Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a Southeast Asian nation neighbouring on India and Bangladesh to the Northwest, China to the Northeast, Thailand and Laos to the Southeast, and the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to the Southwest and South. In 2014, the latest national census officially counted a population of almost 51.5 million in an area of 676, 500 km2. The country is divided into 14 States and Regions and has 135 officially recognized ethnic groups, belonging eight more major ethnic minorities.
More than 50 years of military rule and ethnic conflict have plunged Myanmar into long-term poverty and isolation. Fortunately, a democratic transition began in 2010 with the election of a civilian government, although the military kept a 25% share of key positions. Dramatic change has then ensued, including important reforms, the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on the country. In November 2015, the National League for Democracy – Aung San Suu Kyi’s party – won the general election and a new NLD-led government was formed on 30 March 2016. Recent efforts to broker peace, including through the signature of a nationwide ceasefire agreement in October 2015, are other signs of progress.
At the same time, armed clashes between Myanmar’s Armed Forced and ethnic armed groups continue, especially in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine States. More than 100,000 refugees (mostly from the country’s southeast) are still living in Thailand. Besides this, inter-communal violence erupted in 2012 in various parts of Myanmar, mostly in Rakhine State, with heightened tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities. Lastly, the country’s economic transformation, however promising it is, remains fragile and plagued with obstacles that affect the economic, social and cultural rights of the population.
Since 1997, PIN has provided assistance to civil society groups within Myanmar and/or on the Thai side of the border, where more than a hundred thousand Burmese refugees continue to live. For long, PIN has also supported the cause of Burmese people on the international stage. In 2012, however, political and social changes gave PIN the opportunity to establish an office in Yangon and to deliver aid directly on the ground with programme areas primarily focused on knowledge transfer, skills development and support to local initiatives. Through its Civil Society Programme, PIN supports civil society organisations which play a vital role in bridging the gap between communities and local governments and contribute to policy dialogue and the strengthening of a democratic culture based on human rights. Other programmes include a Social Cohesion Programme which aims at promoting civil action in communities affected by inter-communal violence in Kayin, Mon and Rakhine States; and a Child Protection Programme through which community-based and school-based child protection mechanisms are set up in the Mandalay and Sagaing regions and in Shan State.