Burma is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China, Thailand, India, Laos and Bangladesh . One-third of Burma's total perimeter of 1,930 kilometres (1,200 mi) forms an uninterrupted coastline along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. At 676,578 km2 (261,227 sq mi), it is the 40th largest country, the second largest in Southeast Asia and the 24th most populous with over 60 million people. Sony PCG-71313M battery Burma is a country resource-rich in precious stones; in 2011, its GDP stood at US$82.7 billion, and it was estimated to grow at an annual rate of 5.5%.
Multiple governments, including the EU, United States and Canada have imposed economic sanctions on Burma. The United Nations and several other organizations have reported consistent and systematic human rights violations in the country, including genocide, the use of child soldiers, systematic rape, child labourSony PCG-71212M battery, slavery, human trafficking and a lack of freedom of speech. Nevertheless since the partial relinquishing of the military's control over the governent and the release of the famous human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi in 2011, the government has rapidly been improving relations with major powers like the United States, Japan and the European UnionSony PCG-71311M battery.
The country's official full name is the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. However some countries have not recognized the name change and use the long form Union of Burma instead.
In English the country is popularly known by its short names, either Burma or Myanmar. Both of its short names are derived from the name of the majority Burmese Bamar ethnic group. Myanmar is considered to be the literary form of the name of the ethnic groupSony PCG-71213M battery, while Burma is derived from Bamar, the colloquial form of the name of the group. Depending on the register used the pronunciation would be Bama (pronounced: [bəmà]), or Myamah (pronounced: [mjəmà]). The name Burma has been in use in English since the time of British colonial rule.
In 1989 the military government officially changed the English translations of many colonial-era names; among these changes was the alteration of the name of the country to "Myanmar". The renaming remains a contested issue. Sony PCG-61211M battery Many political and ethnic opposition groups, and countries continue to use "Burma" because they do not recognise the legitimacy of the ruling military government or its authority to rename the country.
Burma continues to be used in English by the governments of many countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. The United Nations uses Myanmar, as do the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Russia,Sony VAIO VPCF24Q1E battery Germany, Norway, China, India, Australia and Japan. There are variations of "Myanmar" when translated to local languages. In Spain "Myanmar" is commonly known as "Birmania". The Government of Brazil uses "Mianmar", for example. On November 19, 2012 during the first visit by a sitting President of the United States, Barack Obama referred to the nation as both Myanmar and Burma. Sony VAIO VPCF13M1E/H battery
Burma is home to some of the early civilizations of Southeast Asia including the Pyu and the Mon. In the 9th century, the Burmans of the Kingdom of Nanzhao entered the upper Irrawaddy valley and, following the establishment of the Pagan Empire in the 1050s, the Burmese language and culture slowly became dominant in the country. During this period, Theravada Buddhism gradually became the predominant religion of the countrySony VAIO VPCF12Z1E/BI battery. The Pagan Empire fell due to the Mongol invasions (1277–1301), and several warring states emerged. In the second half of the 16th century, the country was reunified by the Taungoo Dynasty which for a brief period was the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia. The early 19th century Konbaung Dynasty ruled over an area that included modern Burma as well as Manipur and AssamSony VAIO VPCF12S1E/B battery. Since independence in 1948, the country has been in one of the longest running civil wars among the country's myriad ethnic groups that remains unresolved. From 1962 to 2011, the country was under military rule. The military junta was officially dissolved in 2011 following a general election in 2010 and a nominally civilian government installed, though the military retains enormous influenceSony VAIO VPCF13Z8E/BI battery.
Main articles: Prehistory of Burma, Pyu city-states, and Mon city-states
Neolithic paintings found inside Padah-Lin Caves, radiocarbon dated up to 13,000 years ago
Archaeological evidence shows that Homo erectus lived in the region now known as Burma as early as 750,000 years ago and Homo sapiens about 11,000 BC, in a Stone Age culture called the Anyathian, when plants and animals were first domesticated and polished stone tools appeared in Burma. Sony VAIO VPCF13Z8E batteryThe Bronze Age arrived circa 1500 BC when people in the region were turning copper into bronze, growing rice and domesticating poultry and pigs; they were among the first people in the world to do so. The Iron Age arrived around 500 BC when iron-working settlements had emerged in an area south of present-day Mandalay. Evidence also shows rice-growing settlements of large villages and small towns that traded with their surroundings as far as China between 500 BC and 200 ADSony VAIO VPCF13M1E/B battery.
Around the 2nd century BC the first-known city-states emerged in central Burma. The city-states were founded as part of the southward migration by the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Pyu, the earliest inhabitants of Burma of whom records are extant, from present-day Yunnan. The Pyu culture was heavily influenced by trade with India, importing Buddhism as well as other culturalSony VAIO VPCF1318E/H battery, architectural and political concepts, which would have an enduring influence on later Burmese culture and political organization. By the 9th century AD several city-states had sprouted across the land: the Pyu states in the central dry zone, Mon states along the southern coastline and Arakanese states along the western littoral. The balance was upset when the Pyu states came under repeated attacks from the Kingdom of Nanzhao between the 750s and the 830sSony VAIO VPCF13J0E/H battery. In the mid-to-late 9th century the Mranma (Burmans/Bamar) of Nanzhao founded a small settlement at Pagan (Bagan). It was one of several competing city-states until the late 10th century when it grew in authority and grandeur.
Main articles: Pagan Kingdom, Toungoo Dynasty, and Konbaung Dynasty
See also: Ava Kingdom, Hanthawaddy Kingdom, Mrauk U Kingdom, and Shan states
Pagodas and temples in present-day Pagan (Bagan), the capital of the Pagan Kingdom
Pagan gradually grew to absorb its surrounding states until the 1050s–1060s when Anawrahta founded the Pagan EmpireSony VAIO VPCF13E8E battery, the first ever unification of the Irrawaddy valley and its periphery. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Pagan Empire and the Khmer Empire were two main powers in mainland Southeast Asia. The Burmese language and culture gradually became dominant in the upper Irrawaddy valley, eclipsing the Pyu, Mon and Pali norms by the late 12th century. Theravada Buddhism slowly began to spread to the village level although TantricSony VAIO VPCF13E4E battery, Mahayana, Brahmanic, and animist practices remained heavily entrenched. Pagan's rulers and wealthy built over 10,000 Buddhist temples in the Pagan capital zone alone. Repeated Mongol invasions (1277–1301) toppled the four-century-old kingdom in 1287.
Pagan's collapse was followed by 250 years of political fragmentation that lasted well into the 16th century. Like the Burmans four centuries earlier, Shan migrants who arrived with the Mongol invasions stayed behindSony VAIO VPCF12M1E/H battery. Several competing Shan states came to dominate the entire northwestern to eastern arc surrounding the Irrawaddy valley. The valley too was beset with petty states until the late 14th century when two sizable powers, Ava Kingdom and Hanthawaddy Kingdom, emerged. In the west, a politically fragmented Arakan was under competing influences of its stronger neighbors until the Kingdom of Mrauk U unified the Arakan coastline for the first time in 1437Sony VAIO VPCF12F4E/H battery.
Early on, Ava fought wars of unification (1385–1424) but could never quite reassemble the lost empire. Having held off Ava, Hanthawaddy entered its golden age, and Arakan went on to become a power in its own right for the next 350 years. In contrast, constant warfare left Ava greatly weakened, and it slowly disintegrated from 1481 onward. In 1527, the Confederation of Shan States conquered Ava itself, and ruled Upper Burma until 1555Sony VAIO VPCF12E1E/H battery.
Like the Pagan Empire, Ava, Hanthawaddy and the Shan states were all multi-ethnic polities. Despite the wars, cultural synchronization continued. This period is considered a golden age for Burmese culture. Burmese literature "grew more confident, popular, and stylistically diverse", and the second generation of Burmese law codes as well as the earliest pan-Burma chronicles emerged. Sony VAIO VPCF11Z1E/BI battery Hanthawaddy monarchs introduced religious reforms that later spread to the rest of the country. Many splendid temples of Mrauk U were built during this period.
Bayinnaung's Empire in 1580
Political unification returned in the mid-16th century, due to the efforts of one tiny Toungoo (Taungoo), a former vassal state of Ava. Toungoo's young, ambitious king Tabinshwehti defeated the more powerful Hanthawaddy in 1541. His successor Bayinnaung went on to conquer a vast swath of mainland Southeast Asia including the Shan statesSony VAIO VPCF24M1E battery, Lan Na, Manipur, the Chinese Shan states, Siam, Lan Xang and southern Arakan. However, the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia unravelled soon after Bayinnaung's death in 1581, completely collapsing by 1599. Siam seized Tenasserim and Lan Na, and Portuguese mercenaries established Portuguese rule at Syriam (Thanlyin) Sony VAIO VPCF23S1E battery.
The dynasty regrouped and defeated the Portuguese in 1613 and Siam in 1614. It restored a smaller, more manageable kingdom, encompassing Lower Burma, Upper Burma, Shan states, Lan Na and upper Tenasserim. The Restored Toungoo kings created a legal and political framework whose basic features would continue well into the 19th century. The crown completely replaced the hereditary chieftainships with appointed governorships in the entire Irrawaddy valleySony VAIO VPCF231S1E battery, and greatly reduced the hereditary rights of Shan chiefs. Its trade and secular administrative reforms built a prosperous economy for more than 80 years. From the 1720s onward, the kingdom was beset with repeated Manipuri raids into Upper Burma, and a nagging rebellion in Lan Na. In 1740, the Mon of Lower Burma founded the Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom. Hanthawaddy forces sacked Ava in 1752, ending the 266-year-old Toungoo DynastySony VAIO VPCF23Q1E battery.
A British 1825 lithograph of Shwedagon Pagoda shows British occupation during the First Anglo-Burmese War.
After the fall of Ava, one resistance group, Alaungpaya's Konbaung Dynasty defeated Restored Hanthawaddy, and by 1759, had reunited all of Burma (and Manipur), and driven out the French and the British who had provided arms to Hanthawaddy. By 1770, Alaungpaya's heirs had subdued much of Laos (1765), defeated Siam (1767) Sony VAIO VPCF23M1E battery, and defeated four invasions by China (1765–1769). With Burma preoccupied by the Chinese threat, Siam recovered its territories by 1770, and went on to capture Lan Na by 1776. Burma and Siam went to war until 1855, but all resulted in a stalemate, exchanging Tenasserim (to Burma) and Lan Na (to Siam). Faced with a powerful China and a resurgent Siam in the east, King Bodawpaya turned west, acquiring Arakan (1785), Manipur (1814) and Assam (1817) Sony VAIO VPCF22S8E battery. It was the second largest empire in Burmese history but also one with a long ill-defined border with British India.
The breadth of this empire was short lived. Burma lost Arakan, Manipur, Assam and Tenasserim to the British in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826). In 1852, the British easily seized Lower Burma in the Second Anglo-Burmese War. King Mindon tried to modernize the kingdom, and in 1875 narrowly avoided annexation by ceding the Karenni StatesSony VAIO VPCF22S1E battery. The British, alarmed by the consolidation of French Indo-China, annexed the remainder of the country in the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885.
Konbaung kings extended Restored Toungoo's administrative reforms, and achieved unprecedented levels of internal control and external expansion. For the first time in history, the Burmese language and culture came to predominate the entire Irrawaddy valley. The evolution and growth of Burmese literature and theater continuedSony VAIO VPCF22M1E battery, aided by an extremely high adult male literacy rate for the era (half of all males and 5% of females). Nonetheless, the extent and pace of reforms were uneven and ultimately proved insufficient to stem the advance of British colonialism.
Main articles: British rule in Burma and Burma Campaign
The landing of British forces in Mandalay after the last of the Anglo-Burmese Wars, which resulted in the abdication of the last Burmese monarch, King Thibaw Min.
British troops firing a mortar on the Mawchi road, July 1944.
The country was colonized by Britain following three Anglo-Burmese Wars (1824–1885). British rule brought social, economic, cultural and administrative changesSony VAIO VPCF22L1E battery.
With the fall of Mandalay, all of Burma came under British rule, being annexed on 1 January 1886. Throughout the colonial era, many Indians arrived as soldiers, civil servants, construction workers and traders and, along with the Anglo-Burmese community, dominated commercial and civil life in Burma. Rangoon became the capital of British Burma and an important port between Calcutta and SingaporeSony VAIO VPCF22J1E battery.
Burmese resentment was strong and was vented in violent riots that paralysed Yangon (Rangoon) on occasion all the way until the 1930s. Some of the discontent was caused by a disrespect for Burmese culture and traditions such as the British refusal to remove shoes when they entered pagodas. Buddhist monks became the vanguards of the independence movement. U Wisara, an activist monk, died in prison after a 166-day hunger strike to protest a rule that forbade him from wearing his Buddhist robes while imprisoned. Sony VAIO VPCF11S1E/B battery
On 1 April 1937, Burma became a separately administered colony of Great Britain and Ba Maw the first Prime Minister and Premier of Burma. Ba Maw was an outspoken advocate for Burmese self-rule and he opposed the participation of Great Britain, and by extension Burma, in World War II. He resigned from the Legislative Assembly and was arrested for sedition. In 1940, before Japan formally entered the Second World War, Aung San formed the Burma Independence Army in JapanSony VAIO VPCF11M1E/H battery.
A major battleground, Burma was devastated during World War II. By March 1942, within months after they entered the war, Japanese troops had advanced on Rangoon and the British administration had collapsed. A Burmese Executive Administration headed by Ba Maw was established by the Japanese in August 1942. Wingate's British Chindits were formed into long-range penetration groups trained to operate deep behind Japanese lines. Sony VAIO VPCF11D4E battery A similar American unit, Merrill's Marauders, followed the Chindits into the Burmese jungle in 1943. Beginning in late 1944, allied troops launched a series of offensives that led to the end of Japanese rule in July 1945. However, the battles were intense with much of Burma laid waste by the fighting. Overall, the Japanese lost some 150,000 men in Burma. Only 1,700 prisoners were taken.
Although many Burmese fought initially for the Japanese, some Burmese, mostly from the ethnic minorities, also served in the British Burma Army. Sony VAIO VPCF11C5E battery The Burma National Army and the Arakan National Army fought with the Japanese from 1942 to 1944, but switched allegiance to the Allied side in 1945.
Following World War II, Aung San negotiated the Panglong Agreement with ethnic leaders that guaranteed the independence of Burma as a unified state. 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. Sony VAIO VPCF11C4E/B battery
British governor Hubert Elvin Rance and Sao Shwe Thaik at the flag raising ceremony on 4 January 1948 (Independence Day of Burma)
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 and overseas territories, it did not become a member of the CommonwealthSony VAIO PCG-31114M battery. A bicameral parliament was formed, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities, and multi-party elections were held in 1951–1952, 1956 and 1960.
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. Sony VAIO PCG-31113M battery
In 1961, U Thant, then the Union of Burma's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Secretary to the Prime Minister, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations, a position he held for ten years. Among the Burmese to work at the UN when he was Secretary-General was a young Aung San Suu Kyi, who went on to become winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace PrizeSony VAIO PCG-31112M battery.
On 2 March 1962, the military led by General Ne Win took control of Burma through a coup d'état and the government has been under direct or indirect control by the military since then. Between 1962 and 1974, Burma was ruled by a revolutionary council headed by the general, and almost all aspects of society (business, media, production) were nationalized or brought under government control under the Burmese Way to SocialismSony VAIO PCG-31111M battery which combined Soviet-style nationalisation and central planning with the governmental implementation of superstitious beliefs. A new constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was adopted in 1974, until 1988, the country was ruled as a one-party system, with the General and other military officers resigning and ruling through the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP). During this period, Burma became one of the world's most impoverished countries. Sony VAIO PCG-41112M battery
There were sporadic protests against military rule during the Ne Win years and these were almost always violently suppressed. On 7 July 1962, the government broke up demonstrations at Rangoon University, killing 15 students. In 1974, the military violently suppressed anti-government protests at the funeral of U Thant. Student protests in 1975, 1976 and 1977 were quickly suppressed by overwhelming force. Sony VAIO PCG-41111M battery
Protesters gathering in central Rangoon, 1988
In 1988, unrest over economic mismanagement and political oppression by the government led to widespread pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the country known as the 8888 Uprising. Security forces killed thousands of demonstrators, and General Saw Maung staged a coup d'état and formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) SONY VAIO PCG-21212M battery. In 1989, SLORC declared martial law after widespread protests. The military government finalised plans for People's Assembly elections on 31 May 1989. SLORC changed the country's official English name from the "Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma" to the "Union of Myanmar" in 1989.
In May 1990, the government held free elections for the first time in almost 30 years and the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, won 392 out of a total 489 seats (i.e., 80% of the seats) SONY VAIO PCG-21211M battery. However, the military junta refused to cede power and continued to rule the nation as SLORC until 1997, and then as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) until its dissolution in March 2011.
On 23 June 1997, Burma was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). On 27 March 2006, the military junta, which had moved the national capital from Yangon to a site near Pyinmana in November 2005, officially named the new capital Naypyidaw, meaning "city of the kings"SONY VAIO PCG-51212M battery.
Protesters in Yangon during the 2007 Saffron Revolution with a banner that reads non-violence: national movement in Burmese. In the background is Shwedagon Pagoda.
In August 2007, an increase in the price of diesel and petrol led to a series of anti-government protests that were dealt with harshly by the government. The protests then became a campaign of civil resistance (also called the Saffron RevolutionSONY VAIO PCG-51211M battery. led by Buddhist monks, hundreds of whom defied the house arrest of democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi to pay their respects at the gate of her house. The government finally cracked down on them on 26 September 2007. The crackdown was harsh, with reports of barricades at the Shwedagon Pagoda and monks killed. However, there were also rumours of disagreement within the Burmese armed forcesSONY VAIO PCG-51112M battery, but none was confirmed. The military crackdown against unarmed Saffron Revolution protesters was widely condemned as part of the International reaction to the 2007 Burmese anti-government protests and led to an increase in economic sanctions against the Burmese Government.
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis caused extensive damage in the densely populated, rice-farming delta of the Irrawaddy Division. SONY VAIO PCG-51111M battery It was the worst natural disaster in Burmese history with reports of an estimated 200,000 people dead or missing, and damage totaled to 10 billion dollars (USD), and as many as 1 million left homeless. In the critical days following this disaster, Burma's isolationist government hindered recovery efforts by delaying the entry of United Nations planes delivering medicine, food, and other supplies. SONY VAIO PCG-81212M battery
In early August 2009, a conflict known as the Kokang incident broke out in Shan State in northern Burma. For several weeks, junta troops fought against ethnic minorities including the Han Chinese, Va, and Kachin. From 8–12 August, the first days of the conflict, as many as 10,000 Burmese civilians fled to Yunnan province in neighbouring ChinaSony VAIO PCG-81112M battery.
Reforms and transition towards democracy
The Burmese constitutional referendum, 2008, promised a "discipline-flourishing democracy", was held on 10 May 2008 and the name of the country was changed from the Union of Myanmar to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. General elections were held under the new constitution in 2010. Observers described the election day of 2010 as mostly peacefulSONY VAIO PCG-71111M battery, though there were alleged irregularities in polling stations and the United Nations and Western countries condemned the elections as fraudulent. The official turnout was reported as 77%. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party declared victory stating that it had won 80% of the votes. That claim was widely disputed by pro-democracy opposition groups, which asserted that the military regime engaged in rampant fraud to achieve its result. SONY VAIO PCG-7196M batteryThe military junta was dissolved on 30 March 2011.
Since the elections, the government has embarked on a series of reforms toward liberal democracy, mixed economy, and reconciliation although the motives of such reforms are still debated. These reforms include the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, establishment of the National Human Rights CommissionSONY VAIO PCG-7195M battery, general amnesties of more than 200 political prisoners, institution of new labour laws that allow labour unions and strikes, relaxation of press censorship and regulations of currency practices. The reforms come as a surprise to many because the election of 2010 was considered fraudulent by the international community.
The consequences of the reforms are far-reaching. The ASEAN members have approved Burma's bid for ASEAN chair in 2014SONY VAIO PCG-7194M battery. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Burma in December 2011 to encourage further progress, the first visit by a Secretary of State in more than fifty years. Clinton met with Burmese president Thein Sein as well as opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Domestically, Aung San Suu Kyi's party, National League for Democracy was permitted to participate in the by-election after the government abolished laws that led to NLD's boycott. SONY VAIO PCG-7192M batteryHowever, uncertainties exist as more than 1,600 political prisoners are not yet released and the clashes between Burmese Army and local insurgent groups continue.
The 1 April election was perhaps the most promising moment of reform. Led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy won 43 of 45 seats available in the election. Although only a small fraction of the seats were up for a vote, the previously illegal NLD was allowed to campaign, run, and win for the first timeSONY PCG-8113M battery. Also a first, international election monitors were allowed to monitor the voting. Despite such positive strides, the NLD has reported over 50 instances of voting irregularities on election day as well as a campaign of fraud and harassment leading up to the election.
In 2012 ongoing conflicts in Burma included the Kachin Conflict between the Kachin Independence Army and the government, the Rohingya in Arakan State, as well as the Shan, Lahu and Karen minority groups in the eastern half of the countrySONY PCG-8112M battery.
An estimated 90,000 people have been displaced in the recent sectarian violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Burma's western Rakhine State.
Main articles: Internal conflict in Burma and Kachin Conflict
Civil wars have been a constant feature of Burma's socio-political landscape since independence in 1948. The Civil wars of Burma are predominantly struggles for ethnic and sub-national autonomy and fighting has predominately taken place in areas surrounding the ethnically Burman populated central districts of the country which remain also off limits for foreign journalists and visitors without a special travel permitSONY PCG-7134M battery.
In October 2012 ongoing conflicts in Burma included the Kachin Conflict between the Kachin Independence Army and the government, the Rohingya in Arakan State, as well as the Shan, Lahu and Karen minority groups in the eastern half of the country.
The most widely publicized conflict in Burma during 2012 has been the 2012 Rakhine State riots, a series of ongoing conflicts primarily between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine StateSONY PCG-7131M battery. The Burmese government has claimed that the Rohingya are illegal migrants however the ethnic group has lived in Burma for hundreds of years and despite practicing a different religion (Islam) than the majority Buddhist population, the roots of conflict likely have more to do with colonial era policies that privileged one ethnic group over another in an attempt to divide and rule the populationSONY PCG-7122M battery . Additional non-religious causes include violence stemming from the Japanese occupation of Burma in World War II during which the British allied themselves with Rohingya groups who fought against the puppet government of Burma which had been set up by the Japanese and helped to establish the Tatmadaw or Burmese armed forces, which continue to rule the country to this daySONY PCG-7121M battery.
Government and politics
Main article: Politics of Burma
The constitution of Burma, its third since independence, was drafted by its military rulers and published in September 2008. The country is governed as a presidential republic with a bicameral legislature, with a portion of legislatures appointed by the military and others elected in general elections. The current head of state, inaugurated as President on 30 March 2011, is Thein SeinSONY PCG-7113M battery .
The legislature, called the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, is bicameral and made up of two houses: The 224-seat upper house Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities) and the 440-seat lower house Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives). The upper house consists of 224 member of which 168 are directly elected and 56 are appointed by the Burmese Armed Forces while the lower house consists of 440 members of which 330 are directly elected and 110 are appointed by the armed forcesSONY PCG-7112M battery. The major political parties are the National League for Democracy, National Democratic Force and the two backed by the military: the National Unity Party, and the Union Solidarity and Development Party.
Burma's army-drafted constitution was approved in a referendum in May 2008. The results, 92.4% of the 22 million voters with an official turnout of 99%, are considered suspect by many international observers and by the National league of democracy with reports of widespread fraud, ballot stuffing, and voter intimidationSONY PCG-8Z3M battery .
The elections of 2010 resulted in a victory for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party and various foreign observers questioned the fairness of the elections. One criticism of the election was that only government sanctioned political parties were allowed to contest in it and the popular National League for Democracy was declared illegal and is still barred from political activities. SONY PCG-8Z2M battery However, immediately following the elections, the government ended the house arrest of the democracy advocate and leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi. and her ability to move freely around the country is considered an important test of the military's movement toward more openness. After unexpected reforms in 2011, NLD senior leaders have decided to register as a political party and to field candidates in future by-elections. SONY PCG-8Z1M battery
Burma rates as a highly corrupt nation on the Corruption Perceptions Index with a rank of 180th out of 183 countries worldwide and a rating of 1.5 out of 10 (10 being least corrupt and 0 being highly corrupt) as of 2011.
There is consensus that the military regime in Burma is one of the world's most repressive and abusive regimes. On November 9, 2012, Samantha Power, U.S. President Barack Obama's Special Assistant to the President on Human Rights wrote on theSONY PCG-8Y3M battery White House Blog in advance of the President's visit that "Serious human rights abuses against civilians in several regions continue, including against women and children." In addition, members of the United Nations and major international human rights organizations have issued repeated and consistent reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations in BurmaSONY PCG-8Y2M battery . The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly called on the Burmese Military Junta to respect human rights and in November 2009 the General Assembly adopted a resolution "strongly condemning the ongoing systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms" and calling on the Burmese Military Regime "to take urgent measures to put an end to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law." International human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, SONY PCG-7Z1M battery Amnesty International and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have repeatedly documented and condemned widespread human rights violations in Burma. The Freedom in the World 2011 report by Freedom House notes that "The military junta has... suppressed nearly all basic rights; and committed human rights abuses with impunity. The country [has] more than 2,100 political prisoners included about 429 members of the NLD, the victors in the 1990 electionsSONY PCG-6W2M battery." They have claimed that there is no independent judiciary in Burma. Forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour are common. The military is also notorious for rampant use of sexual violence as an instrument of control, including allegations of systematic rapes and taking of sex slaves by the military, a practice which continued in 2012. In 2007 the international movement to defend women's human rights issues in Burma was said to be gaining speedSONY PCG-5J5M battery.
Mae La camp, Tak, Thailand, one of the largest of nine UNHCR camps in Thailand where over 700,000 Refugees, Asylum-seekers, and state-less persons have fled.
Child soldiers have and continue to play a major part in the Burmese Army as well as Burmese rebel movements. The Independent reported in June, 2012 that "Children are being sold as conscripts into the Burmese military for as little as $40 and a bag of rice or a can of petrol." The UN's Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed ConflictSONY PCG-5K2M battery, Radhika Coomaraswamy, who stepped down from her position a week later, met representatives of the Government of Myanmar on July 5, 2012 and stated that she hoped the government's signing of an action plan would "signal a transformation.” In September, 2012 the Myanmar Armed Forces released 42 child soldiers and the International Labour Organization met with representatives of the government as well as the Kachin Independence Army to secure the release of more child soldiersSONY PCG-5K1M battery. According to Samantha Power, a U.S. delegation raised the issue of child soldiers with the government in October, 2012 however she did not comment on the government's progress towards reform in this area.
A Bangkok Post article on December 23, 2012 reported that the Myanmar Armed Forces continued to use child soldiers including during the army's large offensive against the KIA in December, 2012SONY PCG-5J4M battery. The newspaper reported that "Many of them were pulled off Yangon streets and elsewhere and given a minimum of training before being sent to the front line." 
Child/Forced/Slave Labour, Systematic Sexual Violence and Human Trafficking
Forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour are common. The military is also notorious for rampant use of sexual violence as an instrument of control, including allegations of systematic rapes and taking of sex slaves by the militarySONY PCG-5J1M battery, a practice which continued in 2012. In 2007 the international movement to defend women's human rights issues in Burma was said to be gaining speed.
Genocide allegations and crimes against Rohingya people
Evidence has been gathered suggesting that the Burmese regime has marked certain ethnic minorities such as the Karen, Karenni and Shan for extermination or 'Burmisation'. This, however, has received little attention from the international community since it has been more subtle and indirect than the mass killings in places like RwandaSONY PCG-5G2M battery.
The Rohingya have consistently faced human rights abuses by the Burmese regime which has refused to acknowledge them as Burmese citizens (despite generations of habitation in Burma) and attempted to forcibly expel Rohingya and bring in non-Rohingyas to replace them. This policy has resulted in the expulsion of aproximately half of the Rohingya population from Burma. Sony VAIO PCG-8131M battery An estimated 90,000 people have been displaced in the recent sectarian violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Burma's western Rakhine State. As a result of this policy Rohingya people have been described as “among the world’s least wanted” and “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.” Since a 1982 citizenship law Rohingya have been stripped of their Burmese citizenship. Rohingya are not allowed to travel without official permissionSony VAIO PCG-8152M battery, are banned from owning land and are required to sign a commitment to have not more than two children. In 2012, a riot broke out between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, which left 78 people dead, 87 injured, and thousands of homes destroyed. It also displaced more than 52,000 people. As of July 2012, the Myanmar Government did not include the Rohingya minority group–-classified as stateless Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh since 1982Sony VAIO PCG-31311M battery—on the government's list of more than 130 ethnic races and therefore the government says that they have no claim to Myanmar citizenship.
2012 Rakhine State riots
Main article: 2012 Rakhine State riots
The 2012 Rakhine State riots are a series of ongoing conflicts between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. The riots came after weeks of sectarian disputes and have been condemned by most people on both sides of the conflict. Sony VAIO PCG-31111M battery
The immediate cause of the riots is unclear, with many commentators citing the killing of ten Burmese Muslims by ethnic Rakhine after the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman as the main cause. Whole villages have been "decimated". Over three hundred houses and a number of public buildings have been razed. According to Tun Khin, the President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), as of 28 June, 650 Rohingyas have been killed, 1,200 are missing, and more than 80,000 have been displaced. Sony VAIO PCG-8112M battery According to the Myanmar authorities, the violence, between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, left 78 people dead, 87 injured, and thousands of homes destroyed. It also displaced more than 52,000 people.
The government has responded by imposing curfews and by deploying troops in the regions. On June 10, state of emergency was declared in Rakhine, allowing military to participate in administration of the regionSony VAIO PCG-7186M battery. The Burmese army and police have been accused of targeting Rohingya Muslims through mass arrests and arbitrary violence. A number of monks' organizations that played vital role in Burma's struggle for democracy have taken measures to block any humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya community.
Freedom of Speech
Main article: Censorship in Burma
Restrictions on media censorship were significantly eased in August, 2012 following demonstrations by hundreds of protesters who wore shirts demanding that the government "Stop Killing the Press." Sony VAIO PCG-7171M batteryThe most significant change has come in the form that media organizations will no longer have to submit their content to a censorship board prior to publication, however, as explained by one editorial in the exiled press Irrawaddy, this new "freedom" has caused some Burmese journalists to simply see the new law as an attempt to create an environment of self-censorship as journalists "are required to follow 16 guidelines towards protecting the three national causesSony VAIO PCG-9Z1M battery -- non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity, perpetuation of sovereignty -- and "journalistic ethics" to ensure their stories are accurate and do not jeopardize national security."
Debate over the impact of the 2011 Government Reforms
However, since the transition to new government in August 2011, Burma's human rights record has been improving according to the Crisis Group. The Freedom in the World 2012 report notes improvement due to new reforms. Previously rated as a 7, the lowest rating, for both civil liberties and political rightsSony VAIO PCG-5S1M battery, the release of political prisoners and a loosening of restriction has given Burma a 6 for civil liberties in the most recent Freedom in the World. The government has assembled a National Human Rights Commission consisted of 15 members from various backgrounds. Several activists in exile including Thee Lay Thee Anyeint members, have returned to Burma after President Thein Sein’s offer to expatriates to return home to work for national development.Sony VAIO PCG-5P1M batteryIn an address to the United Nations Security Council in 22 September 2011, Burma's Foreign Minister Wanna Maung Lwin confirmed the release of prisoners in near future. The government also relaxes reporting laws although still highly restrictive. In September 2011, several banned websites, including YouTube, Democratic Voice of Burma and Voice of AmericaSony VAIO PCG-5N2M battery, have been unblocked. A 2011 report by the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations found that while constrained by donor restrictions on contact with the Myanmar government, international humanitarian Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) see opportunities for effective advocacy with government officials, especially at the local level. At the same time, International NGOs are mindful of the ethical quandary of how to work with the government without bolstering or appeasing it. Sony VAIO PCG-3C2M battery
Main article: Foreign relations of Burma
Though the country's foreign relations, particularly with Western nations, have been strained, relations have thawed since the reforms following the 2010 elections. After years of diplomatic isolation and economic and military sanctions, the United States relaxed curbs on foreign aid to Burma in November 2011 and announced the resumption of diplomatic relations on 13 January 2012 The European Union has placed sanctions on BurmaSony VAIO PCG-8161M battery, including an arms embargo, cessation of trade preferences, and suspension of all aid with the exception of humanitarian aid. U.S. and European government sanctions against the former military government, coupled with boycotts and other direct pressure on corporations by supporters of the democracy movement, have resulted in the withdrawal from the country of most U.S. and many European companiesSony VAIO PCG-8141M battery. On 13 April 2012 British Prime Minister David Cameron called for the economic sanctions on Burma to be suspended in the wake of the pro-democracy party gaining 43 seats out of a possible 45 in the 2012 by-elections with the party leader, Aung San Suu Kyi becoming a member of the Burmese parliamentSony VAIO PCG-3J1M battery.