Since 1988, a junta composed of senior military officers has ruled by decree, without a constitution or legislature. These decrees and administrative practices result in what can only be described as one of the world's worst records of discrimination against minorities in the period of 2004–5. The prominent and almost exclusive use of the Burmese language in primary schools and by state authorities, even in areas with very large concentrations of linguistic minorities such as the Shan and Arakan, is a discriminatory practice that continues to disadvantage these minorities in educational, economic and social terms. Religious minorities, including Muslims (Rohingya) mainly concentrated in Arakan State, have in 2004–5 continued to be subjected to discriminatory treatment. Authorization to construct new Christian churches, and especially new mosques, has continued to be denied. Non-Buddhist minorities in 2004–5 continued to experience employment discrimination at upper levels of the public sector: 'the most senior non-Buddhist serving in the government was the deputy attorney general (a Baptist). There were no non-Buddhists who held flag rank in the armed forces. The government discouraged Muslims from entering military service, and Christian or Muslim military officers who aspired to promotion beyond middle ranks were encouraged by their superiors to convert to Buddhism.'

Some of the worst discriminatory practices appear to affect the Muslim Rohingya minority. Because their ancestors are not considered by the government to have been in Burma at the time of British colonial rule, most members of this minority are not deemed to be citizens under the 1982 Citizenship Law. As a result, the Rohingyans cannot be admitted to state-run secondary schools, are excluded from employment in most civil service positions and also have severe restrictions imposed on them in relation to leaving their villages, which inhibits their ability to trade and seek employment.

Reports from Amnesty International and the Fédération internationale des droits de l'homme in 2004 confirm the continued discriminatory confiscation of land belonging to minorities in border areas and the western part of the country, and the displacement of these minorities and handing over of their land to ethnic Burmans in 'model villages', or for development projects mainly controlled or for the benefit of members of the country's ethnic majority.

The Burmese state has repressed many of the minorities and indigenous peoples in the north of the country and there is a long history of minorities and indigenous peoples fighting against the government in Rangoon/Yangon. However, in the past decade, the military junta has managed to convince many of these minorities and indigenous peoples to stop fighting the central government in return for some autonomy and the cessation of military operations against them. The government is actively repressing, usually by military force, those few minorities and indigenous peoples – including the Shan and Karen – who have managed to build up militia groups and who refuse to come to some sort of a deal with Rangoon.

The Shan are the largest of Burma's eight main minorities, which together make up a third of the country's 43 million population. Like other groups, they are fighting for independence from the rule of the military junta. In the past year, the Burmese military has stepped up operations against the Shan and Karen, forcing many to flee across the border to Thailand. The Thai authorities do not want them and have pushed them back across the border. A few thousand have died already in the fighting. There are also consistent reports that the army is forcing girls and boys from minorities and indigenous peoples to become soldiers or work as forced labour.

The military junta has supported the United Wa State Army (UWSA) against the pro-independence Shan State Army (SSA) causing more civilian casualties. The war against the minorities and indigenous peoples is largely due to the fact that they have refused to accept Rangoon's political authority. The Burmese army is also targeting civilians by burning down entire Shan villages and forcibly relocating whole villages. There are reports that Shan women were raped. During the period March-May 2005, there were reports that 200–500 Shan villagers were fleeing to Thailand on a daily basis to escape the fighting.

This 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.