, and urged them to return to Rangoon because of "security concerns." The NLD officials refused to do so and, instead, camped in their cars, but on September 3, police forcibly returned them to Rangoon. Officials reportedly handcuffed Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo. The day before, security forces had raided the NLD headquarters in Rangoon and confiscated numerous documents. The government claimed that the raid had uncovered damning evidence that NLD members were helping insurgent groups to smuggle explosives into Burma and confined nine NLD executive committee members to their homes pending completion of an investigation. The government's move sparked international condemnation. Foreign diplomats were permitted to visit the nine detainees on September 14 and the NLD members were then permitted to move about Rangoon.

On September 21, however, the government blocked a bid by Suu Kyi and other NLD members to travel by train to Mandalay. Suu Kyi and eight other NLD executive members were placed under effective house arrest. Deputy Chairman Tin Oo was held at an unknown location. The nine executive members were still being held as of October 2000.

The SPDC failed to put a stop to its use of forced labor for infrastructure development, the construction of Buddhist structures, maintenance of military camps, and portering for army patrols. A delegation from the International Labour Organization (ILO), visited Rangoon and other areas at the SPDC's invitation from May 23-27, shortly before the June annual conference of the ILO. In its report on the visit, the ILO again called for the SPDC to cease the use of forced labor, repeal or amend legal provisions for forced labor in the Village and Towns acts, monitor compliance, and penalize those who employed forced labor. Burmese Minister for Labour Maj. Gen. Tin Ngwe wrote a letter dated May 27 to the ILO's director-general, stating that the SPDC leaders "have taken and are taking the necessary measures to ensure that there are not instances of forced labor in Myanmar." The ILO conference, however, concluded that the SPDC had failed to end the practice and gave the SPDC until November 2000 to institute reforms or suffer possible sanctions. On October 19, an ILO delegation traveled to Rangoon to assess whether forced labor was still in use.

Tens of thousands of villagers in the conflict areas of central Shan state, Karenni state, Karen state, Mon state, and eastern Tenasserim division remained in forced relocation sites and faced curfews, looting, and restrictions on movement at the hands of the Burmese army. Shan refugees escaping to Thailand reported that strict curfews had been implemented in Burmese government relocation sites forbidding Shan villagers from leaving their homes between dusk and dawn and, in some instances, prohibiting speaking and imposing a strict lights-out policy. Tens of thousands of other villagers in eastern and southeastern Burma remained displaced in the forests or in areas contested by the army and insurgent groups.

In the west, the SPDC continued to deprive ethnic minority Muslim Rohingya of full citizenship rights. The Rohingya were subject to restrictions on their freedom of movement, arbitrary taxation, and extortion by local officials. Forced labor was also common. A direct consequence of ongoing abuses was the gradual movement of Rohingya refugees into the Bangladeshi labor market. Some 20,000 refugees remained in Nayapara and Kutapalong refugee camps in Bangladesh as of October 2000, but the camps remained officially closed to new arrivals.

On July 27, the SPDC reopened many of the country's universities, which had been closed since 1996. Many campuses, however, had been relocated to rural areas since the mid-90s and the doors of the University of Rangoon, a former hotbed of political activity, remained shut for all but final year students.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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