Burmese President Thein Sein is scheduled to meet with President Obama today, marking the first visit to the United States by a Burmese head of state in 47 years. Since that visit in 1966, the people of Burma have endured governmental mismanagement, brutal military rule, and serious human rights violations. Burma became a pariah state, synonymous with its infamous imprisonment of political activists and militarized attacks on civilians.
On April 22, the European Union lifted all sanctions against the Burmese government except for an arms embargo. The international community’s rush to applaud the Burmese government’s nascent reforms will ultimately hamper further improvements.
Thai and Burmese press have reported that the Government of Bangladesh is cracking down on charitable organizations that offer assistance to Rohingya, an ethnic group that has faced endemic persecution and violence in Burma.
The 1982 law authorized 135 enumerated ethnic groups for citizenship, and arbitrarily stripped others of their citizenship. NGOs call for the Citizenship Law to be replaced with a law that reflects basic principles of human rights and demonstrates adherence to international treaties.
Donor countries, including the United States, have supported organizations that provide essential humanitarian services to people along Burma’s borders. Border areas have long been neglected by medical and development programs run by the Burmese government, and this international assistance has helped countless people access medical care and food. Some political reforms have increased opportunities for international donors to directly fund civil society groups within Burma.