Myanmar borders India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. Although it’s a rough neighborhood for human rights, it’s ideal for drug trafficking and Myanmar’s military regime sits atop the seedy pyramid of crime and human rights abuse. The country could aptly be characterized as the Columbia of Southeast Asia...maybe worse.
In World war II, the Burmese had the unique distinction of fighting first with the Japanese to defeat the British, then allying with the British to defeat the Japanese and being granted independence by both Japan and Britain. Since independence Burma, now called Myanmar, has endured a series of ethnic insurgencies, a blood civil war and even a brief taste of democracy.
During the 19th Century, Burma fought three wars against Britain before being annexed to the British viceroyalty of India. An anti-colonial movement and popular rebellions were underway immediately prior to World War II and the militant Burmese Independence Army (BIA) aided the Japanese invaders and capturing the capital in 1942. Japan granted independence to Burma in 1943. As Japan’s influence weakened the Burmese Independence Army declared war on Japan in 1945, earning British support. Burma was granted independence from Great Britain in 1948.
As was often the case with British colonial devolution, the Burmese were ill prepared for self-rule, especially faced with ethnic rebellion, Chinese Kuomintang insurgents, drug lords, communists and internal power struggles. In 1962 General Ne Win overthrew the elected government, seized power and instituted “Burmese Socialism” that over the next 26 years impoverished what had once been a thriving economy.
Ne Win was removed in 1987 by the ruling Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP) congress. During pro-democracy demonstrations, government forces killed as many as 3000 demonstrators. Burma adopted the name Myanmar and the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was established to rule the country until multi-party elections could be held. In 1990 elections were held and when the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) won a convincing victory the elections were nullified and opposition parties banned and party members arrested. In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after being imprisoned, though she was not released until 1995. The SLORC military junta has retained power since 1990.
SLORC has ruled with an iron hand quashing all forms of dissent and trampling on human rights, while allegedly cooperating with drug traffickers. To fend off numerous ethnic minority movements, the military has co-opted opponents, allowing them to retain their weapons and share in the lucrative heroin trade. In 1997, SLORC became the State Peace and Development Council and has institutes cosmetic changes hoping to gain support for the removal of international sanctions but has continued its policies of repression, arrest, torture and disappearances.
Human rights organizations have reported gross violations by the government of human rights, including modern forms of slavery, prostitution and imprisonment of journalists. The Karen National Union, the largest of the remaining rebel groups, but is hopelessly out-matched and lacks adequate external support. Despite Myanmar’s rampant horrors and the imposition of economic sanctions, the international community has not list of terrorist states or programs to deal with such inhuman situations.