Burma (Myanmar)


Since 1988 Burma has been ruled by a military government - the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). The country has been renamed Myanmar by the SLORC, but as this name is commonly associated with the military regime, which has one of the worst human rights records in the world, we prefer to refer to the country as Burma.

1 Conscription

conscription exists

The government claims that the armed forces (Tatmadaw) consist of volunteers. [1]

Recruitment methods used by the SLORC in recent years can, however, be described as a system of conscription. (see: recruitment)

Voluntary applications for joining the armed forces seem no longer sufficient to achieve the requisite number of recruits. This is partly due to the increase of the armed forces, from 170,000 troops in 1988 to 429,000 in 1997. The government has even stated that its final goal is to increase the size of the armed forces to 500,000 troops. The increasing demand for new recruits was initially satisfied through propaganda campaigns and vigorous recruitment campaigns, carried out in mainly impoverished rural villages where young men had little chance of regular employment. [1]

There is no legal basis for conscription. Conscription is enshrined in the 1974 Constitution, according to which all citizens should undergo military training and undertake military service, but the SLORC government banned the Constitution in 1988 and has ruled by decree since.

The 1959 People's Militia Act provides for a part-time and full-time military service (although this act has in the past never been fully implemented except for the conscription of a small number of medical doctors). [6] [9]

The SLORC is believed to be reluctant to revoke the 1959 Act as, given the strength of the resentment against the army, it fears having large numbers of resentful men and women in the ranks of the armed forces. [1]

Apart from conscripting people in the armed forces, all citizens of Burma are liable to forced labour and forced portering. (see: forced labour and forced portering)

military service

There is no known set length of service and no set age for liability for service.

postponement and exemption

There are no known provisions for postponement and exemption.


Official documents and guidelines on recruitment into the armed forces are not known. It is believed each district and village is supposed to provide the armed forces with a certain number of recruits. For this purpose, quotas seem to be given to the local authorities. If the local authorities fail to achieve these quota, they may reportedly face fines. [5] [8]

How the selection of recruits takes place is not known and may well vary locally. According to one source the selection of recruits is by ballot. [5]

In ethnic minority areas, in an attempt to encourage people to offer their sons to the army, the family of soldiers are exempted from taxations or forced relocations. [8]

In addition to the recruitment set out above, the armed forces regularly turn to forced recruitment such as press-ganging, in particular before and during large offensives against opposition groups. [5]

Minimum enlistment age is believed to be 18. Nevertheless there are many reports of child soldiers in the armed forces - sometimes boys aged between 13 and 15. There have been reports of children being kidnapped or tricked into enlisting for the armed forces. Orphans and homeless children seem in particular to be recruited this way. [1] [8]

forced labour and forced portering

All citizens are obliged to work without pay at construction projects such as airports, roads, dams, railways, etc. Forced labour can also have explicit military purposes, as civilians are used as porters for the army during military operations. Porters are required to carry military supplies including weapons, on forced marches through the countryside for periods ranging from several days to a month or more. Civilians can also be forced to stand on watch on roads and railways in areas where ethnic insurgent groups are active. Members of ethnic minorities are particularly targeted to act as porters for the Tatmadaw. [2] [4] [5]

International human rights organisations have documented many incidents of grave human rights abuses against porters and labourers, including killings of porters who had attempted to escape from their custody or were unable to carry their load. [2] [3] [4]

The only way of getting exempted from forced labor and portering seems to be by paying regular fees (porter tax) to the Tatmadaw. However most people can not afford these fees. [4]

The SLORC has routinely denied that forced labour takes place and maintains that such work is performed voluntarily within a cultural tradition of voluntary labour. The SLORC usually terms forced labour as 'labour contribution' and 'work contributed on a self-reliance'. [5]

2 Conscientious objection

The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognized. [9]

3 Draft evasion and desertion

No information available.

4 Forced recruitment by armed opposition groups

Since Burma gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, many ethnic minority groups have formed armies and revolted against the central government at one time or another. Most of the armed ethnic minority groups have been fighting for complete independence or greater autonomy. In 1997 there were approximately 30 armed ethnic minority groups, mostly based at the northeastern borders where they controlled small territories. [5]

Most opposition groups are known to have recruitment policies, but detailed information about these is not generally available. Moreover, recruitment methods can differ greatly between groups, and even within themselves, depending on the local commanders concerned. [5]

According to one source recruitment by opposition groups mostly takes place on a voluntary basis. In Karen villages recruitment takes place by means of a ballot. [5]

Nevertheless forced recruitment of youth for large-scale offensives is common among all the forces, and there have been reports of child soldiers in opposition forces. The Shan Mong Tai Army and the United Wa State Army are believed to have the largest number of child soldiers, with each family being required to give one son. [8]

Like the Tatmadaw, opposition groups are known to use porters and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Karen National Progressive Party (KNPP) have all regularly used porters for front-line operations. [5]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise 429,000 troops (which is 0.88 percent of the population). [7]


[1] Selth, Andrew 1996. Transforming the Tatmadaw: The Burmese Armed Forces since 1988. Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Canberra. [2] Human Rights Watch/Asia 1995. Burma. Entrenchment or Reform?. HRW, New York. [3] Human Rights Watch/Asia 1995. Burma: Abuses linked to the fall of Manerplaw. HRW, New York. [4] Amnesty International 1996. Human rights violations against ethnic minorities. AI, London. [5] Images Asia 1996. No childhood at all - A Report About Child Soldiers in Burma. Case study for the United Nations study on the impact of armed conflict on children. [6] Smythe, T., Prasad, D. 1968. Conscription: a world survey, compulsory military service and resistance to it. War Resisters' International, London. [7] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London. [8] Human Rights Watch/Asia 1997. Burma - Children's Rights and the Rule of Law. HRW, New York. [9] Eide, A., C. Mubanga-Chipoya 1985. Conscientious objection to military service, report prepared in pursuance of resolutions 14 and 1982/30 of the Sub-Commission of Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. United Nations, New York.


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