JURIST >> WORLD LAW >> Myanmar [Burma] 

Constitution, Government & Legislation | Courts & Judgments | Human Rights | Legal Profession
map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Burma [officially renamed Myanmar in 1989] is ruled by a highly authoritarian military regime. Repressive military governments dominated by members of the majority Burman ethnic group have ruled the ethnically Burman central regions and some ethnic-minority areas continuously since 1962, when a coup led by General Ne Win overthrew an elected civilian government. Since September 1988, when the armed forces brutally suppressed massive prodemocracy demonstrations, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), a junta composed of senior military officers, has ruled by decree, without a constitution or legislature.

In 1990 the junta permitted a relatively free election for a parliament to which it had promised to transfer power. Voters overwhelmingly supported antigovernment parties, with the National League for Democracy (NLD) winning more than 60 percent of the popular vote and 80 percent of the parliamentary seats. Since the 1990's, the junta systematically has violated human rights in the country to suppress the prodemocracy movement, including the NLD, and to thwart repeated efforts by the representatives elected in 1990 to convene. Instead, the junta convened a government-controlled "National Convention" intended to approve a constitution that would ensure a dominant role for the armed forces. Since 1995 the NLD has declined to participate in the National Convention, perceiving both its composition and its agenda to be tightly controlled by the junta. Since October 2000, the Government has met with NLD general secretary and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi regarding the terms of a potential future transition to democracy. The substance of these talks remains secret but the results have included some loosening of government restrictions on NLD activities.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The Burmese judiciary is not independent of the military junta. The junta appoints justices to the Supreme Court which, in turn, appoints lower court judges with the approval of the junta. These courts then adjudicate cases under decrees promulgated by the junta that effectively have the force of law.

The court system, as inherited from the United Kingdom and subsequently restructured, includes courts at the township, district, state, and national levels.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The Burmese Government's extremely poor human rights record and longstanding severe repression of its citizens continued during 2001. Citizens continued to be subject at any time without appeal to the arbitrary and sometimes brutal dictates of the military. Citizens do not have the right to change their government. There were credible reports, particularly in ethnic minority areas, that security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings and rape. Disappearances continued, and members of the security forces tortured, beat, and otherwise abused prisoners and detainees. Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening, although conditions have improved slightly in some prisons since the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was allowed access to prisons beginning in 1999. Arbitrary arrest and detention for expression of dissenting political views continued to be a common practice, although this decreased to some extent during the year. After holding Aung San Suu Kyi incommunicado twice in September 2000, the Government continued to hold her under house detention throughout the year. Although the Government has allowed other NLD leadership members and representatives of foreign governments and international organizations to visit her on a regular basis, it has controlled such meetings. The Government has loosened restrictions somewhat on NLD activities, particularly in the Rangoon Division, and released approximately 202 political prisoners. However, in November the Government extended sentences for 10 political prisoners for an additional 7 years. At year's end, the Government continued to hold 20 members-elect of Parliament from the 1990 elections and over 800 NLD supporters as part of a government effort to prevent the parliament elected in 1990 from convening. Since 1962 thousands of persons have been arrested, detained, or imprisoned for political reasons; more than 1,500 political prisoners remained imprisoned at year's end. The judiciary is not independent, and there is no effective rule of law. However, the Government apparently has halted its campaign to intimidate independent lawyers by arbitrarily arresting and sentencing them on fabricated charges. The Government regularly infringes on citizens' privacy rights, and security forces continued to monitor citizens' movements and communications systematically, to search homes without warrants, and to relocate persons forcibly without just compensation or due process. During the year, persons suspected of or charged with prodemocratic political activity were subjected to regular surveillance and harassment. Security forces continued to use excessive force to violate international humanitarian law in internal conflicts against ethnic insurgencies. The Government also continued to forcibly relocated large ethnic minority populations in order to deprive armed ethnic groups of civilian bases of support.

The Government continued to restrict severely freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. Since 1990 the junta has prevented the NLD and other prodemocracy parties from conducting normal political activities, pressured many thousands of members to resign from the NLD, and closed party offices nationwide. However, during the year, the Government allowed 31 NLD offices in the Rangoon Division to reopen, although it closely monitors NLD activities at these offices, as well as the activities of other political parties throughout the country. The junta recognizes the NLD as a legal entity; however, it refuses to accept the legal political status of key NLD party leaders, particularly Aung San Suu Kyi, and restricts their activities severely through security measures and threats. The junta continued to restrict freedom of movement and, in particular, foreign travel by female citizens.

The junta restricted freedom of religion; it maintained its institutionalized control over Buddhist clergy and restricted efforts by some Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom. The Government also coercively promoted Buddhism over other religions in some ethnic minority areas and imposed restrictions on certain religious minorities. Violence against the Muslim minority including incidents in which the Government may have been complicit, increased during the year. The Government imposed restrictions on certain religious minorities.

The Government did not allow domestic human rights organizations to exist and remained generally hostile to outside scrutiny of its human rights record. However, for the first time in 6 years, the government allowed the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma to visit the country. In September and October, the Government permitted a high-level team appointed by the ILO Director-General to travel extensively in the country to assess the situation regarding forced labor. During the year violence and societal discrimination against women remained problems, as did discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities. The Government continued to restrict worker rights, ban unions, and use forced labor for public works and for the support of military garrisons. Other forced labor, including forced child labor, also remains a serious problem, despite recent government ordinances outlawing the practice and the ILO's call for sanctions against the country. The forced use of citizens as porters by the army--with attendant mistreatment, illness, and sometimes death--remained a common practice. Trafficking in persons, particularly in women and girls mostly for the purposes of prostitution, remained widespread.

Ethnic insurgent forces reportedly committed numerous human rights abuses, including killings, rapes, forced labor, and the forced use of civilians as porters.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Legal Profession

During 2000 the Government initiated an extensive campaign to remove the remaining independent lawyers in the country who might provide advice and counsel to the NLD. The Government arrested and sentenced under fabricated charges nearly every lawyer with perceived connection with the NLD. Altogether, the Government jailed more than 40 lawyers during 2000.

During 2001, the Government apparently discontinued its campaign against the independent lawyers who might provide advice and counsel to the NLD. There were no new such arrests during the year and NLD members appeared to be able to retain the counsel of lawyers without fear of the lawyers being imprisoned. However, approximately 20 of the lawyers jailed in 2000 remained imprisoned at the end of 2001.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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