The people of the Southeast Asian country of Burma are locked into one of the world’s great struggles for freedom. The country’s military rulers, the State Peace and Development Council, ran the country with an iron fist for decades after assuming power from a 26-year socialist dictatorship. In 1988, students, professionals, and others launched a nationwide uprising aimed at bringing an end to authoritarian rule. Burma’s people courageously marched on the streets, calling for freedom and democracy.
The military responded by gunning down thousands of demonstrators and imprisoning thousands more in one of Southeast Asia’s bloodiest episodes in recent history. The leader of the demonstrations, Min Ko Naing (pronounced Min Ko Nine), was held behind bars until 2012 with over a thousand other political prisoners. The most recognizable face of Burma, 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Daw Aung Sawn Sue Chee), who was in and out of house arrest and prison since 1988, was also released.
In 2007, the world witnessed the Burmese regime’s obscenities during the Saffron Revolution. Led by Buddhist monks, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to peacefully demand peace and freedom, only to be countered with force. Thousands were imprisoned, hundreds were killed, and monasteries were raided.
The regime transitioned into a quasi-civilian state in 2011-12, largely for economic reasons, but the government is still run by the same people, who have shed their military uniforms for civilian garb. While the government held elections in 2012, still less than 7% of parliamentarians are democratically elected. The military-drafted 2008 Constitution remains unamended, ensuring the military’s ultimate control over the government.
The Burmese government has continued its brutal domination over its people, particularly ethnic and religious minorities. Numerous governments, NGOs (non governmental organizations), United Nations bodies, and international organizations have documented Burma’s widespread problems, ranging from egregious human rights violations to the complete deterioration of healthcare, education, and a functioning economy. The government still represses forms of free speech, assembly, and expression.
Hundreds have been imprisoned for protesting government abuses and land confiscations. These confiscations have become even more widespread as the government paves the way for international development projects, many of which affect rural and ethnic populations.
The military continues to wage war, commit human rights abuses, and confiscate land in ethnic areas. It continues to rape, slaughter, torture, arrest, and forcibly displace millions of ethnic peoples. In the past ten years, over 3,500 villages have been destroyed in eastern Burma. There are over 2 million internally displaced people, and well over a million have fled to other countries.