Burma is an ethnically diverse nation with 135 distinct ethnic groups officially recognized. These are grouped into eight “major national ethnic races”. Since the fall of the British colonial empire in 1949, the country has been torn apart by ethnic conflict, labeled the longest civil war.
The Burmese army has been responsible for numerous serious war crimes, including deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, summary executions of civilians, sexual violence against women and girls, torture, use of child soldiers, attacks on populations’ livelihood and food supplies, forced displacement, and use of anti-personnel landmines. In fact, almost all the acts enumerated under Article 7 of the Rome Statute have been repeatedly documented by various independent sources, including both NGOs and human rights organizations as well as the United Nations.
Three million people have fled Burma, and more than 600,000 remain internally displaced by conflict. Most of them belong to ethnic nationality groups.
Thailand hosts more than 100,000 refugees in nine camps on the Thailand-Burma border. Many more live in border cities like Mae Sot. It is estimated than more than 200.000 undocumented Burmese migrant live in Mae Sot.
Many ethnic minority groups still live in a climate of fear, and despite recent changes, the Burmese government has failed to seriously address the human rights situation and to take action to prosecute those responsible for the abuse.
Burmese military has employed counter-insurgency strategies that deliberately target the civilian population in attempts to demobilize support for armed opposition groups. A number of organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have characterized these strategies as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
As a result of the systematic attacks on ethnic minority civilians, around three million people are thought to have fled their home country. Due to the close proximity, hundreds of thousands have fled conflict and persecution in eastern Burma to neighboring Thailand. Approximately 120.000 refugees live in the 9 camps scattered along the border. Countless others live in small refugee villages by the border.
The refugees have the option to stay within the registered camps, without the freedom to neither move nor work, or do as many of them do; live as illegal aliens, without any sort of legal status, risking harassment, arrests and deportation to live and work outside the camps.
In November 2010, Burma held its first election since 1990 when the military refused to hand over power to the democratically elected government. The international community assessed the 2010 election as neither being free nor fair due to an array of flaws. Nevertheless, the military-backed USDP officially won over 75% of the vote and a nominally civilian government, mainly made up of former generals, took office in March 2011. A former general Thein Sein was elected as the President.
The April 2012 by-elections in Burma received an unusual amount of attention from international media, mostly due to the fact that only a few years ago it was considered almost impossible that Aung San Suu Kyi would not only be released from house arrest, but also be allowed to contest for a seat in the Parliament. Suu Kyi`s party National League for Democracy (NLD) contested, and won 42 of the 43 open seats in the by-election, with Suu Kyi taking one of the seats.
Nevertheless, NLD only won about 6% of the seats in Parliament and no real change in power occurred. One should remember that the 2008 Constitution secures 25% of the Parliamentary seats to the military, whilst the Constitution can only be changed with a 75% majority.
The election in November 2015 resulted in a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD, despite the generals and current administration doing their best to limit NLDs political platform. 60 % of the registered votes was won by NLD, while 35 % of the votes went to different ethnic minority parties. The current government only received 5 % of the votes. The result is yet another crystal clear indication of what we have all know for a long time: The current regime ha no legitimacy in the public opinion.
On March 15 2016, Htin Kyaw from NLD was chosen as the county`s first civilian president in 53 years.