For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Area: 678,500 sq. km. (slightly smaller than Texas).
Cities: Administrative capital--Nay Pyi Taw, near the township of Pyinmana (pop. 200,000). Other cities--Rangoon (pop. 5.5 million), Mandalay (pop. 1.2 million).
Terrain: Central lowlands ringed by steep, rugged highlands.
Climate: Tropical monsoon; cloudy, rainy, hot, humid summers (southwest monsoon, June to September); less cloudy, scant rainfall, mild temperatures, lower humidity during winter (December to April). Some areas of central Burma are subject to prolonged drought conditions.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Burmese.
Population: 53.4 million (CIA World Factbook, 2010); no official census has been taken since 1983.
Annual population growth rate (2005 UN Development Program (UNDP) estimate)*: 0.8%.
Ethnic groups: Burman 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Mon 2%, Indian 2%, other 5%.
Religions: Buddhist 89%, Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Muslim 4%, animist 1%, other 2%.
Languages: Burmese, minority ethnic languages.
Education: Literacy--adult, 89.9%; male, 93.9%; female, 86.4% (UNDP 2007 estimate)*.
Health: Infant mortality rate--74 deaths/1,000 live births (UNICEF 2007 estimate). Life expectancy--61.2 yrs.: male, 59.0 yrs.; female 63.4 yrs. (2007 UNDP estimate)*.
*The Burmese Government reviews UNDP figures prior to release.
Type: Military regime.
Constitution: January 3, 1974; suspended since September 18, 1988, when the current military government (called the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC) took power. Burmese authorities reported that a new constitution was overwhelmingly approved in a May 2008 referendum; however, international observers and democratic groups in Burma have deemed both the drafting process and the referendum to be deeply flawed. The constitution is scheduled to take effect when a new parliament convenes following elections planned for an as-yet unspecified date in 2010.
Branches: Executive--Chairman of the SPDC Senior General Than Shwe is the head of state. Prime Minister Thein Sein is the head of government. Legislative--There is no legislative branch in Burma under the current military government. Parliamentarians elected in the 1990 election have never been permitted to take their seats. Judicial--The legal system is based on a British-era system, but the military regime often rules by decree and there is no guarantee of a fair public trial; the judiciary is not independent.
Political parties/socio-political organizations: In March 2010, the government released a series of much-criticized election and party registration laws in preparation for planned elections. As of July 2010, approximately 38 new parties were approved for registration under those laws. Previously, there were only 10 legally registered political parties in Burma; 5 have chosen to re-register. Unregistered political parties are illegal. The National League for Democracy (NLD), the primary opposition party, announced it would not re-register under the flawed electoral laws; it is no longer recognized by the government as a political party. Several former NLD party elders subsequently formed the National Democratic Force (NDF). Several other new national democracy-oriented parties have been formed. The National Unity Party (NUP) and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (an offshoot of the regime-supported, 25-million-member socio-political organization Union Solidarity and Development Association), are the two primary parties supportive of government policies. In addition, several ceasefire groups representing Burma’s ethnic minority groups have formed political parties and/or maintain political organizations.
Administrative subdivisions: The country is divided into seven divisions (tain)--Irrawaddy, Bago (Pegu), Magway, Mandalay, Yangon (Rangoon), Sagaing, and Tanintharyi (Tenassarim); and seven ethnic states (pyi nay)--Chin State, Kachin State, Kayin (Karen) State, Kayah (Karenni) State, Mon State, Rakhine (Arakan) State, and Shan State.
Suffrage: Universal suffrage at 18 years of age.
GDP: $27.55 billion (2009 estimate).
Annual growth rate: 5.3% (2010 estimate). The Burmese Government’s economic growth statistics are not released regularly and lack credibility.
GDP per capita: $469 (2010 estimate).
Inflation rate: 10% (2010 Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) estimate).
Natural resources: natural gas, timber, tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead, coal, limestone, precious stones, hydropower, marine products, and petroleum.
Agriculture: Products--rice, pulses, beans, sesame, peanuts, sugarcane, hardwood.
Industries: Types--natural gas, agricultural processing, knit and woven apparel, wood and wood products, cement, paper, cotton, cotton yarn, sugar, mining, construction materials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer.
Recorded trade (based on 2008 statistics from Business Information Group): Exports--$6.6 billion. Types--natural gas 38%, agricultural products 18%, precious and semi-precious stones 11%, timber and forest products 8%, and marine products 5%. Major markets--Thailand 40%, Hong Kong 11%, India 11%, Singapore 13%, China 7.5%, and Malaysia 5%. Imports--$3.4 billion. Types--lubricant oil and diesel 16.9%, textiles and fabrics 8.6%, machinery parts 8.7%, and steel, iron, and bars 5.8%. Major suppliers--Singapore 30%, China 18%, Bahamas 13% Thailand 6%, and Japan 5%. U.S. economic sanctions prohibit the import of Burmese-origin goods into the U.S. and while U.S. exports to Burma (other than financial services) are permitted, very little trade flows in that direction.
A majority of Burma's people are ethnic Burman. Shan, Karen, Rohingya, Arakanese (Rakhine), Kachin, Chin, and Mon, together with other smaller indigenous ethnic groups, form about 30% of the population. Indians and Chinese are the largest non-indigenous groups.
Burmese is the most widely spoken language (approx. 32 million native speakers). Ethnic groups have retained their own identities and languages. Some of the most prominent are Shan; various Karen, Karenni and Chin languages; Arakanese; Kachin; Mon; Palaung; Parauk; Wa; and Yangbye. English is spoken in many areas frequented by tourists. Indian and Chinese residents speak various languages and dialects of their homelands: Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Mandarin, Fujian, and Cantonese.
An estimated 89% of the population practices Buddhism. Other religions--Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Muslim 4%, and animist 1%--are less prevalent, although Christian and Muslim groups claim the government significantly underestimates their number of adherents.
According to Burmese Government budget data, public health expenditure has accounted for less than 1% of total government spending. High infant mortality rates and short life expectancies further highlight poor health and living conditions. Tuberculosis, diarrheal disease, malaria, and HIV/AIDS pose serious threats to the Burmese population. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is poised to re-enter Burma and plans to begin programs in early 2011. In 2009, the UNDP's Human Development Index, which measures achievements in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment, and adjusted real income, ranked Burma 138 out of 182 countries.
Burmese authorities have perpetrated numerous documented human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rape, torture, and incommunicado detentions. Internal displacement and refugee outflows of ethnic minorities are prevalent. Over two million Burmese, many of them ethnic minorities, have fled for economic and political reasons to Thailand, Bangladesh, India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and elsewhere.
In Burma, there are approximately 750,000 stateless Rohingya in Northern Rakhine State. Elsewhere, there are roughly 150,000 Burmese living in nine refugee camps in Thailand along the border with Burma. Approximately 28,000 Burmese Rohingya are registered as living in two official refugee camps in Bangladesh, and more than 200,000 unregistered Rohingya live in surrounding towns and villages outside of the two camps.
Malaysia hosts more than 90,000 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily in urban areas, 91% of whom are from Burma. Chin and Rohingya comprise the largest groups of this population. Up to 100,000 unregistered Burmese Chin are living in India's Mizoram State, with another 7,500 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers (primarily Chin) in Delhi, India, of which up to 4,000 are UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-registered refugees.
Burma was unified by Burman dynasties three times during the past millennium. The first such unification came with the rise of the Bagan (Pagan) Dynasty in 1044 AD, which is considered the "Golden Age" in Burmese history. During this period, Theravada Buddhism first made its appearance in Burma, and the Bagan kings built a massive city with thousands of pagodas and monasteries along the Irrawaddy River. The Bagan Dynasty lasted until 1287 when Mongol invaders destroyed the city. Ethnic Shan rulers, who established a political center at Ava (near Mandalay), filled the ensuing political vacuum for a short time.
In the 15th century, the Taungoo Dynasty succeeded again in unifying under Burman rule a large, multi-ethnic kingdom. This dynasty, which lasted from 1486 until 1752, left little cultural legacy, but expanded the kingdom through conquest of the Shans. Internal power struggles and the cost of protracted warfare led to the eventual decline of the Taungoo Dynasty.
The final Burman royal dynasty, the Konbaung, was established in 1752 under the rule of King Alaungpaya and lasted until the fall of King Thibaw to Britain in 1885. Like the Taungoo Kings, the Konbaung rulers focused on warfare and conquest. Wars were fought with the ethnic Mons and Arakanese, and with the Siamese. The Burmese sacked the Siamese capital of Ayuthaya in 1767. This period also saw four invasions by the Chinese and three devastating wars with the British.
The British began their conquest of Burma in 1824, expanding their holdings after each of the three wars. At the end of the third war in 1885, the British gained complete control of Burma, annexing it to British India.
A group of Burmese nationalists known as the “30 Comrades,” led by General Aung San, joined the Japanese forces in driving out the British at the outbreak of World War II. However, the Burmese Army switched sides in mid-1945 and aided U.S. and British forces in their drive to Rangoon against the Japanese. After the war, the Burmese, with General Aung San at the helm, demanded complete political and economic independence from Britain. The British Government acceded to these demands. A constitution was completed in 1947 and independence granted in January 1948. General Aung San was assassinated with most of his cabinet before the constitution went into effect.
During the constitutional period from 1948 to 1962, Burma had a democratic, parliamentary government. However, the country suffered widespread conflict and internal struggle. Constitutional disputes and persistent division among political and ethnic groups contributed to the democratic government's weak hold on power. In 1958, Prime Minister U Nu accepted military rule temporarily to restore political order. The military stepped down after 18 months. In 1962 General Ne Win led a military coup, abolishing the constitution and establishing a xenophobic military government with socialist economic policies that had devastating effects on the country's economy and business climate.
In March 1988, student-led demonstrations broke out in Rangoon in response to the worsening economic situation and evolved into a call for regime change. Despite repeated violent crackdowns by the military and police, the demonstrations increased in size and many in the general public joined the students. During mass demonstrations on August 8, 1988, military forces killed more than 1,000 demonstrators. At a rally following this massacre, Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, made her first political speech and assumed the role of opposition leader.
In September 1988, a group of generals deposed Ne Win's Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP), suspended the constitution, and established a new ruling junta called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In an effort to "restore order," the SLORC sent the army into the streets to suppress the ongoing public demonstrations. An estimated additional 3,000 were killed, and more than 10,000 students fled into the hills and border areas. Many left the country.
The SLORC ruled by martial law until national parliamentary elections were held in May 1990. These elections were generally judged to be free and fair. The military made little effort to intimidate voters, erroneously assuming their preferred candidates would win. The results were an overwhelming victory for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, which won nearly 60% of the vote and 392 of the 485 seats, even though she was under house arrest at the time of the elections. The SLORC refused to honor the results or call the parliament into session, instead imprisoning many political activists and maintaining its grip on power.
The ruling junta changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997, but did not change its policy of autocratic control and repression of the democratic opposition. It continued to subject Aung San Suu Kyi to varying forms of detention and other restrictions on her movement, which it periodically lifted only to reinstate later. In 2000, the SPDC began talks with the political opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi. These talks were followed by the release of political prisoners and some increase in political freedoms for the NLD. In May 2002, Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to leave her home, and she subsequently traveled widely throughout the country, where she was greeted by large crowds. On May 30, 2003, Aung San Suu Kyi and a convoy of her supporters were attacked by a group of regime-affiliated thugs. Many members of the convoy were killed or injured, and others disappeared. Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her party were detained. Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest.
In October 2004, hard-line members of the senior leadership consolidated their power by ousting Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt and removing him and his allies from control of the government and military intelligence apparatus. In late November 2004, the regime announced it would release approximately 9,000 prisoners it claimed had been improperly jailed by Khin Nyunt's National Intelligence Bureau. Approximately 86 of those released had been imprisoned for their political beliefs, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, both key figures in the 1988 demonstrations. Over the years the government has continued significant prisoner releases, although only a small fraction of those released have been political prisoners. Following their release, some of these activists began to reorganize and resume their political activities. Following a sharp increase in fuel prices on August 15, 2007, pro-democracy groups began a series of peaceful marches and demonstrations to protest the deteriorating economic situation in Burma. The regime responded by arbitrarily detaining over 150 pro-democracy activists in August and September 2007, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi. On August 28, 2007, as popular dissatisfaction spread, Buddhist monks began leading peaceful marches. On September 5, 2007, security forces in the town of Pakkoku violently broke up demonstrations by monks, resulting in injuries and triggering calls for a nationwide response and a government apology for the incident.
Beginning on September 18, 2007, monks resumed their peaceful protests in several cities throughout the country. These marches grew quickly to include ordinary citizens, culminating in a large gathering of protestors in Rangoon on September 24. On September 26 and 27, the regime renewed its violent crackdown, shooting, beating, and arbitrarily detaining thousands of monks, pro-democracy activists, and onlookers. The regime confirmed the deaths of only 10 protestors. However, some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) estimated the number of casualties to be much higher, and in his December 7, 2007, report to the UN General Assembly, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro stated that there were over 30 fatalities in Rangoon associated with the September 2007 protests. In retribution for leading protest marches, monks were beaten and arrested, many monks were disrobed, and several monasteries were raided, ransacked, and closed. In addition to the more than 1,100 political prisoners whose arrests predate the crackdown, another thousand or more were detained due to their participation in the September 2007 protests.
Following the regime's 1993 proclamation of a seven-step roadmap to democracy and a subsequent national convention which convened intermittently, the regime in September 2007 concluded the process of "drafting" principles for the new constitution. Delegates to the convention were not allowed to debate freely, discuss, or attempt to amend the principles. In October 2007, the SPDC appointed 54 pro-regime persons to sit on a constitution drafting committee. The government declared the completion of the constitution drafting committee's work in February 2008, and announced that it would hold a national referendum on the constitution in May 2008, with multi-party elections planned for 2010. While the referendum law provided for a secret ballot, free debate was not permitted and activities considered "interfering with the referendum" carried a three-year prison sentence. The government carried out the referendum on May 10 and May 24 in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and in the midst of the humanitarian disaster caused by Cyclone Nargis. The referendum was rife with irregularities. On May 27, the government announced that 92.48% of voters approved the constitution, with a 98% voter turnout. Independent observers do not consider those figures to be credible.
Cyclone Nargis hit Irrawaddy and Rangoon Divisions on the evening of May 2 and morning of May 3, 2008. The storm devastated a huge swath of the Irrawaddy Delta region, wiping out entire villages and leaving an estimated 138,000 Burmese dead or missing, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and approximately 2.4 million people affected by the storm. Burmese authorities were criticized for their initial reluctance to grant access to the affected region by international donors, though such access was granted in the ensuing months.
Starting in November 2008 the government imposed harsh sentences on large numbers of political prisoners it had arrested over the course of the previous year, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi. The trials were closed and did not appear to meet minimum standards of due process. The imprisoned activists were convicted, mainly in closed-door hearings, of unlawful association, illegally distributing print and video media, or generally destabilizing public security and the security of the state and were given lengthy sentences, some as long as 68 years.
On May 14, 2009, security forces took Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest to Insein prison and charged her and her two assistants with baseless crimes related to an uninvited American citizen who swam to her home. Following a trial that was widely viewed as unfair, on August 11, 2009, Aung San Suu Kyi and her two assistants were convicted of violating the terms of her house arrest. The international community criticized her conviction and subsequent sentence to an additional 18 months of house arrest.
In March 2010, the government published widely criticized election and party registration laws to govern the conduct of elections planned for 2010. The laws annul the results of the 1990 elections, bar political prisoners from party membership and parliamentary candidacy, and grant broad authority to the regime-appointed Union Election Commission to oversee and regulate political party activities. In April 2010, all active-duty cabinet ministers resigned their military commissions, reportedly to prepare for candidacy in the 2010 elections. Prime Minister Thein Sein was appointed head of the pro-government Union Solidarity and Development Party.
Separate explosions in April 2010 targeted a water festival platform in Rangoon and the Myitsone Dam site in Kachin State. Authorities blamed the Rangoon attack, which killed 10 people, on a Burmese exile group but offered no evidence to substantiate the allegation.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The Union of Burma is ruled by a military body called the "State Peace and Development Council" (SPDC). The SPDC changed the name of the country to "Myanmar," but some members of the democratic opposition and other political activists do not recognize the name change and continue to use the name "Burma." Out of support for the democratic opposition, the U.S. Government likewise uses "Burma."
Burma consists of 14 states and divisions. Administrative control is exercised from the central government through a system of subordinate executive bodies and regional military commanders. Power is centralized within the SPDC, which maintains strict authoritarian rule over the people of Burma through intimidation by a pervasive security apparatus, a military-led system of economic patronage, strict censorship, repression of individual rights, and suppression of ethnic minority groups.
The SPDC continues its harsh rule and systematic human rights abuses, and insists that any future political transition take place on its terms. Parliamentary elections are planned for 2010 but the government has not yet specified a date. Under the new constitution, the civilian president will not be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The military will be guaranteed at least 25% of seats in parliament and will have the power to suspend civil liberties and legislative authority whenever it deems necessary in the interest of national security.
In November 2005, the ruling regime unexpectedly relocated the capital city from Rangoon to Nay Pyi Taw, further isolating the government from the public and international community. Nay Pyi Taw is a sparsely populated district located approximately midway between Rangoon and Mandalay. Most government workers and ministries moved to Nay Pyi Taw over the following six months, and rapid development of the new capital, including construction of a massive parliament building and presidential palace, continues. Foreign diplomatic missions are still located in Rangoon and no country has yet announced plans to move its embassy to Nay Pyi Taw.
The military regime has a contentious relationship with Burma's ethnic groups, many of which fought for greater autonomy or secession for their regions after the country's independence. In 1948, only Rangoon itself was under the control of national government authorities. Subsequent military campaigns brought more and more of the nation under central government control. Since 1989, the regime has entered into a series of ceasefire agreements with insurgent groups, though a few armed groups remain in active opposition. In 2009, the regime began pressuring ceasefire groups to join a Border Guard Force (BGF)--an integrated unit of Burma Army and ceasefire group soldiers, with Burma Army soldiers occupying the key positions; no major ceasefire group has agreed to these demands. In June 2009 the Burma Army and its affiliate, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, launched an attack against the Karen National Union. In August 2009 the Burma Army defeated the Kokang in an offensive in which thousands of people fled to China and a weapons and narcotics processing facility was destroyed.
Principal Government Officials
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council--Senior General Than Shwe
Prime Minister--Thein Sein
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Nyan Win
Chargé d' Affaires, Burmese Embassy in the United States--Han Thu
Ambassador to the United Nations--Than Swe
Burma maintains an embassy to the United States at 2300 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel.: (202) 332-3344; fax: (202) 332-4351.
Burma is a resource-rich country with a strong agricultural base. It has vast hardwood timber, natural gas, and fishery reserves and is a leading source of gems and jade. Tourist potential remains undeveloped because of weak infrastructure and Burma's international image, which has been damaged by the regime's human rights abuses and political oppression. Due to Burma's poor human rights record, the U.S. imposes a range of economic sanctions, including bans on the importation of Burmese products into the U.S. and the export of financial services from the U.S. to Burma. Australia, Canada, and the EU also impose economic sanctions on the Burmese regime.
Despite Burma's growing GDP due to increasing oil and gas revenues, the regime's mismanagement of the economy has created a downward economic spiral for the people of Burma. The state remains heavily and inefficiently involved in most parts of the economy, infrastructure has deteriorated, and rule of law does not exist. The majority of Burmese citizens lead a subsistence-level existence with minimal opportunity for economic improvement. Inflation, though now relatively low, is caused primarily by public sector deficit spending and the eroding value of the local currency (the kyat) and has reduced living standards over time. Inflation will likely remain a problem.
The military's commercial entities play a major role in the economy. The limited moves to a market economy have been accompanied by a significant rise in crony capitalism. A handful of individuals loyal to the regime benefit from policies that promote monopoly and privilege. State-controlled activity predominates in energy, heavy industry, and the rice trade. The state embarked on a campaign to privatize state-owned enterprises and properties in late 2009. By all credible accounts most buyers of these privatized assets have been those closely connected to the regime: crony businessmen, the military's for-profit business arms, and proxies acting on behalf of military families.
Burma remains a primarily agricultural economy with 50% of GDP derived from agriculture, livestock and fisheries, and forestry. Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 severely damaged approximately 20% of Burma's rice-producing lands, although most of these fields have since recovered. Burma's rice exports hit a near-record high in 2009, but indicators are that 2010 numbers will be much lower as drought, delayed monsoon rains, and a government desire to carefully control domestic rice prices combine to constrict exports. Manufacturing/industry constitutes only 15% of recorded economic activity, and state industries continue to play a large role in that sector. Trade and services constitute 35% of GDP.
Investment from abroad has declined precipitously since 1997 due to the increasingly unfriendly business environment and political pressure, some in the form of sanctions, from Western governments, consumers, and shareholders. However, new investment from regional neighbors, predominately from China, has increased in recent years and is very difficult to quantify accurately. The government conserves foreign exchange by limiting imports and promoting exports. Published estimates of Burma's foreign trade (particularly regarding imports) are greatly understated because of the large volume of off-book, black-market, illicit, and unrecorded border trade. In the near term, growth will continue to be constrained by government mismanagement and minimal investment. Government economic statistics are often unavailable and always unreliable. According to official figures, GDP growth has been over 10% annually since FY 1999-2000. However, the true rate is likely much lower; the Economist Intelligence Unit estimated that the growth rate in 2009 was 1.8% and predicted 2010 growth would be 3.1%. Burma's economic growth results largely from its natural gas exports, which account for over half of Burma's export receipts and foreign direct investment. Natural gas exports will increase significantly once production begins from the offshore Shwe and Shwephyu Fields, estimated to hold 5.7-10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Much of the gas from these fields will flow to China's Yunnan Province via a pipeline currently under construction by a consortium of Burmese and foreign partners, with an estimated completion date of 2014. A second roughly parallel pipeline will carry Middle East- and Africa-origin crude oil offloaded by tankers at a port in Rakhine State. Corporations based in China, India, South Korea, Thailand, Russia, Australia, France, and Malaysia have interests in the exploration and development of several offshore and onshore blocks. One U.S. corporation continues to maintain its interests in the energy sector, with an investment that predates U.S. sanctions.
Burma remains the world's second-largest producer of illicit opium--amounting to 5% of the world's total, according to a 2009 UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report. Annual production of opium is now estimated to be less than 15% of mid-1990 peak levels. Cultivation has risen for the past three years following a steady decline through 2006, but yields have fallen during that period. Burma is a major source of amphetamine-type stimulants in Asia. Although the Burmese Government has expanded its counternarcotics measures in recent years, production and trafficking of narcotics remain major issues. The Burmese Government has actively pursued mid-level and independent traffickers, but it remains reluctant to investigate, arrest, and prosecute high-level international traffickers associated with ethnic ceasefire groups.
During the Cold War, Burmese foreign policy was based on principles of neutrality, often tending toward xenophobia. Since 1988, however, Burma has expanded its regional ties. It now is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and several other regional organizations and initiatives. Burma joined ASEAN in 1997, and has participated in that regional forum, hosting a number of seminars, conferences, and ministerial meetings. Burma also is a member of the World Trade Organization. Burma's lack of progress on human rights and democracy has frayed some international ties, and in July 2005, Burma passed up its scheduled 2006 ASEAN chairmanship.
Although Burmese-Thai relations are generally cooperative, they have been tainted by a long history of border conflicts and sporadic hostilities over narcotics trafficking and insurgents operating along the Burmese-Thai border. Nonetheless, official and unofficial economic ties remain strong. In addition to the approximately 150,000 Burmese refugees it hosts, the Thai Government issues temporary work permits to another one million Burmese who live outside the refugee camps in Thailand. Despite their often-contentious histories, Burma has grown closer to both China and India in recent years. China quickly is becoming Burma's most important partner, offering debt relief, economic development grants, and soft loans used for the construction of infrastructure and light industry. China also is purportedly Burma's major supplier of arms and munitions. Burma's commercial and military ties with India are growing as well. India is a primary destination for exports of Burmese beans and pulses. The military relationship between Burma and North Korea has come under increased scrutiny by the international community. The United States and others have urged Burma to be transparent in its relationship with North Korea to give the international community confidence Burma is not violating its international obligations, particularly with respect to implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874.
The UN has made several efforts to address international concerns over human rights in Burma. The UN Secretary General's first Special Envoy to Burma, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, resigned his position in December 2005 due to the regime's lack of cooperation. Subsequently, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon named former UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari as his Special Advisor for Burma. Special Advisor Gambari made eight trips to Burma. At the end of 2009, Special Advisor Gambari was named the Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Sudan. As of July 2010, his replacement had not yet been named. The UN Human Rights Council has a special procedure in place for Burma, and Tomas Ojea Quintana was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar in 2008.
In January 2007, the United States and the U.K. sponsored a UN Security Council resolution on Burma that both Russia and China vetoed. The UN Security Council adopted by consensus a Presidential Statement on October 11, 2007, deploring the September 2007 crackdown and calling for the release of all political prisoners and the creation of the necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue. The UN Security Council issued a press statement on the crackdown on November 14, 2007. In November 2007, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro was allowed to visit the country for the first time since 2003. His report detailing the Burmese authorities' September crackdown on demonstrations by monks and democracy activists and the severe reprisals was released on December 11, 2007. Tomas Ojea Quintana replaced Pinheiro on May 1, 2008. On May 2, 2008, the Security Council issued a second Presidential Statement calling for the Burmese regime to conduct the referendum on its draft constitution in a free and fair manner. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon visited Burma in May 2008 and called on the regime to grant greater access for international aid to cyclone-affected areas of the country. On May 22, 2009 the Security Council released a press statement expressing concern over the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi and reiterating its call for dialogue. In July 2009 the UN Secretary General again visited Burma but was not permitted to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi. In a speech to the diplomatic community, he noted the regime’s “missed opportunity.” On August 13, 2009, the Security Council released another press statement expressing its serious concern over Aung San Suu Kyi's conviction and sentencing and the political impact of those events. Ojea Quintana reiterated concerns about the human rights situation in Burma after a February 2010 visit to the country. He subsequently recommended to the UN Human Rights Council that the UN should consider establishing a Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma.
Most Western foreign aid diminished in the wake of the regime's suppression of the democracy movement in 1988. The UN Development Program's 2009 Human Development Report indicates that official development assistance totaled $242.8 million in 2007, roughly $4 per capita (compared with $68 per person in Laos and $46 per person in Cambodia). Burma receives grants of technical assistance (mostly from Asia), limited humanitarian aid and debt relief from Japan and China, and concessional loans from China and India. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, the international community has provided more than $343 million to Burma in response to the UN appeal for humanitarian relief. The United States has provided $85 million to date in assistance for Cyclone Nargis recovery efforts.
Burma became a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in 1952, the International Financial Corporation (IFC) in 1956, the International Development Association (IDA) in 1962, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 1973. Since July 1987, the World Bank has not made any loans to Burma. Since 1998 Burma has been in non-accrual status with the Bank. The IMF performs its mandated annual Article IV consultations, but there are no IMF assistance programs. Burma is involved in the ADB’s Program of Economic Cooperation in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. As such, it participates in regional meetings and workshops supported by the ADB, although it has not received loans or grants since 1986. Bilateral technical assistance ended in 1988. Burma has not serviced its ADB loans since January 1998. Burma's total foreign debt now stands at over $7 billion. The debt total to Japan alone is reportedly $4.7 billion.
The political relationship between the United States and Burma worsened after the 1988 military coup and violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations. Subsequent regime repression, including the brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors in September 2007, further strained the relationship.
The United States has imposed broad sanctions against Burma under several different authorities. In 2003, President George W. Bush imposed new sanctions against Burma pursuant to the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act (BFDA) and Executive Order 13310, including a ban on imports of products of Burma, a ban on the export of financial services to Burma, and an asset freeze against the SPDC and three designated Burmese foreign trade financial institutions. Congress has renewed the BFDA annually, most recently in July 2010. On October 18, 2007, President Bush issued a new Executive Order (E.O. 13348) that expanded sanctions to include asset freezes against designated individuals responsible for human rights abuses and public corruption, as well as designated individuals and entities which provide material or financial support to designated individuals or the Burmese military government. On April 30, 2008 President Bush issued Executive Order 13464, which further expanded sanctions to permit asset freezes against designated Burmese entities. Currently, approximately 110 individuals and entities have been designated for asset freezes under these authorities. In July 2008, Congress enacted the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, which expands the categories of individuals and entities subject to asset freezes and travel restrictions, and also bans the importation into the United States of Burmese rubies and jadeite, regardless of whether the rubies or jade were substantially transformed (cut, polished, or set into jewelry) in a third country.
In addition, since May 1997, the U.S. Government has prohibited new investment in Burma by U.S. individuals or entities. A number of U.S. companies exited the Burma market even prior to the imposition of sanctions due to a worsening business climate and mounting criticism from human rights groups, consumers, and shareholders. The United States has also imposed countermeasures on Burma due to its inadequate measures to eliminate money laundering. In addition, visa restrictions against Burma have been in place under Presidential Proclamation 6925 pursuant to Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the BFDA, the JADE Act, and other authorities for many years.
Due to particularly severe violations of religious freedom, the United States has designated Burma a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act. Burma is designated a Tier 3 Country in the Trafficking in Persons Report for its use of forced labor. Burma has been found to have “failed demonstrably” during U.S. narcotics certification procedures in the 2009 Majors’ List. These designations subject Burma to additional sanctions.
In February 2009 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the administration would begin a comprehensive review of U.S. Burma policy. In September 2009, the administration announced the conclusion to that policy review. The review reaffirmed the United States’ strategic goals in Burma: that the United States supports a unified, peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Burma that respects the human rights of its citizens. The review also concluded that, in addition to tools the United States has long applied to achieve its goals in Burma--sanctions and support for the democratic opposition--it would expand humanitarian assistance and engage in direct, senior-level dialogue with Burmese authorities.
The first senior-level meeting between the United States and Burma under the administration’s new policy took place in September 2009. In November 2009, and again in May 2010, East Asian and Pacific Affairs Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell traveled to Burma for meetings with government officials, leaders of the democratic opposition, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic minority leaders.
In August 2009 U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) became the first member of Congress to visit Burma in 10 years.
The United States downgraded its level of representation in Burma from Ambassador to Chargé d'Affaires after the government's crackdown on the democratic opposition in 1988 and its failure to honor the results of the 1990 parliamentary election.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Chargé d'Affaires--Larry Dinger
Deputy Chief of Mission--Thomas Vajda
Political/Economic Affairs Officer--Jennifer Harhigh
Public Affairs Officer--Adrienne Nutzman
Management Officer--Eric Lindberg
The U.S. Embassy in Burma is located at 110 University Ave., Kamayut Township, Rangoon; mailing address: Box B, APO AP 96546, tel:  (1) 536-509/535-756/538-038/650-006; fax:  (1) 650306.