The lack of the rule of law and due process in Burma is clearly a serious obstacle to the implementation of the CRC. It is however symptomatic of a far wider problem of a pervasive lack of openness and accountability in the Burmese government which manifests itself also in the government's refusal to allow the formation of independent nongovernmental organizations and to grant access by international monitors and NGOs. The World Bank, the special rapporteur and other analysts have noted that the main concern of the SLORC is its own survival. 11 The primacy of political considerations extends even to the health sector, where over 15,000 doctors were sacked in the first two years of the SLORC's term of office for having "incorrectly" answered questionnaires about their political opinions.12 In education too, demonstrations by students led to the closure of schools and universities for long periods: all high schools and universities were closed for most of 1988, all of 1989-90 and again in December 1991 for three months. When they reopened, in order to clear the backlog which had developed, the university academic year was reduced to three months, and students completed three-year courses in only one year. From December 6, 1996 universities, colleges and high schools in Rangoon were again closed and had not reopened by the middle of January 1997.
While the government has opened the country to tourism in the past two years, it has restricted access by U.N. personnel at the same time. After Burma ratified the Geneva Conventions in 1992, the International Committee of the Red Cross closed their offices in Rangoon in July 1995, frustrated by the lack of access they had been given. Between December 1992 and October 1996, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights' Special Rapporteur to Burma, Professor Yokota, conducted four one-week missions to Burma (there were also two missions in 1990 and 1991 under the confidential 1503 procedure). However, since Yokota resigned in March 1996, his successor, Judge Rajsoomer Lallah, has not been allowed into the country. Also in 1996, the U.N. secretary-general's representatives were denied access to the country, and thus the secretary-general was unable to fulfill the mandate entrusted to him by the General Assembly.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the committee which it established recognize the important role which NGOs can play in ensuring proper implementation and reporting on progress towards implementation of the convention. It is therefore particularly unfortunate that there are no genuinely independent NGOs in Burma. The government in its report to the committee cites the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association (MMCWA), the Myanmar Medical Association (MMA), and the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) asgroups with which the government is collaborating to ensure implementation of the convention. Despite the fact that many of the members of these organizations are highly committed to improving the lives of those with whom they work, none of these organizations can be said to be independent of government control.13 The inclusion of the USDA in the list of NGOs is particularly disingenuous, as this organization was established by the government 1993 for overtly political reasons (see below). It is headed by a secretariat comprising three government ministers, all of whom are serving officers in the Burmese army, and the mayor of Rangoon. Its aims are identical to those of the SLORC, with the additional aim of "commission and vitalization of national pride."
Perhaps the only independent organizations in Burma are the Christian churches who together form the Myanmar Council of Churches and the Myanmar Catholic Bishops Conference. However, while the Council of Churches has been permitted to register as an NGO, it has thus far not been allowed to openly work. In June and July 1996, Catholic priests and bishops who attempted to assist the displaced in Shan and Karenni states were prevented from doing so by the local military commander, despite the fact that they had already collected donations.
In accordance with Article 4 of the CRC, which requires that "States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in this Convention," the government promulgated the Child Law which entered into force on July 14, 1993. This law is, so far, the most comprehensive legislation on children in Burma and a step towards harmonization of the Convention on the Rights of the Child with Burma national laws. However, in addition to some of the inadequacies of the Child Law, it did not supersede most existing law; therefore the rights of children in Burma remain subject to pre-existing national legislation. Only the Young Offenders Act of 1930 and the Children's Act of 1955 were repealed by the Child Law. Thus, while section 15(a) of the Child Law states that every child "has the right to freedom of speech and expression in accordance with the law," the law, in the form of Section 5(e) of the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, can sentence a child to seven years of imprisonment for as little as "spread[ing] false news, knowing beforehand that it is untrue."
The law established a National Committee on the Rights of the Child, chaired by the minister of social welfare, relief and resettlement, Maj. Gen. Soe Myint. The law also provides for the establishment of other committees at the state, divisional and township levels. Given the government's record thus far, it is unlikely that these committees will be independent of the government, and unlikely, therefore, that they will be able to advocate on the behalf of children.
11 See, for example, World Bank, "Myanmar: Policies for Sustaining Economic Reform," (Washington: World Bank, 1995).
12 All civil servants were ordered to fill in a series of questionnaires between 1989 and 1991, see Martin Smith State of Fear (London: Article 19, December 1991), and Fatal Silence? Freedom of Expression and the Right to Health in Burma (London: Article 19, July 1996).
13 See Martin Smith, Fatal Silence? pp. 50-55. Smith notes that the General Secretary of the MMCWA is the wife of the SLORC Secretary-1, Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, and its president is the wife of the former health minister, Col. Pe Thein.