Human rights abuses in Rakhine State outside the scope of armed conflict are noted in other sections throughout this report.
Incidents involving use of excessive force and other abuses in conjunction with long-running internal armed 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 2015. In Kachin State and parts of Shan State, clashes among NCA signatory, nonsignatory groups, and the military continued, with credible allegations of abuse of civilian populations by both the military and ethnic armed groups. The majority of such clashes occurred in northern Shan and Kachin States. In central and southern Rakhine State and southern Chin State, sporadic clashes between the Arakan Army and the military continued, and in early August, the Arakan Army clashed with the Arakan Liberation Party. In Shan State the military clashed with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), even though the latter is an NCA signatory. Fighting between the RCSS and TNLA also continued. Both of these groups, and the military, were alleged to have abducted, tortured, and killed suspected combatants as well as burned villages.
In Kachin and Shan States, continuing armed clashes between the military and ethnic armed groups displaced thousands of persons, compounding long-term displacement of conflict-affected communities in these areas. The military blocked humanitarian access to ethnic armed group-controlled areas, where many of the displaced resided, and NGOs reported the military at times fired into IDP camps.
In mid-December the military launched air strikes against several KIA outposts in Kachin State, including around the KIA headquarters of Laiza. At least one civilian was reportedly killed in the fighting, and many IDPs were forced to flee. On December 24, the military launched heavy artillery near Laiza that landed on nearby IDP camps and injured one woman.
The military continued to station forces in most ethnic armed groups’ areas of influence and controlled most cities, towns, and highways. Reports continued of widespread abuses by government soldiers and some ethnic armed groups, including killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and the use of child soldiers. The military was also accused of rapes of members of ethnic minority 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. Following ethnic armed groups’ attacks on the military, the military reportedly exercised a harsh form of collective punishment against civilians. The military’s use of indiscriminate force, including during aerial bombing, also resulted in civilian deaths. Some ethnic armed groups, most notably the RCSS and 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.
On May 25, soldiers from Battalion 319 shot and killed Nhkum Gam Awng, Maran Brang Seng, and Labya Naw Hkum, from Mai Hkawng Roman Catholic IDP camp in Mansi Township, Kachin State. According to camp officials, soldiers arrested the men while they were collecting firewood. NGOs reported villagers found the buried bodies on May 28. On September 15, the military invited villagers to observe court proceedings for six soldiers involved in the killings. Five soldiers reportedly pled guilty, while the battalion commander reportedly pled not guilty. The verdict and sentencing remained pending at year’s end.
On August 9, photographs of the dismembered bodies of Hpaukap Naw Lat and Labang Naw Bawk near a military outpost near Namti, Kachin State, circulated on social media. The men’s families contacted local military personnel, who said the men died while attempting to plant a land mine. The military accused the men of being members of the KIA. Local villagers reported, however, the men picked up the land mine to use while fishing. Several villagers reported witnessing military personnel detain the two men near Namti on the evening of August 8. Witnesses heard explosions in the morning of August 9. Authorities allegedly refused to allow family members to see the bodies before the military buried them. The police did not open an investigation.
Abductions: There were reports government soldiers abducted villagers in conflict areas. In Shan State human rights organizations alleged the military detained seven villagers, including a seven-year-old boy, on July 18, in retaliation against a village following a military confrontation with the RCSS.
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 KIA.
Prominent civil society groups reported the military 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.
Civilians, armed actors, and NGOs operating inside the country and along the border reported continued landmine use by the military and armed groups. Although the government and ethnic armed groups continued to discuss joint demining action, the discussions did not result in any joint landmine activities. The military unilaterally undertook limited landmine clearance operations in the southeast and in northern Shan State where it cleared small numbers of improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance when identified.
The Department of Social Welfare (DSW) and UNICEF continued to cochair the one national and four state-level Mine Risk Working Groups (MRWG) in Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, and Shan States. In Kayin State the MRWG included representatives from the DSW, national MRWG, military, and ethnic armed groups, including the Karen National Union (KNU), Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, and Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council. In March the DSW facilitated a meeting between the Directorate of Military Engineers and six demining NGOs to discuss support for demining activities from the international community.
The MRWG coordinated mine risk education, victim assistance, information management systems, and advocacy. MRWG members monitored and documented incidents and casualties from land mines and unexploded remnants of war. As of September, UNICEF reported 124 casualties, including 38 children. Many incidents were not reported due to continuing conflicts in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine States.
Child Soldiers: There was limited progress in implementing the 2012 joint plan of action between the government and the United Nations to end recruitment of child soldiers and to demobilize and rehabilitate those serving in the armed forces. The United Nations reported that progress on implementation had stalled since May, and there were reports that the military and its middlemen continued to recruit child soldiers from large cities such as Rangoon and Mandalay. The UN Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR)--the official mechanism for monitoring and reporting grave violations against children--continued its work with the government, as required by the memorandum of understanding between the United Nations and the government. The CFTMR met quarterly and submitted quarterly reports to the Security Council. Its last meeting was on December 15. During the year it received 15 complaints of child soldier recruitment. Normal verification procedures could take up to six months to confirm, and none of the 15 cases had yet completed verification. CFTMR monitoring was limited in part because of limitations on UN access to conflict-affected areas. During the year the government released 49 child soldiers identified within the military’s ranks. The military continued identifying suspected cases in addition to those reported by the CTFMR to the military. The CTFMR received these reports through its hotline, the forced-labor complaint mechanism, and 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. Some children who previously were demobilized through the official CTFMR process had been re-recruited by the military once they were of legal age.
The Ministry of Defense undertook efforts to investigate and punish military personnel for recruitment of child soldiers. During the year the military punished 19 officers for previous recruitment of child soldiers. UN experts noted only low-level soldiers were held accountable, despite involvement by higher-level personnel.
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. Former child soldiers generally did not receive meaningful reintegration support, although the military began working with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the country’s national chamber of commerce, to help develop the reintegration program for child soldiers to include private-sector opportunities. 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 the government continued 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. Nonetheless, UN monitors complained of insufficient access, noting that travel authorizations were often not granted until three or more months after an application was submitted, which complicated the United Nation’s ability to investigate claims effectively. They also noted that access to conflict areas was generally denied.
The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement (MSWRR), 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.
Ethnic armed groups reportedly continued to use forced recruitment and child soldiers and sometimes demanded ransom to release child soldiers. Human rights groups reported ethnic armed groups known to recruit and use child soldiers included the KIA, 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. The government continued to prevent ethnic armed groups from signing joint plans of action with the United Nations to end recruitment of child soldiers and to demobilize and rehabilitate those already serving.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: The government restricted the passage of relief supplies and access by international humanitarian organizations to conflict-affected areas of Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States. The government regularly denied access to the United Nations and international NGOs, arguing the military could not assure the NGO workers’ security or claimed 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. Although locally based organizations generally had more access to the 46,000 IDPs in areas outside government control, primarily in northern Kachin State, the military also increasingly restricted access for local organizations as military presence and control in these areas increased. At year’s end the government had not granted UN or international organizations humanitarian access to areas in Kachin State outside of military control. More than 98,000 persons remained displaced by conflict in Kachin and Shan States. 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.).
On June 5, the military dropped leaflets over Tanai Township in Kachin State announcing “clearance operations” to begin on June 15. The leaflet warned the military would assume residents who did not leave by June 15 were cooperating with the KIA and would be treated as combatants. More than 1,000 villagers fled the area to shelter in churches and monasteries near neighboring villages. Local NGOs reported restrictions on humanitarian access to these IDPs.
On August 11, the military launched a raid and fired artillery into Kasung Village, Kachin State. Two churches were reportedly damaged and more than 1,000 residents fled to nearby Namti Village. Artillery caused heavy damage to a Roman Catholic church and moderately damaged a Baptist church and several houses, and there were reports military personnel looted the Roman Catholic church. On August 17, local NGOs reported the military blocked a delivery of humanitarian assistance. On August 23, the military and the KIA withdrew and all villagers were able to return to their homes.
Three journalists--Aye Naing and Pyae Phone Aung of DVB and Lawi Weng of Irrawaddy--were arrested on June 26 after covering a public ceremony organized by the TNLA and charged under the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act of Section 17(1). Bail was repeatedly denied. On September 1, the military withdrew cases against six local journalists it detained under Sections 17(1) and 66(d), including Aye Naing, Pyae Phone Aung, and Lawi Weng.
There were some reports of the use of civilians to shield combatants.