Group 175, Long Beach—Action File

Myanmar: Priority Cases

The military rulers of Myanmar have jailed thousands of people in their continuing efforts to crush all dissenting views. Most prominent of those detained is Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Awng Sahn Soo Chee), the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has spent 13 of the past 19 years under some form of detention. In 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won an overwhelming majority of the seats in national parliamentary elections. However, the military authorities refused to honor the election results. Instead, they arrested scores of political activists, including many of those newly elected to the parliament. Since that time, Aung San Suu Kyi has fought a battle of wills with Myanmar’s military leaders, a battle that has claimed her physical freedom but has not deterred her passion to restore the human rights of her nation’s people.

Aung San Suu Kyi may be Myanmar’s most famous prisoner of conscience, but there are many lesser-known individuals whose peaceful acts of courage have met with retribution from the government. One such individual is Ma Khin Khin Leh (pronounced Mah Kin Kin Lay), a schoolteacher and young mother serving a life sentence simply for trying to organize a peaceful demonstration in support of the NLD. Days before the demonstration was to take place, security officials arrested Ma Khin Khin Leh and her three-year-old daughter. Although her daughter was released after spending five days in detention, Ma Khin Khin Leh, then age 33, was sentenced in December 1999 to life in prison under vaguely worded security legislation. Even by the harsh standards of “justice” meted out by Myanmar’s military government, the life sentence given to Ma Khin Khin Leh was extreme. Ma Khin Khin Leh is believed to be held in Insein Prison, where she reportedly suffers from an unspecified lung problem, rheumatoid arthritis and dysentery. Amnesty International is concerned for her safety and well-being.

Information on Prisoners of Conscience in Myanmar

There are more than 1,850 known political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Myanmar’s authorities have detained thousands of people since 1988, the year when demonstrations against one-party rule resulted in security forces killing hundreds of protesters. People from all walks of life, including journalists, students, teachers, lawyers, nuns, monks and farmers, are serving long prison sentences for acts of peaceful dissent. Many of them are in poor health and have suffered torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Many others have died in detention or prison.

In the largest crackdown on human rights in Myanmar since 1988, security forces and pro-government supporters have dispersed, beaten and arrested hundreds of peaceful protesters since August 2007.

Authorities regularly use broad security laws, such as the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, to prosecute people for peaceful political and religious activities. Trials of political prisoners fall far short of international fair trial standards. Although military tribunals were abolished in 1992, the civilian judiciary is not independent from the military authorities.

Authorities have violated the economic, social and cultural rights of the people, as well as their civil and political rights. They have resisted international relief efforts and humanitarian assistance. Myanmar’s military has exploited tens of thousands of ethnic minority civilians by confiscating their land, stealing their crops and livestock, extorting money, and seizing people, including women and children, for forced labor. A third of all children in Myanmar suffer chronic malnourishment, according to United Nations data.

Sample letter

Country Information