Myanmar or Burma, as it was formerly known, is becoming a 'humanitarian catastrophe’ on the international stage. Prince Zeid Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the recent human rights violations against the Rohingya community are a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing". The human rights violations committed by the military are even being extended to other ethnic minorities, leading to over 124 of Myanmar’s estimated 135 ethnic groups taking up arms against military.
In 1948 Myanmar became independent, after over 124 years of British colonial rule. Subsequently, despite the fact Myanmar was the first country in Asia to practice parliamentary democracy, it suffered a military coup in 1962 led by General Nay Win. After a series of protests against military rule, in 1988 students took to the streets in protest for democracy and successfully removed the military regime for the first time in 27 years. However, the military brutally reclaimed power from demonstrators, killing over 3000 and arresting tens of thousands more. In 1990 the military held an election, which they lost to the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Su Kyi. She was the daughter of General Aung San, a national hero who had fought for independence against the British. But the military did not transfer power, instead, many were imprisoned and Aung San Su Kyi was placed under house arrest where she remained for over 15 years. Following her release in 2010, she won the 2015 election with the NLD, achieving a landslide victory of over 80% of the vote. In March 2016, the first civilian government took power after 54 years of martial law.
However, in accordance with the 2008 constitution, written under martial law, the military still holds a power, separate from that of civil government, allowing them total control of Burmese armed forces and entitling them to a minimum of 25% of parliamentary seats. Furthermore, all chief ministerial positions are held by former high rank military officers. The ratio of power shared between the military and the government is thought to be 60:40.
Under this pseudo-civilian government, hate speech and crimes have risen dramatically, with those that are activists or from ethnic and religious minorities often the targets. According to grassroots sources, the military and its backed organisations are involved in these cases of hate speeches, the oppression of religious minorities and the slaughter of ethnic minorities. Human rights violations still take place despite the presence of a civilian government, leading some to say that civilian government is a paper tiger, still controlled by the military.
Nevertheless, Myanmar has also seen positive progress. People have more courage to stand up for their rights, which was forbidden before. Millions now have access to mobile phones, which allow them to be better informed, particularly as media freedom improves. Despite the decades of atrocities committed under martial law, there is now a hope that in the future Myanmar will become a fully democratic country in which human rights and democratic values are respected.