New Internationalist Issue 280


[image, unknown] New Internationalist Issue 280



Burma is recognized by the UN as one of the least developed countries in the world.

[image, unknown]

  • Yet Burma's Government spends 40 per cent of the national budget on the military - to fight its own people.
  • The armed forces are swelling their ranks at a tremendous rate - sometimes conscripting under-age children.
  • The junta's dodgy deals earn it rather more than the average wage.


    Burma has one of the worst human-rights records in the world.

    [image, unknown] Killings: As many as 10,000 Burmese citizens were killed during the 1988 pro-democracy protests. Thousands more have died or gone missing since.3
    Detention: There are at least 20 detention centres where torture is used. 2,246 political prisoners were released 1992-1995. But around 1,000 are still held.3
    Rape: Repeated allegations of rape by Burmese forces have been made. Many rapes of Muslim women in Rakhine State were reported in 1991 - 92. Women were forced to porter for the army were often raped as well.3
    [image, unknown]
    Forced labour: Millions of people have been forced to labour on dozens of projects since 1988.

    • 200,000 have been forced to build a 100-mile extension to the Ye-Tavoy railway, designed to link pipelines for foreign oil companies. About 300 workers have died.
    • 30,000 have laboured without pay - or medical treatment when cholera broke out - on Bassein Airport extension.
      [image, unknown]
    • 921,753 have been forced to labour on the Pakokku-Monywa section of the Chaung Oo-Pakokku Railroad.2
    Forced portering: Tens of thousands of Burmese citizens as well as prisoners have been forced to porter for the Burmese army in war zones. Many die from hunger, exhaustion or injuries from mines.

    Child labour:
    Less than a fifth of schoolchildren complete four grades of primary school. UNICEF reckons 4 million out of 11.8 million children aged 6-15 may be working today.4

    [image, unknown] Prostitution: 40,000 impoverished Burmese girls and women work as prostitutes in Thailand. Some - especially those from ethnic-minority areas - have been sold into prostitution for as little as £30-£35.1

    Political freedom:
    SLORC has refused to recognise the National League for Democracy government voted to power with 82% of seats in the People's Assembly in 1990. 16 elected MP's remain in detention. Censorship laws mean there is no freedom of speech.


    The SLORC stays in power with the help of foreign companies prepared to do business with it.
    Dirty hands
    [image, unknown]
    Companies that continue to invest in Burma include:
    Oil and gas: Texaco (US), Total (France), UNOCAL (US) and Premier (UK)
    Other: Heineken (Holland)
    Cleaner hands
    [image, unknown]
    Companies that have pulled out of Burma are:
    Oil and gas: Shell (UK), Amoco (US) and PetroCanada
    Other: Liz Claiborne, Macy's, Eddie Bauer, PepsiCo (US)

    [image, unknown] The top six investors in Burma 1989-95 according to SLORC (right) in millions $.

    Foreign oil companies have provided at least 65% of all foreign investment since 1988 and are therefore the main source of foreign revenue for the SLORC regime. 5

    China is Burma's closest ally and supplier of arms and loans. Since 1988 China has supplied at least $1.4 billion worth of arms. 3

    (*Includes investment by other countries channeled through British tax havens)


    [image, unknown]
    One in twenty Burmese are forced to leave their homes - either to flee abroad or to become internal refugees.
  • In 1994 over 300,000 were officially recorded as living in camps in neighbouring Thailand, Bangladesh, China and India. Bur real figures are estimated to be more than three times that.1
  • Around 1.5 million people have been displaced within Burma forced by fighing or the Government to leave their villages and settle elsewhere.1


    [image, unknown] The regime is prepared to sell anything and everything
    • Timber - Burma's 34 million acres of tropical rainforests contain 80% of the world's teak reserves. But at the current rate of felling the teak forests will be gone within 25 years. After 1988 SLORC agreed 40 logging contracts with Thai companies worth $112 million, mainly in ethnic-minority regions. 2
    • Drugs - Burma supplies 60 per cent of the world's heroin. The SLORC currently has ceasefires with the two largest opium trade operators - the United WA State Party and the opium warlord Khun Sa. 2
    • Tourism - SLORC is looking to boost tourism during 1996 - The Year of the Tourist. Over 15 companies from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong have signed contracts for hotel developments worth over $400 million. 7

    1. Ethnic Groups in Burma, Martin Smith, Zed, London, 1995.
    2. Burma Action Group, London, 1995/96
    3. Burma: Entrenchment or Reform?, Human Rights Watch/Asia, New York, 1995.
    4. Myanmar Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances, J Boyden, UNICEF, 1992.
    5. Multinational Monitor, Washington, October 1992.
    6. Burmese Government figures, March 1995.
    7. Paradise Lost, Article 19, London,1994.

    ©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996 [image, unknown] NI Home Page [image, unknown] Issue 280 Contents

New Internationalist issue 280 magazine cover This article is from the June 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Get a free trial »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop