On September 18, 1988, General Saw Maung and senior officers seized all power in Myanmar (Burma), set the 1974 constitution aside, and established a new military dictatorship, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC)—later renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Marching through the streets with rifles leveled, the soldiers fired at anyone in sight and the carnage lasted for three days. The number murdered is unknown as the soldiers seized the bodies. Thousands were arrested and even more fled the country, seeking refuge in neighboring states.
Since the SLORC was established, it has ruled with an iron hand. Arrest, imprisonment, execution, and long prison terms have intimidated and subjugated all peoples in Burma’s heartland. Governing under martial law, the army expanded to over 400,000; it built hundreds of jails and filled them with political prisoners and ordinary criminals. It has remained in continuous conflict with the nation’s minorities in its efforts to force an end to their actions against the state.
During the last half-century of internal wars, military governments, a rapacious army, and predatory insurgent groups have plundered the Burmese peoples. The UN, International Labor Organization (ILO), Human Rights Watch, and other international bodies have reported the abuses and violations of human rights suffered. The UN General Assembly has passed several resolutions condemning the behavior of military governments, and several individual nations have adopted measures to pressure dictators to change, but the rulers of Burma have ignored all such directives.
Forced labor, bordering on slavery, is used by the military in battle zones and the hinterland. Women are victimized in the frontier areas through seizure, abuse, and sexual violation by soldiers. Civilians, too, prey on rural women, promising good jobs but instead passing them on to brothels. Peasants are forced to grow crops and give food to the army, and if they refuse or fail in their efforts, their crops and animals are seized, their houses are burned, and they are forced to serve the soldiers.
Citizens accused of political crimes are arrested without warrants, tried in courts without legal representation where decisions are predetermined, given long sentences, and incarcerated far from their families. Without new trials sentences often are extended and prisoners are held for indeterminate periods of time. Inside prison they are ill treated, badly housed, poorly fed, and denied adequate health care. In May 2003 the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights reported there were thirteen hundred political prisoners in Burma’s jails.
In fighting internal wars, the military uses a “Four Cuts” policy. It seeks to isolate its enemies from supporters by cutting off food, funds, intelligence, and recruiting. Women, children, and the elderly who help insurgents or hide in contested areas are beaten, imprisoned, raped, and murdered. In urban areas civilians are seized on city streets and forced to work as porters and lead soldiers through mine fields. There are no avenues of appeal against such demands.
Captured noncombatants in contested areas such as the Chittagong Hill Tracts are driven from their homes and made dependent on the army for food and shelter. Those who can escape to neighboring states face inhospitable governments; they are rounded up and are either placed in camps without adequate food, shelter, and medical support or forced to return to their own country and face certain imprisonment or death.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
DO THESE CONSTITUTE WAR CRIMES OR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY?
SHOULD ANYONE BE PROSECUTED FOR THEM?
IF SO, WHO?