The Long Wander in Thailand © Sahand Sedghi

Human Rights

Mae Sot, Thailand


Burma. Where to start? If Burma is to be judged on the basis of human rights standards and human rights abuses internationally, it must be considered one of the worst violators, particularly because of the deployment of forced labor, which is continuing unabated today. Forced labor, arbitrary detention, torture, executions and the trampling of its citizens rights have helped to keep the current military dictatorship in power since 1962. The border towns of Thailand, China, India and Bangladesh have established refugee camps to which the battered Burmese are able to flee their abusive government.

Before 1988, the human rights abuses in Burma went largely unreported, mainly because the country was kept isolated by successive xenophobic regimes. But, things changed after 1988, when the military brutally reacted and gunned down hundreds of protestors on the streets to counter massive nationwide protests for democratic reforms. Since then, Burma has unwittingly become a test case to see how far the international community is willing to go to end human right abuses in the world. The suffering of the people in Burma and elsewhere can only end when there is global resolve to do so.

Human Rights Yearbook

I was given a 700 page book detailing the travesties occurring now in Burma. On its own, this book would take at least two months just to read, let alone absorb. I was much like many other people on the road, just a traveler. Before I met Mg Mg Lay, I had only the vaguest knowledge of the problems in Burma and I was still debating whether or not to travel there.

Each chapter of this book presents hundreds of cases relevant to the chapter heading. It would be impossible to reproduce even a fraction of that here; therefore, I have summarized a few chapters and selected some cases from each of those chapters that I feel represent the issue. I hope our readers will have a better sense of the situation in Burma from reading these cases.

Table of Contents


Facts and Figures

Country name: Union of Burma (1948); Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma (1974); Union of Myanmar (1989);
Area: 261,000 sq miles
Population: 50.9 million
Population growth rate: 1.61%
Life expectancy: 60 years
1000 people per TV: 7
People per doctor: 12,500
Rice Export: 3.5 million tons (1930); 2 million tons (1962); 20,000 tons (1988)
Opium Production: 1,300 tons (1988); 2,800 tons (1997) 70% of U.S. market
Last Election: May 27, 1990


Forced Labor

Throughout their rule the military junta, referred to throughout these accounts as the SPDC or State Peace and Development Council, continues its blatant use of unpaid civilian forced labor in virtually all their undertakings, including economic activities, military operations, building and maintaining infrastructures such as roads, bridges, and military facilities, cultivating crops for the military and in many cases even in their daily personal matters. Civilians in rural and ethnic areas in Burma are called ‘won tan’ or ‘servants’. Villagers used as porters must carry packs for the military that amount to half the villagers’ weight. In conflict areas they are sent ahead of troops to act as human minesweepers or human bullet shields. All work done for the government is done without compensation.

Government work orders are accompanied by threats for failure to comply. A work order may contain a bullet, chili or piece of charcoal. The bullet means they will be shot. Chili means they will be in 'hot water' or their animals will be cooked. Charcoal means their village will be burnt down.

Forced labor on roads, railways and other infrastructure projects is becoming even more prevalent as the government pushes forward with its "Development" agenda. For these projects the government usually sends written orders to villagers demanding a quota of one or more laborer per household for shifts of one or two weeks. Usually a family’s turn will occur once per month on each project in their area. This is in addition to all other forced labor requirements, such as porters and work at military camps. No excuses are accepted for evading the government’s labor requirements. If adults in the household are sick or if the household consists only of a grandmother caring for her orphaned grandchildren, the government still requires that someone from the family go to the labor sight. Alternatively, the family must hire a substitute. Often the only option for families is to flee the area and risk being captured and beaten.

Personal Accounts of Forced Labor:

Name: Ko Than Shwe
Sex: Male
Age: 30
Ethnicity: Burmese
Occupation: Farmer
Religion: Buddhist
Date of Interview: June 26, 2000

I and three other villagers from Y village started to serve as intern (regular) porters on May 3, 2000. We, along with other villagers from neighboring villages, were sent to the Light Infantry Battalion 404base in Thecghaung Gyi village. There, more than two hundred porters had already arrived at that military camp. On May 4, we, more than two hundred porters, were forced to carry military food supplies from Thecahung Gyi to the east of Thayetchaung town ship to Katawnni village where the Operation Commending HQ No. 9 is based.

Only the porters traveled, there were no soldiers guarding us. When we left, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) soldiers inspected the load and the list. If the list did not match with the load, we, the porters would face severe action. The SPDC soldiers punish porters by kicking, beating and punching. In addition, if the list did not match the load, when the porters arrived back to their village they have to pay in compensation double the value of the losses. Therefore, there is no easy way being a porter. WE have to carry our own food while serving as porter. Some villagers (porters) have their own food to carry, but some who have difficulty to earn their living can not. Porters are not allowed to take any bit of the military food they are carrying. Therefore, some poor villagers who could not carry their own food have taken a small amount of the military food to eat on the way. Those who have done this did face the SPDC’s official punishment. Also, it is often the case that other SPDC patrols take what food they want from the porters and that Karen National Union (KNU) troops confiscate or destroy the food the porters are transporting. If this happens, the porters are still held responsible for the lost supplies. After the term of service, porters are allowed to return to their villages. However, anytime during the term, there is the possibility that SPDC soldiers will conscript the porters to act as front line porters. I and U Aung Than, 47 years old, were conscripted as frontline porters after we arrived to Katawnni village. On May 10, we left from Katawnni village with 50 porters, following a military column of Light Infantry Battalion 376 to Htee Hta village on the east Tenasserim Riverside. Each porter was forced to carry military food. From Katawnni to Htee Hta it took four days waling on foot. Some porters who walked slow and did not catch up tot e military column were beaten, kicked and punched. Those who got sick had no chance to rest. After we arrived to Htee Hta we were not allowed to return. Instead, we were further used as military field porters. Those who go sick did not receive any treatment form the military. Instead, we had to buy from the soldiers at the price of 5 Kyat for one Paracitamol tablet. Those who had no money had no chance to get any medicine. In the camp, malaria and sickness was severe and people died almost every day. My fellow U Aung Than died at Htee Htan camp because he contracted malaria and was unable to get any treatment.

I stayed at Htee Hta camp for more than ten days. Every day we were forced to work for the soldiers, clearing the bushes around the camp. On May 31, the troops from Operation Commanding HQ No. 8 arrived to the camp and we the porters were forced to go along with the Operation troops. Commanding HQ No 9 left for Myittaya village. On June 4, we arrived in Mittaya village. On that day, I ran away because I feared they may again force me to serve as a porter. After I ran away, I decided not to return to my village because I had not received the recommendation sheet from the military which stated that I had done my porter duty. If I had returned without this paper the village SPDC authority would have accused me of running from my porter duty, arrested me and forced me to serve as porter again. Therefore, I decided to come to Thailand and try to earn my living for a while.


Extra-judicial Killing, Summary or Arbitrary Execution

The summary or arbitrary execution of individuals in SPDC controlled Burma continues to be one of the most gruesome and obvious violations of human rights violations committed in the country. In 2000 there continued to be numerous reports of summery or arbitrary execution of civilians, especially in the border areas of armed conflict. The military officers and rand and file soldiers of the SPDC army battalions, leaders and members of the SPCD endorsed people’s militias and other SPDC officials including MI, Police and USDA officials were the perpetrators of these crimes. This clearly shows SPDCs complete disregard for the human law treaties it has signed.

Many arbitrary executions are carried out in line with SPDC’s “Four-cuts” policy, which is practiced in the areas of armed ethnic conflict against the ethnic minority villagers. According to this policy, the SPDC army has aimed to cut support to the opposition through mass relocations of villagers and village elders and leaders considered to have any contact with the opposition. Villagers found outside of SPDC controlled areas, including villagers in hiding from the army, and villagers outside of forced relocation sites are often assumed to be rebels or rebel supporters. Indeed, accusing a villager of being a rebel soldier, a relative of a rebel soldier, or helping rebel soldiers in any way is a blanket accusation punishable by death; the implicit SPDC threat to other villagers is to renounce suspected rebels before innocent villagers pay the price for their subversion. Villagers in resistance areas fear traveling outside their village for any reason, especially to tend their hill fields in the jungle, because they risk discovery by SPDC troops on patrol and the inevitable accusation of rebel activity. Villagers seen outside of SPDC controlled areas or villages are often shot on sight by patrolling troops without any kind of warning. As most accusations of rebel association are unfounded, this system can be used o execute almost anyone; for example, women found in villages without their husbands are often accused of being ‘married to a rebel soldier’. Villagers can also be executed for simply carrying food in areas outside SPDC control, as the army assumes that the food is to supply rebel troops.

The SPDC often orders the army battalions to hunt down and kill villagers in hiding as well, during “Search and Destroy” operations. In 2000 many such Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in hiding were discovered and summarily executed.

The case number of arbitrary and summery executions is high. For the year 2000 the Human Rights Documentation Unit (HRDU) compiled reports of over 600 individuals who had been arbitrarily or summarily executed by personnel associated with the SPDC. This number is low and does not indicate the actual number of people who were summarily or arbitrarily executed as this number is the reported incidents as compiled by the HRDU. It can be affirmed that many more such incidents occurred in the year 2000 which were not known of or reported.

There are additional reports on Massacres in individual States throughout Burma, execution and deaths during forced labor and portering, women executed after being raped, death as a result of torture, death in custody, and execution of SPDC army deserters.

Incidents of Extra-judicial Killing, Summary or Arbitrary Executions:

On July 20, 2000, IB 262 soldiers entered Pawat village tract (Htee Thu Day village, Mergui District, Tenasserim Division) and captured a villager named Saw Thwe Swe, age 37, the son of Saw Hpo Toke and Naw Ka Maying. They accused Saw Thwe Swe of cooperating with the resistance force, brought him to a place called Kamalay, and shot him to death.

On August 10, 2000 police officers of Kyauk Se main police station in Kyauk Se, Mandalay Division arrested a Muslim man from Latpun village in the township, UKhin Maung Win, age 36. The police demanded 5,000 kyat as a bribe for U Khin Maung Win to be released and when he said he could not afford to pay the money, the police officers considered that he was being “stubborn” and shot him dead. They also arrested his brother when his brother reported the case to the police captain, and his whereabouts remain unknown as of September 12, 2000.

On September 24, 2000 a patrol of SPDC troops from LIB515 led by Capt. Aung Hpyu killed a farmer Zaai Zaling, age 26 and raped his wife, Naang Mon, age 21 at a farm 2 ½ miles south of Lai-Kha town. They took the wife away with them for 10 days during which she was repeatedly raped. The couple had been from Kun Hung village, Wan Saang tract, Lai-Kha Township.



“Torture of political detainees and ethnic minorities is widespread and systematic in Myanmar…” UN human rights report (October 16, 2000)

The use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in Burma has been documented particularly since the time of the 1988 popular uprisings, when the occurrences of torture increased, yet torture has been used by the military government in Burma for over 40 years. The use of torture portrays how little the military regime values human dignity, and is even against the junta’s own laws. Articles 330 and 331 of the Burmese Penal Code (1957) prohibit torture and ill treatment during interrogation. Yet it is the personnel associated with the regime that are given the power to torture during interrogation, and when complaints are occasionally made, no action is taken, or the complainer is then detained and interrogated.

Members of the SPDC army, the MIS, the police, the USDA and armed groups aligned with the SPDC such as the DKBA and the village people’s militias use torture to punish and degrade (break) those who have been detained on allegations of suspected “anti-government” activities, including political prisoners and villagers in ethnic areas of armed insurgency. Torture is also a method of obtaining information concerning anti-government or rebel activities and a way of putting terror into the hearts of other to keep them away from association with anything deemed anti-government.

Incidents of Torture:

In the last week of April 2000 a villager from Paukpin Gwin village, Nai G___, 54 years old, went to his betel-nut plantation secretly following an SPDC order which prohibited villagers from leaving their villages. He was then seen by soldiers while he was gathering betel nuts. The soldiers arrested him, tied him up and tortured him, demanding to know why he had not obeyed the order. Although he explained that he had come to gather betel-nuts to sell so that he could buy rice to feed his family, the soldiers did not trust him and accused him of supporting rebel soldiers. The soldiers poured water down his nose in an attempt to force him to admit that he was a rebel supporter. When he refused, they then rolled a round stick of bamboo up and down his knees and shins until he lost consciousness. The soldiers then left him behind and went into the village where they warned the villagers that if they went to their rice-farms and plantations they would be killed or tortured Nai G___. After the troops left, the villagers brought back Nai G____ to village.

On July 12, 2000 troops from a Pa-O militia, led y Captain Nya Tun, captured an innocent villager named Sai Parn, age 29, son of Loong Zong and Pa Ku from Wan Ta Naw village, Loi Sak tract, Murng Paeng Township, Shan State. They tortured him without reason and after that they took his left eye out with a dagger. As of September 20, 2000, it was still unknown whether the villager was dead or alive as he was still under detention.


Deprivation of livelihood, Rights of the Child, Rights of Women

The majority of people living in Burma are faced with economic difficulty and food scarcity and struggle daily to meet minimum survival needs. This impoverishment has been caused and exacerbated largely by policies and actions of the military regime. Listings under Deprivation of livelihood, to give the reader some sense of the abuses, include: Forced Sale of Crops to the Government, Destruction of Property, Land Confiscation, Looting of food and possessions, Taxes and fees for local army units, Restriction on trade, travel and cultivation.

While struggling under poor economic conditions brought about by military mismanagement, the populace of Burma is further deprived of their livelihood through several other SPDC policies. Corruption within the country, mass exodus of migrant workers seeking word elsewhere, illegal trafficking of workers, poverty, food scarcity, malnutrition and starvation are among numerous social and political problems plaguing Burma.

The children and women of Burma also suffer cruelly under their government and its policies. The SPDC’s apparent lack of commitment to primary education and widespread poverty are contributing factors to child labor in Burma. Despite a compulsory education law, less than half the children in Burma enroll in school. The government spends only 28 cents per year per child on public schools. But, really, education is the least of Burma’s worries for children. Children under five may be found in prison with their mothers. It is visible by touring the country that child labor is commonplace across Burma. Burmese children are the largest percentage of child migrant prostitutes in Thailand. Children living in areas of armed conflict are subjected to numerous hardships that mar their entire lives: They witness the killing of parents or neighbors, they witness bomb explosions, and the majority of civilians killed or wounded in times of war are children.

Since the military regime took power in 1962, it has had to put disproportionate resources into maintaining its power and strengthening the military. The result of this and ongoing civil war is poor infrastructure, inadequate health care and education systems, widespread poverty and a militarized society that puts the needs of the civilian population, particularly women, second to military concerns. Ethnic women living in conflict areas are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses. Health care and education is severely underdeveloped including access to family planning needs. Women are subject to forced relocations, forced labor, forced portering in war zones, violence and sexual violence.


After so much as glancing over this book my mind was made up about not going to Burma. There is no way of visiting the country without somehow paying into the governments coffers, from the tourist visa to riding the trains the government makes sure you 'donate' some money to them.

External links:

Burma Issues
Karen Human Rights Group
Thai Burma Border Consortium
Myanmar Government