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The Burma Project was established by the Open Society Foundations in 1994 to increase international awareness of conditions in Burma and help the country make the transition from a closed to an open society.

The Burma Project/Southeast Asia Initiative engages with regional organizations and occasionally supports local projects in other countries in the region.

Recent activities in Burma have included support for grantees that provide uncensored images and news about the country to people living inside and outside of Burma. The initiative has also helped activists call public attention to the regime’s efforts to entrench its rule through flawed referendums, an illegal constitution, and repression and imprisonment of political opponents. The initiative has addressed the regime’s incapacity to respond to public emergencies such as Cyclone Nargis in 2008 by supporting groups that provide food and medical supplies.

Priorities for the initiative’s regional activities have been increasing civil society group engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, particularly in the development of human rights protections. In Thailand, the initiative supports groups that promote human rights and good governance; provide legal training on statelessness and ethnic minority and social justice issues; and develop radio and internet-based civic journalism. 

In Malaysia, the initiative supports training for lawyers working to improve human rights, document abuses of migrant populations, and expand freedom of expression. In Cambodia, the initiative has worked closely with the Open Society Justice Initiative to move the Khmer Rouge Tribunal forward. The initiative has focused on making the trial accessible to people scattered throughout Cambodia and the region through English and Cambodian language-based radio and Internet projects and community human rights and legal education events.