Refugees from Myanmar, a study by the International Commission of Jurists

Myanmar (Burma), an isolated country for the last 29 years, became the focus of international attention in 1988.

Demonstrations by students, monks and other citizens, calling for the end of one-party rule, the handing over of power to an interim government and the holding of elections, led to thousands of deaths.

In September 1988, General Saw Maung announced that the military had taken over power and a nineteen-member State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was formed which assumed all legislative, executive and judicial power. Curfew was imposed, gatherings of more than 5 people were prohibited, demonstrators were shot and streets cleared of all protesters and opposition.

Thousands of persons fled to the borders while others sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Although the citizens of Myanmar were denied the minimum freedom necessary for a free and fair election, the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), scored an overwhelming victory in the elections of May 1990, winning 80% of the seats.

However, power has not yet been transferred to the democratically elected representatives of the people. People are forced to leave the country to avoid persecution. Thousands of Myanmar citizens, fleeing persecution, and now totalling about 360,000 are to be found in Bangladesh, China, India, Malaysia and Thailand.

The ICJ sent a mission to Myanmar in January-February 1991 to study the human rights situation. The mission was undertaken by Mr. Makhdoom Ali Khan, a lawyer from Pakistan. A detailed report of the mission “The Burmese Way: To Where?” was published in December 1991. Mr. Khan met refugees from Myanmar in Thailand and also travelled to Myanmar.

Most of the information contained in this report was obtained by Mr. Khan on his visit to Thailand. An update has been provided by the ICJ staff.

Myanmar-refugees-thematic report-1992-eng (full text in English, PDF)

ReportsThematic reports