Friends: I have the privilege of teaching two theology courses to students at the South East Asia Bible College (here is their website) in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Burma). I have taught in Asia in 2000 (India) and recently had the privilege of teaching at Word of Life Bible Institute in South Korea.
I will be going over the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, using my two books DocTALK and DocWALK. I know virtually nothing about Myanmar, so let’s dive into some history.
Here are some facts I’ve learned about Myanmar:
1. Although Burmese is the most widely spoken language, several ethnic groups have retained their own identities and languages (over ten additional languages).
2. 89% of the population practices Buddhism; Christian and Muslim number around 4%
3. The country is marked by high infant mortality rates and short life expectantcies. The HIV/AIDS epidemic poses a serious threat to the Burmese population. Burma is ranked 130 out of 177 countries in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment, and adjusted real income.
4. The country is known for human rights violations and internal displacement of ethnic minorities.
5. The last Burman royal dynasty, the Konbaung, was established in 1752. The British gained complete control of Burma in 1885, converted the economy from subsistence farming to a large-scale export economy. By 1939 Burma had become the world’s leading exporter of rice.
6. Burmese independence was gained 1948. From 1948 to 1962 internal struggle weakened the democratic government’s hold on power. The military was invited in 1958 to rule temporarily to restore political order. General Ne Win’s coup in 1962 abolished the constitution and established a xenophobic military government with socialist economic policies.
7. Student-led demonstrations took place in 1988 (more than 1000 demonstrators were killed). Aung San Suu Kyi, a general’s daughter, assumed the role of opposition leader to the government. A new ruling junta called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) sent the army to suppress ongoing public demonstrations (another 3000 were killed). The SLORC ruled by martial law until national parliamentary elections were held in 1990. The SLORC refused to acknowledge the victory of Aung San’s party (National League for Democracy).
8. The ruling junta changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997, but did not change its policy of autocratic control and repression of the democratic opposition. It continued to subject Aung San Suu Kyi to varying forms of detention and other restrictions on her movement, which it periodically lifted only to reinstate later. On May 30, 2003, Aung San Suu Kyi and a convoy of her supporters were attacked by a group of government-affiliated thugs. Many members of the convoy were killed or injured, and others disappeared. Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her party were detained, and the military government forcibly closed the offices of the NLD. Today, only the NLD headquarters in Rangoon is open, all the party’s other offices remain closed, and Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD Vice Chairman U Tin Oo remain under house arrest.
9. In November 2005, the ruling regime unexpectedly relocated the capital city from Rangoon to Nay Pyi Taw, further isolating the government from the public. Power is centered on the ruling junta–the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC–which maintains strict authoritarian rule over the people of Burma. The Prime Minister is appointed directly by the SPDC. Control is maintained through intimidation, the strict censuring of information, repression of individual rights, and suppression of ethnic minority groups. The SPDC continues its harsh rule and systematic human rights abuses today, and insists that any future political transition be negotiated on its terms. It proclaimed a seven-step roadmap to democracy beginning with a National Convention process, purportedly to develop a new constitution and pave the way for national elections. However the regime restricts public input and debate and handpicks the delegates, effectively excluding pro-democracy supporters.
Although the SPDC changed the name of the country to “Myanmar,” the democratically elected but never convened Parliament of 1990 does not recognize the name change, and the democratic opposition continues to use the name “Burma.” Due to consistent support for the democratically elected leaders, the U.S. Government likewise uses “Burma.”
10. Burma remains the world’s second-largest producer of illicit opium–although it amounts to only 11% of the world’s total. Annual production of opium is now estimated to be less than 20% of mid-1990 peak levels. Burma is also a primary source of amphetamine-type stimulants in Asia. Although the Burmese Government has expanded its counternarcotics measures in recent years, production and trafficking of narcotics and failure to adequately prosecute those involved remains a major problem in Burma.
11. The United States has imposed broad sanctions against Burma under several different legislative and policy vehicles. The Burma Freedom and Democracy Act (BFDA), passed by Congress and signed by the President in 2003, includes a ban on all imports from Burma, a ban on the export of financial services to Burma, a freeze on the assets of certain Burmese financial institutions, and extended visa restrictions on Burmese officials. Congress has renewed the BFDA annually, most recently in July 2006. Due to its particularly severe violations of religious freedom, the United States has designated Burma a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act. Burma is also designated a Tier 3 Country in the Trafficking in Persons Report for its use of forced labor, and is subject to additional sanctions as a result.
The United States downgraded its level of representation in Burma from Ambassador to Chargé d’Affaires after the government’s crackdown on the democratic opposition in 1988 and its failure to honor the results of the 1990 parliamentary election.
Please pray for safety as I travel to Myanmar (Burma) to teach this month. Thank you.