Burma, with an estimated population of 56 million, is ruled by a highly authoritarian military regime dominated by the majority ethnic Burman group. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), led by Senior General Than Shwe, was the country's de facto government. Military officers wielded the ultimate authority at each level of government. In 1990 prodemocracy parties won more than 80 percent of the seats in a general parliamentary election, but the regime continued to ignore the results. In 2008 the regime held a referendum on its draft constitution and declared the constitution had been approved by 92.48 percent of voters, a figure no independent observers believed was valid. The government held parliamentary elections on November 7, the first elections since 1990. The government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) claimed an overwhelming majority of seats in the national parliament and state/regional assemblies. Democracy activists and the international community widely criticized both the constitutional referendum and the elections process as seriously flawed. Parliament was scheduled to convene on January 31, 2011, with a special joint session of the upper and lower houses to follow within 15 days. The constitution was to go into effect when that joint session was convened. The constitution specifies that the SPDC will continue to rule until a new government is formed.
The regime continued to abridge the right of citizens to change their government and committed other severe human rights abuses. Government security forces were responsible for extrajudicial killings, custodial deaths, disappearances, rape, and torture. The government detained civic activists indefinitely and without charges. In addition regime-sponsored mass-member organizations engaged in harassment and abuse of human rights and prodemocracy activists. The government abused prisoners and detainees, held persons in harsh and life-threatening conditions, routinely used incommunicado detention, and imprisoned citizens arbitrarily for political motives. The army continued its attacks on ethnic minority villagers, resulting in deaths, forced relocation, and other serious abuses. The government routinely infringed on citizens' privacy and restricted freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement. The government did not allow domestic human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to function independently, and international NGOs encountered a difficult environment. Violence and societal discrimination against women continued, as did recruitment of child soldiers, discrimination against ethnic minorities, and trafficking in persons, particularly of women and girls. Workers' rights remained restricted. Forced labor, including that of children, also persisted. The government took no significant actions to prosecute or punish those responsible for human rights abuses.
Ethnic armed groups and some cease-fire groups (armed ethnic guerillas) allegedly committed human rights abuses, including forced labor and recruitment of child soldiers.
The government released Aung San Suu Kyi--general secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD)--from house arrest on November 13, the date her sentence (for allegedly having violated the terms of her confinement) expired.