More information about Burma is available on the Burma Page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.
The United States supports a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Burma that respects the human rights of all its people. Burma remains a country in transition to democracy and faces significant ongoing challenges and deeply troubling human rights issues centered on a powerful military that acts with impunity.
Partial elections in 2010 led to a peaceful transition from sixty years of authoritarian rule to a quasi-civilian government headed by former general Thein Sein. Under President Thein Sein, the Government of Burma initiated a series of political and economic reforms which resulted in a substantial opening of the long-isolated country. These reforms include the release of many political prisoners and child soldiers, the signing of a cease-fire agreement with eight major non-state ethnic groups, greater enjoyment of freedom of expression, including by the press, and parliamentary by-elections in 2012 in which pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won 43 of the 45 contested seats. In historic national elections in 2015, the NLD won a majority of the total seats in the national parliament and in most state and regional parliaments. Despite significant structural and constitutional problems, including the reservation of 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military; the disfranchisement of groups of people who had voted in previous elections, including the ethnic Rohingya; and the disqualification of candidates based on arbitrary application of citizenship and residency requirements, the 2015 election represented a fundamental step forward in Burma’s democratic transition. The new national parliament sat February 1, 2016, and National League for Democracy member Win Myint was inaugurated as the NLD’s second president on March 30, 2018. The new government has released hundreds of political prisoners in the four years it has been in power, though a disturbing pattern of arrest for speech deemed critical of the military or government has emerged.
Beginning in August 2017, following attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents on security forces, over 700,000 Rohingya fled violence in northern Rakhine State, mostly carried out by security forces and vigilantes. In November 2017, the United States determined that this action by the military constituted ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people. Starting in December 2017 the United States has imposed targeted visa restrictions and financial sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act on perpetrators of atrocities in Burma to include, in December 2019, Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and his deputy General Soe Win.
While these actions have led to some friction in the bilateral relationship, the United States continues to employ an engagement strategy that has recognized those positive steps undertaken to date and to incentivize further reform. The guiding principles of this approach have been to support Burma’s political and economic reforms; promote national reconciliation; build government transparency, and accountability and institutions; empower local communities and civil society; promote responsible international engagement; and strengthen respect for and protection of human rights and religious freedom.
In support of further reform, in 2012 the United States re-established a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission in country, supported new grant and lending operations and technical assistance by international financial institutions, and eased economic and investment sanctions against Burma. Also in 2012 the United States established an International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Letter of Agreement with the government of Burma to support the professionalization of the security forces, build cooperation on counternarcotics priorities, and strengthen justice sector institutions in line with democratic reform. Since then, senior U.S. government officials have traveled to the country to meet with the Government of Burma, political parties, civil society, human rights activists, religious and ethnic leaders, and youth. In these visits, the United States has urged accountability for the atrocities carried out by the military while also demonstrating the United States’ continuing support to Burma in its democratic reform efforts.
While the country has made significant progress, major institutional and political challenges remain, including reforming the constitution (which accords the military control of three key security ministries, one of two vice presidential appointments, and control of 25% of parliamentary seats), completing the national reconciliation process with various ethnic groups, strengthening respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly on freedom of expression and assembly, releasing remaining political prisoners, and improving the conditions in Rakhine State, especially those facing members of the Rohingya population. In addition, more progress needs to be made to reduce the military’s role in politics, move from cease-fires to political dialogue, and to improve the rule of law and government accountability. Fighting between the Burmese military and ethnic armed groups in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States and elsewhere continues to result in numerous civilian casualties, human rights abuses, and internal displacement. The United States emphasizes in its dialogue with the Government of Burma the importance of promoting tolerance, diversity, and peaceful co-existence.
The military government changed the country’s name to “Myanmar” in 1989. The United States government continues to use the name “Burma.”
U.S. Assistance to Burma
The United States has a long-standing commitment to improving the lives of the people of Burma. After the USAID Mission was closed in 1989, the United States continued to deliver emergency humanitarian assistance along the Thailand-Burma border, including through NGO partners for Burmese refugees and asylum seekers in the refugee camps on the border. The United States resumed targeted health programs in 1998 and re-established a full USAID Mission in 2012. In 2008, U.S. assistance efforts scaled up in response to the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis. Since the exodus of Rohingya in 2017, the United States has contributed over $600 million to address their humanitarian plight in both Bangladesh and for the remaining population within Burma, while continuing to assist other vulnerable populations in Kachin, Shan and elsewhere. INL programming, through partnerships with the Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Justice OPDAT program, continue to provide capacity building training for police, prosecutors, and judicial actors, focused shared U.S.-Burma priorities, including on law enforcement professionalization, corruption, trafficking in persons, counternarcotics, and support for justice sector reform efforts.
Carefully integrated with U.S. diplomatic efforts, U.S. development assistance focuses on deepening and sustaining key political and economic reforms, ensuring that the democratic transition benefits everyday people, and mitigating division and conflict. Since 2012, the United States has provided nearly $1.5 billion to support Burma’s democratic transition and economic transformation, advance the peace process, and improve the lives of millions, including by assisting communities affected by violence and through combatting hate speech and communal violence. More than 1.3 million people have improved food security, and over 400,000 impoverished farming families have increased their agricultural productivity with better access to technology, markets and new investments. New entrepreneurs are benefiting from the economic reform process, which has increased access to information and communications technology.
U.S. Government investments focus on improving health for vulnerable and underserved groups – helping to mitigate sources of fragility arising from deep and longstanding inequities in health access – and addressing health threats such as multi-drug resistant malaria and tuberculosis, and a growing HIV epidemic among people who inject drugs. With support from the U.S. President’s Malaria Program, Burma has achieved an 84 percent decline in malaria burden in the last 6 years. Burma is the only Asian country on track to achieve the 2020 End Tuberculosis milestones.
In addition to humanitarian assistance, USAID is advancing human rights across the country through advocacy with key decision-makers, while also assisting communities and civil society to mitigate conflict, support formal and informal peace processes, and improve local governance. USAID is working through communities, civil society, and village leaders to ensure that delivery of local health and education services is more responsive and accountable to local needs and priorities, and that services are delivered equitably, which reduces inter-ethnic tensions in areas prone to conflict. Burma is a major producer of narcotics, and the United States provides assistance in addressing the social problems associated with addiction, while our Drug Enforcement Agency assists the police in disrupting production and distribution.
USAID supports credible, inclusive, and informed elections and is providing technical assistance to political parties, civil society, and the country’s electoral commission to carry out national and regional elections in 2020. USAID promotes democratic transparency and accountability through support to Burmese civil society and independent media.
In addition to USAID, many other U.S. agencies provide assistance and training in Burma, including the U.S. Departments of State, Commerce, Energy, Labor, Health and Human Services, Justice, Defense, and Treasury; the U.S. Peace Corps, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the DEA, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bilateral Economic Relations
In recognition of Burma’s nascent reform progress, the United States has taken concrete steps to accelerate broad-based economic growth and support the political reform process. The United States played an instrumental role in supporting renewed engagement from multilateral development banks, which re-started operations in 2013. In 2016, the United States terminated the national emergency with respect to Burma, which had been in place since 1997. The termination removed a range of economic and financial sanctions, including the designations of individuals and entities listed on the Office of Foreign Assets List pursuant to U.S. sanctions on Burma.
The U.S. government encourages responsible investment in Burma as part of an overall strategy to encourage economic growth and improve the standard of living for the people of Burma, while reducing the role of the military in the economy. The United States plays a leading role by enhancing human capacity and promoting global standards throughout Southeast Asia due to the quality of private investment. U.S. companies will continue to play a critical role in supporting broad-based, sustainable development in Burma and are helping the country progress toward a more open, inclusive, and democratic society.
Burma’s Membership in International Organizations
Burma became a member of the United Nations in 1948 following independence from the United Kingdom, and a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997. Burma was the chair of ASEAN for 2014, its first chairmanship in 17 years as an ASEAN member state.
Burma and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the UN, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.
The U.S. Ambassador to Burma is Scot Marciel; other principal embassy officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.
Burma maintains an embassy in the United States at 2300 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel.: (202) 332-3344; fax: (202) 332-4351.
More information about Burma is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here: