Burma: Poster Child for Entrenched Repression

| May 06, 2008

from <em>Worst of the Worst: Dealing with Repressive and Rogue Nations</em>

In late April, President Bush declared that the upcoming elections in Burma would not be “free, fair, or credible” and that the U.S. would impose further sanctions on the state-owned business sector, in order to increase pressure on the ruling junta.

For information on the history of the repressive conditions within Burma, see Robert I. Rotberg (ed.), Worst of the Worst: Dealing with Repressive and Rogue Nations (Washington, D.C., 2007). Below is an excerpt from the book.

General Ne Win ruled Burma, almost single-handedly, in an idiosyncratic, xenophobic, kleptocratic manner from 1968 to 1988. Thereafter, military juntas that first called themselves the State Law and Order Restoration Council and then the State Peace and Development Committee exercised power in Burma through a decisionmaking apparatus that was at least nominally collective. Since a purge in 2004, however, General Than Shwe, the senior officer in the collective, has emerged as its leading figure, with dominant authority. All of the members of the junta are required to sleep every night at military headquarters, obviously to prevent dissent and defection. In 2005, Than Shwe moved much of the ruling apparatus out of Rangoon (Yangon) to an obscure new national government center and mountain redoubt 200 miles north. Overtures to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize–winning opposition leader who remains under house arrest, largely ceased in 2005.

A very large army, as in North Korea, maintains a tight grip on the country.It enforces Than Shwe’s orders and, along with the police, operates an elaborately detailed spying system, exercises autarkic economic influence, creates social norms, imposes conformity, prevents mobility, and, to Burmese, presents a mailed fist, never a velvet glove. No more than five people are allowed to gather in public without official permission. For decades, the army has imposed compulsory labor requirements on rural inhabitants, taken political prisoners, destroyed unfriendly villages, employed torture and “elimination,” raped widely, and prevented all free expression and nearly all Internet usage. The State Department said that Burma’s human rights record worsened during2006: students were detained, ethnic minority villagers were attacked, and there were notable extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rapes, and torture. Villagers were compelled to relocate. Children were recruited forcibly for labor brigades; women and children were trafficked.33 The army has practiced forced removal, arbitrarily dumping large numbers of urban dwellers in rural areas, sometimes into “model villages.” Telephones and electronic equipment must be “authorized” by the regime. In her chapter, Priscilla Clapp reports that the Burmese army has laid waste to large areas, along the Thai border for example, leaving tens of thousands homeless. But it has not needed to massacre opponents, Buddhist monks, and protesting civilians on the scale employed to suppress the 1988 uprising.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Rotberg, Robert I.. “Burma: Poster Child for Entrenched Repression.” News, , May 6, 2008.

The Author