A History of Ethnic Persecution
Burma’s modern history has been filled with turmoil. A military junta seized control of the country in 1962, launching a decades-long period of armed conflict, authoritarian rule and isolation from the rest of the world. The military generals in power suppressed all dissent. And the Burmese military burned villages and tortured and killed people with abandon, attempting to suppress ethnic and religious minorities—including women like Naw Wah, who was raped and tortured by state security forces.
Starting in 2012, the quasi-civilian Myanmar government took steps that the global community hoped would bring about a more just social and political landscape. The government began releasing political prisoners, negotiating ceasefire agreements with ethnic armed groups and initiated a series of democratic reforms. Following these developments, the U.S. restored full diplomatic ties with Burma for the first time since 1990.
In 2015, Burma’s longstanding opposition party, the National League for Democracy, came to power as a result of fair and democratic elections. But the progress was short-lived. Many factors resulted in a backsliding on rights and freedoms, including the rise of Buddhist nationalism, renewed restrictions on human rights and ethnic minorities’ disillusionment with the peace process. Renewed fighting led to mass displacement in both northern and western Burma, while the breakdown of civil rights saw activists and journalists arrested, ultimately leading to a failure of democracy in the country.
In August 2017, the army began to systematically attack, torture, rape and kill the Rohingya people of Western Burma en masse, razing entire villages in their wake. These Muslim minority communities had been the targets of decades of persecution, and the latest violence escalated to genocide. More than 720,000 Rohingya people fled their homes, seeking exile across the border in Bangladesh. Read more about this ongoing humanitarian crisis here.
Rampant Development and Land Rights
Across Burma’s agricultural regions, many communities face the constant threat that they could lose everything. The majority of Burma’s people make a living as farmers in rural areas, but Burmese laws do not protect their access to the land they farm—even if it had been in their families for generations. Burmese environmental regulation is so weak that foreign and national corporations often seize land to launch development projects—including dams, mines and huge agricultural projects—without consulting or compensating local communities. These projects flood villages and destroy farms, displacing people and stripping away their means of survival.
AJWS is committed to standing with the people of Burma to stop the military’s brutality and achieve justice for ethnic and religious minorities and the rural poor. Our grantees are:
- Providing legal aid to activists and organizations that put their own freedom and lives at risk in order to speak out for the rights of ethnic minorities and stand up against the government’s abuse of power.
- Promoting the active participation of women in civic life across the country.
- Empowering young people to usher in a new era of democracy, inclusion and protection of all people’s rights.
- Organizing communities to lobby for improved legal protections to prevent land grabs and other harmful development projects.
- Documenting human rights violations related to armed conflict, land theft, and violence against women and ethnic minorities, and using media to expose these abuses and demand accountability.
Additionally, AJWS is providing critical aid to thousands of Rohingya refugees stranded in camps across the border in Bangladesh. Humanitarian aid contributed by our supporters enables Rohingya organizations in the refugee camps to train healthcare volunteers to promote life-saving hygiene measures, educate children and strengthen temporary shelters so survivors can weather the torrential monsoon rains.
*The official name for the country of Burma is Myanmar, but some people don’t recognize the new name because of their objections to the military junta that chose it.