• Indigenous peoples in Myanmar

    Indigenous peoples in Myanmar

    Myanmar’s population encompasses over 100 different ethnic groups. Myanmar has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but the country’s indigenous peoples are still facing a number of challenges, among others in relation to armed conflict, human rights violations and land rights.
  • Peoples

    100 different ethnic groups constitute the population of Myanmar
    68 per cent of Myanmar’s 51.5 million people are Burmans
  • Current state

    2016: Consequences of armed conflict increased steadily, particularly in the Rakhine State and for the Rohingya ethnic minority


The population of Myanmar covers more than 100 different ethnic groups. Myanmar has adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but the country's indigenous peoples still face a number of challenges, including armed conflict, violations of human rights and land rights.

Maynmar has not signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), nor has it ratified ILO Convention 169. The country is part of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), although until now it has not taken into account many of the respective recommendations of the committees of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention Committee against Crime.

Indigenous peoples in Myanmar

Myanmar's diversity encompasses more than 100 different ethnic groups, and Burmese women make up around 68% of the 51.5 million people in Myanmar. The country is divided into seven regions mainly dominated by the Burmese and seven ethnic states.

The Burmese government refers to groups considered indigenous as ethnic nationalities. These include the Shan, the Karen, the Rakhine, the Karenni, the Chin, the Kachin and the Mon. However, there are more ethnic groups that are considered indigenous, for example, the Akha, the Lisu, the Lahu or the Mru, among others.

Main challenges for the indigenous peoples of Myanmar

One of the main struggles of the indigenous peoples of Myanmar is related to the consequences of armed conflicts, which steadily increased throughout 2016, particularly in the Rakhine State involving the ethnic Rohingya minority. Humanitarian support has been slow to authorize or has been completely blocked during combat periods, affecting indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities in the Shan, Kachin, Chin and Rakhine states.

Another ongoing struggle is related to the rights of indigenous women. The Myanmar delegation stated at the 64th session of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Committee that women do not face "social barriers in education, employment and career advancement". However, in the 330 municipalities of Myanmar, no municipal administrator is female, and of 16,785 Village Tract / Ward Administrators, only 42 are women.

The delegation also defended the controversial Laws of Protection of Race and Religion that, if implemented, would violate the norms of the convention. The Committee urged the government to amend or repeal the set of laws, as well as preconceived constitutionally implicit ideas about the role of women in society.

Indigenous women in Myanmar face great barriers to accessing justice for gender-based violence, and the Committee highlighted the fear of reprisals from women in indigenous and ethnic minority communities by reporting sexual assault or rape by armed forces. armed.

In spite of the continuous agrarian reforms in Myanmar, the opposing interests on land remained in 2017, characterized by the lack of free, prior and informed consent, inadequate compensation for relocation and the lack of transparent judicial resources.

To further aggravate the problem, there are 17 different departments that do not include armed ethnic administrations, related to land governance, which means that indigenous lands and territories are still vulnerable to the state-sponsored cronyism that is so prevalent. as usual.

It is worth noting that military confiscation of land continues to take place purely in the pursuit of recreational activities.

Possible progress for the indigenous peoples of Myanmar

The sixth and final draft of the National Land Use Policy (NLUP), which was approved by the parliament in 2016, includes a chapter on the Land Use Rights of Ethnic Nationalities which refers to the customary tenure of the land and the mapping of the use of the land. Customary protections of land tenure are not limited to agricultural land, but also include practices of shifting cultivation on forest lands, as well as recognition of communal land tenure systems, such as shifting cultivation.

Myanmar organized two National Policy Dialogues on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2017, which brought together a total of 105 participants, including representatives of the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs of the Union, Ministers of Ethnic Affairs at the state and regional levels, representatives of organizations of indigenous peoples as well as representatives of the UN.

The growing education gap in post-coup Myanmar


On 1st February 2021, the Burmese Military –known as the Tatmadaw– staged a coup d’etat and arrested the elected Government. The State Counsellor, Aung San Su Kyi, remains in prison and faces a range of spurious criminal charges. The elected government in exile, known now as the National Unity Government continues to run a “parallel” administration. The coup that happened amid the worsening Covid-19 emergency in Myanmar has broadened an already deep educational crisis in Chin state.

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Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities, doctors and teachers against the military coup


On 1 February 2021, the Burmese Military – known as the Tatmadaw – staged a coup d’etat, arrested the elected government, including the State Counsellor, Aung San Su Kyi, and imposed a yearlong national state of emergency, all through powers allegedly granted under the 2008 Constitution. The rationale was that mass voter fraud, to the tune of 8 million illegal votes, had taken place during the landslide election win for the National League for Democracy (NLD). Acting President Myint Swe transferred legislative, executive and judicial power to the Commander in Chief. 

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The Indigenous World 2021: Myanmar

There is no accurate information about the number of Indigenous Peoples in Myanmar, partly due to a lack of understanding of the internationally recognised concept of Indigenous Peoples. The government claims that all citizens of Myanmar are “Indigenous” (taing-yin-tha), and on that basis dismisses the applicability of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to Myanmar. Indigenous Peoples' rights activists use the Burmese language term hta-nay-tain- yin-tha in describing Indigenous Peoples, based on international principles; using the criteria of non-dominance in the national context, historical continuity, ancestral territories and self-identification.[1]

The government recognises eight ethnic groups as national races or taung-yin-tha: Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Chin, Mon, Burman, Arakan and Shan. According to the 1982 Citizenship Law, ethnic groups who have been present in the current geographical area of Myanmar since before 1823 (the beginning of the first British annexation) are considered taung-yin-tha.[2] However, there is a number of ethnic groups that are considered or see themselves as Indigenous Peoples, such as the Naga, that would not identify with any of those groups.

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Statement on the military coup in Myanmar

1 February 2021

International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) strongly condemn the military coup and attack on civilian rule in Myanmar that took place on 1 February 2021.

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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