OBJECTIVES To describe exposure to human rights violations among refugees from rural Burma; to compare exposure experienced by an ethnic Burmese minority group, the Shans, with that of the rest of the study population; and to compare exposure of those who had fled Burma recently with that of refugees who had arrived in Thailand earlier. DESIGN Cross-sectional interview and clinical examination. SETTING Refugee settlements and refugee camps in Northern Thailand near the border to Burma in November 1997. SUBJECTS 92 persons (group A) were examined according to the program. Fourty-six were Shans; 34 had migrated within the past five months. A further 96 person (group B), more randomly selected, were interviewed according to an abbreviated interview program; of these, 38 had fled recently. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES A score was used to quantify the exposure. Testimonies of exposure to physical violence were validated, assessing the consistency between the reported exposure, reported ensuing symptoms and the result of the clinical examination. RESULTS Both groups reported massive exposure to the following human rights violations: forced labour (group A: 66%, group B: 35%), porter service (65%, 44%), forced relocation (51%, 51%), killing of family members (36%, 29%). In group A, there were twelve cases of self-reported torture. Moreover, there were reports of rape, disappearances and land mine accidents. In all cases of exposure to physical violence the testimonies were appraised to be valid. CONCLUSION The violations of human rights in Burma were massive. The Shans were exposed as heavily as the others. Those who had arrived recently were as heavily exposed as the other groups. Apart from the land mine problem, the Burmese army was held responsible for all the reported and documented human rights violations.