For nearly fifteen years, Burma's military rulers have promised to respect the rights of the Burmese people and permit a return to democracy. They have done neither.
The generals in Rangoon refused to abide by the results of the 1990 elections. Instead, they jailed thousands of democracy movement activists, including hundreds of members of parliament. Next, the regime drafted a sham constitution to give the trappings of legality to its arbitrary and despotic rule. But few Burmese were deceived.
The regime currently holds some one-thousand political prisoners. National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from years of house arrest, only to be re-arrested and released again, at the whim of Burmese authorities.
Some National League for Democracy offices were permitted to reopen, but most remained closed. Since May 2002, Aung San Suu Kyi has been permitted to travel within Burma. But Burmese authorities continue to harass her supporters and disrupt their meetings. “Everywhere she goes, people turn up,” said a democracy movement spokesman, U Lwin. “They're not allowed to go and visit her, but anyway the people try to see her.”
In short, nothing has really changed in Burma. As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner pointed out, human rights abuses by the Burmese regime extend “to every conceivable category of violation.” Even women and children are sometimes forced to act as porters for the military. Freedom of speech and the press does not exist. Citizens are subject to arbitrary detention. A pervasive security apparatus spies on Burmese citizens in their homes, at work, and at places of religious worship.
Human rights abuses in Burma stem from military dictatorship. Only democracy provides hope to end those abuses.