The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been explicit in citing the rights of every inpidual. These rights range from freedom to life, liberty and property to freedom to participate in the social life of one’s community. In several countries all over the world, these rights are not always respected and inpidual rights are often disregarded and trampled. One such country where the rights of inpiduals are violated and not respected is Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Human rights violations have been particularly documented and reported by human rights groups which have become concerned with the rampant violations of the rights of majority of the Burmese citizens. The human rights problem in Burma may have come from its efforts to build their democracy after British colonialism. The country faced many civil wars and insurgencies in the 1940s. And as a response to these civil wars and insurgencies, it fell under military dictatorship in the 1960s. Ever since then, human rights have been oppressed and a large number of innocent people have been killed. Activists and protesters such as students, Buddhists monks and other civilians were killed after a series of massacres and protests.
Although admittedly rich in natural resources such as oil, timber and natural gas, Myanmar is one of the poorest nations in the world today. The administration has tried to lure investors into the country to take advantage of these resources and the forced labor it practices. According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, hundreds of men, women and children have been forced to work against their will by the current administration (ICFTU 2005). Those who refused to work were shot to death, raped or tortured. Children have been repeatedly exploited and forced into labor by both the military and rebel groups.
The Human Rights Watch has even documented those boys as young as eleven years old have been forced to serve in the military to fight rebels and insurgent groups, while others act as porters for the military. Human rights groups all over the world have repeatedly asked the administration to end this practice of forced labor that has been in practice since the 1960s. But the military junta has repeatedly denied that it practices forced labor in the country.
Moreover, the freedom of speech and political freedom has been curtailed in the country. More than 200 inpiduals have been imprisoned between 1989 to 2004 who are opponents and critics of the current administration. These prisoners were mostly members of the National League for Democracy and have been wrongfully denied of their rights to liberty for acts which have been considered peaceful by the under international law. Students, lawyers, teachers and many others have been unjustly arrested by the military and have been imprisoned for offenses that do not even exist. The military has been in the practice of arbitrarily searching houses, intercepting mails and monitoring telephone conversations of suspected members of the opposition. The administration has also made criminal possession of computers, modems, fax machines and other like hardwares.
The military junta’s power efforts to seize control of the country is very evident because just as when the Burmese people were given the chance to finally choose their leader during the 1990 elections, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s party garnering almost 80 percent of the election polls, the military suspended the election results and for most of the 90s, Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest. Her sick husband had been repeatedly denied passage into the country in order to lure Aung San Suu Kyi out of Burma. Even after the death of her husband, she remained in the country in order to fight the military junta.
While other groups have been particularly obsessed with the death penalty contending that such practice violates the rights of the convicted inpidual, thousands of Burmese citizens have been killed for not following orders of the military junta. Human rights violations in Burma are horrible, to such extent that the state has even sanctioned torture and rape among its citizens. Most of these atrocious acts were committed by Burmese military troops among women and children. According to the report by the Shan Human Rights Foundation, the Burmese military regime is allowing its troops to systematically and on a widespread scale to commit rape with impunity in order to terrorize and subjugate the ethnic peoples of the Shan State.”
All of these violations can be attributed to three things – the desire for democracy, extreme poverty and craving for power. As a response to extreme poverty of the nation, its leaders have tried to measures to counteract their situation by attracting foreign investors to invest in the country’s rich natural resources. But in their effort to quickly get out of poverty, it has used its citizens unjustly to achieve such dream. And yet as the international community became aware of what was happening in the country, boycotts were called in order to force foreign investors not to invest in Burma.
And while its citizens are trying to get out of the poverty, doing what they think is good for the country such as protesting to the programs of the administration, it has inadvertently added to the situation. Citizens believe that the in order to get out of the extreme poverty and abuse they are in, they need to have genuine democracy first. Protests and riots rang out because citizens see these as the only avenues to which they can truly achieve their long-wanted democracy. The administration on the other hand, use forced labor to achieve the promises of economic progress that foreign investors offer. Thus, progress and democracy are always in conflict. Moreover, it is of no help that the people in the current administration are power hungry and will do everything to remain in power.
The situation in Burma will not cease by itself. In fact, it will become a never-ending cycle unless a total change in the system, the government and the attitude of the people will take place. Indeed Burma is a classic example of a country bound by poverty and dictatorship. With these two, it is inevitable that human rights are violated and disregarded. The country and its people then need outside help. It is not enough to merely condemn the practices of the military junta; but rather, the international community must exert pressure in current administration to make the changes in its system in order to address the issue of human rights violations happening in its own backyard.
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