Burma has long been a global pariah for its suppression of human rights. Since taking control of the country in 1962, the Burmese military government has waged counter-insurgency campaigns against ethnic minorities in Kachin, Shan, Karen, Kayah, and Mon States leading to widespread civilian deaths over the past year. In targeting these populations, the government has committed thousands of documented cases of summary executions, torture, rape, forced labor, forced relocation and burning down churches, schools and entire villages.

The government’s goal appears to be to hold power at all costs. One feature of this campaign to suppress ethnic rebel groups is primarily active in eastern Burma, along the Thai-Burma border, where the government uses forced labor to build bases from which they attack and burn surrounding villages as well as mining the razed areas to discourage returns. Areas outside of government's control are designated as 'black zones,' where soldiers are able to shoot any person on sight. Government troops are also known to use rape against ethnic minority women as part of a campaign of "Burmanization" through forced pregnancy.
The government’s attempts to suppress all dissent within its territory have also resulted in attacks in Shan State along the Chinese border and among the Rohingya region bordering Bangladesh. Since 1988, the ruling Burmese junta has also taken a hard line against pro-democracy protestors, imprisoning more than 2,200 activists, including Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

In recent months, however, the government has expressed new commitments to political, social and economic reform. The release of hundreds of political prisoners, the participation of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and that of its iconic pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the April 2012 elections, and the fact that the Burmese regime has held preliminary ceasefire talks with ethnic armed groups are signs that have been welcomed by Western nations and have led to partial lifting of sanctions and moves toward diplomatic normalization. The European Union and a number of countries, including the U.S. and Australia, quickly agreed to relax sanctions before the establishment of clear benchmarks outlining how the government will address ethnic conflict.

It is premature to say that there is an opening of the political space in Burma. Despite Suu Kyi’s historic win, it remains to be seen how much political influence the NLD will have in a parliament dominated by military cronies and how various ethnic groups will be included.

The Burmese government has held cease-fire talks with various ethnic armed groups as part of a bold peace initiative to end decades of civil war. The continued systematic discrimination and violence perpetrated against ethnic minorities raises questions about the extent to which President Thein Sein is truly in control of the military and whether or not he has the ability to enforce the peace agreements.

This information is provided by United to End Genocide

Reports on Eastern Burma