The Human Truth Foundation

Human Rights and Freedom in Myanmar (Burma)

By Vexen Crabtree 2018

#buddhism #Buddhist_extremism #china #gender_equality #hinduism #islam #myanmar #myanmar_(burma) #myanmar_(burma)_women #prejudice #religion_in_myanmar #Therevada_Buddhism #women

Myanmar (Burma)
Union of Myanmar

[Country Profile Page]
StatusIndependent State
Social and Moral Index163rd best
Life Expectancy65.67yrs (2017)2

Myanmar (Burma) is amongst the worst places in the world at ensuring human rights and freedom, and it has severe cultural issues when it comes to tolerance and equality. Myanmar (Burma) does worse than average in opposing gender inequality3, LGBT equality4, freethought5 and in supporting press freedom6. And finally, it falls into the worst 20 for the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators)7, commentary in Human Rights Watch reports8, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms9 (one of the highest in Asia), speed of uptake of HR treaties10 (one of the highest in Asia) and in its nominal commitment to Human Rights11 (amongst the lowest in Asia). After attacks on security force outposts by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militants, in 2017, the Burmese military "launched a large-scale ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya Muslim population" and engaged in widespread crimes against humanity12. Human rights are poorly defended because of Burma's "weak rule of law, corrupt judiciary, Buddhist extremism13, and unwillingness to prosecute members of the security forces"12. Since a military coup in 2021, civil life has deteriorated even further13. Despite all this, China continued to strengthen economic ties to Burma and has actively shielded its government from international action12.

1. Myanmar (Burma)'s Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance

#equality #gender_equality #human_rights #morals #politics #prejudice #tolerance

Compared to Asia (2020)14
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank14
1Hong Kong24.3
43Myanmar (Burma)128.5
46Saudi Arabia134.5
Asia Avg99.9
Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance (2020)14
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank14
169Equatorial Guinea128.4
171Myanmar (Burma)128.5
World Avg87.9

The best countries in the world at ensuring human rights, fostering equality and promoting tolerance, are Sweden, Norway and Denmark15. These countries are displaying the best traits that humanity has to offer. The worst countries are The Solomon Islands, Somalia and Tuvalu15.

The data sets used to calculate points for each country are statistics on commentary in Human Rights Watch reports, its nominal commitment to Human Rights, speed of uptake of HR treaties, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms, supporting press freedom, eliminating modern slavery, opposing gender inequality, the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators), the year from which women could participate in democracy, its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice, LGBT equality and freethought. The regions with the best average results per country are Scandinavia, Baltic States and Europe15, whereas the worst are Melanesia, Micronesia and Australasia15.

For more, see:

Amnesty International's 2023-23 summary on human rights in Myanmar (Burma) stated:

The crackdown against opposition to military rule intensified. Thousands of people were arbitrarily detained and more than 1,000 opposition politicians, political activists, human rights defenders and others were convicted in unfair trials. Widespread torture of detainees continued. Four men were executed following unfair trials on politically motivated charges. Indiscriminate military attacks on civilians and civilian objects resulted in hundreds of deaths and mass displacement. Foreign companies were found to have supplied aviation fuel to the Myanmar military that was responsible for carrying out aerial attacks killing hundreds of civilians. Tens of thousands of ethnic Rohingya people remained in squalid displacement camps and their rights remained severely curtailed. Military authorities continued to restrict the delivery of humanitarian aid.

"The State of the World's Human Rights 2022/23" by Amnesty International (2023)16

"Despite the appearance of civilian rule, the military remained the primary power-holder in the country" and they blocked attempts legal attempts to restore democratic control12, with over 90 cases being brought via the often-abused 2013 Telecommunications Act section 66(d), although the President Htin Kyaw managed (against Parliament's wish) to reduce the maximum sentence from 3 to 2 years for offences.

2. Human Rights & Tolerance

2.1. Human Rights Watch Comments


Human Rights Watch Comments
Higher is better8
108=Central African Rep.-8
110Myanmar (Burma)-9
Asia Avg-5.0
World Avg-1.9
Myanmar (Burma) is 5th-worst in the world in terms of commentary in Human Rights Watch reports.

Human Rights Watch comments concentrate mostly on negative issues, however, they also make positive comments for those countries that engage in human rights defence around the world, or who make improvements at home. By adding up positive and negative comments (including double-points for negatives that involve large scales and crimes against humanity), the Social and Moral Index turns HRW commentary into quantified values. Some countries may be unfairly penalized because HRW have not examined them, and, some countries "get away" with abuses if they manage to hide it, or if it goes unnoticed - a negative point has been given for those countries in which HRW specifically state that access to investigators has been barred. The points were limited to a minimum of -10 because there are some points at which things are so bad, with abuses affecting so many, it is difficult to be more specific about the depths of the issues.

2.2. Nominal Commitment to HR


Nominal Commitment to HR
Higher is better11
2=Costa Rica23
189Marshall Islands4
190=Myanmar (Burma)4
Asia Avg12.7
World Avg15.1
In terms of its nominal commitment to Human Rights, Myanmar (Burma) ranks 5th-worst in the world.

There are many international agreements on human rights, and, many mechanisms by which countries can be brought to account for their actions. Together, these have been the biggest historical movement in the fight against oppression and inhumanity. Or, putting it another way: these are rejected mostly by those who wish to oppress inhumanely. None of them are perfect and many people object to various components and wordings, but, no-one has come up with, and enforced, better methods of controlling the occasional desires that states and peoples have of causing angst for other states and peoples in a violent, unjust or inhumane way. Points are awarded for the number of human rights agreements ratified by the country, plus the acceptance of the petition mechanisms for disputes. The maximum possible score in 2009 was 24.

2.3. HR Treaties Lag

#human_rights #international_law #micronesia #politics #small_islands

HR Treaties Lag
Lower is better10
Avg Yrs/Treaty10
180Myanmar (Burma)14.93
181St Kitts & Nevis15.00
183Papua New Guinea15.23
Asia Avg10.97
World Avg10.02
(amongst the highest in Asia)Myanmar (Burma) comes 16th-worst in the world when it comes to speed of uptake of HR treaties.

Human Rights (HR) Treaties Lag is a count of how long it took each country to sign each of 11 key HR treaties. From the date of the first signatory of each treaty, all other countries have one point added to their score for each day they delayed in signing. Results are presented as average time in years to sign each one. The lower a country's score, the more enthusiastically it has taken on international Human Rights Treaties - which are, of course, minimal standards of good governance. The slowest are the countries of Micronesia, Melanesia, Australasia and Polynesia all lagged by over 12 years per treaty. The best regions are The Americas, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

For more, see:

2.4. Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom

#freedom #politics

Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom
Lower is better9
1Hong Kong1
3New Zealand3
151Congo, DR151
153Myanmar (Burma)153
155Central African Rep.155
Asia Avg94.6
World Avg79.7
(amongst the highest in Asia)With regard to supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms, Myanmar (Burma) ranks 7th-worst in the world.

The Human Freedom Index published by the Fraser Institute is...

... a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. It uses 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas: Rule of Law, Security and Safety, Movement, Religion, Association, Assembly, and Civil Society, Expression, Relationships, Size of Government, Legal System and Property Rights, Access to Sound Money, Freedom to Trade Internationally, Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business. [...]

The highest levels of freedom are in Western Europe, Northern Europe, and North America (Canada and the United States. The lowest levels are in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. [...]

Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significant higher per capita income ($37,147) [compared with] the least-free quartile [at] $8,700). The HFI finds a strong correlation between human freedom and democracy.

"The Human Freedom Index" by The Fraser Institute (2016)17

2.5. Press Freedom

#democracy #freedom #Freedom_of_Speech #Good_Governance #mass_media #politics #UK

Press Freedom
Lower is better6
150Myanmar (Burma)4471
Asia Avg4378
World Avg3249
In terms of supporting press freedom, Myanmar (Burma) ranks 150th in the world.

The freedom to investigate, publish information, and have access to others' opinion is a fundamental part of today's information-driven world, and is linked with Freedom of Speech and Good Governance. Scores on the Press Freedom Index are calculated according to indicators including pluralism - the degree to which opinions are represented in the media, media independence of authorities, self-censorship, legislation, transparency and the infrastructure that supports news and information, and, the level of violence against journalists which includes lengths of imprisonments. The index "does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted". The rankings are used as one of the datasets of the Social and Moral Development Index18

It must be noted that press freedom is not an indicator of press quality and the press itself can be abusive; the UK suffers in particular from a popular brand of nasty reporting that infuses several of its newspapers who are particularly prone to running destructive and often untrue campaigns against victims. The Press Freedom Index notes that "the index should in no way be taken as an indicator of the quality of the media in the countries concerned".

Amidst continued threats and intimidation of journalists, "the government increased its use of overly broad and vaguely worded laws to detain, arrest, and imprison individuals for peaceful expression"12 and the right to protest is still far too limited12.

2.6. Slavery

#burundi #eritrea #france #human_rights #indonesia #slavery

Human trafficking remained a serious problem in several areas [of Burma], particularly in the north where armed conflict and widespread displacement exacerbated financial instability. Women and girls in Kachin and Shan States who went to China in search of work faced abuses. Many women and girls were sold to Chinese families as "brides" and often faced horrific abuses including being locked up, subjected to sexual slavery, forced to bear children of their "husbands" by rape, and forcibly separated from their children. The Burmese government put few measures in place to protect women and girls from these abuses or assist women and girls who escaped or sought to do so.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)12

Lower is better
% Victims19
147Papua New Guinea1.03
150Myanmar (Burma)1.10
Asia Avg0.79
World Avg0.65
Myanmar (Burma) is 18th-worst in the world when it comes to eliminating modern slavery.

The taking of slaves has been an unwholesome feature of Human cultures since prehistory20. Private households and national endeavours have frequently been augmented with the use of slaves. The Egyptian and Roman empires both thrived on them for both purposes. Aside from labourers they are often abused sexually by their owners and their owners' friends21. The era of colonialism and the beginnings of globalisation changed nothing: the imprisonment and forced movements of labour continued to destroy many lives except that new justifications were invented based on Christian doctrine and the effort to convert non-Christians. By 1786 over 12 million slaves had been extracted from Africa and sent to colonial labour camps, with a truly atrocious condition of life22. But they were not the only ones to blame; in Africa internal nations such as the Asantes sold and bought tens of thousands of slaves23.

The abolition of the slave trade was a long and slow process. Until a relatively modern time, even philosophers, religious leaders and those concerned with ethics justified, or ignored, the problem of slavery24. The first abolitionists were always the slaves themselves. Their protests and rebellions caused the industry to become too expensive to continue. After that, it was the economic costs of maintain slave colonies that led the British to reject and then oppose the slave trade globally. Finally, the enlightenment-era thinkers of France encouraged moral and ethical thinking including the declaration of the inherent value of human life and human dignity25. A long-overdue wave of compassionate and conscientious movements swept across the West, eliminating public support for slavery, until the industries and churches that supported it had no choice but to back down.

'Modern slavery' includes forced labour (often of the under-age), debt bondage (especially generational), sexual slavery, chattel slavery and other forms of abuse, some of which can be surprisingly difficult to detect, but often target those fleeing from warzones and the vulnerable.26. Some industries (diamond, clothing, coal) from some countries (Burundi27, Eritrea27, Indonesia28) are a particular concern. The Walk Free Foundation, say that in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery29.

For more, see:

3. Gender Equality

Myanmar (Burma) has made some steps towards ending gender inequality but much more needs to be done.


3.1. Gender Inequality

#gender #gender_equality #human_rights #misogyny #women

Gender Inequality
Lower is better
80Myanmar (Burma)0.37
Asia Avg0.36
World Avg0.36
Regarding opposing gender inequality, Myanmar (Burma) comes 80th in the world.

The UN Human Development Reports include statistics on gender equality which take into account things like maternal mortality, access to political power (seats in parliament) and differences between male and female education rates. Gender inequality is not a necessary part of early human development. Although a separation of roles is almost universal due to different strengths between the genders, this does not have to mean that women are subdued, and, such patriarchalism is not universal in ancient history. Those cultures and peoples who shed, or never developed, the idea that mankind ought to dominate womankind, are better cultures and peoples than those who, even today, cling violently to those mores.

For more, see:

3.2. Gender Biases

#gender #gender_equality #prejudice #women

Gender Biases
Lower is better
2New Zealand34.431
77Myanmar (Burma)99.431
Asia Avg94.24
World Avg83.93
Regarding the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators), Myanmar (Burma) is 12nd-worst in the world.

The Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI) looks at gender biases across seven criteria; the % given here is for the total people who are biased across any of those criteria. By subtracting the value from 100%, you can see that those who do well on this index, you are seeing a count of those who do not appear to be biased against women in any of the criteria, and so, doing well on this index is a very positive sign for any country.

The data was included in UN (2022) with full results in Annex table AS6.7.1; their data stems for ranges between 2005 and 2022, depending on the country in question.

3.3. Year Women Can Vote

#christianity #gender_equality #human_rights #politics #women

Year Women Can Vote
Lower is better
1New Zealand1893
43Myanmar (Burma)1935
46Dominican Rep.1942
Asia Avg1907
World Avg1930
Myanmar (Burma) ranks 43rd in the world with regard to the year from which women could participate in democracy.

Women now have equal rights in the vast majority of countries across the world. Although academic literature oftens talks of when a country "grants women the right to vote", this enforces a backwards way of thinking. Women always had the right to vote, however, they were frequently denied that right. The opposition to women's ability to vote in equality with man was most consistently and powerfully opposed by the Catholic Church, other Christian organisations, Islamic authorities and some other religious and secular traditionalists.

For more, see:

4. Prejudice

4.1. LGBT Equality

#equality #homosexuality #human_rights #ICCPR #intolerance #sexuality #tolerance

LGBT Equality
Higher is better
139=Antigua & Barbuda-10
139=St Vincent & Grenadines-10
139=Myanmar (Burma)-10
Asia Avg-02.1
World Avg12.6
Myanmar (Burma) is 133rd in the world regarding LGBT equality.

Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk is rife across the world. Legal restrictions co-exist alongside social stigmatisation and physical violence33. LGBT tolerance and equal rights have been fought for country-by-country across the world, often against tightly entrenched cultural and religious opposition. Adult consensual sexual activity is a Human Right, protected by privacy laws34. Despite this, homosexual activity is outlawed in around 80 countries33. The Social & Moral LGBT Equality Index was created to compare countries and regions, granting points to each country for a variety of factors including how long gay sex has been criminalized and the extent of LGBT legal rights. Graded negative points are given for criminality of homosexuality, unequal ages of consent, legal punishments and for not signing international accords on LGBT tolerance. The signs in many developed countries are positive, and things are gradually improving. Europe is by far the least prejudiced region (Scandinavia in particular being exemplary). The Middle East and then Africa are the least morally developed, where cultural bias goes hand-in-hand with state intolerance, all too often including physical violence.

For more, see:

4.2. Freedom of Thought

#europe #freedom_of_belief #freethought #human_rights #netherlands #religion #religious_tolerance #secularism #the_enlightenment

In this 88% Buddhist country, minorities such as Hindus, Christians and Muslims face "threats and persecution", and their religious activities are "tightly regulated", even in their own homes12. Article 361 of the Constitution specifically names Buddhism as the favoured religion, with Therevada Buddhism in particular being supported by Government. Sociologists Grim & Finke still place Myanmar into the worst possible category when it comes to religious freedom and persecution: Severe restrictions on religious freedom and freedom of belief stem simultaneously from top-down pressure from government and institutionalized religion, and from bottom-up grassroots movements that often go even further than the government in harassing those who do not believe the right things (2011)35.

Freedom of Thought
Lower is better
149Myanmar (Burma)3.8
150=Sri Lanka3.8
Asia Avg3.7
World Avg3.0
In terms of freethought, Myanmar (Burma) comes 149th in the world.

Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Belief are upheld in Article 18 the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights36. It affirms that it is a basic human right that all people are free to change their beliefs and religion as they wish37. No countries voted against this (although eight abstained). This right was first recognized clearly in the policies of religious toleration of the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe in the post-enlightenment era38 of the 19th century. In democratic countries, freedom of belief and religion is now taken for granted39. In 2016 a study found that over 180 countries in the world had come to guarantee freedom of religion and belief40. The best countries at doing so are Taiwan, Belgium and The Netherlands5,41 and the worst: Afghanistan, N. Korea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia5,42.

Long-term studies have shown that religious violence and persecution both decrease in cultures where religious freedom is guaranteed43. Despite this, there still are many who are strongly against freedom of belief37, including entire cultures and many individual communities of religious believers. Their alternative is that you are not free to believe what you want and they often state that you cannot change religion without being punished (often including the death penalty): this is bemoaned as one of the most dangerous elements of religion44 and "the denial of religious freedoms is inevitably intertwined with the denial of other freedoms"45 and the solution is, everywhere, to allow religious freedom and the freedom of belief.

For more, see:

In May [2017], authorities sent a letter to a Christian man in Rangoon, warning him not to continue to pray in his home with others without first receiving approval from authorities. In Sagaing Region, a Buddhist mob attacked Christian worshippers, destroying homes and personal property.

In April, a mob of about 50 to 100 Buddhist ultranationalists put pressure on local officials and police in Rangoon´s Thaketa township to close two Islamic schools. The authorities carried out the mob´s demand and have not reopened the schools, denying several hundred students access to education. Following the closures, local officials charged seven Muslims who participated in a public prayer session on May 31.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)12

5. Crimes Against Humanity: The Ethnic Cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim Minorities

5.1. Violent Popularism

#buddhism #buddhist_extremism #democracy #nationalism #politics #popularism

In politics, popularism is the effect of uninformed mass opinion on governance. It can transpire through the government being too sensitive to the loudest voices of the masses, through grassroots movements that are too narrow in scope to represent the entire population, through nasty forms of nationalism and jingoism. Popularist slogans are often catchy policies based on simple one-line policies that do not have a proper depth of research or meaning; hence, they appeal to 'the masses' and it is the job of politicians to convince the populace to pursue wiser courses of action than they would if left to their own devices. In the modern world, Internet-based and social media campaigns are becoming the most important source of public pressure on governments46 and this is giving enemies of democracy powerful new tools of interference47. The worst aspects of popularism are a disregard for minorities48 and any unpopular subcultures (wherein popularism becomes 'the tyranny of the majority')49 and the other main disadvantage is the pursuit of shallow and short-sighted policies that harm the nation in the long-run50,51,52; issues that require strong international co-ordination and long-term planning such as environmentalism and protecting biodiversity are suffering as the result of selfish nationalism53. The solution to popularism is to ensure the politicians are professional, well-trained, well-educated, and who are not afraid to engage in long-term strategy that is unpopular in the short term.

For more, see:

The cost of not standing up to populist attacks on human rights was perhaps starkest in Burma. Vitriolic nationalist rhetoric increasingly propagated by Buddhist extremists, senior members of the Burmese military, and some members of the civilian-led government helped to precipitate an ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims, following a militant group's attacks on security outposts. An army-led campaign of massacres, widespread rape, and mass arson in at least 340 villages sent more than 640,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing for their lives to neighboring Bangladesh. [... There is] little immediate hope of the Rohingyas' safe and voluntary return, or of bringing to justice the people behind the atrocities that sent them fleeing.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)54

In a rare move, even the anti-human-rights international community called the OIC, supported the UNHRC:

Nations of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called for a special session of the UN Human Rights Council where they supported a resolution condemning Burma's crimes against humanity. The effort was notable because it represented a rare instance in which OIC members backed a resolution criticizing a particular country.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)55

5.2. The Failure of Facebook to Control Hate56

#buddhist_extremism #Facebook #social_media

The United Nations has accused Facebook in particular as being the facilitator for a wave of hate and misinformation, enticing the populace into continued violence against Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State. Much of this content is disseminated through fake accounts on Facebook

Free Basics [Facebook Internet provision in developing countries] gives internet access for the majority of people in Burma, at the same time it severely limits the information available to users, making Facebook virtually the only source of information online for the majority. [...] In March 2018, the UN Myanmar investigator Yanghee Lee said that the platform had morphed into a `beast´ that helped to spread vitriol against Rohingya Muslins. [...]

The activity of Facebook undermines international aid to Burma, including the UK Government´s work. Facebook is releasing a product that is dangerous to consumers and deeply unethical. [...] This situation is acknowledged by Facebook itself, who said that the hate material was 'awful' and it wanted to get rid of it.

"Disinformation and 'fake news´: Interim Report"
House of Commons (UK Government) (2018)57