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Published date:
Friday, August 22, 2003

This report presents the direct translations of 783 order documents and letters, selected from a total of 1,007 such documents.  The orders dictate demands for forced labour, money, food and materials, place restrictions on movements and activities of villagers, and make threats to arrest village elders or destroy villages of those who fail to obey.  Over 650 of those selected were sent by military units and local authorities of Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) junta to village elders in Toungoo, Papun, Nyaunglebin, Thaton, Pa’an and Dooplaya Districts, which together cover most of Karen State and part of eastern Pegu Division and Mon State (see Map 1 showing Burma or Map 2 showing Karen State).  The remainder were sent by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) or the Karen Peace Army (KPA), groups allied with the SPDC.  All but a few of the orders were issued between January 2002 and February 2003.

Villages in Karen areas receive a constant stream of order documents such as these almost every day, from all the SPDC Army camps near their village as well as from various levels of SPDC authorities, commanding them to provide people for forced labour, materials and supplies for the Army, extortion money, food, crop quotas, intelligence and other forms of support for the military.  Many of the orders simply command village elders to immediately go to Army camps for ‘meetings’ at which Army officers dictate lists of demands and threaten them with punishment if there is any failure to comply.  The orders translated and presented here in this report should be seen as only a small representative sample of the thousands of orders issued to villages in these areas during this time period.  For every order reproduced here, hundreds more are issued every week throughout Burma.  The aim of this report is not to provide a comprehensive picture of the human rights situation in these areas, but to provide a reference containing examples of the many types of orders received in villages in several different regions.  More information on the human rights situation in each District is available in other existing KHRG reports.  Additional details on the structure and details of the SPDC and DKBA Armies can be found in Abuse Under Orders: The SPDC and DKBA Armies through the Eyes of their Soldiers (KHRG #2001-01, 27/3/01).

Over 200 of the orders in this report contain demands for unpaid forced labour sent to villages by SPDC authorities (these include the orders in the sections ‘General Forced Labour’, ‘Forced Labour Supplying Materials’, and many of the orders in the ‘Set to a Village’ sections), while more than another hundred summoned villagers to meetings where demands for forced labour were given (these can be found in the ‘Summons to Meetings’ section).    All of these orders and letters were written and issued well after November 1st 2000, which is the date when SPDC Secretary-1 Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt signed an order prohibiting the further use of forced labour by military and civilian authorities and stating that anyone who demands forced labour would henceforth be punished under Section 374 of the Penal Code and other laws (see Appendix B).  In 2002, KHRG already published over 450 orders for forced labour which were issued after Khin Nyunt’s prohibition (see Forced Labour Orders Since the Ban: A Compendium of SPDC Order Documents Demanding Forced Labour Since November 2000 [KHRG #2002-01, 8/2/02]), and the orders in this report provide even more evidence.  Yet despite the existence of thousands of these orders, not a single person has yet been charged under Section 374 or any other law.  All of these orders were also issued after the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) High Level Team (HLT) published its critical report in November 2001 on the SPDC’s continued use of forced labour and inadequate attempts to halt its use.  Although the number of orders for forced labour and the use of forced labour seemed to decline just prior to the HLT’s visit in September 2001 and for a short period afterward, 2002 saw the demands for forced labour and its use climb back up to previous levels.  Many of these orders have been issued since the ILO’s Liaison Officer took up her position in Rangoon in October 2002.

The number of forced labour orders sent to villages, the fact that they are openly signed and stamped by many different SPDC battalion officers and civilian officials, and that not one of these people has yet been charged, demonstrates clearly the lack of sincerity in the SPDC’s claims that it is working to eradicate forced labour.  Instead, testimonies gathered by KHRG from villagers and SPDC deserters indicate that efforts are being made by the SPDC to cover up some of its use of forced labour.  For example, many military officers who used to write orders specifically demanding forced labour now summon village elders to ‘meetings’ where the demands are given orally.  Some SPDC officers and officials assign responsibility for rounding up forced labour to their DKBA and KPA allies, so the orders do not originate from SPDC units; but when they arrive for work, the villagers find themselves working for the SPDC nonetheless.

The order with perhaps the most direct international implications is Order #49, in which the Army Strategic Operations Command tells several villages in Toungoo District that they must obey all demands placed on them by a private construction company operating in their area - effectively giving a private company the authority, with Army backing, to demand forced labour directly from villages.  The implications of this for foreign corporations working in joint ventures with Burmese private companies are dire, over and above the fact that this order itself involves the resurfacing of a road just to the south of Than Daung Gyi, a site which the SPDC is actively developing for tourism. 

Originals of most of these orders were obtained by KHRG researchers in each region, while some were gathered by field researchers for the field offices of the Federated Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB).  KHRG would like to thank the field researchers of the FTUB for the extensive help in gathering these orders, and for working with KHRG to translate many of them.

Where necessary to protect people from retaliation, village names, people’s names and some other details have been blanked out in the order translations below. Additional details have been blanked out for this Internet version of the report. The print version of the report and the full set of copies of the original orders (blacked out where necessary) are available subject to approved request submitted to KHRG.  Additional orders can be found in previously published KHRG reports, including Forced Labour Orders Since the Ban: A Compendium of SPDC Order Documents Demanding Forced Labour Since November 2000 (KHRG #2002-01, 8/2/02), and SPDC & DKBA Orders to Villages: Set 2001-A (KHRG #2001-02, 18/5/01) .