Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December 2014, 20:05 GMT

State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Burma (Myanmar)

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 11 March 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Burma (Myanmar), 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48a7eae46e.html [accessed 18 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The US State Department labels Burma one of the world's seven worst human rights violators, evidenced during the September 2007 bloody crackdown by the ruling military junta on pro-democracy and anti-government protesters led by Buddhist monks. Information on the involvement of ethnic minorities in the protests is hard to come by due to government restrictions on information flow out of the country. Also, ethnic minority populations are greater in rural areas and the majority of the protests took place in urban centres. However, groups such as the Karen, Karenni, Rohingya and Shan joined the protests on the Thai-Burma border and in the city of Sittwe in Rakhine State. In an October 2007 Associated Press article Karen National Union Secretary General Mahn Sha said: 'We need to work together with the Mon, other groups, the students, to oust the [junta]. We have a common enemy and common goals.'

The UN Security Council released a formal statement on Burma in October, criticizing the military government's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. It called on the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to hold talks with opposition leaders and hasten the release of political prisoners. The international community remains divided over the treatment of Burma – France, the UK and the US proposed tougher wording in the UN Security Council statement and continue to call for harsh sanctions, yet China and Russia successfully argued to soften the language of the statement and consistently oppose sanctions. The two countries are key supporters of the military junta and in January vetoed a US-led UN Security Council resolution calling on the military junta to end the persecution of minority and ethnic groups.

The pattern of the Burmese military has been to eliminate all opposition and take full control of ethnic areas. As part of its strategy to curb the support of ethnic insurgent armies, it targets civilians it perceives as backers of the insurgent groups. The Burmese junta's monitoring and control of religious activity within its borders has led the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to designate it in 2007 as a 'country of particular concern', a title given to states that are the most 'egregious violators' of religious freedom in the world. The report documents the Burmese junta allowing or instigating violence against religious minorities and forcefully promoting Buddhism over other religions. It notes that ethnic minority Christians and Muslims have encountered the most difficulties in recent years.

According to Refugees International, the worst Burmese military offensive in 10 years has displaced at least 27,000 people in Karen State since November 2005. There are some 130,000 Burmese refugees living in nine border camps in Thailand. Many of them have been there for up to 20 years, having risked minefields and army patrols to get there. The US Committee for Refugees calls the Karen people 'one of the most ignored groups in one of the most difficult humanitarian emergencies'.

The Tatmadaw (military of Burma) appears to be able to violate the Karen's most basic human rights with impunity. There were no reports in 2007 of government prosecution of previous incidents of rape of Karen women, nor obvious steps by the government to address widespread reports of security forces burning Karen villages.

The right to property and use of their own land by the Karen continued to be disregarded by the Burmese authorities. Surveying work on the Hat Gyi hydroelectric dam began in 2007 and, because of the settlement of Burmese troops near the site of the proposed reservoir, thousands of mainly Karen refugees fled over the border to Thailand. Karen forced labour is reported to be have been used to clear the area near the dam and to build access roads to military and government camps near it.

Discrimination against the Karen remains deeply entrenched in state institutions: state education in schools in Karen areas, even where they are the majority of the population, is exclusively provided in the Burmese language, and government offices provide no access to services in Karen languages. Numerous reports continue to point out that government jobs in Karen areas appear to be increasingly the reserved domain of ethnic Burman.

The Burmese army has continued to conduct occasional raids in those ethnic Mon areas where the ceasefire has not held, and is accused of enforced labour, displacement, rape, murder and widespread land confiscation. As a result, there has been a mass exodus of Mon to Thailand. The SPDC's military presence has increased dramatically: the number of army regiments in Ye Township went from two in 2000 to ten by 2007.

In part as a result of increasing government restrictions, Médecins Sans Frontières pulled out after four years of work in Mon State. As a result, Mon resettlement sites appeared to have run out of basic medical supplies by mid-2007. Other UN and international agencies based in Rangoon continue to have very limited access to the Mon ceasefire areas.

The Mon continue to be vastly under-represented in most state institutions, which seems to be partially due to discriminatory government polices and practices in hiring and promotion processes, which favour ethnic Burman.

In his June 2007 report, the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance highlighted the case of the Rohingyas, a Muslim ethnic minority living in northern Rakhine State, western Burma. According to the report 'the Rohingyas are targeted because of their ethnicity and suffer widespread discrimination at the hands of the authorities'. Rohingyas are unable to qualify for citizenship and their freedom of movement is severely restricted because they cannot afford to pay the fee needed for official authorization to travel outside of their villages; they are also unable to access medical and educational services.

In 1993 the military government set in motion the National Convention in order to write a new constitution, yet in September 2007 the process came to an end with a written constitution still lacking. According to Human Rights Watch, some ethnic national groups that had reached ceasefire agreements with the government on the premise that the National Convention would bring about true reforms have hinted that they may resume armed conflict against the government if their basic demands are not addressed. In October the junta set up a fresh committee to draft a new constitution, a decision which the generals call their 'roadmap' to democracy according to state media. The opposition is unrepresented on the new committee.

The area of Burma along the Chinese border, which once produced about 30 per cent of the country's opium, was declared opium-free in 2006 by the United Nations. Ethnic Shan and Wa groups have both been involved in eradication of poppy cultivation, although UN observers note that the area is becoming central to the production of methamphetamine and is the source of half of Asia's supply of the drug.

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