Progress in Burma but Abuses Persist: US Report

By Lalit K Jha 25 May 2012

WASHINGTON D.C.—While taking note of positive developments in Burma during 2011, including the release of political prisoners and allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to contest parliamentary elections, the US State Department said in its annual report that significant human rights problems persist in the country, including military attacks against ethnic minorities and extrajudicial detentions.

The Burmese government generally did not take action to prosecute or punish those responsible for human rights abuses with a few isolated exceptions, claims the report, and violations continue with impunity. Nevertheless, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heaped praise on Naypyidaw for the recent steps it has taken to reform.

“On Burma, as you know, the United States is in the process of easing certain restrictions and sanctions on that country,” Clinton told reporters in a joint media briefing with the visiting New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully.

“We believe and have encouraged our New Zealand friends as well to work with the international community to move forward the reforms, both political and economic, as well as taking actions to improve human rights, speed democratization and foster national reconciliation,” Clinton said.

The State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011 said that the Burmese government continued to detain hundreds of political prisoners. “Abuses of prisoners continued, including the alleged transfer of civilian prisoners to military units,” it said. “These units reportedly were often engaged in armed conflict in border areas where they were forced to carry supplies, clear mines and serve as human shields.”

Briefing reporters, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner referred to the positive trends in Burma as mentioned in the report.

“There are also some positive trends, and we talk about the changes that have occurred in Burma where there have been a number of political prisoners released, the election of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party several weeks ago, and there’s still an unfinished agenda there, and we will continue to press the government to continue making progress,” said Posner.

But the report claims that government security forces were responsible for extrajudicial killings, rape and torture and added that it detained civic activists indefinitely and without charge.

“The government abused some prisoners and detainees, held persons in harsh and life-threatening conditions, routinely used incommunicado detention, and imprisoned citizens arbitrarily for political motives,” the report said, adding that the government infringed on citizens’ privacy and restricted freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion and movement.

At the same time it noted that significant developments in 2011 included the emergence of a legislature that allowed opposition parties to contribute substantively to debates, and democratic reforms such as the amendment of laws allowing opposition parties to register and Suu Kyi to announce her candidature for Parliament.

The report also referred to the release of hundreds of political prisoners, the relaxation of a number of censorship controls, the opening of some space in society for the expression of dissent, and an easing of restrictions on some internal and foreign travel for citizens.