Burma was ruled as a British colony from the 1820’s until 1948. While the Bamar heartland was directly administered (first as a part of India and then, from 1937, as British Burma), ethnic regions outside the heartland were allowed some measure of self-rule along the lines of the Princely States of India. This led to split loyalties among the various ethnic groups to outside powers (either to the British or Japanese) as well between the indigenous people in Burma. The dominant ethnic group in Burma are the Burmans, who make up approximately sixty-eight percent of the population. During World War Two, many ethnically Burman soldiers volunteered to fight alongside the Japanese in hopes of overthrowing the occupying British forces. Meanwhile, the majority of ethnic minority groups supported the Allied forces in combating the Japanese and Burman forces. This conflict would come to be very significant in the aftermath of World War Two when Burma was granted its independence from Great Britain in 1948. By granting independence to Burma, the British government gave the new ruler, Aung San, control over areas that were not traditionally controlled by the same ethnic group as the Burman colony. This conglomeration of formerly British-owned land created a state that is home to over twenty distinct minority ethnic groups.
From the time of the signing of the Burmese Constitution in 1948, ethnic minorities have been denied Constitutional rights, access to lands that were traditionally controlled by their peoples and participation in the government. The various minority ethnic groups have been consistently oppressed by the dominant Burman majority, but have also suffered at the hands of warlords and regional ethnic alliances. Religion also plays a role in the ethnic conflicts that have taken place. Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists all live in Burma. These religious differences have led to several incidences that have impacted hundreds of thousands of citizens in Burma. In 1991, approximately 250,000 Muslim Rohingyas (an ethnic group from southwestern Burma) were forced from their homes by Burman forces. They crossed the border into Bangladesh, where they were given refugee status and aid from the international community that was not available to them inside Burma.
The current government of Burma is led by Prime Minister (and General) Thein Sein. This current regime has been responsible for the displacement of several hundred thousand citizens, both inside and outside of Burma. The Karen, Karenni, and Mon ethnic groups have been forced to seek asylum in neighboring Thailand, where they are also abused by an unfriendly and unsympathetic government. These groups are perhaps more fortunate than the Wa and Shan ethnic groups who have become Internally Displaced Peoples in their own state since being removed from lands by the military junta in 2000. There are reportedly 600,000 of these Internally Displaced Peoples living in Burma today. Many are trying to escape forced labor in the military or for one of the many state-sponsored drug cartels. This displacement of peoples has led to both human rights violations as well as the exploitation of minority ethnic groups at the hands of the dominant Burman group. The primary actors in these ethnic struggles include but are not limited to the Government of Burma (junta), the Karen National Union and the Mong Tai Army.
In 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma, a transitional government. But in July 1947, political rivals assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members. On 4 January 1948, the nation became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and U Nu as its first Prime Minister. Unlike most other former British colonies, it did not become a member of the Commonwealth. A bicameral parliament was formed, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities. The geographical area Burma encompasses today can be traced to the Panglong Agreement, which combined Burma proper, which consisted of Lower Burma and Upper Burma, and the Frontier Areas, which had been administered separately by the British.
US and European government sanctions against the military government, combined with consumer boycotts and shareholder pressure organized by Free Burma activists, have succeeded in forcing most western corporations to withdraw from Burma. However, some western oil companies remain due to loopholes in the sanctions. For example, the French oil company Total S.A. and the American oil company Chevron continue to operate the Yadana natural gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand. Total (formerly TotalFinaElf) is the subject of a lawsuit in French and Belgian courts for alleged complicity in human rights abuses along the gas pipeline. Before it was acquired by Chevron, Unocal settled a similar lawsuit for a reported multi-million dollar amount. Asian businesses, such as Daewoo, continue to invest in Burma, particularly in natural resource extraction.
The United States and European clothing and shoe industry became the target of Free Burma activists for buying from factories in Burma that were wholly or partly owned by the government or the military. Many stopped sourcing from Burma after protests, starting with Levi Strauss in 1992. From 1992 to 2003, Free Burma activists successfully forced dozens of clothing and shoe companies to stop sourcing from Burma. These companies included Eddie Bauer, Liz Claiborne, Macy's, J. Crew, JoS. A. Banks, Children's Place, Burlington Coat Factory, Wal-Mart, and Target. The U.S. government banned all imports from Burma as part of the "Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act" of 2003. Sanctions have been criticized for their adverse effects on the civilian population. However, Burmese democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly credited sanctions for putting pressure on the ruling military regime.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented egregious human rights abuses by the military government. There is no independent judiciary in Burma and the military government suppresses political activity. The government restricts Internet access, including blocking of Google, Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail. The government uses software-based filtering from US company Fortinet to limit the materials citizens can access on-line, including free email services, free web hosting and most political opposition and pro-democracy pages.
In 2001, the government permitted NLD office branches to re-open throughout Burma. However, they were shut down or heavily restricted beginning 2004, as part of a government campaign to prohibit such activities. In 2006, many members resigned from NLD, citing harassment and pressure from the Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) and the Union Solidarity and Development Association.
The military government placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest again on May 31, 2003, following an attack on her convoy in northern Burma by a mob reported to be in league with the military. The regime extended her house arrest for yet another year in late November 2005. Despite a direct appeal by Kofi Annan to Than Shwe and pressure from ASEAN, the Burmese government extended Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest another year on 27 May 2006.
The junta faces increasing international isolation. Burma's situation was referred to at the UN (United Nations) Security Council for the first time in December 2005 for an informal consultation. ASEAN has also stated its frustration with Burma's government. However, China and Russia continue to support the junta. Both countries vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Burma in January 2007.
According to Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP), on April 18, 2007, several of its members (Myint Aye, Maung Maung Lay, Tin Maung Oo and Yin Kyi) were met by approximately a hundred people led by a local USDA Secretary U Nyunt Oo and beaten up. Due to the attack, Myint Hlaing and Maung Maung Lay were badly injured and are now hospitalized. The HRDP believes that this attack was condoned by the authorities and vows to take legal action. Human Rights Defenders and Promoters was formed in 2002 to raise awareness among the people of Burma about their human rights.
Members of Government of Burma
|Prime Minister||THEIN SEIN, Gen.|
|Min. of Agriculture & Irrigation||HTAY OO, Maj. Gen.|
|Min. of Commerce||TIN NAING THEIN, Brig. Gen.|
|Min. of Communications, Post, & Telegraph||THEIN ZAW, Brig. Gen.|
|Min. of Construction||SAW TUN, Maj. Gen.|
|Min. of Cooperatives||TIN HTUT, Maj. Gen.|
|Min. of Culture||KHIN AUNG MYINT, Maj. Gen.|
|Min. of Defense||THAN SHWE, Sr. Gen.|
|Min. of Education||CHAN NYEIN, Dr.|
|Min. of Electric Power 1||ZAW MIN, Col.|
|Min. of Electric Power 2||KHIN MYAUNG MYINT, Maj. Gen.|
|Min. of Energy||LUN THI, Brig. Gen.|
|Min. of Finance & Revenue||HLA TUN, Maj. Gen.|
|Min. of Foreign Affairs||NYAN WIN, Maj. Gen.|
|Min. of Forestry||THEIN AUNG, Brig. Gen.|
|Min. of Health||KYAW MYINT, Dr.|
|Min. of Home Affairs||MAUNG OO, Maj. Gen.|
|Min. of Hotels & Tourism||SOE NAING, Maj. Gen.|
|Min. of Immigration & Population||SAW LWIN, Maj. Gen.|
|Min. of Industry 1||AUNG THAUNG|
|Min. of Industry 2||SOE THEIN, Vice Adm.|
|Min. of Information||KYAW HSAN, Brig. Gen.|
|Min. of Labor||AUNG KYI|
|Min. of Livestock Breeding & Fisheries||MAUNG MAUNG THEIN, Brig. Gen.|
|Min. of Mines||OHN MYINT, Brig. Gen.|
|Min. of National Planning & Economic Development||SOE THA|
|Min. of Progress of Border Areas, National Races, & Development Affairs||THEIN NYUNT, Col.|
|Min. of Rail Transport||AUNG MIN, Maj. Gen.|
|Min. of Religious Affairs||THURA MYINT MAUNG, Brig. Gen.|
|Min. of Science & Industry||THAUNG|
|Min. of Social Welfare, Relief, & Resettlement||MAUNG MAUNG SWE, Maj. Gen.|
|Min. of Sports||THURA AYE MYINT, Brig. Gen.|
|Min. for Transport||THEIN SWE, Maj. Gen.|
|National feague for Democracy (NfD)||7,943,622||392||58.7||79.7||Shan Nationalities feague for Democracy (SNfD)||222,821||23||1.7||4.7||Minor parties and independents||1,606,858||12||12.1||2.4||Arakan feague for Democracy (AfD)||160,783||11||1.2||2.2||National Unity Party (NUP)||2,805,559||10||2.1||2.0||Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF)||138,572||5||1.0||1.0||National Democratic Party for Human Rights||128,129||4||1.0||0.8||Chin National feague for Democracy||51,187||3||0.4||0.1||Kachin State National Congress for Democracy||13,994||3||0.1||0.1||Party for National Democracy||72,672||3||0.5||0.1||Union Pa-O National Organisation||35,389||3||0.3||0.1||Democratic Organisation for Kayah National Unity||16,553||2||0.1||-||Kayah State Nationalities League for Democracy||11,664||2||0.1||-||Naga Hills Regional Progressive Party||10,612||2||0.1||-||Ta-ang (Palaung) National League for Democracy||16,553||2||0.1||-||Zomi National Congress (ZNC)||18,638||2||0.1||-|
|Total valid votes (87.7% of total cast)||13,253,606||492||100.0|
|Valid votes (72.6% turnout)||15,112,524|
Chief Justice of Supreme Court: AUNG TOE
Attorney General: AYE MAUNG