[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

Conditions In Burma And U.S. Policy


(Plan for Implementation of Section 570 of Conference Report 104-863 to
Accompany H.R. 3610 (Omnibus Appropriations Act, Fiscal Year 1997)
Submitted to the U.S. Congress, June 13, 1997
Released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, August 21, 1997
U.S. Department of State)

The people of Burma continue to live under a highly authoritarian military
regime that is widely condemned for its serious human rights abuses. The
military regime in Burma, the State Law and Order Restoration Council
(SLORC), has made no progress in the past six months in moving toward
greater democratization and little, if any, progress toward fundamental
improvement in the quality of life of the people of Burma. The SLORC
continues to dominate the political, economic and social life of the
country in the same arbitrary, heavy-handed way that it has since seizing
power in September 1988 after harshly suppressing massive pro-democracy

U.S. policy toward Burma seeks progress in three key areas -- democracy,
human rights and counter-narcotics. We have taken steps to pressure the
SLORC -- suspending economic aid, withdrawing GSP and OPIC, implementing an
arms embargo, blocking assistance from international financial
institutions, downgrading our representation to Charge, and imposing visa
restrictions on senior leaders and their families. We are engaged in
vigorous multilateral diplomacy to encourage ASEAN, Japan, the EU and other
nations to take similar steps and other actions to encourage progress by
the SLORC in these areas of key concern. The EU recently imposed visa
restrictions similar to ours and is expected to withdraw GSP in March. In
addition, Japan's suspension of much of its bilateral aid program remains
in force. 

In addition, the President signed an Executive Order implementing a ban on
new investment by U.S. persons in Burma effective May 21, 1997. The order
prohibits persons from engaging in any of the following activities: 

-- entering a new contract that includes the economic development of
resources located in Burma; 

-- entering a new contract providing for the general supervision and
guarantee of another person's performance of a contract that includes the
economic development of resources located in Burma; 

-- entering into a contract providing for the participation in royalties,
earnings, or profits in the economic development of resources located in
Burma, without regard to the form of the participation; 

-- facilitating transactions of foreign persons that would violate any of
the foregoing prohibitions if engaged in by U.S. person; and 

-- evading or avoiding, or attempting to violate, any of the prohibitions
in the order. 


In the past six months the SLORC has shown no sign of willingness to cede
its hold on absolute power. The generals have continued to refuse to
negotiate with pro-democracy forces and ethnic groups for a genuine
political settlement to allow a return to the rule of law and respect for
basic human rights. 

The SLORC claims that the military-dominated National Convention is an
appropriate forum for dialogue with the NLD and parties representing the
country's ethnic minorities. But the National Convention, a body ostensibly
tasked since 1993 with drafting a new constitution, is hardly a democratic
forum as currently structured. The Convention is overwhelmingly made up of
delegates hand-picked by the SLORC, which has carefully stage-managed the
proceedings and ignored even limited opposition views. The NLD withdrew
from the National Convention in November 1995 because of the undemocratic
nature of the institution and was formally ejected by the SLORC in
December. Despite having no legal mandate, the SLORC appears determined to
draft a constitution that would ensure a dominant role for the military
forces in the country's future political structure. However, the Convention
has not met since mid-1996, and the SLORC's current plans for the body are

The worsening narcotics situation in Burma reflects the SLORC's disregard
for the rule of law. Burma is the world's largest source of illicit opium,
and output increased by an estimated nine per cent in 1996 to 2,560 metric
tons. Nevertheless, Burmese law enforcement actions against producers and
traffickers remain limited. Leading trafficker Khun Sa, who "surrendered"
to Burmese forces in early 1996, has never been brought to justice. Even as
heroin production remains high, Burmese traffickers are also diversifying
into methamphetamines, which are posing severe problems for neighboring
states. As well, traffickers are increasingly investing in legitimate
sectors of the economy, and there is reason to believe that the laundering
of drug profits is having a substantial impact on the Burmese economy. 


In the same way, in the past six months the Burmese people have seen little
progress in improving their quality of life. In fact, by many indices,
their quality of life has worsened. The SLORC's severe violations of human
rights have continued. There continue to be credible reports, particularly
from ethnic minority-dominated areas along the Thai border, that soldiers
have committed serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killing
and rape. Disappearances continue, and members of the security forces beat
and otherwise abuse detainees. Arbitrary arrests and detentions continue
for expression of dissenting political views. Several hundred, if not more,
political prisoners remain in detention, including 29 Members of Parliament
elected in 1990. 

The SLORC reinforces its rule via a pervasive security apparatus led by
military intelligence and sharply restricts basic rights to free speech,
press, assembly, and association. Political party activity remains severely
restricted. The activities of the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi are monitored
and circumscribed by the regime. Since late September Aung San Suu Kyi has
been prevented from addressing party supporters in front of her house, as
the SLORC puts up blockades to prevent gatherings there. In November the
motorcade in which she was riding was attacked by a gang of thugs
encouraged by elements of the regime. Aung San Suu Kyi was not hurt, though
one NLD leader was slightly injured by broken glass. 

In response to street protests by large groups of students in November and
December, the SLORC closed the nation's universities. Most remain closed to
prevent another outbreak of student protest. For three weeks in December
Aung San Suu Kyi did not leave her compound. Since late December, she has
been able to leave her compound after notifying authorities of her
destinations. She meets relatively often with diplomats and supporters.
Visitors are generally allowed to meet her at her compound if authorities
are notified in advance. She has held two meetings of her supporters on her
compound that were attended by 2,000 or more persons. NLD leaders have
expressed strong concerns about SLORC repression and have called for
increased international pressure on the SLORC, including sanctions. 

In February the Burmese Army launched a full-scale assault on the forces of
the Karen National Union near the Thai border. Up to 12,000 Karen were
forced to flee into Thailand, the vast majority of them civilians,
including women, children and the elderly. Thousands of civilians were
forcibly conscripted to serve as porters for the Burma Army in its

Thousands of other citizens of Burma remain in exile because of fear of
persecution and poor economic conditions. About 24,000 Rohingya Muslims
from Arakan state remain in camps in Bangladesh. A few thousand students
and dissidents remain in exile in Thailand. Approximately 100,000
individuals now reside in ethnic minority camps along the Thai-Burma
border, among them thousands of new arrivals driven out by army attacks in
the areas controlled by the Karen and Karenni ethnic minorities. 

Burma is a poor country, with an average per capita income of only $600 to
$800, even after adjusting for the relative purchasing power of the Burmese
currency. Progress on market reforms has been mixed and uneven. Since 1988
the Government has partly opened the economy to permit expansion of the
private sector and to attract foreign investment. Some economic improvement
has ensued, but major obstacles to economic reform persist. These include
disproportionately large military spending, extensive overt and covert
state involvement in economic activity, excessive state monopolization of
leading exports, a bloated bureaucracy prone to arbitrary and opaque
governance, and poor human and physical infrastructure. In addition, the
SLORC does not have access to external credit from the IMF, World Bank and
Asian Development Bank. Money laundering in Burma is a growing problem, and
the laundering of drug profits is thought by some analysts to have a
widespread impact on the Burmese economy. 

The Government restricts worker rights and uses forced labor on a
widespread basis. The use of porters by the army -- with attendant
mistreatment, illness, and even death for those compelled to serve --
remains a common practice. The military authorities continue to force
ordinary citizens (including women and children) to "contribute" their
labor on a massive scale, often under harsh working conditions, on
construction projects throughout the country. Some of these projects --
such as the moat of the Mandalay fort -- were undertaken to promote tourism
to the country. In the past year, the military has begun using soldiers
instead of civilians at certain infrastructure projects, following the
issuance of directives in 1995 to end the practice of forced civilian
labor. Child labor continues to be a serious problem. 

As a largely underdeveloped country, Burma does not have some of the
extensive environmental problems affecting air and water quality that
plague many of its rapidly industrializing neighbors. However, with a rapid
population growth rate, the country faces increasing pressure on
environmental quality. Burma possesses the largest tracts of remaining
tropical forest in southeast Asia, though aggressive international logging
companies are eyeing these forests just as they are eyeing those in other
Mekong countries. Some NGOs have charged that Burma's teak forests in the
Thai-Burma border area are being rapidly destroyed by clear-cutting and
deforestation. Because of the severe restrictions on Embassy travel to
outlying parts of Burma, it is difficult to document the overall extent of
the problem. Embassy officials have visited the showcase Bago Yoma Forest
150 miles north of Rangoon. The Ministry of Forest operates a research
station and seed orchards in this area in what appears to be an example of
sustainable forestry. 

The poor quality of life is also reflected in rising drug abuse. Burmese
estimates put the addict population at approximately 60,000, but UNDCP and
NGOs working in the health sector estimate the actual number is at least
five times that figure. Intravenous use of heroin is contributing to the
rapid spread of HIV/AIDS. Drug treatment services are not reaching most
drug users because of a lack of facilities and a lack of properly trained


The goals of U.S. policy toward Burma are progress toward democracy,
improved human rights, and more effective counter-narcotics efforts.
Failing national reconciliation, Burma will not be able to address
systematically the many severe problems it faces, including narcotics
trafficking and abuse, a low level of education and poor economic

In recent months we have forged a vigorous multilateral strategy to seek
improvement in our key areas of concern. We consult about Burma regularly
and at senior levels with leaders of ASEAN nations, Japan, the European
Union, and other countries having major trading and investment interests in
Burma. These efforts have helped build and maintain strong international
pressure on the SLORC. 

The key to progress toward democracy and human rights is, first and
foremost, a direct dialogue about the political future of the country among
the SLORC, the NLD, and the ethnic minorities. In all our public and
private messages to the SLORC, leaders of third countries and other
interested parties, we stress the importance of beginning such a dialogue
as the key to achieving significant progress in Burma. We work closely with
our friends and allies in Asia and Europe to press the SLORC to begin
dialogue. In response, leaders from ASEAN nations, Japan and the European
Union have urged the regime, both publicly and privately, to move to
dialogue with the democratic opposition. 

In order to urge the SLORC to make progress in our areas of concern, we
have taken a number of steps -- suspending economic aid, withdrawing GSP
and OPIC, implementing an arms embargo, blocking assistance from
international financial institutions, downgrading our representation to
Charge, and imposing visa restrictions on senior regime leaders and their
families. We likewise have encouraged ASEAN, Japan, the EU and other
nations to take similar steps and other actions to encourage progress by
the SLORC in these areas of key concern. Many nations join us in our arms
embargo, including European countries, Canada, Australia and Japan. The EU
and Japan limit their assistance to Burma to humanitarian aid. Our efforts
in the international financial institutions continue to be successful in
blocking loans to the SLORC, which is probably the single most important
form of pressure we have against the regime. Since 1988 we have taken an
active role in pressing for strong human rights resolutions on Burma at the
United Nations General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Commission, as well
as having worked vigorously in the ILO to condemn the lack of freedom of
association for workers and the use of forced labor by the SLORC. 

In November, at our urging, the EU and associated European states joined us
in imposing a ban on visas for high-level SLORC officials and their
families. In addition, the European Commission has recommended that the
European Union withdraw GSP trade benefits from Burma's agricultural and
industrial products because of forced labor concerns. EU Foreign Ministers
are expected to adopt these recommendations in March, which would bring
European trade policy in line with the U.S. ban on GSP. 

On several occasions in recent months, our embassies have made high-level
demarches to leaders in the ASEAN countries, urging them to use their
influence with the SLORC to press for positive change in Burma. We have
also raised with the ASEAN countries our concerns that Burma not join that
organization prematurely. ASEAN shares many of our goals with regard to
Burma, but we disagree on the means to achieve those goals. ASEAN believes
that "constructive engagement" of the SLORC is the most effective way to
promote positive change in Burma. We will continue to raise our strong
concerns with ASEAN and urge continued steps to encourage progress by the

[end of document]