Burma has a quasi-parliamentary system of government in which the national parliament selects the president and constitutional provisions grant one-quarter of parliamentary seats to active-duty military appointees. The military also has the authority to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs, and border affairs and one of two vice presidents, as well as to assume power over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. In 2015 the country held nationwide parliamentary elections that the public widely accepted as a credible reflection of the will of the people. The National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi was the civilian government’s de facto leader and, due to constitutional provisions preventing her from becoming president, remained in the position of state counsellor. During the year parliament selected NLD member Win Myint to replace Htin Kyaw as president, and the country held peaceful and orderly by-elections for 13 state and national offices.
Under the constitution, civilian authorities have no authority over the security forces; the armed forces commander in chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, maintained effective control over the security forces.
Independent investigations undertaken during the year found evidence that corroborated the 2017 ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Rakhine State and further detailed the military’s killing, rape, and torture of unarmed villagers during a campaign of violence that displaced more than 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh. Some evidence suggested preparatory actions on the part of security forces and other actors prior to the start of violence, including confiscation of knives, tools, iron, and other sharp objects that could be used as weapons in the days preceding attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). An additional 13,764 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh between January and September. The government prevented assistance from reaching displaced Rohingya and other vulnerable populations during the year by using access restrictions on the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies. The military also committed human rights abuses in continuing conflicts in Kachin and Shan States.
Human rights issues included reports of unlawful and arbitrary killings by security forces; torture; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; arbitrary arrest and prosecution of journalists and criminalization of defamation; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including arrests of peaceful protesters and restrictions on civil society activity; restrictions on religious freedom; significant restrictions on freedom of movement, in particular for Rohingya; corruption by some officials; unlawful use of child soldiers by the government; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats targeting members of national, ethnic, and religious minorities; and the use of forced and child labor. Consensual same-sex acts among adults remained criminalized, although those laws were rarely enforced.
Although the government took some limited actions to prosecute or punish officials responsible for abuses, the vast majority of such abuses continued with impunity.
Some nonstate groups committed human rights abuses, including killings, unlawful use of child soldiers, forced labor of adults and children, and failure to protect civilians in conflict zones. These abuses rarely resulted in investigations or prosecutions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were many reports security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see also section 1.g.).
Security forces used excessive and sometimes lethal force against civilians. On
January 16, police in Mrauk-U shot and killed seven and injured 12 Rakhine demonstrators who were protesting a decision by officials to cancel an annual event in commemoration of the anniversary of the end of the Arakan Dynasty. Police beat demonstrators–some of whom threw stones and attempted to take over a government administrative building–in addition to firing live rounds into the crowd.
There were several documented extrajudicial killings of Rohingya in Rakhine State during the year and several documented assaults by police against unarmed Rohingya.
On April 5, government soldiers shot and killed the environmental rights activist and community leader Saw O Moo in Karen State. The military stated that Saw O Moo, who was riding a motorcycle with a Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) fighter, was suspected of involvement in planning attacks. His family and other activists denied this claim and said he was only giving a ride to the KNLA fighter.
With additional, albeit still limited, access to northern Rakhine State granted by the government during the year, Amnesty International reported that Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) fighters were almost certainly responsible for a massacre of 53 Hindu villagers in Kha Maung Seik Village, Maungdaw Township, in August 2017.
The trial of four people charged in the death of Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer and adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi who was assassinated outside Rangoon’s international airport in January 2017, continued as of October. Civil society groups and religious groups noted Ko Ni’s death had a chilling effect on lawyers working for constitutional reform and accountability for military abuses, as well as on Muslims fighting for improved treatment.
Arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflict also occurred (see section 1.g.).
There were reports of disappearances by security forces.
There was no action taken during the year or additional information regarding the whereabouts of Rohingya men ages 15 to 40 who were reportedly arrested in 2017 by police without charges or warrants due to purported links to ARSA, several of whom reportedly were not heard from since their arrest.
Disappearances related to internal conflict also occurred (see section 1.g.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture; however, members of security forces reportedly tortured and otherwise abused prisoners, detainees, and other citizens and stateless persons in incidents not related to armed conflict. Such incidents occurred, for example, in Rakhine and Kachin States. The government did not launch any investigation into reports of sexual violence by the military in prior years.
Security forces reportedly subjected detainees to harsh interrogation techniques designed to intimidate and disorient, including severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep. Human rights groups continued to report incidents of torture in ethnic minority areas. Authorities generally took no action to investigate incidents or punish alleged perpetrators.
At least two contingents of Border Guard Police (BGP) in northern Rakhine State in August 2017 tortured and otherwise abused 25 Rohingya men and boys, according to a report released during the year by Amnesty International. Torture included severe beatings, burnings, and sexual violence lasting several days or even weeks. One Rohingya teenager described being beaten severely while hung from a chain attached to the ceiling, first with a hard plastic stick, and then with gloves filled with nails.
On August 21, Human Rights Watch reported that the BGP apprehended and tortured six Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh in 2017 and had since returned to Rakhine State. Authorities, accusing them of illegal border crossing, tried the refugees in Burmese, which they did not understand, and sentenced them to four years in prison.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
The Ministry of Home Affairs operates the prison system and continued during the year to significantly restrict access by international organizations–other than the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)–to prison and detention facilities generally. The military also operates detention facilities and did not permit access. There were continued reports that conditions in prisons and labor camps were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to overcrowding, degrading treatment, and inadequate access to medical care and basic needs, including food, shelter, and hygiene, although observers noted some minor improvement in more centrally located prisons.
Physical Conditions: The Department of Corrections under the Ministry of Home Affairs operated an estimated 47 prisons and 48 labor camps, officially called “agriculture and livestock breeding career training centers” and “manufacturing centers,” according to the government. More than 20,000 inmates were serving their sentences in these labor camps across the country. Authorities reportedly sent prisoners whose sentences did not include “hard labor” to labor camps in contravention of the law and rented out prisoners as labor to private companies. In spite of reforms in recent years, conditions at these camps remain life threatening for some, especially at 18 camps where prisoners work as miners.
A prominent human rights group estimated there were more than 90,000 prisoners; women and men were held separately. Overcrowding was reportedly a serious problem in many prisons and labor camps; a human rights group reported that occupancy at the country’s largest prison was more than double capacity. Some prisons held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. Authorities held some political prisoners separately from common criminals, but political prisoners whom authorities arrested for problems related to land rights were generally held together with common criminals.
Medical supplies and bedding were often inadequate. Bedding sometimes consisted of a single mat, wooden platform, or laminated plastic sheet on a concrete floor. Prisoners did not always have access to potable water. In many cases family members had to supplement prisoners’ official rations with medicine and basic necessities. Inmates reportedly paid wardens for necessities, including clean water, prison uniforms, plates, cups, and utensils.
Detainees were unable to access adequate and timely medical care. Prisoners suffered from health problems, including malaria, heart disease, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, skin diseases, and stomach problems, caused or exacerbated by unhygienic conditions and spoiled food. Former prisoners also complained of poorly maintained physical structures that provided no protection from the elements and had rodent, snake, and mold infestation.
There were reports of custodial deaths due to health problems associated with prison conditions and lack of adequate and timely medical care.
Prison conditions in Rakhine State were reportedly among the worst, with hundreds of Rohingya arbitrarily detained in prison and nonprison facilities, denied due process, and subjected to torture and abuse by Rakhine State prison and security officials.
Administration: Some prisons prevented full adherence to religious codes for prisoners, ostensibly due to space restrictions and security concerns. For example, imprisoned monks reported authorities denied them permission to observe Buddhist holy days, wear robes, shave their heads, or eat on a schedule compatible with the monastic code. Citing security considerations, authorities denied permission for Muslim prisoners to pray together as a group, as is the practice for Friday prayers and Ramadan. Prisoners and detainees could sometimes submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or negative repercussions. The ICRC followed up with relevant authorities on allegations of inappropriate conditions.
Independent Monitoring: Although the ICRC had unfettered access to prisons, prisoners, and labor camps, it did not have access to military detention sites. The ICRC reported its findings through a strictly confidential bilateral dialogue with prison authorities. These reports were neither public nor shared with any other party.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law does not specifically prohibit arbitrary arrest, and the government continued to use the Unlawful Associations Act to arrest persons, often in ethnic and religious minority areas, on an arbitrary basis.
The law allows authorities to extend sentences after prisoners complete their original sentence. The law allows authorities to order detention without charge or trial of anyone they believe is performing or might perform any act that endangers the sovereignty and security of the state or public peace and tranquility. The civilian government and the military continued to interpret these laws broadly and used them arbitrarily to detain activists, student leaders, farmers, journalists, political staff, and human rights defenders.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Home Affairs is generally responsible for the country’s internal security, with oversight of the Myanmar Police Force (MPF) and the General Administration Department, which has a role in security planning as part of its overall civil administrative responsibilities. The home affairs ministry is led by an active-duty military general who is nominated by the armed forces commander in chief in accordance with the constitution.
In conflict and some cease-fire areas, and in northern Rakhine State, representatives from the Ministry of Border Affairs, also led by an active-duty military general appointed by the commander in chief, have significant roles in security planning, as does the military itself. In these areas, lines of authority for internal security may be blurred. During the operations in northern Rakhine State beginning in August 2017, military commanders assumed primary control over all security arrangements and appeared to wield considerable operational influence over the BGP, which is administratively part of the MPF.
The MPF is a national police force with approximately 80,000 police officers. While the MPF continued to make progress in developing baseline capacity, there were still significant gaps in expertise and resources that posed challenges to building a force that effectively serves the public. The MPF specialized units devoted to counternarcotics, antitrafficking in persons, and other transnational crimes continued to make progress in developing operational and investigative capacity.
There were continued reports during the year of harassment and extortion of Rohingya by the BGP, including through surprise raids of private homes, usually with the involvement of the military, to inspect whether residents present matched official household lists. Such lists were often lost or damaged, and as a result these raids sometimes resulted in arbitrary detentions. The BGP also used excessive force. For example, BGP forces on June 28 shot an 11-year-old Rohingya boy in the leg near the border with Bangladesh without provocation while the boy was gathering firewood.
Civil society groups noted corruption remained a concern and that the MPF’s Special Branch continued to engage in surveillance and monitoring. Security forces continued to intimidate civilians through physical abuse and threats to livelihoods. Legal mechanisms exist to investigate abuses by security forces but were seldom used and generally perceived to be ineffective.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
While the law generally requires warrants for searches and arrests, personnel from the Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs and police reportedly conducted searches and made arrests at will.
Except in capital cases, the law does not grant detainees the right to consult an attorney or, if indigent, to have one provided by the state. The government amended the legal aid law in May to provide the public access to fair and equal legal aid based on international standards and to ensure legal aid workers could operate independently and with legal protection, but by year’s end the legal aid system was not yet operational.
There is a functioning bail system, but bribery was a common substitute for bail. Bail is commonly offered in criminal cases, but defendants were often required to attend numerous pretrial hearings before bail was granted. In some cases the government held detainees incommunicado and refused detainees the right to consult a lawyer promptly.
There were reports of suspects in custody dying as a result of mistreatment by police. On September 26, Aung Aung, a taxi driver who was arrested September 12 with two men accused of theft, died after allegedly being beaten by police during his detention. The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission opened an investigation in the case.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests, including detention by the military in conflict areas.
In May the military in northern Rakhine State rounded up dozens of Rohingya, almost all of them young men, who had previously fled to Bangladesh and returned informally. These Rohingya were processed for illegal entry into Burma and subsequently pardoned, allegedly on condition that they agree to be processed through the government’s official repatriation process.
Pretrial Detention: By law authorities may hold suspects in pretrial detention for two weeks (with a possible two-week extension) before bringing them before a judge or informing them of the charges against them. Lawyers noted police regularly detained suspects for the legally mandated period, failed to lodge a charge, then detained them for a series of two-week periods with trips to the judge in between. Judges and police sometimes colluded to extend detentions. According to lawyers, arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detentions resulted from lengthy legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, widespread corruption, and staff shortages. Periods of detention prior to and during trials sometimes equaled or exceeded the sentence that would result from a guilty conviction.
Amnesty: On April 17, President Win Myint pardoned and the government released 8,541 prisoners, including 36 whom the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma considered political prisoners. The majority of the pardoned political prisoners were arrested under the Unlawful Associations Act on charges of affiliation with ethnic armed groups. The president also nullified a previous condition of political prisoners’ release under which they could be forced to serve the remaining prison term if convicted of any crime in the future.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law calls for an independent judiciary, although the government appeared to manipulate the courts for political ends and sometimes deprived citizens of due process and the right to a fair trial, particularly regarding the freedom of expression. High-ranking officials, including President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, spoke publicly regarding pending trials during the year.
The criminal justice system was overburdened by a very high number of cases lodged against small-time drug users, which constituted an estimated 40 to 50 percent of caseloads in the courts. Corruption remained a significant problem. According to civil society organizations, officials at all levels received illegal payments at all stages of the legal process for purposes ranging from influencing routine matters, such as access to a detainee in police custody, to substantive decisions, such as fixing the outcome of a case.
The military and the government, directly or indirectly, were able to exert influence over the outcome of cases, often through overly broad or arbitrary application of legislation on speech or association. In one high-profile case, two Reuters journalists were convicted under a colonial-era law for reporting work in spite of exculpatory evidence presented during trial and procedural irregularities (see section 2.a.).
The attorney general of Yangon Region, one judge, and four other judicial officials were charged with corruption during the year (see section 4).
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but it also grants broad exceptions, effectively allowing the government to violate these rights at will. In ordinary criminal cases, the court generally respected some basic due process rights such as the right to an independent judiciary, public access to the courts, and the right to a defense and an appeal. In practice, defendants do not enjoy the rights to presumption of innocence; to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them; to be present at their trial; to free interpretation; or, except in capital cases, to consult an attorney of their choice or have one provided at government expense. There is no right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, but defense attorneys in criminal cases generally had 15 days to prepare for trial. Defendants have the right to appeal judgments. In May the Union Attorney General’s Office adopted a fair trial standards manual, but because of the low standard of legal education, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges were often unfamiliar with precedent, case law, and basic legal procedures. No legal provision allows for coerced testimony or confessions of guilt by defendants to be used in court; nonetheless, authorities reportedly engaged in both. There were reports of coercion to plead guilty despite a lack of evidence with promises of reduced sentences to defendants who did so.
Ordinary criminal cases were open to the public, but in practice members of the public with no direct involvement in a case were denied entry to courts. There is no right to confront witnesses and present evidence, although defense attorneys could sometimes call witnesses and conduct cross-examinations. Prodemocracy activists generally appeared able to retain counsel, but defendants’ access to counsel was often inadequate. There were reports of authorities not informing family members of the arrests of persons in a timely manner, not telling them of their whereabouts, and often denying them the right to see prisoners in a timely manner. Local civil society groups noted the public was largely unaware of its legal rights, and there were too few lawyers to meet public needs.
The government retained the ability to extend prison sentences under the law. The minister of home affairs has the authority to extend a prison sentence unilaterally by two months on six separate occasions, for a total extension of one year.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government continued to detain and arrest journalists, activists, and critics of the government and the military. According to civil society groups that use a definition of political prisoners that includes those who may have engaged in acts of violence and excludes some charges related to freedom of expression and religion, there were 36 convicted political prisoners, 53 political prisoners in pretrial detention or detained with trials in process, and 216 individuals released on bail while facing trial for political charges as of September. These numbers did not include detainees and prisoners in Rakhine State, estimated to be in the hundreds, many of whom likely meet the definition of political prisoner.
The former child soldier Aung Ko Htway, who was arrested in August 2017 for defaming the military following an interview he gave to an international media outlet detailing his experience as a former child soldier, was given a two-year prison sentence on March 29. He received an additional six-month sentence for contempt of court.
Many released political prisoners experienced significant surveillance and restrictions following their release, including an inability to resume studies undertaken prior to incarceration, secure travel documents, or obtain other documents related to identity or ownership of land.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
No specific mechanisms or laws provide for civil remedies for human rights violations; however, complainants may use provisions of the penal code and laws of civil procedure to seek civil remedies. Individuals and organizations may not appeal an adverse decision to regional human rights bodies.
Under the constitution, the state owns all land; however, the law allows for registration and sale of private land ownership rights. Authorities and private-sector organizations perpetrated land grabs during the year, and restitution for past and recent land grabs was very limited.
The law provides for compensation when the government acquires land for a public purpose; however, civil society groups criticized the lack of safeguards in the law to provide payment of fair market compensation and said that compensation was infrequent and inadequate in such cases.
The government can also declare land unused and assign it to foreign investors or designate it for other uses. There is no provision for judicial review of land ownership or confiscation decisions; administrative bodies subject to political control by the national government make final decisions on land use and registration. Researchers and civil society groups had concerns that land laws facilitate land confiscation without providing adequate procedural protections. In some cases of land confiscation, compensation was inadequate or not provided, and advance notice was not given.
The 2016 land use policy emphasizes the recognition, protection, and registration of legitimate land tenure rights of small-holders, communities, ethnic nationalities, women, and other vulnerable groups. It also includes the recognition, protection, and ultimate registration of customary tenure rights, which previously were not legally recognized. In September parliament passed and the president signed amendments to the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Act that featured limited protections for land “defined in accordance with cultural and traditional systems of local ethnic nationalities.” On November 9, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that, effective from that date, small-holders have six months to register their land or risk becoming a trespasser on their own land; if rigorously enforced, this order could result in millions of people losing rights of access to their lands.
Civil society groups, however, raised concerns that laws continued not to recognize rights in traditional collective land ownership and shifting cultivation systems, which are particularly prevalent in areas inhabited by ethnic minority groups. Parallel legal frameworks and traditional forms of land tenure in areas controlled by ethnic groups in Kachin, Mon, Kayin, and Shan States were not recognized by the government. Ethnic and civil society groups staged protests during the year in Kachin and Kayin States, Mandalay Division, and elsewhere over the government’s land policies.
Observers were concerned that the law could be used to prevent displaced Rohingya, who had security of tenure over lands in northern Rakhine State that were burned by the military, from returning to those lands or receiving adequate compensation from the government. Government officials stated that burned land would revert by law back to the government, without clarifying if such land would be returned to those who previously had security of tenure. There was no systematic effort to document the security of tenure Rohingya previously enjoyed over land from which they were displaced since August 2017.
Following the military campaign in Rakhine State, authorities bulldozed village remains, demolished structures, and cleared vegetation, to reshape some former Rohingya villages and replace former establishments with security bases and other structural developments.
The law requires that land be returned if not used productively within four years, but civil society groups reported land taken by the military was left unused for much longer periods and that there was little progress in returning other land confiscated by the government.
The General Administration Department under the Ministry of Home Affairs oversees land return. Adequate compensation was not provided to the many farmers and rural communities whose land was confiscated without due process during the former military regime, including by the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, the Myanmar Ports Authority, and the military itself.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal but remained a significant problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. Spousal rape is not a crime unless the wife is younger than 14 years. Police generally investigated reported cases of rape, but there were reports police investigations were not sensitive to victims. Civil society groups continued to report police in some cases verbally abused women who reported rape, and women could be sued for impugning the dignity of the perpetrator.
Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious problem. Abuse within families was prevalent and considered socially acceptable. Spousal abuse or domestic violence was difficult to measure because the government did not maintain comprehensive statistics and victims typically did not report it, although the government attempted to document cases and stated cases were on the rise. Laws prohibit committing bodily harm against another person, but there are no laws specifically against domestic violence or spousal abuse unless the wife is younger than 14. Punishment for violating the law includes sentences ranging from one year to life in prison, in addition to possible fines. Overlapping and at times contradictory legal provisions complicated implementation of these limited protections.
The United Nations, media, and NGOs during the year documented the widespread use of rape and sexual violence by the military in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States since at least 2011. The military rejected all allegations that rape was an institutionalized practice in the military.
Sexual Harassment: The penal code prohibits sexual harassment and imposes a maximum of one year’s imprisonment and a fine for verbal harassment and a maximum of two years’ imprisonment and a fine for physical contact. There was no information on the prevalence of the problem because these crimes were largely unreported. Local civil society organizations reported police investigators were not sensitive to victims and rarely followed through with investigations or prosecutions.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. In 2015, however, the government enacted the Population Control and Health Care Law, which contains provisions that, if enforced, could impose coercive birth-spacing requirements. Under the law the president or the national government may designate “special regions” for health care following consideration of factors such as population, natural resources, birth rates, and food availability. Once a special region is declared, the government allows the creation of special health-care organizations to perform various tasks, including establishing regulations related to family planning methods. The government has not designated any such special regions since the law’s enactment.
A two-child local order issued by the government of Rakhine State pertaining to the Rohingya population in two northern townships remained in effect, but the government and NGOs reported it was not consistently enforced (see section 1.f.).
Discrimination: By law women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, including property and inheritance rights and religious and personal status, but it was not clear the government enforced the law. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but it was not clear the formal sector respected this requirement. NGOs reported some sectors, such as the garment industry, did not comply. Poverty affected women disproportionately. The law governing hiring of civil service personnel states nothing shall prevent the appointment of men to “positions that are suitable for men only,” with no further definition of what constitutes positions “suitable for men only.”
Customary law was widely used to address issues of marriage, property, and inheritance, and it differs from the provisions under statutory law.
Birth Registration: The 1982 Citizenship Law automatically confers full citizenship status to 135 recognized national ethnic groups as well as to persons who met citizenship requirements under previous citizenship legislation. Moreover, the government confers full citizenship to second-generation children of both parents with any citizenship, as long as at least one parent has full citizenship. Third-generation children of associate or naturalized citizens can acquire full citizenship. Residents derive full citizenship through parents, both of whom must be one of the 135 officially recognized “national races.” Under the law the government does not officially recognize Rohingya as an ethnic group.
A prominent international NGO noted significant rural-urban disparities in birth registration. In major cities (e.g., Rangoon and Mandalay), births were registered immediately. In larger cities parents must register births to qualify for basic public services and obtain national identification cards. In smaller towns and villages, however, birth registration often was informal or nonexistent. For the Rohingya community, birth registration was a significant problem (see section 2.d.). The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State noted in its interim report nearly one-half of all residents in Rakhine State lacked birth documentation and recommended the government introduce a comprehensive birth registration campaign.
A birth certificate provided important protections for children, particularly against child labor, early marriage, and recruitment into the armed forces and armed groups. Sometimes a lack of birth registration, but more often a lack of availability, complicated access to public services in remote communities.
Education: By law, education is compulsory, free, and universal through the fourth grade. The government continued to allocate minimal resources to public education, and schools charged informal fees.
Education access for internally displaced and stateless children remained limited.
Child Abuse: Laws prohibit child abuse, but they were neither adequate nor enforced. NGOs reported corporal punishment was widely used against children as a means of discipline. The punishment for violations is a maximum of two years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of 10,000 kyats ($6.30). There was anecdotal evidence of violence against children occurring within families, schools, in situations of child labor and exploitation, and in armed conflict. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement continued its child protection programs. In Rakhine State continued violence left many families and children displaced or with restrictions on their movement, and this dislocation at times exposed them to an environment of violence and exploitation. Armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States had a similar adverse effect on children in those areas.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates different minimum ages for marriage based on religion and gender: The minimum age for Buddhists is 18 years, and the minimum age for Christians is 16 for boys and 15 for girls, but child marriage still occurred. According to the 2014 census, more than 13 percent of women married between ages 15 and 19. There were no reliable statistics on forced marriage. Child marriage remained a problem in rural areas.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Children were subjected to sex trafficking in the country, and a small number of foreign child-sex tourists exploited children. The law does not explicitly prohibit child-sex tourism, but it prohibits pimping and prostitution, and the penal code prohibits sex with a minor younger than 14 years. The penalty for the purchase and sale of commercial sex acts from a child younger than 18 is 10 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits pornography and specifies a penalty of two years’ minimum imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 kyats ($6.30). If a victim is younger than 14, the law considers the sexual act statutory rape. The maximum sentence for statutory rape is two years’ imprisonment when the victim is between 12 and 14, and 10 years’ to life imprisonment when the victim is younger than 12.
Displaced Children: The mortality rate of internally displaced children in conflict areas was significantly higher than in the rest of the country (see section 2.d.). The United Nations estimated that 53 percent of the 128,000 IDPs in Rakhine State are children; the vast majority of this population is Rohingya. The UN estimated that 46 percent of the 98,000 IDPs in Kachin State are children and 48 percent of the 8,500 IDPs in northern Shan State are children.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
There was one synagogue in Rangoon serving a small Jewish congregation. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, hearing, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in air travel and other forms of transportation, but it directs the government to assure that persons with disabilities have easy access to public transportation. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.
Civil society groups reported that children with disabilities often attended school through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other persons, and many never attended school due to stigma and lack of any accommodation for their needs.
According to the Myanmar Physical Handicap Association, a significant number of military personnel, armed group members, and civilians had a disability because of conflict, including because of torture and landmine incidents. There were approximately 12,000 amputees in the country–two-thirds believed to be landmine survivors–supported by five physical rehabilitation centers throughout the country. Persons with disabilities reported stigma, discrimination, and abuse from civilian and government officials. Students with disabilities cited barriers to inclusive education as a significant disadvantage.
Military veterans with disabilities received official benefits on a priority basis, usually a civil service job at equivalent pay, but both military and ethnic-minority survivors in rural areas typically did not have access to livelihood opportunities or affordable medical treatment. Official assistance to nonmilitary persons with disabilities in principle included two-thirds of pay for a maximum of one year for a temporary disability and a tax-free stipend for permanent disability. While the law provides job protection for workers who become disabled, authorities did not implement it.
Ethnic minorities constituted 30 to 40 percent of the population. The seven ethnic minority states composed approximately 60 percent of the national territory, and significant numbers of minorities also resided within the country’s other regions. Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against minorities persisted, including in areas such as education, housing, employment, and access to health services. International observers noted significant wage discrepancies based on religious and ethnic backgrounds were common.
Burmese generally remained the mandatory language of instruction in government schools. The government’s National Education Strategic Plan, released in April 2017, did not cover issues related to mother-tongue instruction. In schools controlled by ethnic groups, students sometimes had no access to the national curriculum. There were very few domestic publications in indigenous-minority languages.
Tension between the military and ethnic minority populations, while somewhat diminished in areas with cease-fire agreements, remained high, and the military stationed forces in some ethnic groups’ areas of influence and controlled certain cities, towns, and highways. Ethnic armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organization and the Karen National Union, pointed to the increased presence of army troops as a major source of tension and insecurity. Reported abuses included killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and rapes of members of ethnic groups by government soldiers. Some groups also committed abuses (see section 1.g.).
The Rohingya in Rakhine State faced severe discrimination based on their ethnicity. Most Rohingya faced extreme restrictions on their ability to travel, avail themselves of health-care services, engage in economic activity (see section 7.d.), obtain an education, and register births, deaths, and marriages (see section 2.d.). Most of those displaced in 2012 remained confined to semipermanent camps with severely limited access to education, health care, and livelihoods.
The military and other security forces committed widespread atrocities against Rohingya villagers starting in August 2017 that were documented during the year, including extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, and burning of hundreds of villages, religious structures, and other buildings. These atrocities and associated events forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh as of September and constituted ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Political reforms in recent years made it easier for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community to hold public events and openly participate in society, yet discrimination, stigma and a lack of acceptance among the general population persisted. Consensual same-sex sexual activity remains illegal under the penal code, which contains a provision against “unnatural offenses” with a penalty of a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Laws against “unnatural offenses” apply equally to both men and women; these laws were rarely enforced. LGBTI persons reported police used the threat of prosecution to extort bribes. While the penal code is used more for coercion or bribery, LGBTI persons, particularly transgender women, were most frequently charged under so-called shadow and disguise laws. These laws use the justification that a person dressed or acting in a way that is perceived as not being in line with their biological gender is in “disguise.” According to a report by a local NGO, transgender women reported higher levels of police abuse and discrimination than other members of the LGBTI community.
In March, authorities in Rangoon used the “unnatural offenses” law to charge an openly gay restaurant owner for allegedly sexually assaulting a male member of his staff. The case was pending at year’s end.
There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. LGBTI persons reported facing discrimination from medical-care providers.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The constitution provides for the individual’s right to health care in accordance with national health policy, prohibits discrimination by the government on the grounds of “status,” and requires equal opportunity in employment and equality before the law. Persons with HIV/AIDS could theoretically submit a complaint to the government if a breach of their constitutional rights or denial of access to essential medicines occurred, such as antiretroviral therapy, but there were no reports of individuals submitting complaints on these grounds. There are no HIV-specific protective laws or laws that specifically address the human rights aspects of HIV.
There were continued reports of societal violence and discrimination, including employment discrimination, against persons with HIV/AIDS. Negative incidents such as exclusion from social gatherings and activities; verbal insults, harassment, and threats; and physical assaults continued to occur. Laws that criminalize behaviors linked to an increased risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS remain in place, directly fueling stigma and discrimination against persons engaged in these behaviors and impeding their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.
High levels of social stigma and discrimination against female sex workers and transgender women hindered their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and social protection services. Police harassment of sex workers deterred the workers from carrying condoms.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were reports of other cases of societal violence, and anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination persisted. Members of Buddhist nationalist groups, including members of Ma Ba Tha, continued to denigrate Islam and called for a boycott of Muslim businesses.
Muslim communities complained about unequal treatment by police, pressures to practice Islam in private, difficulty in obtaining citizenship cards, close monitoring of their travel by local government, and restrictions on education opportunities. In addition some Muslims reported discrimination by private parties in renting housing. Religious groups noted the January 2017 assassination of Ko Ni had a chilling effect on Muslims fighting for improved treatment under the law (see section 1.a.).
Anti-Muslim hate speech, and in particular anti-Rohingya hate-speech, was prevalent on social media, in particular Facebook, the most popular social media platform in Myanmar. Independent reporting indicated that the military, using false accounts, was also responsible for generating and promulgating hate speech content.
Multiple sources noted restrictions against Muslims and Christians impeded their ability to pursue higher education opportunities and assume high-level government positions and that Muslims were unable to invest and trade freely.
Section 7. Worker Rights
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Laws prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provide for the punishment of persons who impose forced labor on others, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.
The law provides for criminal penalties for forced labor violations; penalties differ depending on whether the military, the government, or a private citizen committed the violation. Prosecution of military perpetrators occurs under either the military or penal code. Civilian perpetrators may be subject to administrative action or criminal proceedings under the penal code. The maximum penalty under the penal code is 12 months in prison; under the military code it is seven years in prison. International observers deemed the penalties sufficient to deter forced labor.
The government continued to implement some aspects of the ILO action plan to eliminate forced labor and in January extended the Supplementary Understanding with the ILO, which provides for a complaint mechanism for victims of forced labor through the end of the year. The government also signed a memorandum of understanding with the ILO in January to create an action plan to eliminate forced labor, which provides for an additional complaint mechanism as well as training and awareness-raising activities on forced labor.
The ILO reported it continued to receive complaints of forced labor, although the number was decreasing overall. Though the military and the government received complaints logged by the complaints mechanism, there was no evidence that they took enforcement action to address concerns. There was no evidence that the government prosecuted soldiers in civilian courts for recruitment or use of child soldiers.
Reports of forced labor occurred across the country, including in conflict and cease-fire areas, and the prevalence was higher in states with significant armed conflict. Forced labor reports included forced portering and activities related to the military’s “self-reliance” policy. Under the self-reliance policy, military battalions are responsible for procuring their own food and labor supplies from local villagers–a major factor contributing to forced labor and other abuses.
Prisoners in the country’s 48 labor camps engaged in forced labor (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).
The ILO received reports of forced labor in the private sector, including excessive overtime with or without compensation by workers at risk of losing their jobs and also by bonded labor. Domestic workers also remained at risk of domestic servitude.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.