Type: Military junta.
Constitution: January 3, 1974; suspended since September 18, 1988, when the current military government (currently called the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC) took power. Burmese authorities reported that a new draft constitution was overwhelmingly approved in a May 2008 referendum; however, international observers and democratic groups in Burma have deemed both the drafting process and the referendum to be deeply flawed. The constitution is scheduled to take effect when a new parliament convenes following elections planned for an as-yet unspecified date in 2010.
Branches: Executive--Chairman of the SPDC Senior General Than Shwe is the head of state. Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein is the head of government. Legislative--There is no legislative branch in Burma under the current military rule. Parliamentarians elected in the 1990 election have never been permitted to take their seats. Judicial--The legal system is based on a British-era system, but the military regime often rules by decree and there is no guarantee of a fair public trial; the judiciary is not independent.
Political parties/socio-political organizations: There are 10 legally registered political parties in Burma; unregistered political parties are illegal. The National League for Democracy (NLD) is the primary opposition party. Of the others, only the National Unity Party (NUP), which is supportive of government policies, maintains an active office and holds regular activities. The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) is a regime-organized socio-political organization, claiming over 24 million members. In addition, several ceasefire groups representing Burma‚Äôs ethnic minority groups maintain political organizations.
Administrative subdivisions: The country is divided into seven divisions (tain)--Irrawaddy, Bago (Pegu), Magway, Mandalay, Yangon (Rangoon), Sagaing, and Tanintharyi (Tenassarim); and seven ethnic states (pyi nay)--Chin State, Kachin State, Kayin (Karen) State, Kayah (Karenni) State, Mon State, Rakhine (Arakan) State, and Shan State.
Suffrage: Universal suffrage at 18 years of age.
GDP: $27.5 billion (2009 Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) estimate).
Annual growth rate: 1.8% (2009 EIU estimate). The Burmese Government‚Äôs economic growth statistics are not released regularly and lack credibility.
GDP per capita: $431 (2009 EIU estimate).
Inflation rate: 6.5% (2010 EIU estimate).
Natural resources: natural gas, timber, tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead, coal, limestone, precious stones, hydropower, marine products, and petroleum.
Agriculture: Products--rice, pulses, beans, sesame, peanuts, sugarcane, hardwood.
Industries: Types--natural gas, agricultural processing, knit and woven apparel, wood and wood products, cement, paper, cotton, cotton yarn, sugar, copper, tin, tungsten, iron, construction materials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer.
Recorded trade (based on 2008 statistics from Business Information Group): Exports--$6.6 billion. Types--natural gas 38%, agricultural products 18%, precious and semi-precious stones 11%, timber and forest products 8%, and marine products 5%. Major markets--Thailand 40%, Hong Kong 11%, India 11%, Singapore 13%, China 7.5%, and Malaysia 5%. Imports--$3.4 billion. Types--lubricant oil and diesel 16.9%, textiles and fabrics 8.6%, machinery parts 8.7%, and steel, iron, and bars 5.8%. Major suppliers--Singapore 30%, China 18%, Bahamas 13% Thailand 6%, and Japan 5%.
A majority of Burma's people are ethnic Burman. Shan, Karen, Rohingya, Arakanese (Rakhine), Kachin, Chin, and Mon, together with other smaller indigenous ethnic groups, form about 30% of the population. Indians and Chinese are the largest non-indigenous groups.
Although Burmese is the most widely spoken language (approx. 32 million speakers), ethnic groups have retained their own identities and languages. Some of the most prominent are Shan; various Karen, Karenni and Chin languages; Arakanese; Kachin; Mon; Palaung; Parauk; Wa; and Yangbye. English is spoken in many areas frequented by tourists. Indian and Chinese residents speak various languages and dialects of their homelands: Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Mandarin, Fujian, and Cantonese.
An estimated 89% of the population practices Buddhism. Other religions--Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Muslim 4%, and animist 1%--are less prevalent, although Christian and Muslim groups claim the regime significantly underestimates their number of adherents.
According to Burmese Government budget data, public health expenditure accounted for less than 1% of total government spending. High infant mortality rates and short life expectancies further highlight poor health and living conditions. Tuberculosis, diarrheal disease, malaria, and HIV/AIDS pose serious threats to the Burmese population. In 2009, the UNDP's Human Development Index, which measures achievements in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment, and adjusted real income, ranked Burma 138 out of 182 countries.
Burmese authorities have perpetrated numerous documented human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rape, and torture, and incommunicado detentions. Internal displacement and refugee outflows of ethnic minorities are prevalent. Over two million Burmese, many of them ethnic minorities, have fled for economic and political reasons to Thailand, Bangladesh, India, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Up to 150,000 Burmese live in nine refugee camps in Thailand along the border with Burma. Approximately 28,000 Burmese Rohingya are registered as living in two official refugee camps in Bangladesh, and more than 200,000 unregistered Rohingya live in surrounding towns and villages outside of these two camps.
More than 61,000 Burmese (mostly Chin and Rohingya) are registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia. Up to 100,000 unregistered Burmese Chin are living in Mizoram State with another 4,000 UNHCR-registered Burmese (primarily Chin) in Delhi, India.
Burma was unified by Burman dynasties three times during the past millennium. The first such unification came with the rise of the Bagan (Pagan) Dynasty in 1044 AD, which is considered the "Golden Age" in Burmese history. During this period, Theravada Buddhism first made its appearance in Burma, and the Bagan kings built a massive city with thousands of pagodas and monasteries along the Irrawaddy River. The Bagan Dynasty lasted until 1287 when Mongol invaders destroyed the city. Ethnic Shan rulers, who established a political center at Ava (near Mandalay), filled the ensuing political vacuum for a short time.
In the 15th century, the Taungoo Dynasty succeeded again in unifying under Burman rule a large, multi-ethnic kingdom. This dynasty, which lasted from 1486 until 1752, left little cultural legacy, but expanded the kingdom through conquest of the Shans. Internal power struggles and the cost of protracted warfare led to the eventual decline of the Taungoo Dynasty.
The final Burman royal dynasty, the Konbaung, was established in 1752 under the rule of King Alaungpaya and lasted until the fall of King Thibaw to Britain in 1885. Like the Taungoo Kings, the Konbaung rulers focused on warfare and conquest. Wars were fought with the ethnic Mons and Arakanese, and with the Siamese. The Burmese sacked the Siamese capital of Ayuthaya in 1767. This period also saw four invasions by the Chinese and three devastating wars with the British.
The British began their conquest of Burma in 1824, expanding their holdings after each of the three wars. At the end of the third war in 1885, the British gained complete control of Burma, annexing it to British India.
A group of Burmese nationalists known as the ‚Äú30 Comrades‚ÄĚ, led by General Aung San, joined the Japanese forces in driving out the British at the outbreak of World War II. However, the Burmese Army switched sides in mid-1945 and aided U.S. and British forces in their drive to Rangoon against the Japanese. After the war, the Burmese, with General Aung San at the helm, demanded complete political and economic independence from Britain. The British Government acceded to these demands. A constitution was completed in 1947 and independence granted in January 1948. General Aung San was assassinated with most of his cabinet before the constitution went into effect.
During the constitutional period from 1948 to 1962, Burma had a democratic, parliamentary government. However, the country suffered widespread conflict and internal struggle. Constitutional disputes and persistent division among political and ethnic groups contributed to the democratic government's weak hold on power. In 1958, Prime Minister U Nu accepted military rule temporarily to restore political order. The military stepped down after 18 months. However, in 1962 General Ne Win led a military coup, abolishing the constitution and establishing a xenophobic military government with socialist economic policies. These policies had devastating effects on the country's economy and business climate.
In March 1988, student-led demonstrations broke out in Rangoon in response to the worsening economic situation and evolved into a call for regime change. Despite repeated violent crackdowns by the military and police, the demonstrations increased in size and many in the general public joined the students. During mass demonstrations on August 8, 1988, military forces killed more than 1,000 demonstrators. At a rally following this massacre, Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, made her first political speech and assumed the role of opposition leader.
In September 1988, a military coup deposed Ne Win's Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP), suspended the constitution, and established a new ruling junta called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In an effort to "restore order," the SLORC sent the army into the streets to suppress the ongoing public demonstrations. An estimated additional 3,000 were killed, and more than 10,000 students fled into the hills and border areas. Many left the country.
The SLORC ruled by martial law until national parliamentary elections were held in May 1990. These elections were generally judged to be free and fair. Many assumed that voters were not intimidated because the military incorrectly assumed that their candidates would win. The results were an overwhelming victory for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won 392 of the 485 seats, even though she was under house arrest. However, the SLORC refused to honor the results or call the parliament into session. The SLORC instead imprisoned many political activists and maintained its grip on power.
The ruling junta changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997, but did not change its policy of autocratic control and repression of the democratic opposition. It continued to subject Aung San Suu Kyi to varying forms of detention and other restrictions on her movement, which it periodically lifted only to reinstate later. In 2000, the SPDC began talks with the political opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi. These talks were followed by the release of political prisoners and some increase in political freedoms for the NLD. In May 2002, Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to leave her home, and she subsequently traveled widely throughout the country, where she was greeted by large crowds. On May 30, 2003, Aung San Suu Kyi and a convoy of her supporters were attacked by a group of regime-affiliated thugs. Many members of the convoy were killed or injured, and others disappeared. Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her party were detained, and the military government forcibly closed the offices of the NLD. Today, only the NLD headquarters in Rangoon is open, all the party's other offices remain closed, and Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest.
In October 2004, hard-line members of the senior leadership consolidated their power by ousting Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt and removing him and his allies from control of the government and military intelligence apparatus. In late November 2004, the junta announced it would release approximately 9,000 prisoners it claimed had been improperly jailed by Khin Nyunt's National Intelligence Bureau. Approximately 86 of those released had been imprisoned for their political beliefs, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, both key figures in the 1988 demonstrations. Over the years the government has continued significant prisoner releases, although only a small fraction of those released have been political prisoners. Following their release, some of these activists began to reorganize and resume their political activities. Following a sharp increase in fuel prices on August 15, 2007, pro-democracy groups began a series of peaceful marches and demonstrations to protest the deteriorating economic situation in Burma. The regime responded by arbitrarily detaining over 150 pro-democracy activists in August and September 2007, including re-arresting Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi. On August 28, 2007 as popular dissatisfaction spread, Buddhist monks began leading peaceful marches. On September 5, 2007 security forces in the town of Pakkoku violently broke up demonstrations by monks, resulting in injuries and triggering calls for a nationwide response and a government apology for the incident.
Beginning on September 18, 2007 monks resumed their peaceful protests in several cities throughout the country. These marches grew quickly to include ordinary citizens, culminating in a large gathering of protestors in Rangoon on September 24. On September 26 and 27, the regime renewed its violent crackdown, shooting, beating, and arbitrarily detaining thousands of monks, pro-democracy activists, and onlookers. The regime confirmed the deaths of only 10 protestors. However, some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) estimated the number of casualties to be much higher, and in his December 7, 2007 report to the UN General Assembly, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro stated that there were over 30 fatalities in Rangoon associated with the September 2007 protests. In retribution for leading protest marches, monks were beaten and arrested, many monks were disrobed, and several monasteries were raided, ransacked, and closed. In addition to the more than 1,100 political prisoners whose arrests predate the crackdown, another thousand or more were detained due to their participation in the September 2007 protests.
Following the regime's 1993 proclamation of a seven-step roadmap to democracy and a subsequent national convention which convened intermittently, the regime in September 2007 concluded the process of "drafting" principles for the new constitution. Delegates to the convention were not allowed to debate freely, discuss, or attempt to amend the principles. In October 2007, the SPDC appointed 54 pro-regime persons to sit on a constitution drafting committee. The government declared the completion of the constitution drafting committee's work in February 2008, and announced that it would hold a national referendum on the constitution in May 2008, with multi-party elections planned for 2010. While the referendum law provided for a secret ballot, free debate was not permitted and activities considered "interfering with the referendum" carried a three-year prison sentence. The government carried out the referendum on May 10 and May 24 in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and in the midst of the humanitarian disaster caused by Cyclone Nargis. The referendum was rife with irregularities. On May 27, the government announced that 92.48% of voters approved the constitution, with a 98% voter turnout. Observers do not consider those figures to be credible.
Cyclone Nargis hit Irrawaddy and Rangoon Divisions on the evening of May 2 and morning of May 3, 2008. The storm devastated a huge swath of the Irrawaddy Delta region, wiping out entire villages and leaving an estimated 138,000 Burmese dead or missing, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and approximately 2.4 million people affected by the storm. Burmese authorities were criticized for their initial reluctance to grant access to the affected region by international donors, though such access was granted in the ensuing months.
Starting in November 2008 the government imposed harsh sentences on large numbers of political prisoners it had arrested over the course of the previous year, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi. The trials were closed and did not appear to meet minimum standards of due process. The imprisoned activists were convicted, mainly in closed-door hearings, of unlawful association, illegally distributing print and video media, or generally destabilizing public security and the security of the state and were given lengthy sentences, some as long as 68 years.
On May 14, 2009, security forces took Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest to Insein prison and charged her and her two assistants with baseless crimes related to an uninvited American citizen who swam to her home. Following a trial that was widely viewed as unfair, on August 11, 2009, Aung San Suu Kyi and her two assistants were convicted of violating the terms of her house arrest. Her conviction and subsequent sentence to an additional 18 months of house arrest were widely criticized.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The Union of Burma is ruled by a military regime called the "State Peace and Development Council" (SPDC). The SPDC changed the name of the country to "Myanmar," but some members of the democratic opposition and other political activists do not recognize the name change and continue to use the name "Burma." Out of support for the democratic opposition, the U.S. Government likewise uses "Burma."
Burma consists of 14 states and divisions. Administrative control is exercised from the central government through a system of subordinate executive bodies and regional military commanders. Power is centralized within the SPDC, which maintains strict authoritarian rule over the people of Burma through intimidation by a pervasive security apparatus, a military-led system of economic patronage, strict censorship, repression of individual rights, and suppression of ethnic minority groups. The prime minister is appointed directly by the SPDC.
The military regime has a contentious relationship with Burma's ethnic groups, many of which fought for greater autonomy or secession for their regions after the country's independence. In 1948, only Rangoon itself was under the control of national government authorities. Subsequent military campaigns brought more and more of the nation under central government control. Since 1989, the regime has entered into a series of ceasefire agreements with insurgent groups, though a few armed groups remain in active opposition. In 2009, the regime began pressuring ceasefire groups to join a Border Guard Force--an integrated unit of Burma Army and ceasefire group soldiers, with Burma Army soldiers occupying the key positions. In June 2009 the Burma Army and its proxy, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, launched an attack against the Karen National Union. In August 2009 the Burma Army launched an offensive against the Kokang during which thousands of people fled to China and a weapons and narcotics processing facility was destroyed.
The SPDC continues its harsh rule and systematic human rights abuses, and insists that any future political transition take place on its terms. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2010 but no date has been specified. Under the new constitution, the civilian president will not be the commander in chief of the armed forces. Additionally, the military will be guaranteed at least 25% of seats in parliament and will have the power to suspend civil liberties and legislative authority whenever it deems necessary in the interest of national security.
In November 2005, the ruling regime unexpectedly relocated the capital city from Rangoon to Nay Pyi Taw, further isolating the government from the public and international community. Nay Pyi Taw is a sparsely populated district located approximately midway between Rangoon and Mandalay. Most government workers and ministries moved to Nay Pyi Taw over the following six months, and rapid development of the new administrative capital, including construction of a massive parliament building, continues. Foreign diplomatic missions are still located in Rangoon.
Principal Government Officials
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council--Senior General Than Shwe
Prime Minister--Gen. Thein Sein
Minister of Foreign Affairs--U Nyan Win
Charg√© d' Affaires, Burmese Embassy in the United States--vacant
Ambassador to the United Nations--U Than Swe
Burma maintains an embassy to the United States at 2300 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel.: (202) 332-3344; fax: (202) 332-4351.
During the Cold War, Burmese foreign policy was based on principles of neutrality, often tending toward xenophobia. Since 1988, however, Burma has expanded its regional ties. It now is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and several other regional organizations and initiatives. Burma joined ASEAN in 1997, and has participated in that regional forum, hosting a number of seminars, conferences, and ministerial meetings. Burma also is a member of the World Trade Organization. Burma's lack of progress on human rights and democracy has frayed some international ties, and in July 2005, Burma passed up its scheduled 2006 ASEAN chairmanship.
Although Burmese-Thai relations are generally cooperative, they have been tainted by a long history of border conflicts and sporadic hostilities over narcotics trafficking and insurgents operating along the Burmese-Thai border. Nonetheless, official and unofficial economic ties remain strong. In addition to the approximately 150,000 Burmese refugees it hosts, the Thai Government issues temporary work permits to another one million Burmese who live outside the refugee camps in Thailand. Despite their often-contentious histories, Burma has grown closer to both China and India in recent years. China quickly is becoming Burma's most important partner, offering debt relief, economic development grants, and soft loans used for the construction of infrastructure and light industry. China also is purportedly Burma's major supplier of arms and munitions. Burma's commercial and military ties with India are growing as well. India is a primary destination for exports of Burmese beans, pulses, and timber.
The UN has made several efforts to address international concerns over human rights in Burma. The UN Secretary General's first Special Envoy to Burma, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, resigned his position in December 2005 due to the regime's lack of cooperation. Subsequently, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon named former UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari as his Special Advisor for Burma. Special Advisor Gambari made eight trips to Burma. At the end of 2009, Special Advisor Gambari was named the Secretary General‚Äôs Special Envoy to Sudan. As of January 2010, his replacement had not yet been named.
In January 2007, the United States and the U.K. sponsored a UN Security Council resolution on Burma that was ultimately vetoed by both Russia and China. The UN Security Council adopted by consensus a Presidential Statement on October 11, 2007, deploring the September 2007 crackdown and calling for the release of all political prisoners and the creation of the necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue. The UN Security Council issued a press statement on the crackdown on November 14, 2007. In November 2007, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro was allowed to visit the country for the first time since 2003. His report detailing the Burmese authorities' September crackdown on demonstrations by monks and democracy activists and the severe reprisals was released on December 11, 2007. Tomas Ojea Quintana replaced Pinheiro on May 1, 2008. On May 2, 2008, the Security Council issued a second Presidential Statement calling for the Burmese regime to conduct the referendum on its draft constitution in a free and fair manner. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon visited Burma in May 2008 and called on the regime to grant greater access for international aid to cyclone-affected areas of the country. On May 22, 2009 the Security Council released a press statement expressing concern over the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi and reiterating its call for dialogue. On August 13, 2009, the Security Council released another press statement expressing its serious concern over her conviction and sentencing and the political impact of those events. In July 2009 the UN Secretary General again visited Burma but was not permitted to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi. In a speech to the diplomatic community, he noted the regime‚Äôs ‚Äúmissed opportunity.‚ÄĚ
Most Western foreign aid diminished in the wake of the regime's suppression of the democracy movement in 1988. The UN Development Programme's 2009 Human Development Report indicates that official development assistance totaled $242.8 million in 2007, roughly $4 per capita (compared with $68 per person in Laos and $46 per person in Cambodia). Burma receives grants of technical assistance (mostly from Asia), limited humanitarian aid and debt relief from Japan and China, and concessional loans from China and India. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, the international community has provided more than $343 million to Burma in response to the UN appeal for humanitarian relief. The United States has provided $83 million to date in assistance for Cyclone Nargis recovery efforts.
Burma became a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in 1952, the International Financial Corporation (IFC) in 1956, the International Development Association (IDA) in 1962, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 1973. Since July 1987, the World Bank has not made any loans to Burma. Since 1998 Burma has been in non-accrual status with the Bank. The IMF performs its mandated annual Article IV consultations, but there are no IMF assistance programs. Burma is involved in the ADB‚Äôs Program of Economic Cooperation in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. As such, it participates in regional meetings and workshops supported by the ADB, although it has not received loans or grants since 1986. Bilateral technical assistance ended in 1988. Burma has not serviced its ADB loans since January 1998. Burma's total foreign debt now stands at over $7 billion. The debt total to Japan alone is reportedly $4.7 billion.
The political relationship between the United States and Burma worsened after the 1988 military coup and violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations. Subsequent regime repression, including the brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors in September 2007, further strained the relationship.
The United States has imposed broad sanctions against Burma under several different authorities. In 2003, President George W. Bush imposed new sanctions against Burma pursuant to the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act (BFDA) and Executive Order 13310, including a ban on imports of products of Burma, a ban on the export of financial services to Burma, and an asset freeze against the SPDC and three designated Burmese foreign trade financial institutions. Congress has renewed the BFDA annually, most recently in July 2009. On October 18, 2007, President Bush issued a new Executive Order (E.O. 13348) that expanded sanctions to include asset freezes against designated individuals responsible for human rights abuses and public corruption, as well as designated individuals and entities which provide material or financial support to designated individuals or the Burmese military government. On April 30, 2008 President Bush issued Executive Order 13464, which further expanded sanctions to permit asset freezes against designated Burmese entities. Currently, approximately 110 individuals and entities have been designated for asset freezes under these authorities. In July 2008, Congress enacted the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta‚Äôs Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008. The JADE Act expands the categories of individuals and entities subject to asset freezes and travel restrictions, and also bans the importation into the United States of Burmese rubies and jadeite, regardless of whether the rubies or jade were substantially transformed (cut, polished, or set into jewelry) in a third country.
In addition, since May 1997, the U.S. Government has prohibited new investment in Burma by U.S. individuals or entities. A number of U.S. companies exited the Burma market even prior to the imposition of sanctions due to a worsening business climate and mounting criticism from human rights groups, consumers, and shareholders. The United States has also imposed countermeasures on Burma due to its inadequate measures to eliminate money laundering. In addition, visa restrictions against Burma have been in place under Presidential Proclamation 6925 pursuant to Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the BFDA, the JADE Act, and other authorities for many years.
Due to its particularly severe violations of religious freedom, the United States has designated Burma a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act. Burma is designated a Tier 3 Country in the Trafficking in Persons Report for its use of forced labor. Burma has been found to have ‚Äúfailed demonstrably‚ÄĚ in the 2009 Majors‚Äô List. These designations subject Burma to additional sanctions.
In February 2009 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the administration would begin a comprehensive review of U.S. Burma policy. In September 2009, the administration announced the conclusion to that policy review. The review reaffirmed the United States‚Äô strategic goals in Burma: that the United States supports a unified, peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Burma that respects the human rights of its citizens. The review also concluded that, in addition to the tools the United States has long applied to achieve its goals in Burma of sanctions and support for the democratic opposition, it would augment those tools with the addition of expanded humanitarian assistance and direct, senior-level dialogue with Burmese authorities.
The first senior-level meeting between the United States and Burma under the administration‚Äôs new policy took place in September 2009. In November 2009, East Asian and Pacific Affairs Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell traveled to Burma for meetings with government officials, leaders of the democratic opposition including Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic minority leaders.
In August 2009 U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) became the first member of Congress to visit Burma in 10 years.
The United States downgraded its level of representation in Burma from Ambassador to Charg√© d'Affaires after the government's crackdown on the democratic opposition in 1988 and its failure to honor the results of the 1990 parliamentary election.ÔŅĹ
2100 by 2010
Burma‚Äôs military rulers have been trying to stifle the activities of a whole range of people: human rights defenders, independent journalists, members of the Buddhist clergy, humanitarian activists, and members of the political opposition ahead of scheduled elections in Burma in 2010. Many activists are held in isolated prisons, with terrible health and sanitation conditions, far from family and subject to routine ill-treatment.
Human Rights Watch is launching the campaign 2100 by 2010, the purpose of which is to secure the release of all 2,100 political prisoners in Burma.
While the UN and foreign governments such as the US, Australia, Canada, EU Member states, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and India, have repeatedly called on Burma‚Äôs rulers to free all political prisoners, so far that has been met with resistance, and only a handful of political prisoners have been released. In the past five years, 38,000 prisoners have been released, but only 461 of them, or 1.2 percent, were political activists. Release of political prisoners should be a core component of all bilateral dialogues, trade, and energy deals for any states dealing with the Burmese government.
Please urge Asian leaders to use their influence to secure the release of political prisoners in Burma.
The 35-page report showcases dozens of prominent political activists, Buddhist monks, labor activists, journalists, and artists arrested since peaceful political protests in 2007 and sentenced to draconian prison terms after unfair trials. The report was released on September 16, 2009 at a Capitol Hill news conference
Buddhism and Activism in Burma
This 99-page report written by longtime Burma watcher Bertil Lintner, describes the repression Burma's monks experienced after they led demonstrations against the government in September 2007. The report tells the stories of individual monks who were arrested, beaten and detained. Two years after Buddhist monks marched down the street of the detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, hundreds of monks are in prison and thousands remain fearful of military repression. Many have left their monasteries and returned to their villages or sought refuge abroad, while those who remained in their monasteries live under constant surveillance.
Burma‚Äôs Rohingya Take to the Seas
This 12-page report examines the causes of the exodus of Rohingya people from Burma and Bangladesh, and their treatment once in flight to Southeast Asian countries. Persecution and human rights violations against the Rohingya inside Burma, especially in Arakan state, have persisted for over 20 years, with insufficient international attention. Such abuses include extrajudicial killings, forced labor, religious persecution, and restrictions on movement, all exacerbated by a draconian citizenship law that leaves the Rohingya stateless.
Stanley Weiss ("A first step toward democracy?" Views, Feb. 23) demonstrates the triumph of cynicism over principle in discussing Burma's planned elections.
If Burma's ruling generals stage elections in 2010 "without violence or repression," it will be a step forward, Mr. Weiss argues. He has an odd definition of repression, which apparently does not include an election "stage-managed by the military."
If Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy "chooses not to participate," it will surely be because the N.L.D., which won Burma's last elections in 1990 but has suffered repression since, determines the election will be rigged. To pretend that violence will not be part of the process is disingenuous, since its threat by an army with a very bloody record is something all Burmese have to consider before joining an opposition party or taking to the streets.
Here's the reality: Peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks in 2007 were crushed with extreme violence. The 2008 constitutional referendum was rigged. More than 2,100 political prisoners languish in horrific prisons. The junta has refused to engage in serious dialogue with the opposition. And without concerted international pressure, particularly from China, there will be no meaningful change.
Mr. Weiss argues that bogus elections and an end to sanctions will lead to a new Burma. But why a regime wallowing in cash from selling the country's natural resources - while most Burmese live in poverty - would relax its grip if sanctions ended is a mystery. Instead, the United States, the European Union, Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should finally implement serious targeted financial sanctions. And the United Nations should tell the generals that if they don't reform quickly it will authorize an inquiry into decades of massive human rights abuses by the military.
International justice should be on the international agenda. That would get the generals' attention.