With the exception of Kachin, Karen, and Rakhine states and parts of Shan State, reports that government forces engaged in widespread and systematic violent abuses of noncombatant and civilian populations in ethnic minority border areas experiencing armed conflict continued to decrease significantly compared with past years, largely due to a number of bilateral cease-fire agreements reached with ethnic armed groups. The government signed bilateral cease-fire agreements with most major armed ethnic groups from 2011 to 2013 and the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with eight ethnic armed groups on October 15. Clashes continued between the government and several such groups. The Myanmar Peace Monitor reported more than 200 clashes between January and May, compared with 123 during the same period in 2014. The majority of the clashes took place in northern Shan and southern Kachin states.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that it continued to receive reports indicating that the actual use of forced labor was decreasing overall (see section 7.b.). According to groups in Mon and Karen states, however, different violations and abuses gained prevalence in areas with an increase in business, development, tourism, and natural resource extraction, including uncompensated damage to farms, land confiscation, and forced displacement by the military, local government officials, and security forces.
In Kachin and Shan states, including in the Kokang Special Region, continuing armed clashes between the government army and ethnic armed groups displaced thousands of persons, compounding long-term displacement of conflict-affected communities in these areas.
The army continued to station forces in most ethnic armed groups’ areas of influence and controlled certain cities, towns, and highways. There were continued reports of widespread abuses by government soldiers, including killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and rapes of members of ethnic groups in Shan, Karen, and Kachin states. Impunity for these abuses and crimes continued.
Killings: Military officials reportedly killed, tortured, and otherwise seriously abused civilians in conflict areas with impunity. Civilians also were killed through indiscriminate use of force. According to media reports, on September 12, Burma Army Battalion No. 12 fired artillery at a Buddhist temple in southern Shan State’s Loilem District. The attack killed one civilian and seriously injured six others who were worshipping in the temple. Clashes between government forces and ethnic armed groups broke out periodically in northern and southern Shan State during the year.
Abductions: There were multiple reports of government soldiers abducting villagers in conflict areas. On June 19, Light Infantry Battalion 250 detained Tu Ja, Than Lun, and Phoe Thae in Ka Mine village, Kachin State. The soldiers did not provide the reasons for taking the three villagers. Family and community members believed that the battalion tortured the three, and Tu Ja died on June 25 as a result. It was believed that the battalion released Than Lun and Phoe Thae on June 28, but they had not returned home since the reported release. The battalion denied that Tu Ja died in military detention. On August 30, police agreed to open an investigation into the disappearance of Tu Ja and in early October confirmed his death. The police facilitated the return of Tu Ja’s remains but declined to comment on the possible involvement of the battalion. A police investigation was pending as of October.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: NGO reports documented the military’s torture and beating of civilians alleged to be working with or perceived to be sympathetic to ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Shan states. There were also reports of forced labor, forced recruitment, and use of child soldiers by the Kachin Independence Army.
A prominent civil society group reported that army soldiers committed numerous crimes of sexual violence against ethnic women and girls in ethnic states.
In one example, in June a military court sentenced a soldier to a seven-year prison term for “misconduct that could lead to suspicion and mistrust between the military and the people.” The soldier was accused of the attempted rape of a 73-year-old woman in Kachin State, but he was not convicted of rape due to lack of forensic evidence.
The military continued to take steps to cease forcing civilians to serve as military porters, although there were unconfirmed reports that the military forced civilians to carry supplies or serve in other support roles in areas with outbreaks of conflict, such as northern Shan, Rakhine, and Kachin states.
Armed actors, NGOs, and civilians inside the country and operating along the border reported continued landmine use by the military and armed groups during the year. While the government and ethnic minority groups continued to discuss joint landmine action, no land mines were removed. Limited numbers of improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordinances were informally cleared by the military when identified. During the year the government undertook rapid assessment in internally displaced person (IDP) camps in Kachin and Shan states.
State-level Mine Risk Education (MRE) Working Groups, established in 2013 in Kachin and Kayah states and composed of state government representatives from various ministries, international NGOs, and local NGOs continued to operate. In March the Ministry of Social Welfare held one national-level MRE Working Groups meeting and one MRE workshop. The ministry, in collaboration with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), conducted two MRE training sessions in northern Shan State.
Child Soldiers: Human rights activists, international NGOs, UN officials, and representatives from various ethnic regions reported that incidents of recruitment of child soldiers continued to occur, despite military rules prohibiting enlistment of persons under 18 years of age. The government continued proactively to release child soldiers identified within the military’s ranks. To meet the military’s high recruitment goals and offset desertion and retirement, government army recruiters and civilian brokers were rewarded for the number of recruits, and children continued to be targeted for recruitment. In some cases recruiters offered incentives, promising a good salary, continuing education, food rations for parents, and housing. In many cases vocational training, such as truck driving or carpentry, was promised, but victims were brought to the army battalion instead. In other cases boys were forced to serve in the Burmese army and ethnic armed groups through intimidation, coercion, threats, and violence. The government investigated and released children from military service if the children or their families were aware of the law prohibiting child soldiering and exercised their right to file a complaint with the ILO or petitioned for their child’s release directly to the government’s armed forces. Conversely, children who fled military service or were demobilized by civil society organizations continued to face arrest and imprisonment on charges of desertion.
Ethnic armed groups also reportedly continued to use forced recruitment and child soldiers and sometimes asked for ransom. There were multiple unconfirmed reports of the Kachin Independence Army forcibly recruiting members of the Taileng (also known as the Red Shan) ethnic group residing in Kachin State. According to the civil society organization Shan Nationalities Affairs, the Kachin Independence Army had forcibly recruited 402 Shan youth and adults since 2011; of those, 17 were killed and approximately 350 were not freed.
As in the previous years, there continued to be progress in implementing the 2012 joint plan of action between the government and the United Nations to cease the recruitment of child soldiers and to demobilize and rehabilitate those serving in the armed forces, with 13 verified cases of child recruitment in 2015. Although there were incidents of recruitment and use of child soldiers, the military had released 699 child soldiers since June 2012, of whom 146 were released in 2015. The United Nations reported that the government improved upholding its commitment under the action plan to allow UN monitors to inspect for compliance with agreed-upon procedures, to cease recruitment of children, and to implement processes for identification and demobilization of those serving in armed conflict. UN monitors were able to access all requested battalion-level military installations outside of conflict-affected areas. Nevertheless, continued lack of access to military units in conflict-affected areas of Kachin and Shan states limited UN monitoring in regions most likely to see the use of children around active fighting.
The Ministry of Social Welfare, UNICEF, and other partners provided social assistance and reintegration support to discharged children.
Since 2008 military officials in cooperation with UNICEF and the ILO trained military officers, including recruitment officers and officers up to the rank of captain, on international humanitarian law. The military banned all recruitment at the battalion level and reportedly continued to sanction some complicit military officers, although it did not make the details of these punishments public. UNICEF trained personnel assigned to the country’s four recruitment hubs and reported increased numbers of prospective child soldiers rejected at this stage. A prominent international NGO reported that the military demonstrated a growing commitment and willingness to raise internal and public awareness around ending the use and recruitment of children in the army.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuses: The government often restricted the passage of relief supplies and access by humanitarian organizations to conflict-affected areas of Kachin and Shan states immediately following renewed clashes. The government regularly denied access to the United Nations and international NGOs, ostensibly due to security reasons, and allowed gradual access only as government forces regained control over contested areas. While local organizations generally had unhindered access to the 52,000 IDPs in areas outside of government control, international organizations and UN agencies could enter these areas on official missions only by following a government approval process. In one case the government blocked local organizations from delivering humanitarian provisions via waterway to 1,400 civilians displaced from Sumprabung Township after fighting broke out between the Kachin Independence Army and the military in July. The government reportedly cited security as the reason for restricting humanitarian access to the IDPs, most of whom reportedly fled to Kachin Independence Army-controlled areas. According to media reports, local organizations were able to deliver limited supplies starting in late August. In 2014 some international NGOs were allowed to open offices and place foreign staff in areas outside of government control. More than 100,000 persons remained displaced by conflict in Kachin State. In some cases villagers driven from their homes fled into the forest, frequently in heavily mined areas, without adequate food, security, or basic medical care (see section 2.d.).
Between February 17 and 21, two local Red Cross volunteers were injured allegedly in the Kokang Army’s attack on two Myanmar Red Cross Society convoys. On February 9, clashes broke out between the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Burmese military over control of the Kokang self-administered region in northern Shan State (see section 5).
There were some reports of the use of civilians to shield combatants. On August 25, after fighting with the Shan State Army-South, troops from Burmese Army Division 99 entered a monastery in Hsai Khao ward, Nambtu Township, Shan State, to treat their injured soldiers and forced 25 villagers to stay at the monastery as shields. Later in the day, the troops ordered 10 villagers to accompany them to Palaung village, approximately 12 miles away. The group was allowed to return to their village on August 26.