The disregard for human rights by Burma's military rulers "extends to every conceivable category of violation." That is the assessment of Lorne Craner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. In a February 15th address, he said the Burmese regime “suppresses political dissent by censorship, persecution, beatings, disappearances, and imprisonment.” Some political prisoners have been released, but more than one-thousand four-hundred political prisoners continue to languish in Burmese jails. And their numbers are growing.
Mr. Craner said "these individuals, mostly students, teachers, and lawyers, were unjustly arrested. . .and are being held under such abhorrent conditions for peaceably promoting democracy and freedom; sometimes for distributing leaflets or just being involved in the publication of a bulletin, or just for being associated with a pro-democracy association."
These are not the only serious human rights abuses in Burma. Human Rights Watch recently reported that thousands of boys, some as young as eleven, have been forced to serve in the Burmese army and fight against insurgent groups. Rebel groups also use children as soldiers and porters. Forced or compulsory labor remains a widespread and serious problem. This includes the forced-labor exploitation of children.
There are credible reports that the Burmese military routinely murders, tortures, and forcibly relocates ethnic minority populations. In June 2002, the Shan Human Rights Foundation and the Shan Women's Action Network documented the systematic rape of hundreds of women by Burmese troops between 1996 and 2001. The U.S. supports the efforts of Paulo Sergio Pinheiro [pin-yehr-oh], the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma, to conduct a full investigation of these charges.
The record is clear. Burma's people will never be safe from abuse until they have genuine democracy. Burma's democracy movement wants dialogue to that end. Progress now depends on the generals in Rangoon. As Assistant Secretary of State Craner put it, "Only by adhering to their stated commitment, only by fashioning a transition to a democratic government can they truly serve the desires and rights of all the peoples" of Burma.