Humanitarian Crisis in Burma

Political oppression of dissident citizens and minority ethnic groups by Burma’s governing military junta (who changed Burma’s English name to Myanmar) has recently increased in intensity.

Burma, a rice-producing nation in Southeast Asia, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Roughly 25% of the population lives on less than one dollar a day. Formerly a British Crown Colony, Burma gained its independence as a republic in 1948, functioning as the Union of Burma until 1962 when a coup d’état established a socialist government. Following widespread pro-democracy demonstrations, another military coup brutally quelled the demonstrations, declared martial law, and renamed the official English name of the country to the Union of Myanmar. While ‘Myanmar’ is recognized by the U.N. and used interchangeably with Burma elsewhere, political opponents of the governing junta prefer to use ‘Burma.’

Since 1988, the military junta (a junta is a group of military officers who rule a country following a coup) has committed crimes against humanity and has been the center of controversy in Southeast Asia. This August, the Burmese public resumed mass demonstrations against the oppressive regime; this time, the nationally revered Buddhist monks participate in demonstrations, gathering in the thousands. Late September, junta security forces raided monasteries arresting and severely beating dissident Buddhist monks. The following morning, demonstrators gathered again to condemn the arrests; however, security forces engaged with the crowd, ordering fire crews to fill their tanks with insecticide to blast the protestors.

With the violence accelerating, junta security forces at one point fired their assault rifles in the air and at chest level at high school students marching to their school. Marching high school students, primary school students inside the school itself, and parents picking their children up from school were all fired upon; unconfirmed reports indicate that over 100 children and adults may have been injured.

The international community largely advocates sanctions on individual junta officials rather than risk harming the population via general embargo. However, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN: an economic -cooperation organization of the major Southeast Asia countries, similar to NAFTA) has insisted that such sanctions will ultimately inhibit international influence, thus strengthening the junta.

Despite intense international pressure, China, Burma’s closest ally, adheres to its policy of nonintervention in Burmese affairs. ASEAN endeavors to solve the political and humanitarian crisis in Burma as internal strife plagues the violence-ravaged country.

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