photo by prashant panjiar
photo by prashant panjiar

The issues

Updated november 14th, 2012

Burma > The current situation


The head of Burma's leading opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Ky was first placed under house arrest 19 years ago. Following nationwide elections in 1990 in which the NLD won 82 percent of the vote, the ruling Burmese junta extended Suu Kyi's imprisonment and refused to recognize the election results. For 13 of the past 19 years, she has been under house arrest in the Burmese capital of Rangoon. The UN has declared that her incarceration not only "violates international law but also national domestic laws of Myanmar [Burma]."

Originally scheduled to be released at the end of May 2009, a bizarre turn of events has thrown Suu Kyi's future into doubt. Earlier this month, an American unlawfully swam to her compound, staying there for two nights against Suu Kyi's wishes. Upon the discovery of this visit, Burmese authorities arrested the intruder, and on May 14, took Suu Kyi to Insein prison to face criminal charges aimed at further extending her incarceration. They have declared that she will stand trial on May 18.


In the wake of Cyclone Nargis in May of 2008, ruling Burmese Senior General Than Shwe refused outside aid for three weeks, and proceeded instead with a planned constitutional referendum that most in the international community decried as an effort to consolidate military power. Amidst charges of massive voter fraud and coercion, Shwe's regime announced that 92.4 percent of the Burmese citizenry had approved a new constitution, drafted without participation from opposition parties and from behind closed doors. The regime further nullified the results of the elections of 1990, in which Suu Kyi and the NLD won 82 percent of the vote, and announced that country-wide elections will be held in 2010. They declared Suu Kyi ineligible for public office in these upcoming elections.

In advance of 2010, pro-democracy and human rights groups have voiced substantial doubt about the regime's willingness to allow for a free and fair electoral process. In April of 2009, the NLD asked for the release of Suu Kyi and the estimated 2,100 political prisoners still incarcerated in Burmese jails. They further requested an international monitoring of the 2010 voting process, and amendments to the newly-adopted constitution—which currently guarantees 25 percent of all seats in Parliament for the military. The ruling junta has yet to meet any of these demands.


In 2008, in advance of the anniversary of the September 2007 "Saffron Revolution"—in which tens of thousands of Burmese monks and civilians marched in peaceful protest against the policies of the Burmese regime—the government began country-wide crackdowns and arrests on monks and suspected pro-democracy activists. Exile online publications monitoring conditions inside the country fell victim to coordinated cyber attacks, which many presumed to be funded by the Burmese regime.

The current regime continues to launch attacks on Burma's ethnic tribes: in the last 20 years, the military has destroyed an estimated 3,200 tribal villages and continues to torture, rape, and execute Burmese civilians. An estimated 600,000 Burmese are displaced within the country's borders, and over a million have fled to other countries. In the last year, a new wave of Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship and land ownership rights in Burma, have been leaving the country by sea. The Thai government, which previously accepted these refugees, began a campaign to push boats back to sea in late 2008, stranding an estimated 1,200 refugees before reversing policy in the wake of international outcry.

Outside the region, the European Union (EU) has renewed sanctions against Burma for one year. EU officials have indicated a willingness to reassess the terms of these sanctions, provided the 2010 elections show evidence of a credible, transparent, and inclusive process based on international standards. While the US government has made clear that it will not lift sanctions, it is presently engaged in a broad policy review on Burma in an effort to gain more effective results inside the country.

Click here for background & a timeline on Burma.

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