Committed since 2003 to its “Road Map” for national reconciliation, the military regime in Myanmar persevered with the adoption of a new constitution in 2008, then held multi-party elections in November 2010. Each of these steps was criticized for significant procedural and substantive flaws, and the overall process was neither democratic, transparent, nor inclusive. The freeing of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in November 2010 was welcomed, especially her freedom to carry out political activities. Next, the new parliamentary assemblies were convened in January 2011, and the reins of government were formally handed over to a new, “civilianized” government on 30 March 2011. The new government under President (formerly General) Thein Sein began quickly to introduce some reforms and to set out its own agenda for change in line with the 2008 Constitution, and in its first twelve months in office released a large number of political prisoners. However, a number of substantive issues — such as the ongoing conflicts with several significant ethnic groups — remain unresolved, and some have even worsened. Government action in relation to the ending of human rights abuses continues to be manifestly insufficient, and the role of the military remains unchecked. No substantive measures for reforms to underpin the rule of law have been implemented, and the restoration of various freedoms, including freedom of the press and freedom of association, are being introduced only slowly and partially.
The eleventh Myanmar/Burma Update conference was held at the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra on Monday, 16 and Tuesday, 17 May 2011. It was supported by a grant from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). Co-conveners of the conference were Professor Monique Skidmore, University of Canberra, and Trevor Wilson and Nick Cheesman of the ANU. The conference was sponsored by the Department of Political and Social Change, School of International Political and Strategic Studies, College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU. The keynote speaker was Dr Thant Myint-U, historian and author, and formerly of the UN Department of Political Affairs.
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