Burma/Myanmar: genocide and human rights violations
The Union of Myanmar is governed by a strict military regime. The current head of state is Senior General Than Shwe, who holds the posts of “Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council” and “Commander in Chief of the Defense Services”. General Khin Nyunt was prime minister until 19 October 2004, when he was replaced by General Soe Win, after the purge of Military Intelligence sections within the Burma armed forces. The majority of ministry and cabinet posts are held by military officers, with the exceptions being the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, posts which are held by civilians.
Several human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have reported on human rights abuses by the military government. They have claimed that there is no independent judiciary in Burma. The military government restricts Internet access through software-based censorship that limits the material citizens can access on-line. Forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour are common. The military is also notorious for rampant use of sexual violence as an instrument of control, including systematic rapes and taking of sex slaves as porters for the military. A strong women’s pro-democracy movement has formed in exile, largely along the Thai border and in Chang Mai. The Women’s League of Burma is the leading women’s civil society organization, an umbrella organization uniting many smaller women’s ethnic organizations into a political force working for democracy and women’s human rights in Burma. There is a growing international movement to defend women’s human rights issues.
Until 2005, the United Nations General Assembly annually adopted a detailed resolution about the situation in Burma by consensus. But in 2006 a divided United Nations General Assembly voted through a resolution that strongly called upon the government of Burma to end its systematic violations of human rights.
In January 2007, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution before the United Nations Security Council calling on the government of Burma to respect human rights and begin a democratic transition. South Africa also voted against the resolution, arguing that since there were no peace and security concerns raised by its neighbours, the question did not belong in the Security Council when there were other more appropriate bodies to represent it, adding, “Ironically, should the Security Council adopt [this resolution] … the Human Rights Council would not be able to address the situation in Myanmar while the Council remains seized with the matter.” The issue had been forced onto the agenda against the votes of Russia and the China by the United States (veto power applies only to resolutions) claiming that the outflow from Burma of refugees, drugs, HIV-AIDS, and other diseases threatened international peace and security.
The Burmese military regime carries out systematic repression and human rights violations against the Rohingya ethnic minority living in Burma’s northern Rakhine State. The Rohingya also continue to be denied Burmese citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law which renders them stateless. Consequently many Rohingya asylum seekers flee to neighboring Bangladesh where the government, fearing a “pull-factor,” has become increasingly reluctant to harbor them.
Today Bangladesh hosts approximately 28,000 Rohingya refugees in the two camps of Kutupalong and Nayapara in its southern Cox Bazaar district. These are the Rohingya remaining from a wave of a quarter of a million who fled to Bangladesh in the early 1990s due to brutal persecution by the Burmese authorities. About 230,000 from that group were repatriated to Burma, with reports indicating many involuntary repatriations. The Rohingya currently living in the two camps refuse to go back to Burma citing fear of severe reprisals. There is also a large Rohingya population living outside the camps, estimated to be between 100,000-200,000. It is believed that many among this non-camp population returned to Bangladesh after being repatriated to Burma. The Rohingya who have come to Bangladesh after the large exodus of the early 1990s are denied entry to the camps and are not recognized as refugees by the government.