Incidents involving use of excessive force and other abuses in conjunction with internal conflicts occurred across the country but varied widely. In Chin State and most of the southeast, widespread and systematic violent abuses of civilian populations in ethnic minority areas continued to decline, largely due to a number of bilateral cease-fire agreements reached with ethnic armed groups. These areas also broadly fall under the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signed by eight ethnic armed groups. In Kachin and Rakhine States and parts of Shan State, clashes between NCA nonsignatory groups and the government continued, with credible allegations of abuse of civilian populations by both the military and ethnic armed groups. The majority of clashes took place in northern Shan and Kachin States; however, fighting between the Arakan Army and the military in Rakhine State early in the year, as well as Rakhine violence from October through December, caused significant displacement and allegations of abuse. Conflict between ethnic armed groups themselves increased significantly, most notably in northern Shan State where the Restoration Council of Shan State fought with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) for much of the year. Both of these groups, and the military, were alleged to have abducted, tortured, and killed suspected combatants, burned villages, and forced civilians to porter or act as human shields.
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.).
In Kachin and Shan States, 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 most cities, towns, and highways. There were continued reports of widespread abuses by government soldiers and some ethnic armed groups, including killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and rapes of members of ethnic groups in Shan, Kachin, and Rakhine States. Impunity for these abuses and crimes continued.
Killings: Military officials reportedly killed, tortured, and otherwise seriously abused civilians in conflict areas without public inquiry or accountability. Use of indiscriminate force also resulted in civilian deaths. Some ethnic armed groups, most notably the Restoration Council of Shan State and the TNLA, allegedly killed civilians suspected of being members of rival armed groups. Clashes between government forces and ethnic armed groups broke out periodically in northern and southern Shan State during the year, as well as in northern Rakhine State at the end of the year.
From October through December, there were numerous unconfirmed reports of unlawful killings by government security forces and by local Rohingya against civilians. On October 9, three large groups of militants (identified by the government as a group called Aqa Mul Mujahidin) attacked three Border Guard Police posts in northern Rakhine State. The attacks resulted in nine police officers dead and five wounded. The government began a security operation to search for the perpetrators, dozens of stolen arms, and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition. In the process of these clearance operations, there were unconfirmed reports of, according to the government, approximately 100 civilian deaths, as well as 900 homes burned and approximately 30,000 displaced civilians. The tensions escalated on November 12, when clashes in northern Rakhine State resumed during a search for assailants and weapons, resulting in additional violence. On November 15, the government reported that between November 9 and November 14, the violence resulted in 69 locals and 17 security personnel killed and 234 locals arrested. There were again unconfirmed reports of abuses by security forces against Rohingya civilians, including rape, deaths, and burning of homes, as well as reports of abuses by local Rohingya against civilians. Gaining reliable information continued to be difficult as the government restricted media and humanitarian access during the continuing security situation. On November 28, the government announced the formation of a commission headed by Vice President Myint Swe to investigate reports of human rights abuses in northern Rakhine State. On December 19, the government also organized a three-day trip for 13 journalists to Maungdaw with the support of government security forces.
On June 25, soldiers in Light Battalion 362 located in Mong Yaw in northern Shan State killed five men after arresting and interrogating dozens for possible association with ethnic armed groups. Villagers discovered the bodies in shallow graves a few days later. In July the chief of military security affairs, Lieutenant General Mya Tun Oo, held a press conference admitting the army’s culpability for the murders and stating the government would prosecute the perpetrators. Following an investigation, on September 13, the military held a court-martial, allowing 15 residents of the village to attend to witness the proceedings. Seven soldiers, of whom four were officers, confessed to the killings, and the military court sentenced them to five years of hard labor. During the same incident in June, soldiers reportedly killed two other men, whose bodies villagers found next to the other five. The military did not accept responsibility for those two deaths, and an investigation was pending at year’s end.
Abductions: There were multiple reports of government soldiers abducting villagers in conflict areas. During a military offensive against the Shan State Army on May 18, military personnel allegedly killed two civilians and arbitrarily arrested and detained 13 civilians. One of those detained, the village chief of Wan Long, Loong Aw Aung, disappeared following his arrest. He remained missing at the end of the year.
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 continued reports of forced labor and forced recruitment by the Kachin Independence Army.
Between May 11 and May 20, the military reportedly led attacks in Kyaukme Township in Shan State. Soldiers abused, beat, and killed individuals not involved in the conflict. The Shan Human Rights Foundation reported that the military forced 48 civilians in three separate occasions to march in front of soldiers as protection for nearly 24 hours, each time without food or water. On May 14, following a battle, the military allegedly arrested, beat, and tortured five villagers using wires attached to a car battery during two nights, later forcing them to porter for the soldiers. Villagers reportedly discovered and identified the bodies of three civilians not engaged in the conflict. The government had not investigated these events by year’s end.
A prominent civil society group reported that army soldiers committed numerous crimes of sexual violence against ethnic women and girls in ethnic states.
The military continued to take steps to cease forcing civilians to serve as military porters, yet unconfirmed reports continued 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. While the government and ethnic armed groups continued to discuss joint landmine action, the discussions did not result in any joint landmine removals. The military unilaterally undertook limited landmine clearance operations in the southeast and cleared small numbers of improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordinances when identified.
The state-level Mine Risk Working Groups (MRWG) continued the process of formation, with two new groups established in June in Kayin and northern Shan States. Composed of state government representatives from various ministries, international NGOs, and local NGOs, at year’s end these groups operated in Kachin, Shan, Kayah, and Kayin. In April and July, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement’s Department of Social Welfare held national-level MRWG meetings. The department also organized two union-level MRWG meetings in April and June. The department endorsed a mine risk standardized training tool, developed by MRWG members, that was available for all MRWG members to use. The department and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) conducted a series of training sessions throughout the year, including the first training of trainers using the new standardized tools in September.
Child Soldiers: As in 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. As of October the UN Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR)--the official mechanism for monitoring and reporting grave violations against children--had verified only one case of child soldier recruitment. This was a significant decrease compared with the six verified cases in 2015 and 29 for 2014. The government released 101 child soldiers identified within the military’s ranks, bringing the total to more than 800 child soldiers released since 2012. The military continued identifying suspected minor cases in addition to those reported by the CTFMR to the military. The CTFMR received these reports through the hotline, the forced-labor complaint mechanism, and the community-based networks. Children who fled military service or received demobilization from civil society organizations rather than through the official CTFMR process continued to face arrest and imprisonment on charges of desertion while the military investigated their cases.
The military continued enforcing its ban of all recruitment at the battalion level and continued to sanction military officers and noncommissioned personnel for complicity in child soldier recruitment and use. The military also provided information to the CTFMR that linked specific accountability measures to the respective case(s) of child recruitment or use, allowing for verification of the military’s accountability measures. The military did not make these reports available to the public.
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 military installations, in both conflict- and nonconflict-affected areas, including recruitment centers, training centers, military bases, detention facilities, and border guard forces. Access to certain locations within facilities remained a periodic challenge.
The Ministry of Social Welfare, UNICEF, and other partners provided social assistance and reintegration support to discharged children.
Military officials, in cooperation with the CTFMR, continued training military officers, including recruitment officers and officers up to the rank of captain, on international humanitarian law. UNICEF trained personnel assigned to the country’s four recruitment hubs and reported increased numbers of prospective child soldiers rejected at this stage. The military enhanced its recruitment procedures beginning in 2015 and continuing throughout the year, including the addition of age assessment training integrated into monthly training for recruitment personnel, as recommended by the CTFMR.
Ethnic armed groups reportedly continued to use forced recruitment and child soldiers and sometimes asked for ransom. There were multiple reports of the Kachin Independence Army forcibly recruiting members of the Taileng (also known as the Red Shan) ethnic group residing in Kachin State. Other ethnic armed groups known to recruit and use child soldiers included the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Karen National Liberation Army, Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council, Karenni Army, Shan State Army South, and the United Wa State 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 restricted the passage of relief supplies and access by international humanitarian organizations to conflict-affected areas of Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States immediately following renewed clashes. The government regularly denied access to the United Nations and international NGOs, arguing the military could not assure the NGO workers’ security or that humanitarian assistance would benefit ethnic armed group forces. In some cases the military allowed gradual access only as government forces regained control over contested areas. While locally based organizations generally had unhindered access to the 46,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in areas outside government control, international organizations and UN agencies could enter these areas on official missions only by following a government approval process. As of September the government had not granted humanitarian access to nongovernment controlled areas in Kachin State and only granted limited, sporadic humanitarian access in Rakhine. More than 98,000 persons remained displaced by conflict in Shan and Kachin States, and more than 120,000 in Rakhine. 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.).
Following the attacks in northern Rakhine State in October, the government launched a clearance operation, including restricting all humanitarian access to Maungdaw Township. The government restored access to some parts of Maungdaw in December, but humanitarian access remained limited at the end of the year.
There were some reports of the use of civilians to shield combatants (see Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture).