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The Worst of the Worst 2012 - Burma

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 4 July 2012
Cite as Freedom House, The Worst of the Worst 2012 - Burma, 4 July 2012, available at: [accessed 18 November 2017]
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.

Population: 53,400,000
Capital: Rangoon [Note: Nay Pyi Taw serves as the administrative capital.]

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6 ↑
Status: Not Free

Ratings Change: Burma's civil liberties rating improved from 7 to 6 due to an increase in public discussion and media coverage of news and politics, as well as reduced restrictions on education.

Ten-Year Ratings Timeline for Year under Review
(Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status)
Year Under Review2002200320042005200620072008200920102011

2011 Key Developments: In 2011, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been released from prolonged house arrest in late 2010, entered into a dialogue with the government, traveled around the country to rebuild her political party, and gave interviews to the domestic media for the first time in at least 20 years. Although the new parliament elected in November 2010 was dominated by allies of the military, the new, nominally civilian president appointed a series of reformist advisers, and some independent lawmakers raised human rights issues in the parliament for the first time in decades. The government released thousands of prisoners during the year and promised to relax censorship. The National League for Democracy registered to participate in parliamentary by-elections scheduled for early 2012, and Aung San Suu Kyi planned to run for a seat. Burma also began repairing its relations with foreign countries including the United States. Despite these initial signs of progress, it was unclear how far the reforms would go, and numerous conflicts between the government and the country's ethnic minority militias remained unresolved.

Political Rights: Burma is not an electoral democracy. The military junta long ruled by decree; it controlled all executive, legislative, and judicial powers, suppressed nearly all basic rights, and committed human rights abuses with impunity. It carefully rigged the electoral framework surrounding the 2010 national elections, which were neither free nor fair. Although the 2008 constitution, which the 2010 elections put into effect, establishes a parliament and a civilian president, it also entrenches military dominance, and allows the military to dissolve the civilian government if it determines that the "disintegration of the Union or national solidarity" is at stake. The military retains the right to administer its own affairs, and members of the outgoing military government received blanket immunity for all official acts. Given the lack of transparency and accountability, corruption and economic mismanagement are rampant at both the national and local levels.

Civil Liberties: The government restricts press freedom. The market for private publications and blogs is growing, and while the government censors private periodicals before publication, in 2011 it stopped censoring those that did not explicitly deal with politics. It also relaxed many restrictions on the internet and access to foreign news sources, and allowed for the appearance of Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders in the press. However, the authorities closely watch internet cafes, slow or shut down internet connections during periods of internal strife, and regularly jail bloggers. The 2008 constitution provides for freedom of religion. It distinguishes Buddhism as the majority religion but also recognizes Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and animism. At times the government interferes with religious assemblies and attempts to control the Buddhist clergy. Buddhist temples and monasteries have been kept under close surveillance since the 2007 monk-led protests and crackdown. Academic freedom has been severely limited. Teachers are subject to restrictions on freedom of expression and are held accountable for the political activities of their students. The junta has sporadically closed universities and relocated many campuses to relatively isolated areas to disperse the student population. The judiciary is not independent. Judges are appointed or approved by the government and adjudicate cases according to its decrees. Some of the worst human rights abuses take place in areas populated by ethnic minorities, who comprise roughly 35 percent of Burma's population. In these border regions the military arbitrarily detains, beats, rapes, and kills civilians. Burmese women have traditionally enjoyed high social and economic status, but domestic violence and trafficking are growing concerns.

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