Pursuing a path to democracy in Burma

People waiting in line to vote and practicing social distancing (© Pyae Sone Win/AP Images)
Burmese voters wait outside a polling station in Rangoon on November 8, 2020. (© Pyae Sone Win/AP Images)

On November 8, 2020, the people of Burma held multiparty elections to select a new government. Then the Burmese military overthrew the elected government in a February 1 coup and began a violent crackdown on human rights and fundamental freedoms.

On the one-year anniversary of Burma’s elections, Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed America’s support for the people of Burma and its commitment to holding the military regime accountable.

“We honor the people of Burma striving to restore democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law in their country,” Blinken said in a statement issued November 7.

The military’s “ongoing violent crackdown has further undermined human rights and fundamental freedoms and reversed a decade of progress toward a genuine democracy that the people of Burma clearly sought and still seek,” he added. “We reiterate our call for the military regime immediately to cease violence, release all those unjustly detained, and return Burma’s path to a genuine and inclusive democracy.”

Independent observers have backed the credibility of Burma’s November 8, 2020, elections. The Asian Network for Free Elections, based in Bangkok, deployed observers and found “the outcome of the elections were deemed to reflect the true will of the electorate.”

Person holding up election ballot (© Aung Shine Oo/AP Images)
A Union Election Commission official holds a ballot at a polling station in Naypyitaw, Burma, November 8, 2020. (© Aung Shine Oo/AP Images)

Similarly, the Atlanta-based Carter Center, a nonprofit that supports peace and democracy, “found that voters were able to freely express their will at the polls and choose their elected representatives.”

Since the coup, the military regime has led a violent crackdown on protests and fundamental freedoms that has killed more than 1,300 people, including children. The regime has also detained more than 9,900 people, drawing international condemnation.

The United States continues to call on the regime to end the violence in Burma and return the country to a path to democracy. In meetings with international partners at the United Nations on September 23, Blinken and other U.S. officials underscored the urgent need to press Burma’s military regime to end its violent rule.

President Biden called for a return to democracy in Burma during the U.S.-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit October 26 and commended ASEAN’s efforts to hold the military regime accountable.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with representatives of Burma’s pro-democracy NUG October 25 and “underscored continued U.S. support for the pro-democracy movement in Burma.”

In collaboration with international partners, the United States has sanctioned Burmese military officials responsible for the violence, as well as companies that support them. It joined dozens of countries in urging Burma’s military to release all those unjustly detained, including journalists.

From October 2020 through September 2021, the United States provided more than $434 million in humanitarian assistance (PDF, 404KB) for the people of Burma, including for those who have been forced to flee persecution and violence and for the communities that host them in the region.