This report presents evidence of the persistent and widespread practice of forced labor in Burma. Despite ongoing talks between the military regime and Aung San Suu Kyi, there is no doubt that forced labor and other human rights abuses including extra-judicial executions, torture and rape are continuing in Burma. ERI’s investigation covered Shan State, Karenni State, Karen State, Pegu Division, Mandalay Division, and Tenasserim Division. The report describes various forms of forced labor as well as the authorities’ efforts to conceal the practice. The report also again confirms that security forces for the Yadana and Yetagun pipelines continue to conscript civilians for forced labor (Interview #71).

“We are not Free to Work for Ourselves” is based on the research conducted by ERI in early 2002. The 208-page report consists of three parts: Part I presents an executive summary, maps, a chart, and selected quotes; Part II the redacted text of 77 interviews; and Part III scanned photos of three actual forced labor orders from December 2001 to March 2002.

Excerpts from the report include:

“One time, a porter named [redacted] could not carry his load because his foot was sore and swollen. A soldier got a stick and beat him with it. Another porter named [redacted] was exhausted and sick from diarrhea; he fell down on the ground. The soldier beat him and ordered him to stand up. When he got up, he fell back down again. Then [an officer] beat him again. The military left him . . . When we arrived at the next destination, one of the corporals said that [he] had died.” (Interview #045)

“The military raped [my cousin] and also [name redacted]. The military kept them in the jungle for four or five days, and they raped [them both]. [My cousin] was separated from the other women. They killed her because they had already raped her, and they did not want her to say anything. After four or five days, the other women were taken into town, and they got a message to her relatives that they should go to the jungle to try to find her. Our relatives found [my cousin’s] body in the jungle.” (Interview #022)

Executive Summary

Burma’s State Peace and Development Council’s Order No. 1/99 (March 1999), along with the Supplementary Order to Order No. 1/99 (October 2000), outlawed forced labor throughout the country. Despite these orders, forced labor continues. The villagers of Shan State, Karenni State, Karen State, Pegu Division, Mandalay Division, and Tenasserim Division tell of their experiences in the 77 accounts that follow. Life under military rule still means a life where the rule of law is absent. Without legal recourse and continued international pressure for change, these people have no choice but to flee.