Burma Public Policy


Current policy

Burma is a country located in the region of Southeastern Asia. See abbreviation for Myanmar. In November 2015, Democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party National Democratic Alliance (NLD) won big in the first free parliamentary elections since the military took power in the 1960s. The hopes for a bright future for Myanmar were high when in practice Suu Kyi took over as the country’s leader. However, a military offensive in the state of Rakhine, with the subsequent mass escape of Muslim Rohingya into Bangladesh, has led Suu Kyi and her government to receive sharp criticism from the outside world.

The 2015 election could take place under calm conditions and turnout was high. The NLD won 255 of the 330 electable seats in the legislative lower house (110 seats are reserved for the military). The military party USDP received only 30 seats and quickly confessed.

  • Countryaah: Country facts and history of Burma, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.

In March 2016, the new NLD-dominated parliament appointed the academic and NLD veteran Htin Kyaw a new president. He became the country’s first civilian head of state in just over half a century. Htin Kyaw was close ally to Suu Kyi. When his new government was installed in April of that year, Suu Kyi was given three posts: Foreign Minister, Minister responsible for the Office of the President, and one for her tailored position as National Counselor (State Counselor). In practice, she became the country’s highest civilian leader.

One of the first decisions made by the government was to release 83 political prisoners, among them four journalists, as well as 69 students arrested in 2015. But soon the problems began to pile up. In the fall of 2016, the military carried out an offensive in Rakhine in the west. The intervention was said to be directed at the militant resistance group Arsa (Harakah al-Yaqin), which consisted of an unknown number of people belonging to the persecuted Muslim group Rohingya. A new offensive was launched after Arsa attacked some 30 police stations in the state in August 2017. Nine police officers were killed in the campaign. The military’s counter-attack became fierce. Hundreds of communities with Rohingya population were burned down. Thousands of people, mainly Rohingya but also Buddhist Rakhine, have since been killed by the military or in violence between the ethnic groups.here).


A refugee crisis is triggered

The offensive led to a widespread refugee crisis when over 750,000 Rohingya crossed over the border into neighboring Bangladesh over the course of a few months for fear of the army’s violent progress. The allegations of serious abuse by the army (but also by Buddhist locals) against mainly Rohingy people were tight.

Large parts of the world were shocked and condemned the violence in Rakhine. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, described the offensive against Rohingy as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. UN Secretary-General António Guterres also called on Suu Kyi and the NLD government to condemn the offensive and demand a military retreat. But no condemnation came and Myanmar’s leadership long refused to allow UN personnel to inspect the conflict area. Only in October 2017 did a UN group of three people spend a day in Rakhine and they then testified to “unimaginable suffering”. In a UN report published in September 2018, the country’s army chief was accused of causing a “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” directed against the Muslim minority group.

The outside world has been surprised that Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her democracy campaign, has not taken a clear stand against the military’s actions, and her star has dropped. Her supporters point out that Suu Kyi and the NLD do not hold all the power, because militaries remain in both parliament and government (see Political system). They emphasize that Suu Kyi is forced to strike a difficult balance between the military’s influence and the continued democratization of Myanmar. Her silence is also believed to be due to her ambition to try to become president, even though the Constitution prohibits it (see Political system). To show concern for Muslims would probably be political suicide in the Buddhist dominated country. However, her critics believe that she chooses to sit on the military’s knees when she should instead leave her position of power in protest.

Repatriation stalls

Myanmar signed an agreement in November 2017 with Bangladesh to cooperate to bring back the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have traveled from Rakhine to Bangladesh. The repatriation was scheduled to begin at the end of January 2018, but had to be postponed until further notice because both countries needed more time to prepare.

Not least, there was a lack of housing in Rakhine, where the military was accused of demolishing the abandoned houses of the refugees or allowing Buddhists to move into them. Moreover, the security situation in the state was poor when the military was left on the ground. The vast majority of refugees did not want to move back and because the agreement was based on voluntary work, they looked to remain in Bangladesh for a long time. Half a year after the agreement was concluded, the repatriation of all judgments had completely stalled. According to Myanmar’s authorities, a family had moved back.

Another strain for Suu Kyi came in March 2018 when President Htin Kyaw unexpectedly resigned after only two years in office. He was reported to leave his post prematurely for health reasons. Shortly thereafter, the lower house elected its own President Win Myint as new president. Win Myint also belongs to Suu Kyi’s closest circle and participated in her side in the democracy struggle against the military junta.

In September 2018, the UN Independent Investigators released its final report on the events in Rakhine since the fall of 2017. In it, investigators write that Myanmar’s commander-in-chief and a number of other military commanders should be prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It should take place at an international tribunal as the impunity for military personnel is extensive in Myanmarian courts. The government of Aung San Suu Kyi is accused of contributing to the scale of the crimes by allowing hateful speech about the Rohingya and by limiting media and other critics’ opportunities to reach out.

Military offensive against the Arakanese army (AA)

UN human rights envoy in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, warned in May 2020 that the military may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity even in its fight against the Arakanese Army (AA) rebel group in Chin and Rakhine. That would mean that the country’s army may have committed war crimes against two ethnic groups in the state of Rakhine within a few years: the Rohingy and the Arakanes (rakhine). Lee blamed the military for disappearances, torture, killing of suspected AA supporters, as well as actions to stop aid broadcasts and prevent injured people from going to hospital. AA was suspected of kidnapping, among other things.

The fighting between the military and AA in Chin and Rakhine started in early 2019 and escalated during the first months of 2020. They are described as the most intensive in the country in several years by the think tank International Crisis Group (ICG). Daily battles are reported in the two states. Crowds of people have been killed, hundreds have been injured and around 150,000 have fled since the conflict broke out in January 2019. Both parties to the conflict are accusing each other of abuse, including the death of a WHO driver last week. The driver was carrying tests for covid-19.

Follow the ongoing development of the Calendar.

Read more about the situation of the Rohingy and the background to this.

Read about conflicts with other minority people here.

READ TIP – read more about Myanmar in UI’s web magazine Foreign Magazine:
China back as Myanmar’s most important ally (2019-0614)
Authoritarian regimes spread in Southeast Asian countries (2018-10-09)
Genocide charge may bring Myanmar closer to China (2018-09- 20)
Freedom of speech and press has deteriorated in Burma (2018-01-29)
About our sources


Official name

Pyidaunzu Thanmada Myama Nainngandaw / Republic of the Union of Myanmar


republic, federal state

Head of State

President Win Myint (2018–)

Head of government

President Win Myint (2018–)

Most important parties with mandates in the last election

National Alliance for Democracy (NLD) 255/135, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) 30/12, Arakan National Party (ANP) 12/10, Shan Nationalities Alliance for Democracy (SNLD) 12/3 et al (2015) 1

Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections

Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) 259, Shan Nationalities Alliance for Democracy (SNLD) 18, National Unity Party (NUP) 12, National Democratic Force (NDF) 12, other directly elected 29; in the 2012 general election, the National League for Democracy (NLD) got 37 seats, these replaced members of mainly USDP who received ministerial posts (2010) 2


about 80% in the 2015 parliamentary elections

Upcoming elections

parliamentary elections 2020

  1. number of seats in the lower house / upper house
    2. number of seats in the lower houseSources

The situation of the Rohingy

In November 2017, Amnesty International (AI) published a comprehensive study in which the human rights organization writes that the Myanmar authorities’ control of the Rohingya population “can be equated with apartheid”.

According to the report, decades of persecution by the stateless Muslim group reached their peak in the refugee crisis in Rakhine 2017 (see Current Policy). AI writes that it is a state-sponsored campaign to restrict almost all aspects of Rohingya life so that today they live in a “ghettolike” existence, where the authorities “keep Rohingya women, men and children separate and depressed in a dehumanized apartheid system”.

The basis for this system is found in the citizenship laws introduced by the ruling military junta in 1982 and which made Rohingy stateless, since they did not gain citizenship despite having lived in Myanmar for many generations. (In Myanmar, Rohingy is often referred to as “Bengal” and is considered to belong to Bangladesh.) A system of ID cards was introduced as a control tool and Rohingy cannot move freely in the country because of it. Over the years, Rohingy in Myanmar have been subjected to persecution in the form of forced labor, penal taxes and extrajudicial killings carried out by military and security forces. Today, they have less access to education and health care than the majority people.

Violence waves and refugee streams

In 1989, the junta began encouraging Buddhist Burmese to move to Muslim-dominated areas of Rakhine (then Arakan). The Rohingya were disappointed and became internal refugees. In April 1991, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyos fled to neighboring Bangladesh from a military offensive in which villages were destroyed and Rohingyans were beaten and killed. Juntan promised to repatriate “real Myanmarians”. Only Rohingya with valid ID documents were allowed to return. The same argument applies today.

Persecution with similar patterns had occurred between 1976 and 1978, when more than 200,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh. At that time, the refugees were repatriated, only to become stateless in 1982.

A new wave of violence against the country’s Muslims came in 2012. In central Myanmar, many Rohingya were driven out of cities and towns and have since lived segregated from the Buddhist majority community, in areas surrounded by barbed wire and with constant ID checks. In Rakhine, in the course of a week, 50 people were killed and tens of thousands (mainly Rohingya but also Buddhists) fled to Bangladesh. Sometime in July, the climax had reached even if Buddhist residents and military continued to attack Muslims and their property. By the end of the year, it was estimated that 190 people had been killed in the ethnically motivated violence and around 140,000 had been displaced.

The outside world demanded a UN-supported independent investigation into what happened, but Myanmar instead appointed its own, which freed the military from responsibility and recommended a doubling of the military presence in Rakhine. The two peoples would be temporarily segregated and the issue of Rohingy citizenship would be addressed.

The NLD government gets criticism

In March 2013, some 40 people, the majority of Muslims, were killed when ethnic violence erupted again, this time in the city of Meikhtila in Mandalay district. In January 2014, 40 Rohingy were killed in Rakhine.

In October 2014, information came out that the government had drawn up an action plan for Rakhine, with the idea that just over 130,000 Rohingya would be moved to closed camps for further transport to Bangladesh by May 2015. The plan was condemned by a number of human rights organizations and the UN General Assembly in December called for Myanmar to grant full citizenship to the Rohingya.

In May 2016, the newly-appointed NLD government set up a Central Committee for Peace, Stability and Development in Rakhine with Aung San Suu Kyi chaired. Its mission was to help internally displaced people return home, and coordinate relief efforts from the UN and NGOs. As criticism from the outside world grew, in August of the same year, Suu Kyi appointed an advisory international commission with former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as chairman. The mission was to find sustainable solutions to the problems in Rakhine. The Commission later received criticism for going the government’s affairs and used it to clean it from responsibility.

Mass flight to Bangladesh

The situation worsened radically in connection with the military offensive that followed the militant Rohingya group of Arsas (Harakah al-Yaqin) attacks on some 30 police stations on August 25, 2017, when nine policemen were killed. After moving over 750,000 Rohingy to Bangladesh from the military’s advance a few months later, there are now estimated to be between 400,000 and 500,000 Rohingy in Rakhine. Of these, about a quarter live in ghetto-like camps. Since 2012, about two-thirds of Myanmar’s approximately 1.5 million Rohingy have been expelled from the country.

Arsa has also been guilty of abuses and violations of human rights. In May 2018, Amnesty International wrote in a report that Arsa carried out a massacre of 53 Hindus (the majority of children) in Kha Maung Seik in northern Rakhine on August 25, 2017. It was the same day that Arsa carried out the attacks on Rakhine police stations. According to survivors of the massacre, the villagers gathered and were forced to march out of the village with their eyes, accompanied by masked people and Rohingy in ordinary clothes. The victims were then executed with knives, shovels and iron pipes. The report also revealed that 46 Hindu men, women and children disappeared from the neighboring village of Ye Bauk Kyar on the same day. Villagers believe that this group was also killed by Arsa. They say the perpetrators have moved to Bangladesh.

Arsa has also previously been charged with mass murder of Hindus in northern Rakhine (see September 2017). Amnesty International writes that it is as important for Arsa to be held accountable for his crimes as for the military to be investigated for his.

UN: “Generals should be prosecuted for genocide”

In September 2018, the UN Independent Investigators released its final report on the events in Rakhine since the fall of 2017. In it, investigators write that Myanmar’s commander-in-chief and a number of other military commanders should be prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It should take place at an international tribunal as the impunity for military personnel is extensive in Myanmarian courts. The government of Aung San Suu Kyi is accused of contributing to the scale of the crimes by allowing hateful speech about the Rohingya and by limiting media and other critics’ opportunities to reach out.

Read more about the refugee crisis here and about the continuing development of events here.

Conflicts with other minority people

By and large since Myanmar’s independence in 1948, the state has been in conflict with a number of ethnic minority groups, mainly in the east and north. The fighting in the country’s outer areas has caused great suffering and slowed Myanmar’s development.

The conflicts are about the ethnic minorities’ demands for more or less far-reaching self-government, something that all Myanmar governments have found difficult to accept. The requirements for self-government are linked to the desire of each people group to control natural resources in their area. Competition for minerals and hardwood has always been one of the driving forces behind the fighting, as have the minorities’ struggle to preserve their cultural identity.

A number of ceasefires have been negotiated over the years between the power holders and ethnic guerrilla movements. Some of them have been in force for several years, but none have led to political reform. On the other hand, the rebel leaders are said to have received financial benefits, which sometimes have spread disgust that weakened their groups and favored the regime. The regime’s tactics have been to rule by disintegrating. Several times the army has entered into a ceasefire with a single ethnic militia and then forcibly strikes against another group. This text describes some events that show this pattern.

It has also happened that ceasefires were used by companies, such as forestry or power companies, to seize land in areas with unclear ownership conditions. Both the army and the guerrillas have then gone into corporate affairs and forced villagers away from lands they used for generations with a proven right, but perhaps without formal proof of ownership. Development projects that have been started in areas where a ceasefire has been entered into have usually been made by order of the central government, or the government-appointed governor, without being asked by the local population.

Associations and divisions

The greatest ethnic military force for many years was Karen’s National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed branch of Karen’s (kayin’s) national union (KNU). The movement was formed as early as 1948 to fight for an independent state for the Karen people in the east. KNU was in 1975 and founded the National Democratic Front (NDF) together with a handful of other ethnic groups. The NDF wanted Myanmar to become a federation. Eventually, about 10 people groups were included in the NDF: karen, kachin, karenni (kayinni), mon, shan, pa-o, palaung, wa, arakan (rakhine) and lahu.

In 1986, all groups in the NDF agreed to abandon their individual demands for self-government, in order to make a joint demand for a federal political system instead. At the same time, Burma’s Communist Party, which entrenched significant control in the north towards the border with China, joined the NDF and abandoned its demand for the country to become a Communist one-party state. The Communists had been fighting the central government since 1948, but had now been forced back into a small area in the north.

In the late 1980s, tensions arose within the NDF between federalists and a faction that wanted the country to become a union of self-governing, ethnically-based states. This faction broke out and formed Burma’s Democratic Alliance (DAB).

Drop off to the regime, ceasefires concluded

One of the largest ethnically based rebel forces is the United States Army (UWSA), with the political branch UWSP emerging from the Communist Party. The “state” Wa, which is not recognized by the Myanmar government, consists of two separate areas within the state of Shan. Wa is strongly influenced by China and the administration and the political leadership is built on the Chinese pattern. Within the country, and internationally, the UWSA is primarily regarded as a tool for the Chinese government and not so much as a movement fighting for the rights of an ethnic minority.

In April 1989, the UWSA rebelled against the former gun brothers in the Communist Party, stormed the party headquarters and drove many communists across the border into China. The remaining Communists allied with the military junta and agreed to attack the Mong Tai Army shangerillan, whose leaders controlled much of the opium trade in the Golden Triangle in the far north.

The Communists’ alliance with the regime sent a shock wave through many ethnic guerrilla groups that depended on the Communists supplying them with weapons and ammunition. The military junta also got over the Shan State Army – North (SSPP), Pa-os National Organization (Pono) and the Palaung State Liberation Organization (PSLO) on its side. All three were excluded in 1991 from NDF, which now consisted of eight organizations.

At the same time as fierce fighting was going on between the military and various guerrilla groups during the late 1980s and in the early 1990s, Kachin’s Independence Organization (KIO) signed a peace agreement with the regime in 1993. In 1994, guerrilla groups from karenni, kayan and shan also signed a ceasefire agreement.

The military has success

With several ceasefires in force, the military in December 1994 attacked another resistance group, now the strong KNU, and in January 1995 entered its headquarters. Hundreds of KNLA fighters were forced to flee to Thailand. When the KNLA split into a Christian and a Buddhist faction, the army was able to take its last hold and the KNU announced a unilateral ceasefire. Just over a year later, the army went on a new offensive in an attempt to completely crush the movement, and thousands of people were now forced to flee to Thailand. In 1997–1998 new battles were fought between KNLA and the military. By burning the earth’s tactics, the military managed to break down KNU’s supply lines and 30,000 people in eastern Myanmar fled their homes.

In December 1993, the military launched an offensive against the Mong Tai army in the Shan state on the border with Thailand. In 1994, the Shan people proclaimed an independent state. Fierce fighting continued until 1995 when a faction, the Shan State National Army (SSNA), broke out of Mong Tai. With support from other ethnic groups, mainly wa, in January 1996, the army was able to occupy Mong Thai’s headquarters in Homong. The Mong Tai army was then converted into a militia force under the command of the army.

Between November 1996 and February 1997, fighting broke out between the army and a faction of the Mong Tai army who refused to capitulate. Later that year, three Shan groups joined forces in the Shan State Army (SSA) and continued to invite resistance. In May 1999 there were reports that around 300,000 members of the Shan people had been forced into large camps by government soldiers. Others fled to Thailand.

Agreement on national armistice

Since Myanmar’s new constitution in 2008, the regime has called on all ethnic groups to form political parties and to run in the general elections to be held in 2010. However, the fact that the military was guaranteed a quarter of the seats in the new parliament made the groups doubtful. Some of them refused to participate in order not to risk legitimizing the regime through victory in a contentious election that the big opposition party NLD with Aung San Suu Kyi at the head chose to boycott. Other groups were candidates for not being completely without influence in the new parliament.

As the regime rejected certain ethnic parties and candidates from minority peoples, tensions increased along the border between regime-controlled and ethnically-controlled territory. Shortly after Election Day, fighting broke out in the border town of Myawaddy in Kayin. And in 2011, people floated across the border to China since the KIA’s armed KIA branch KIA was attacked by the army when it refused to back from areas in the north near two Chinese-funded dams.

In August 2011, the new (formally civil, but military-backed) USDP government began inviting various groups to talk about how the ethnic conflicts should have a sustainable solution. In April 2014, the government agreed with 16 ethnic rebel groups on a draft nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). The rebel groups were gathered in the National Coalition Coordination Group (NCCT). When the draft was adopted, 14 of the participating rebel movements already had separate ceasefire agreements. The government’s intention with the new agreement was said to be to provide more statute for the individual agreements.

Only in October 2015 was the national ceasefire agreement signed. By then, the number of rebel groups participating had decreased to eight, including the KNU. Among those who rejected the agreement were the most active resistance groups, such as the wafer UWSA, the shan people’s SSA and the Kachinese KIO. The Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF) and its armed branch Ta’ang’s National Liberation Army (TNLA) in Shan also stood out. Completely outside the negotiations were the Rohingy, the Muslim people group in the state of Rakhine, who in recent years has been the country’s most persecuted and mercilessly treated minority and is not represented in any context, since they are not recognized as Myanmar citizens (see further Current Policy).

Fighting at the Chinese border

Gerilla Myanmar’s National Democratic Alliance and Army (MNDAA) in the Kokang area of ​​Shan State in the north was also not included in the agreement. In February 2015, the toughest fighting in at least two years in Shan State broke out between government forces and the MNDAA. The violence erupted when a rebel leader returned from five years of exile in China and launched assaults on army posts. Tens of thousands of people fled the fighting. The Kokang rebels have close ties to China and control a strip of land along the Chinese border.

The same month, the government introduced a three-month emergency permit in Kokang, which meant that the military gained control of the area. By the end of March, more than 200 combatants had lost their lives. The conflict led to increased tensions between Myanmar and China when Chinese nationals were killed by mistake in a Myanmar air strike in the same month. In May, the MNDAA announced a unilateral ceasefire. Assessors considered that the decision came after pressure from China.

Fragile peace process begins

Following the NLD election victory in November 2015, Suu Kyi ruled that a lasting peace with the ethnic insurgency groups was one of the government’s highest priorities. In January 2016, she attended a meeting of hundreds of ethnic guerrillas as well as political and military leaders to discuss a way forward. At a peace conference in August / September in southern Shan, with the presence of former UN chief Kofi Annan and representatives of 17 of Myanmar’s 20 largest ethnic groups, the parties agreed to hold peace talks every six months. The goal was peace throughout the country until 2020.

However, the conference was overshadowed by fiery fighting between government forces and the KIA in Kachin. In March 2017, the new peace process looked extremely fragile when fighting was also going on between the military and the MNDAA in Kokang.

A glimmer of light came in February 2018 when two more ethnic groups signed the national ceasefire agreement: the New Mon-State Party (NMSP) and Lahus Democratic Union (LDU). Thus, 10 of 16 participating rebel groups had signed the agreement.

In April of that year, a source at the United Nations agency Ocha announced that more than 4,000 people had been forced to flee their homes in Kachin in the Northeast over the past three weeks. They had escaped fierce fighting between the KIA and government soldiers. More than 100,000 people have become internal refugees since 2011, when the ceasefire collapsed between the government and the KIA. According to human rights groups, the military has intensified fighting against resistance groups in the north and northeast in the shadow of the refugee crisis in Rakhine in western Myanmar.

At the end of December 2018, the military announced a unilateral ceasefire in Shan and Kachin in order to start a dialogue with some armed groups (the so-called Northern Alliance-Burma) about signing the peace agreement. When the ceasefire was extended in May 2019 to June 30 of that year, no major progress had been reported. The fighting was reported to have decreased in Shan and Kachin, but increased in Rakhine and Chin. In the fall, information came out about a draft ceasefire agreement with the Northern Alliance-Burma at the state level. However, it did not seem relevant for these groups to sign the peace agreement.

For information on the events in Rakhine and on the situation of the state’s Muslim minority Rohingya, read here, here and here.