Burma is situated in south-east Asia, bordered by China to the north, India and Bangladesh to the west and Thailand and Laos to the east of the Irrawaddy River.
Mainly tropical, with a rainy season from May to October giving way to a cool season until the end of February followed by a hot season. The Shan plateau is cooler with temperatures sometimes falling to freezing as the year ends.
Approximately 51 million
The largest city and former capital is Rangoon/Yangon. The capital was moved to Nay Pyi Taw in 2006 by the military dictatorship.
Burma is one of the most ethnically diverse populations in South East Asia. The major ethnic groups are Rakhine, Burman, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Rohingya and Shan. Ethnic groups have their own distinct cultures and languages.
Burma is also a multi-religious country. The majority of the population are Buddhist, an estimated 80%, and there are large Christian and Muslim communities, as well as animist other religions.
Burma was first founded in the 11th century (the Pagan dynasty), united under King Anawrahta, whose dedication to Buddhist teachings had a strong and lasting impact on the country. Pagan became home to a vast number of temples and pagodas (which Pagan is famous for today) and was declared the first capital of Burma.
In the early 19th century, Britain began their conquest of Burma, gaining more and more land over the course of three wars. In 1885, Britain annexed Burma to British India after gaining total control at the end of the third war.
At the end of World War II, Burmese nationalists led by General Aung San demanded independence from Britain. The British Government assented to these demands; a national Constitution was written up in 1947 and Burma gained independence in January of 1948. However, General Aung San and many members of his cabinet were assassinated before the Constitution went into effect.
On February 12, 1947 the important Panglong Agreement was signed between General Aung San and Shan, Kachin, and Chin peoples. This guaranteed ethnic groups equal rights and a degree of autonomy within a federal system, but after Aung San’s assassination later that year, it was never implemented.
The years from 1947 to 1962 were tumultuous times in Burma. Upset with what they considered nonexistent and an eroding sense of autonomy, several ethnic groups formed their own armies during this time period. In 1962, the military staged a coup and took over the government.
Burma was ruled by military dictatorships from 1962. Sham elections held by the military regime in November 2010 brought in a new constitution and a Parliament, but it was dominated by pro-military parties and guaranteed the military 25% of the seats.
The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory in elections in November 2015. This brought an end to more than fifty years of military rule. Burma now has a hybrid system of military rule and democracy.
The Burmese army continues to commit serious human rights abuses, including rape, torture, executions, forced labour and the use of child soldiers.
Burma is a country of many different ethnicities and religions but successive governments have refused to give rights and protection to Burma’s ethnic minorities.
Learn Burma brings the amazing story of Burma – its people, history, culture and politics – to people across Britain.
We research and raise awareness of human rights issues in Burma.
We raise awareness of the need for education on human rights in Burma and help develop the capacity and skills of members of the Burmese community.