Myanmar / Burma

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Located in South East Asia, bordered by China, Thailand, Laos, India and Bangladesh, Myanmar is also sometimes known by the name Burma. While Myanmar purports to be a democratic presidential republic, it has been under effective military control since the coup of 1962, with elections showing few signs of being free or fair and with controls on opposition activity being only recently slightly relaxed. The human rights situation has been among the world's worst, with the use of child soldiers, abuse of children, trafficking and forced labour, political repression, extreme abuses by government forces and accusations of genocide.


Myanmar is located on the Bay of Bengal, and shares borders with China, Thailand, Bangladesh and India. The Country is divided by three mountain ranges which form verdant valleys, with jungles and teak forests. The capital city is Naypyitaw.

Population and language

Myanmar has a population of 48 million. This figure increased dramatically through the 1980s and 1990s, but since 2000 population growth has slowed to less than one per cent per annum[1]. It is difficult to ascertain reliable demographic statistics, but estimates indicate that a majority of the population are Bamar, with sizeable communities of Shan, Karen, Rakhine, Mon, Chian and Kachin peoples.

The names Burma and Myanmar are both used internationally for the country, though many nations have a policy of using the name “Burma” as it is the preferred term of the democracy movement. The official language is Burmese[2], though numerous ethnic minority languages are spoken in the country.

Politics and history

Burma, as the country was then officially called, declared independence from the British Empire in 1948, and came under the power of its first military junta in 1962. The country has been under military rule ever since. In September 1988, hundreds of thousands of people marched in favour of a civilian government, but the military used force to end the protests killing thousands of demonstrators in the process. Elections were held in 1990 in which the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won 80 per cent of parliamentary seats. However, the military regime rejected the results of the election and forced many NLD members into exile and imprisoned some of those who remained.

Anti-government protests arose again in September 2007 in what was called the “Saffron Revolution”. Initially a protest against sudden fuel price rises, the demonstrations gathered pace and resulted in tens of thousands of activists joining together to call for wide reforms. The military responded by imposing curfews, raiding the monasteries of those monks who had been involved in the protests, and killing and arresting protesters. Constitutional amendments in 2008 served to entrench the role of the military, ensuring that in any elections they would maintain a substantial majority. The NLP withdrew from the subsequent elections in 2010.

The current President and retired general, Thein Sein, was selected by an electoral college in February 2011 and has so far overseen limited political reforms, including the release of some political prisoners. In late 2011 the NLP began to take steps to re-engage with the Burmese political system. Nobel Peace prize winner, and leading opposition politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years, was among those released and has announced that her party will be contesting seats in a number by-elections[3]. The United States has also entered into negotiations with the State to further political reforms in the country[4].


Myanmar has a history of economic mismanagement that has left the country among the world's poorest countries despite its substantial natural resources. The country is the world's 10th and Asia's biggest exporter of natural gas, with such trade accounting for 12.5 per cent of national GDP. Traditionally Myanmar has relied on trade with India, China and Thailand, with most western democracies holding trade embargoes with the country, but diplomatic contact with the United States in late 2011 has led to speculation that trade restrictions with the west may be relaxed in the future[5].

Media and civil society

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) ranked Myanmar 174th out of 178 countries in its 2010 Press Freedom Index, and has been particularly critical of the country's record of imprisoning journalists. Foreign journalists rarely obtain press visas, and those who enter on tourist visas give rise risks for themselves and those that they interview. There is little evidence of civil society activity in the country

Human rights and children's rights

Myanmar has a poor human rights record and a long history of political oppression. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has highlighted the involvement of children in armed conflict, trafficking, sexual exploitation and child labour as among the severe violations of children's rights in the country. The existence of an estimated 850,000 stateless Muslims in northern Rakhine state and the high number of internally displaced persons is also a matter of extreme concern[6].

  1. UNDESA Population Statistics 2011
  2. Constitution of Myanmar, Article 449. The Constitution uses the term "Myanmar language", but the name "Burmese" is generally retained in English
  3. BBC, "Suu Kyi's NLD democracy party to rejoin Burma politics" 18 November 2011 and "Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi targets by-election seat" 21 November 2011
  4. BBC, "Is Burma's Political landscape changing for good?" 18 November 2011
  5. The Guardian, "US faces down China with much trumpeted Burma visit" 24 November 2011
  6. Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations, June 2004


Quick Facts

  • Population: 48,336,800 (UNDESA, 2011)
  • Population under 18: 16,124,000 (UNICEF, 2009)
  • Number of internet users: 110,000/0.2 per cent (Internet World Stats/ITU 2010)
  • Human development index ranking: 149 (UNDP, 2011)
  • Happy planet ranking: 77 (New Economics Foundation, 2006)