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Flag of Burma
BASIC INFORMATION

Full Country Name: The Union of Myanmar


Country Profile: Burma

Map of Burma
Britain's policy is to refer to Burma rather than 'Myanmar'. It is the form preferred by the leaders of Burma's democracy movement, the legitimate winners of the 1990 elections, who do not accept that the unelected military regime has the right to change the official name of the country.
Area: 677,000 sq km (419,740 sq mi)
Population: 52m
Capital City: Rangoon (population 3,598,980)
People: Bamar (69%), Shan (8.5%), Karen (6.2%), Rakhine (4.5%), Mon (2.4%), Chin (2.2%), Kachin (1.4%), Karrenni (0.4%), other indigenous (0.1%) and foreign nationalities (including Burmese Indian & Sino Burmese people) 5.3%
Languages: Burmese is the official language. There are numerous other ethnic minority languages.
Religion(s): Buddhism is the predominant religion. The other main religions are Christianity, Islam and Animism.
Currency: Kyat
Major political parties: Burma is ruled by a military junta known as State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The main democratic opposition party is the National League for Democracy (NLD).
Government: Military junta - State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)
Head of State: Senior General Than Shwe
Prime Minister/Premier: General Soe Win
Governor: N/A
Foreign Minister: U Nyan Win Membership of international groupings/organisations: UN, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Co-operation (BIMSTEC).

Politics
Economy
International Relations
Burma's Relations with the UK
Human Rights
Health
Travel
FAQs

GEOGRAPHY

Mountain ranges to the east and west, with central lowlands along the Irrawaddy River culminating in a delta region by the sea.

HISTORY

1885: Annexation of Burma to British India following third Anglo-Burmese War.
1942: Burma occupied by Japanese. Burmese nationalists under Aung San later turned against Japan and aided allied forces to reoccupy the country in 1945.
1948: Independence from UK. U Nu becomes Prime Minister.
1948-1958: Despite a series of revolts by communists and ethnic minority groups, Burma remained a parliamentary democracy.
1958: General Ne Win forms a caretaker government following political paralysis.
1960: Elections gave overwhelming majority to U Nu's party.
1962: A military government, led by General Ne Win, takes over after U Nu's party again runs into difficulties. During the next 26 years, Ne Win's 'Burmese Way to Socialism' turns Burma into one of the most isolated countries in the world.
1988: In July, Ne Win steps down amid mounting economic chaos. Students lead a civil uprising: demonstrations, most notably that of 8 August (known popularly as 8/8/88) are brutally crushed by the military (thousands are killed)
1989: The military form a new government called State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).
1989: Aung San Suu Kyi placed under house arrest.
1990: SLORC change the name of the country to Myanmar and organise elections. These are won resoundingly by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi. SLORC do not allow the elected Parliament to convene.
1991: Aung San Suu Kyi awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
1995: Aung San Suu Kyi is released from house arrest after 6 years but her freedom of movement remains restricted.
1997: SLORC is dissolved and replaced by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). But the top members retain their positions and their policies.
2000: Aung San Suu Kyi returned to de facto house arrest.
2001: United Nations Secretary General's Special Envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail announces that Aung San Suu Kyi and the military authorities have resumed political contact.
2002: Aung San Suu Kyi released from house arrest
2003: 30 May Aung San Suu Kyi taken in to 'protective custody'
2003: 30 August General Khin Nyunt announces a road map to build “a modern, democratic prosperous state”
2003: 26 September Aung San Suu Kyi moved to house arrest.
2004: 17 May - 9 July The National Convention, the first step of the road map, reconvenes for the first time since 1996
2004: 19 October General Khin Nyunt removed from power and arrested. Lt General Soe Win appointed new Prime Minister.
2005: 17 February - 31 March Second sitting of the National Convention was held
2005: 7 May Three bombs explode in Rangoon killing at least 23.
2005: 26 July ASEAN announces that Burma will not take its turn as Chair of the association in 2006
2005: November Announcement that the seat of government is moving to Pyinmana in central Burma
2005: 5 December to 31 Jan 2006 Third sitting of the National Convention
2005: 16 December UN Security Council briefing on Burma

This is an external link BBC Monitoring Timeline

POLITICS

Military governments have ruled Burma since 1962. In 1988 pro-democracy protests were brutally crushed by the military. In 1990 national elections were held in Burma for the first time in 30 years. The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK), won the elections with an overwhelming majority. The military regime refused to recognise the results claiming a new constitution must be passed before power could be handed over. However, democratic groups such as the National League for Democracy have remained resolute in their opposition to the regime.

Recent Political Developments

On 30 May 2003, supporters of the military authorities, including the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA) violently attacked ASSK and her convoy of NLD supporters in Depayin, central Burma. ASSK was taken into 'protective custody' by the regime and held incommunicado until September 2003, when she was moved to house arrest where she remains. Over 100 NLD members were arrested and detained in prison, although most have since been released. ASSK’s deputy U Tin Oo, was held in prison until February 2004 when he too was placed under house arrest. NLD party offices, except the Rangoon headquarters, remain closed.

On 30 August 2003, General Khin Nyunt of the governing State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) announced a 7-step road map to build a “modern, democratic, prosperous state”. The National Convention, the first step of the road map, was reconvened in 2004, after a recess of 8 years, to draw up a new constitution for Burma. The NLD decided not to participate in the Convention because the SPDC refused to meet their conditions, including the release of ASSK and U Tin Oo and the re-opening of NLD offices. On 19 October Khin Nyunt was arrested and replaced, as Prime Minister, by Lt Gen (later General) Soe Win.

The National Convention held its third session from 5th December 2005 - 31 January 2006 to discuss citizenship, the rights of citizens and the role of the military in future politics of Burma.. The majority of the 1080 delegates have been handpicked by the regime and have little independence.

Recent UK Statements on Burma

Statement by Ian McCartney, 2 June 2006
Statement by Margaret Beckett, 31 May 2006
Statement by Ian Pearson, 28 November 2005
Statement by EU Presidency on the sentencing of the Shan Leaders, 14 November 2005
Statement by Jack Straw, 16 June 2005
Article by Ian Pearson, 16 June 2005
Statement by Douglas Alexander, 17 March 2005
Statement by Douglas Alexander, 30 November 2004
Statement by Douglas Alexander, 19 November 2004
Statement by Mike O'Brien 27 May 2004
Statement by Mike O'Brien 14 May 2004
Statement by Mike O'Brien 31 March 2004

Recent Parliamentary Debates on Burma

House of Lords debate, 28 November 2005
House of Commons debate, 1 November 2005
House of Commons debate, 27 October 2005
House of Lords debate, 19 July 2005
House of Lords debate, 13 July 2005
House of Lords debate, 15 June 2005

ECONOMY

Despite substantial natural resources, Burma is a poor country. It is also the second largest producer of illicit opium in the world and has developed into a major supplier of methamphetamines.

Fundamental problems in the economy remain unresolved, and the macroeconomic situation remains unstable. A serious banking crisis in early 2003 led to reduced consumer confidence and spending power with some retailers noting a 30-40% drop in sales. The banking sector remains fragile, and the crisis continues to have knock on effects throughout the economy.

One prominent example of the wider economic malaise is the lack of sufficient power generation and supply. Even in the capital city of Rangoon, there are frequent power shortages. In many parts of the country severe shortages are the norm.

Unless a comprehensive programme of stabilisation and reform is undertaken, prospects for sustainable growth remain bleak. In a bid to control their deficit, the SPDC has reduced spending on areas such as health and education and implemented some add hoc efforts at increased tax collection.

The economy is made worse by the high level of corruption in Burma. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) identified Burma as a non-co-operative country or territory (NCCT) in the fight against money laundering. In a statement issued on 3 November 2003, FATF called upon its members to apply countermeasures to Burma due its failure to legislate against money laundering. In October 2004, the FATF withdrew counter-measures against Burma because of progress made, although it remains on the NCCTs list.

FATF annual review, 10 June 2005
FATF annual review, 2 July 2004

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Burma's Relations with Neighbours

Burma joined the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997 and much of its energies have been focussed on its relations with its fellow members. Many of these are among Burma's key trade partners but they also suffer from the effects of the regime's actions. Thailand in particular, and to a lesser extent Bangladesh, have had to contend with huge flows of refugees and drugs across their borders. Continued ethnic and political tension on the Burma/Thai border has led to occasional skirmishes and closure of the border there. Burma was due to take chairmanship of ASEAN in July 2006, but ASEAN announced, in July 2005, that Burma had asked to postpone its turn as ASEAN chairman in order to focus on national reconciliation and democratization. In recent months there has been evidence of increasing frustration amongst ASEAN members a the slow pace of reform in Burma with a number of countries making statements critical of the military government.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar in his capacity as ASEAN envoy visited Burma on 23-24 March. Despite requests to do so, he did not meet Senior General Than Shwe or Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma's Relations with the International Community

EU

In 1996, the EU adopted a Common Position on Burma which implemented a range of restrictive measures designed to target those obstructing reform and progress, but ensuring that the ordinary people of Burma suffer as little as possible. The Common Position includes: an arms embargo; bans on defence links, high-level bilateral government visits, the supply of equipment that might be used for internal repression or terrorism and an asset freeze and visa ban on regime members, their families, the military and security forces and others who actively frustrate the process of national reconciliation. Most development aid is suspended (see below).

To put pressure on the regime to work towards democratic change and respect for human rights, the EU Common Position on Burma was strengthened in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2004 in response to the continued detention of ASSK, the continued harassment of the NLD and the failure to allow a genuine open debate in the National Convention. The strengthened measures include an expansion of the visa ban and a prohibition on EU registered companies or organisations from making financial loans or credit available to named Burmese state-owned enterprises. At the same time, the EU pledged to expand assistance to the people of Burma in the areas of health and education. This Common Position was renewed in April 2006.

EU Common Position on Burma, 27 April 2006
Declaration by the EU Presidency on the sentencing on the Shan Leaders, November 2005
EU Presidency statement on the situation of human rights in Burma, November 2005

This is a PDF file EU Common Position on Burma (October 2004)

This is a PDF file Amendments to EU Common Position on Burma (25 April 2005)

EU Presidency statement on the situation of human rights in Burma (November 2004)

In addition, Burma's Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) trading privileges were suspended by the European Commission in 1997 because of the use of forced labour there. This prevents Burma from having duty-free access to the EU market for its products, which it would otherwise be granted as a ‘Least Developed Country’.

UN

The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has repeatedly called for political progress in Burma. To help bring about national reconciliation in Burma and a return to democracy, Kofi Annan appointed Tan Sri Razali Ismail as his Special Envoy to Burma in April 2000. Razali was instrumental in the talks that led to the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in May 2002. In January 2006 he announced that he was stepping down as a result of the Burmese authorities continued refusal to let him visit the country.

The UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) have passed successive resolutions condemning human rights violations in Burma. The UNHCR established a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma in 1992. The position is currently held by Sergio Pinheiro who last visited Burma in November 2003. Most recently the European Union co-sponsored a resolution on Burma at UNGA in November 2005 and at UNCHR in April 2005. (See: Human Rights) In December 2005 the UN Security Council received a briefing from UN Under Secretary Gambari on the deteriorating political situation in Burma.

Report by the Special Rapporteur, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma, 7 February 2006

BURMA'S RELATIONS WITH THE UK

The UK's relations with the military authorities are poor. The UK is active within the EU and UN to bring pressure to bear on the Burmese regime to improve the human rights situation and to enter into substantive dialogue with democratic and ethnic nationality leaders. The UK does not encourage trade, investment or tourism with Burma. We do not offer any commercial services for companies wanting to do business with Burma, nor do we give financial support for trade promotion activities or organise trade missions. British American Tobacco withdrew its investment from the country in response to a request by the British Government.

Diplomatic Representation

Burmese representation in the UK
UK overseas mission in Burma

UK Development Assistance

The UK provides assistance to Burmain line with the EU Common Position. Article 5 of the EU Common Position states that non-humanitarian aid or development aid shall be suspended. It also states that exceptions shall be made for projects and programmes in support of:

  • Human rights, democracy, good governance, conflict prevention and building the capacity of civil society;
  • Health and education, poverty alleviation and in particular the provision of basic needs and livelihoods for the poorest and most vulnerable populations;
  • Environmental protection, and in particular programmes addressing the problem of non-sustainable, excessive logging resulting in deforestation.

The UK is the largest EC donor and has provided humanitarian assistance to help the people of Burma over several decades. The UK’s assistance objectives in Burma over the period 2004-2006 are:

  • Reduced incidence of communicable and vaccine preventable diseases particularly in vulnerable and marginalised populations.
  • Enhanced food security and productive assets for the poor.
  • Increased access to quality basic education for poor people.
  • Increased prospects for successful transition to a democratic society.

We fund various projects within Burma in the areas of health, poverty alleviation and human rights. A priority for the UK is assistance for the Fund for HIV/AIDS in Myanmar (FHAM) for combating the spread of HIV/AIDS in Burma. The UK has increased funding provided to the Burmese Border Consortium, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross for their work with Burmese refugees and those within Burma.

The UK has also funded a soap opera in Burmese, Karen and Shan produced by the BBC World Service to raise awareness about health and poverty related diseases, such as TB and HIV/AIDS.

BBC World Service Trust

Department for International Development (DFID)

PDF Department for International Development (DFID) -Country Plan for Burma  (PDF, 157 Kb)

Trade and Investment with the UK

Export controls implemented by the UK towards Burma

HUMAN RIGHTS

Burma's human rights record remains a cause of grave concern. Respect for the basic rights of freedom, of speech, the press, assembly and association are severely limited. Successive resolutions co-sponsored by the UK at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) have drawn attention to arbitrary detentions, extra-judicial killings, rape, torture, the large number of political prisoners, abuse of women's and children's rights and the complete absence of democracy. The latest EU co-sponsored UNCHR resolution passed in April 2005 expressed our grave concern on these issues, with particular concern over the continued detention of political prisoners and the human rights abuses in the ethnic minority areas of Burma.

UNGA Resolution (PDF file)

UNCHR Resolution

We have also been active in the UN to raise concern about child soldiers in Burma. Reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have added evidence to what is a convincing case against both the Burmese armed forces and some of the ethnic armed groups operating in Burma. In January 2003 the UN Security Council passed a resolution on Children Affected by Armed Conflict. The resolution requested that the UN Secretary General reports back on progress made on reducing/eliminating child soldiers around the world. In our statement to the Security Council, we highlighted our concerns about child soldiers in Burma. The UK stated that: 'We are especially concerned about Burma, where consistent reports indicate wide, systematic and forced recruitment and training of children for use in combat. Combined with access restrictions to vulnerable communities in the country, this provides a serious impediment to the most basic of human rights.' The issue was addressed in the EU co-sponsored Resolution on Burma at the UN General Assembly in December 2005 and at the UNCHR in April 2005.

This is a PDF file Human Rights Watch annual report
This is an external link Amnesty International

Burma has still to address effectively the international community's concerns over the use of forced labour in Burma. The UK fully supported the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) unprecedented decision to invoke exceptional measures against Burma in November 2000 in response to its use of forced labour. As a result all the members of the ILO were asked to review their relations with Burma to ensure they did not encourage indirectly or directly the continuation of forced labour in Burma.

The EU welcomed the agreement reached between the Burmese authorities and the ILO on the appointment of an ILO Liaison Officer to Burma in 2002. After some positive signs, the situation has once again deteriorated. As a result of the lack of genuine progress in tackling forced labour issues, plus recent negative developments including the prosecution and detention of individuals who provided information to the ILO, the International Labour Conference (ILC) of June 2005 agreed the need for further action. Governments, employers and workers groups were asked to intensify their review of relations with Burma (initiated in 2000) and take appropriate action on foreign direct investment and relations with state and military owned enterprises. In November 2005 the Governing Body discussed members responses and agreed that whilst a return to meaningful co-operation by the Burmese authorities would be welcomed, it was now necessary to examine concrete steps that could be taken under Article 33, and that this would be discussed at the ILC in June 2006.

ILO Governing Body Conclusions, November 2005
This is a PDF file ILO Governing Body Conclusions (March 2005)
This is an external link International Labour Organisation (ILO)
PDF EU Statement at ILO Governing Body  (PDF, 7K)

HEALTH

Government spending on health and education combined is less than 1% of GDP - among the lowest in the world. Malaria and TB are widespread; HIV/AIDS infection rates have reached the rate of a generalised epidemic.

TRAVEL

We have drawn attention to the views of Burma's democratic leaders, including ASSK, that tourism to Burma is inappropriate at present due to the poor political and human rights situation and the economic benefits it brings to the regime. Burmese tourism officials are included in the EU travel ban imposed on Burma. We would urge anyone who may be thinking of visiting Burma on holiday to consider carefully whether by their actions they are helping to support the regime.

Travel Advice: Burma

Last reviewed - 30 June 2006

FAQs

Q. What would be the UK's response to political progress in Burma?

A. The UK is committed to respond positively and proportionately to tangible progress made in Burma.

Q. Does the UK Government raise the issue of political prisoners?

A. The UK has made numerous representations over the years to the Burmese authorities on this subject, both bilaterally and with our EU partners. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Freedom of Expression Panel has identified the prisoner of conscience U Win Tin as a priority case. There are an estimated 1,100 political prisoners of conscience in Burma. The UK shall continue to take every opportunity to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, including in UN resolutions.

Q. Why can't the UK impose unilateral sanctions?

A. Sanctions should be designed to have a real impact and be targeted. A unilateral investment ban is unlikely to have any significant effect on the regime. Burma's own economic mismanagement and corrupt business climate have resulted in a dramatic decline in foreign investment. Since BAT completed its withdrawal at our request, there are no significant UK investments in Burma. We support multilateral sanctions wherever possible because these have a greater practical impact and send a stronger political signal.

Q Why are the figures for UK investment in Burma so high?

A. The FDI figures published by the SPDC are misleading. They are based on contracted, not actual investment. They are cumulative (ie they do not represent current investment but include all investment over a period of more than ten years. Investment by UK companies who have subsequently pulled out is still included as UK investment). They also include investment by companies registered in the British Overseas Territories.

Q. Why did the EU strengthen the Common Position in 2004?

A. In response to the lack of progress Burma has made including the continued detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; the continued harassment of the National League for Democracy and the failure to allow a genuine open National Convention.

The strengthened EU Common Position sends a clear signal to the regime that all EU partners share grave concerns about the situation in Burma and that the EU will continue to press strongly for progress towards national reconciliation and respect for human rights.

Q. What is the UK's view of the reports concerning the use of child soldiers in Burma?

A. The use of Child Soldiers in Burma remains a major problem. Recent reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have added further evidence to what is a convincing case against both the Burmese armed forces and the some of the armed ethnic groups operating in Burma. The issue of child soldiers was included in the EU co-sponsored UNGA resolution in December 2005 and the EU co-sponsored UNCHR resolution in April 2005.The UN Security Council has passed a resolution on Children Affected by Armed Conflict. The UK also voiced concerns in January 2003 during the passing of the UN Security Council's resolution on Children affected by Armed Conflict. The UK stated that 'we are especially concerned about Burma, where consistent reports indicate wide, systematic and forced recruitment and training of children for use in combat. Combined with access restrictions to vulnerable communities in the country, this provides a serious impediment to the most basic of human rights.'

Q. What is the Government's view of the reports of the use of sexual violence by members of the Burmese armed forces?

A. There is a wealth of credible evidence demonstrating that this is a serious problem. The reports from the Shan Womens Action Network and the Shan Human Rights Foundation are consistent with accounts from Burma over many years detailing this problem. This problem has been noted in successive EU co-sponsored resolutions on Burma at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). We are pleased that the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma, Sergio Pinheiro, has confirmed that he will look into the issue and call on the regime to co-operate fully with him. We support his objective of ensuring there is a rigorous and properly constituted independent investigation into this matter. Is this still happening? Pinheiro finishes in March.

Q. What is the UK's view on reports of religious intolerance in Burma?

A. Despite a general background of tolerance in most areas, there continue to be reports of instances of obstruction to the free practice of religion and of the work of religious groups. Instances of religious intolerance have been highlighted in successive UN resolutions. It was addressed in the EU sponsored UNGA resolution in December 2005 and in the UNCHR resolution in April 2005.

Q. What is the UK’s views on the CSW Report on alleged use of chemical weapons in Burma?

A. We treat any allegations of Chemical Weapons use with the utmost concern. We have examined information sent to support the claims and we have also discussed with international partners. At this stage we do not believe there is enough evidence to warrant further action. We continue to follow the situation carefully and are ready to consider further evidence.

Q. What is the UK's view on the allegations that the SPDC's actions amount to genocide?

A. It is clear that large-scale and systematic human rights abuses are taking place in Burma, particularly against the ethnic groups. But it is not yet clear that these human rights violations constitute genocide under international law. We will continue to monitor the situation and are in close contact with our international partners and the UN.

Q. Would the UK support the setting up of an International Criminal Tribunal for Burma, along the lines of those set up on the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda?

A. The nature of the crimes would need to be tested in a fair and independent trial. This is impossible to envisage within Burma's court system. While it is possible that the crimes in Burma might be covered by the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Burma is not a state party to the ICC and hence not covered by the Court's jurisdiction. The only way that a non-state party to the ICC can be referred to the ICC's jurisdiction is under a Chapter VII Resolution of the UN Security Council, in order to maintain or restore international peace and security. At this stage, we judge there are not enough members of the Security Council prepared to accept that the situation in Burma constitutes a threat to international peace and security.

There is no international criminal tribunal currently with jurisdiction over Burma.

Q. Why does the UK Government not cut off diplomatic relations with Burma?

A. Maintaining an Embassy in Rangoon allows us to get a clear picture of what is actually happening on the ground there and manage assistance projects benefitting the Burmese people.


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