Burma is ruled by a highly authoritarian military regime, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which enforces its firm grip on power through a pervasive security apparatus, relying on fear, repression, censorship, and violence to maintain control. The government's human rights record continued to deteriorate, and although political activists, ethnic and religious minorities fare the worst, all Burmese citizens suffer under the regime's pervasive surveillance, corruption, and abuse of power. Government security forces killed at least 30 demonstrators during their suppression of prodemocracy protests in September 2007, and additional custodial deaths occurred among the estimated 3,000 individuals arrested as a result of these protests. An estimated 1,150 political prisoners held prior to the protests, including National League for Democracy (NLD) General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi, also remain in custody. In September 2007 the regime concluded its National Convention after 14 years and shortly thereafter convened a constitutional drafting committee, composed of 54 hand-picked delegates, to prepare a draft constitution. In February the regime announced it would hold a referendum on the draft constitution in May. The army also continued to attack ethnic minority villages, using rape, torture, and landmines to drive ethnic minorities from their traditional lands.
Support for human rights and democracy remains the United States' top priority. The United States continues to press the regime for a time bound and meaningful dialogue with democratic and ethnic minority groups that will pave the way for a transition to a democratic government that fully respects the rights of its diverse population. The U.S. government's human rights and democracy goals also include the unconditional and immediate release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 2,000 other political prisoners, an immediate end to military attacks on ethnic minorities, unrestricted access throughout the country for humanitarian organizations, and a constitutional referendum that adheres to international standards for a free and fair election.
The United States works aggressively and multilaterally to press for change in Burma. Such efforts included support for the UN process led by UN Special Advisor on Burma Ibrahim Gambari, as well as for the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights. With strong support from the United States, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a Presidential Statement in October 2007 that deplored the use of violence against protestors and called for the release of political prisoners and dialogue with leaders of the democracy movement.
The United States provides space for political activists, educators, professionals, and university students to interact and gather information freely, and uses speaker and exchange programs to discuss democracy, human rights, and other related issues. The Unites States works closely with prodemocracy and ethnic groups to encourage them to find common ground and work together toward a democratic Burma. The United States operates a library in Rangoon with over 23,000 members, and provides Burmese citizens with access to the Internet, uncensored news, and books on a wide variety of subjects including culture, politics, international relations, journalism, and psychology. Additionally, the United States supports training for teachers and librarians throughout the country and recently established a program to facilitate private donations of over 18,000 books to 80 libraries across the country.
The United States supports journalist training, civil society development, and scholarship programs inside the country and among exile communities to prepare citizens to assume leadership roles during a political transition. Over 1,300 students attend English-language courses at the American Center that foster discussions of current events, civics, and good governance issues to improve students' language skills.
In order to heighten awareness of democratic practices, the United States organized viewings of U.S. presidential candidate debates and primary elections to foster discussion of the processes and principles of free and fair democratic elections. The United States continues to make use of Fulbright Scholarships, Humphrey Fellowships, International Visitor Leadership Program grants, and other exchanges to identify the country's future leaders and develop their understanding of democratic values.
The United States continues to press the regime to respect workers' rights and to end its use of forced labor. The United States actively supports the work of the International Labor Organization liaison office in Rangoon, which sought to bring the regime into compliance with its international labor obligations and end the use of forced labor and the recruitment of child soldiers. At the November 2007 ILO Governing Board meeting, the United States supported consideration of further actions to address the regime's lack of progress on the development of an adequate mechanism to address forced labor complaints.
To combat the serious problem of trafficking in persons, the United States funds local NGO antitrafficking programs. The United States also presses the regime to improve enforcement of its antitrafficking law and to cooperate with NGOs and UN agencies.
No U.S. funding or humanitarian and democracy-related assistance inside the country benefits the military regime.