Burma is on the precipice of either a further backslide in democratic principles or the transition to a real democracy for all. U.S. leadership and engagement can help Burma to build a society with strong institutions and citizens that respect liberty and protect the rights of all people.
Since its first historic election in 2015, ending half a century of military rule, Burma’s road to democracy has been difficult and disappointing. Even after forming a civilian government, the country continues to face significant challenges.
Deeply troubling human rights issues and ongoing ethnic conflicts across the country have been major failures of Burma’s democratic transition. Most of the Rohingya community — a largely Muslim ethnic minority — was forced to flee to escape military atrocities and racial segregation. Today, some one million people are overcrowded into the largest refugee camps in the world, in Bangladesh. Although international observers denounced the crisis as a military-led ethnic cleansing and genocide, Aung San Suu Kyi — once a renowned democracy advocate and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate — and her civilian government turned a blind eye to the Rohingyas’ suffering and even denied that the genocide and violence against them had occurred.