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Burma: Constitutional Convention Reinforces Military Rule

Protests Continue in Wake of Convention’s End

(New York) - The conclusion of Burma’s National Convention on Monday shows that Burma’s military intends to ignore public sentiment and remain in power indefinitely, said Human Rights Watch today.

“The end of the national convention heralds neither reform nor change in Burma,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It merely marks the end of a long, drawn-out chapter of faits accomplis designed by the military to stay in power.”

The National Convention began in 1993 and has met haphazardly for over a decade, even failing to meet at all between 1996 and 2003. The convention followed an election in 1990 that had been overwhelmingly won by a pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). In July, Human Rights Watch set out its serious concerns about the convention in “Burma: Constitutional Convention a Facade for Military Rule”, and to view the Chronology of the National Convention.

Street demonstrations – very rare under Burma’s repressive government – during the past two weeks were sparked by sharply increased fuel prices, which were hiked in mid-August. More than 150 activists have been arrested by authorities, and the low-key conclusion to the convention was likely a further response to the popular unrest.

The convention has still not produced a written constitution. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has drawn up a list of “Fundamental Principles” and “Detailed Basic Principles” that will serve as the basis of a future constitution. Some of the clauses in the “Principles” are those designed to ensure the continued primacy of the military in Burmese politics. For example, in Chapter 1, State Fundamental Principles, Article 2 (f) allows “for the Tatmadaw (Burmese armed forces) to be able to participate in the national political leadership role of the State.” Article 10 (d) states that “necessary law(s) shall be enacted to make citizens’ freedoms, rights, benefits, responsibilities and restrictions effective, firm and complete.” The future president, who must possess “military vision,” also has sweeping emergency powers that grant the office the right to seize national or local control in the event of a threat against the national sovereignty “by wrongful means such as violence or insurgency” (Chapter 11, Article 8).

“This long convention process has excluded the majority of the Burmese population, it has muzzled the delegates who were permitted to attend, and it has ignored their concerns, suggestions and proposals, along with those of many civil society groups and ethnic nationalities,” said Adams. “The constitution that comes out of this will be a constitution by the generals for the generals, who rule Burma for their own benefit.”

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