A number of significant events have occurred in Burma since April 2012. First of all, April the 1st by-elections were deemed free and fair by the international community. Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD), which was an unregistered, illegal political party until the last November, won 43 out of 45 seats in the Parliament. After spending most of the last 20 years under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi left the country to visit to Europe and received her Nobel Prize from 1991 and an honorary doctorate from Oxford University.
President Thein Sein’s administration has continued to promote further political and economical reforms. Proof of the reform agenda can be seen in the steps taken to abolish the direct media censorship and the progress made in creating a new investment law over the last few months. In response to the liberalizing shift and continuing reforms in Burma, the United States, European Union (EU) and other countries have loosened, suspended and/or lifted a range of sanctions imposed against Burmese regime over the last two decades. Yet some organisations, especially human rights groups, continue warning that although the transition to democracy seems to be on the right track, it is still incomplete and there are ample reasons to remain cautious.
Another major concern has been the outbreak of ethnic clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Arakan Buddhists in Rakhine State, which already costed many lives and highlighted how ethnic issues are the most serious threat to the country’s future stability. The Rohingya issue casted a spotlight on the lingering racism and chauvinism in the country common among Buddhists towards non-Buddhists, as well as why the Rohingyas and a number of other ethnic groups in the country don’t believe that the current government has their best interests at heart and more than the former military junta. Even Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD have struggled to find a way to address this issue, while the military and the current government have been able to use the clashes to portray themselves as the defenders of the Buddhist faith. There have also been reports of continuing serious human rights violations being perpetrated by the Burma Army through the country, especially in Kachin State and Shan State. The ongoing violence in ethnic areas includes documented cases of sexual violence, displacement, forced labour and other various abuses. Conflicts and violence often seems to be related to natural resources and huge infrastructure projects, such as building dams and pipelines. Infighting, ethnic clashes and human rights violations have already displaced thousands of people inside the country pointing out that the country still has a long way to go before peace and democracy are firmly established.
More details about the ongoing issues in Burma, read at the Burma Projects Quarterly produced by People in Need (PIN).