Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Burma is ruled by a highly authoritarian military regime. The State Peace and Development Council, led by Senior General Than Shwe, is the country's de facto government. In 1990 the National League for Democracy (NLD) won more than 80 percent of the seats in a general election that was largely considered free and fair. However, the regime continues to ignore the results. The regime also continues to abridge the right of citizens to change their government, and it commits other severe human rights abuses. The military government has perpetuated its highly repressive rule by attacking perceived security threats, whether from democracy activists or armed ethnic groups. The government detains civic activists indefinitely and without charges. Human rights observers reported that at the end of 2008 there were approximately 2,100 "security detainees," including political prisoners, merchants, alleged violators of state security laws, and those accused of fostering religious disturbances. In 2008 the government sentenced more than 200 political prisoners to lengthy prison terms, some in excess of 60 years. Nobel Laureate and NLD general secretary Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD vice-chairman U Tin Oo remain under house arrest; the government extended U Tin Oo's house arrest for another year in February. The government routinely infringes on citizens' privacy and restricts freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement. Forced labor, including that of children, also persists. The government has failed to take significant action to prosecute or punish those responsible for human rights abuses. A new constitution, "approved" via a deeply flawed referendum in May 2008, appears intended to ensure continued military control after parliamentary elections planned for 2010.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. Government's overarching priority in the country is the establishment of a representative, stable government that respects human rights and the rule of law and plays a positive, responsible role in the region. The U.S. Government's human rights and democracy goals include the unconditional and immediate release of Suu Kyi and more than 2,100 other political prisoners, an immediate end to military attacks on ethnic minorities, and unrestricted access throughout the country for humanitarian organizations.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

To help promote change in the country, the United States engages in democracy-oriented activities. The U.S. Government encourages political activists, educators, professionals, and university students to interact and gather information freely, and it uses speaker and exchange programs to discuss democracy, human rights, and other related issues. The United States supports the efforts of prodemocracy and ethnic groups to find common ground and work together. The United States operates a library in Rangoon with over 15,000 members that provides residents 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. Annually, more than 1,300 students attend the American Center's English-language courses, which foster discussions of current events, civics, and good governance issues. The United States also engages in public diplomacy activities via the 700-member Jefferson Center in Mandalay, which hosts similar activities including English classes that encourage critical thinking and cultural activities that celebrate America's values and heritage.
To heighten awareness of democratic practices and foster discussion of the processes and principles of free and fair democratic elections, the United States organized viewings of the 2008 U.S. presidential debates and election and the 2009 inauguration ceremony. 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. In order to provide the country's inhabitants with accurate, unbiased news and information, the United States provides assistance to external media organizations.

The United States actively supports the work of the International Labor Organization, which seeks to bring the regime into compliance with its international labor obligations and end the use of forced labor and the recruitment of child soldiers. To combat the serious problem of trafficking in persons, the United States funds the anti-trafficking programs of international NGOs operating in the country. The United States also encourages the regime to improve enforcement of its antitrafficking law, strengthen protections offered to trafficking victims, and cooperate with NGOs and UN agencies.

The United States continues to press the regime on core issues: to release political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi; to permit political parties to form and operate freely; and to enter into a meaningful dialogue with democratic and ethnic groups on national reconciliation and a genuine political transition. The United States maintains targeted sanctions against the regime and its cronies. The intent is to encourage political change. The 2007 post-Saffron Revolution Executive Orders and 2008 JADE Act strengthened sanctions. The United States is actively working to identify individuals and groups subject to those sanctions.

No U.S. funding inside the country benefits the military regime.