Burma (officially known as Myanmar) and Human Rights

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  • by Anup Shah
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In Burma (officially known as Myanmar) human rights violations have been well reported thanks to various groups including Amnesty International, the Free Burma Coalition, Human Rights Watch and others. Perhaps one of the major figures that have helped to raise the awareness has been Nobel Prize Winner and democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Having gained independence in the late 1940s as most of the world broke free from colonial rule, Burma, as it was then known, suffered many problems due to the "divide and rule" policy of British colonialism.

While building their democracy from scratch, Burma faced a civil war and smaller insurgencies after that. It fell under military dictatorship in the 60s supported by the likes of USA, UK and Australia (to react to the Soviet "threat" -- in reality it was to help ensure a more supportive regime, as has been the purpose of supporting many dictators and non-democratic regimes around the world).

Ever since then human rights have been oppressed and many innocent people have been killed. Towards the end of the 1980s when many democratic protests were taking place, over ten thousand students, Buddhist monks and other civilians were killed in a series of massacres and protest clampdowns.

Aung San Suu Kyi's party won the 1990 elections with almost 60% of the votes and over 80% of parliamentary seats, but the military canceled the election results. For most of the 1990s Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest.

The United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO) also says that there is forced labor in Burma, to which the ruling military junta denies.

There are many refugees in Thailand, although Thailand has often prevented many coming across the border. There has also been tacit or direct support of the dictatorship from many Asian nations such as China, Japan, Singapore and Thailand, as well as western countries such as France, UK, US and many others.

Due to the rich resources such as oil, timber and natural gas (and cheap, often forced, labor due to the impoverishment of most people in the country), many of the above-mentioned countries -- including corporations from those countries -- and others, have turned a blind eye to the human rights violations.

In fact, given the recent East Timor crisis1 and Australian involvement in peacekeeping operations, human rights activists are urging a similar reversal2 of policy towards Rangoon. (Australia had a complete reverse in its policy towards Indonesia, which it had supported for decades.)

While there are a number of web sites for more information, you can start off at the following:

  • The Free Burma Coalition3 web site
  • The Free Burma4 web site
  • John Pilger on Burma5
  • Amnesty International6 report
  • Human Rights Watch7 report
  • "U.S. Policy Regarding Burma8" from Foreign Policy In Focus looks at what US policy has been in the past and suggests improvements.
  • Burma, Grace Under Pressure9 is an impressive multimedia site with documentary footage discussing various aspects of Burma.

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