Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides that “every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of expressing and publishing freely their convictions and opinions,” but it contains the broad and ambiguous caveat that exercise of these rights must “not be contrary to the laws enacted for national security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility, or public order and morality.” Threats against and arrests of journalists decreased.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Authorities arrested, detained, convicted, and imprisoned citizens for defaming religion and expressing political opinions critical of the government, generally under the charges of protesting without a permit or violating national security laws. Prior to the government amending the law in October, some charged for demonstrating without a permit faced hundreds of court hearings and significant delays in reaching a verdict. Many individuals in urban areas, however, reported far greater freedom of speech and expression than in previous years.
On November 3, the government arrested NLD official U Myo Yan Naung Thein and charged him with defamation under the Telecommunications Law for posting comments critical of the military’s response in northern Rakhine State on Facebook in October. They denied his bail in multiple hearings as he spoke out against the arbitrary nature of the Telecommunications Law. His trial was pending at the end of the year, and he remained in detention.
In April the government pardoned hundreds of political prisoners, including Htin Lin Oo, an NLD official sentenced in June 2015 to two years in prison for religious defamation. Also released were Htin Kyaw, a well-known democratic activist who spent more than a decade in prison, and five journalists from Unity Journal, each sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014.
Although freedom of speech generally expanded, some persons remained wary of speaking openly about politically sensitive topics due to monitoring and harassment by security services. Police continued to monitor politicians, journalists, writers, and diplomats. Journalists complained of the widespread practice of government informants attending press conferences and other events, which they said intimidated reporters and the events’ hosts. Informants demanded lists of hosts and attendees.
In October and November, instances of media self-censorship and suppression rose in connection with violence in northern Rakhine State. Media access was restricted due to the continuing security operation. Reporters and media executives were reportedly fired for printing stories critical of the military’s actions in Rakhine.
Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and increasingly able to operate with fewer restrictions. The government permitted the publication of privately owned daily newspapers. As of September authorities approved 27 dailies, seven of which were available for purchase.
Local media could cover information about human rights and political issues, including the peace process and democratic reform. The government generally permitted the media to cover protests and civil conflict, topics not reported widely in state-run media. Self-censorship continued, however, particularly on issues related to Buddhist extremism, the military, and the situation in Rakhine State. The government continued to use visas to control foreign journalists, who reported visa validities ranged from 28 days to six months. The exception to this procedure was in northern Rakhine from October through December, where the military prevented media access under the auspice of security concerns.
The military continued to practice zero-tolerance regarding perceived misreporting by the media. Authorities charged Wai Phyo, chief editor of Daily Eleven newspaper for defamation in a Sagaing Region court in June. A soldier sued the newspaper because of an April 2015 article that included a photograph of the soldier while noting an excursion beyond enemy lines by the military. The newspaper issued a clarification on May 4, after the army filed a complaint through the Myanmar Press Council (MPC), and sent copies of the letter to the commander in chief and to the chairperson of the army’s information division. Daily Eleven said the army and the MPC did not respond, and the military subsequently sued the journalist a year later.
On October 31, the Myanmar Times newspaper fired journalist Fiona Macgregor allegedly for her reporting on allegations of human rights abuses in northern Rakhine State. Her dismissal followed criticism from President Office Spokesperson Zaw Htay on his Facebook page on October 28, following articles written by Macgregor and published in the Myanmar Times on October 27 and 28. Zaw Htay asserted MacGregor cited faulty sources and did not contact government officials to give them a chance to deny the allegations. In her reporting, however, MacGregor cited other outlets that quoted Zaw Htay denying the charges that abuse and rape had taken place in northern Rakhine State. Leadership at the Myanmar Times cited a rule in the employee handbook that staff could be fired for “denigrating the reputation of the paper” as reason for the dismissal but did not speak publicly about the firing.
Radio and television were the primary media of mass communication. Compared with previous years, circulation of independent news periodicals expanded outside of urban areas. Several print publications maintained online news websites that were popular among persons with access to the internet. The government and government-linked businesspersons controlled the content of the eight privately or quasi-governmentally owned FM radio stations.
The government continued to monopolize and control all domestic television broadcasting. It offered six public channels–five controlled by the Ministry of Information and one controlled by the armed forces. The government allowed the general population to register satellite television receivers for a fee, but the cost was prohibitive for most persons outside of urban areas. In August the ministry announced it would allow five media outlets to apply for television channel licenses as private broadcasters. Many media outlets, however, reported the costs of applying and maintaining a television channel were prohibitive.
Violence and Harassment: Violence and harassment of journalists dropped precipitously following the March transition to the new government. Nationalist groups, however, continued to target journalists who spoke out regarding intercommunal and Rakhine State issues. Officials continued to monitor journalists in various parts of the country.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although generally not enforced, laws prohibit citizens from electronically passing information about the country to media located outside the country, exposing journalists who reported for or cooperated with international media to potential harassment, intimidation, and arrest. There were no reports of overt prepublication censorship of press publications, and the government allowed open discussion of sensitive political and economic topics, but incidents of legal action against publications continued to raise concern among local journalists and led to some self-censorship.
On June 14, the Pazundaung Township Court in Yangon Region sentenced four individuals to one year in prison for publishing information that could cause public fear or alarm after they printed a calendar that stated “Rohingya” are an ethnic minority in the country. A fifth man charged in the case remained in hiding. Police arrested the five individuals in November 2015 after fining them approximately 1.1 million kyats ($830) each for breaking the 2014 Printing and Publication Law, which bars individuals from publishing materials that could damage national security and law and order. The court dropped the charges against the owner of the printing house.
In May 2015 the Ministry of Information filed a lawsuit against five editorial staff members of the Daily Eleven newspaper for allegedly defaming the ministry in a 2014 story that criticized the ministry for paying a suspiciously high price for a printing press. Editors of the Daily Eleven disputed the allegation and suggested that the government took legal action to stifle criticism. In June the ministry filed a contempt of court complaint against the publisher and 16 editorial employees, claiming bias in the newspaper’s coverage of a court testimony given by a ministry official in the defamation case. The cases were underway as of December, and the government continued to litigate them through the end of the year.
On April 17, the government released and granted a presidential pardon to the five journalists of the Unity Journal newspaper whom the government had convicted in 2014 for breaching the 1923 State Secret Act.
Libel/Slander Laws: Elements of the military sued journalists on multiple occasions for what they perceived as defamation or inaccurate reporting. The government normally dropped the cases after a lengthy court process. For example, in June the military sued 7Day Daily newspaper, accusing the media outlet of trying actively to undermine the authority of the military with a story that quoted former parliamentary speaker and retired general Thura Shwe Mann urging his colleagues from the military to work with the new government. Only after mediation by the MPC and 7Day Daily’s published apology did the military drop the suit.
Individuals also used the Telecommunications Law to sue reporters for perceived defamation. For example, the chief minister of Rangoon, Phyo Min Thein, sued Eleven Media Group chief executive U Than Htut Aung and the editor in chief, U Wai Phyo, for defamation in November. The chief minister argued that an article insinuating he was corrupt due to an expensive wristwatch amounted to defamation.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. The government reportedly monitored internet communications under questionable legal authority, however, and used defamation charges to intimidate and detain some individuals using social media to criticize the military. There were also some instances of authorities intimidating online media outlets and internet users. Social media continued to be a popular forum to exchange ideas and opinions without direct government censorship. Independent research estimated internet penetration at 22 percent by fixed or mobile connection, with the number of active internet users growing by more than 350 percent between March 2015 and August. The current Freedom on the Net report issued by international NGO Freedom House rated internet freedom in Burma not free, but the rating increased slightly from previous years.
On February 10, the government charged Hla Hpone (accused of running the “Kyat Pha Kyi” Facebook page), under the Telecommunications Law for allegedly doctoring images of President Thein Sein and Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Chaw Sandi Tun and Patrick Kum Ja Lee were both released after serving their six-month sentences for posting photographs on their personal Facebook accounts that authorities deemed as defaming the military.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were fewer government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. In its first month in office, the new government released more than 80 education activists who had been in custody for more than a year, following protests over limitations on academic freedom and association in the 2014 National Education Law. The Ministry of Education and universities demonstrated an increased willingness to collaborate with international institutions to host educational and cultural events, as well as to expand educational opportunities for undergraduate students. For example, the Yangon University of Education collaborated with the international community to hold film screenings and discussions on educational issues, while other universities worked with international institutions to allow foreign English-language instructors to teach their students full-time.
The government restricted political activity and freedom of association on university campuses by officially banning political activity on university campuses and student unions. As in previous years, the All Burma Student’s Union was unable to register but participated in some activities through informal networks.
There was one reported incident of the government restricting cultural events. In June the Motion Picture Classification Board banned the showing of a film entitled Twilight Over Burma, which was due to open at an international human rights festival in Rangoon. The board cited concerns that the film, which tells the story of an Austrian woman who married a Shan prince and who was later arrested during the 1962 coup d’etat, could have threatened the peace process underway with ethnic armed groups. Local and international human rights organizations criticized the censorship as a violation of freedom of speech.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides the right to freedom of assembly, and the government took steps to ease restrictions on these rights. On October 4, the government passed an amendment to the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law. The new law requires 48-hour notice to local police for any peaceful assembly or procession, removing the requirement for permission. The law also reduces the maximum penalty for conducting a peaceful assembly or procession without notice from six months to three months in prison. For second violations of the law, the maximum penalty increases to one year. Under the previous law, six-month sentences could be, and often were, stacked consecutively for every township the procession passed through, resulting in multi-year sentences; the new law allows sentencing only for the township where the assembly begins.
Citizens and international civil society groups criticized provisions of the new peaceful assembly and processions law that make it a criminal offense to give speeches that “contain false information,” say anything that can harm the state, or “do anything that causes fear, a disturbance, or blocks roads, vehicles, or the public.”
As part of the April 8 amnesty, the government released all prisoners involved in the March 2015 Letbadan protests. The government also released student union leaders Kyaw Ko Ko and Lin Htet Naing, whom they had arrested in October and November 2015.
Farmers and social activists continued to hold protests over land rights and older cases of land confiscation throughout the country, and human rights groups continued to report some cases in which the government arrested groups of farmers and those supporting them for demanding the return of confiscated land. Many reported cases involved land taken by the army under the former military regime and given to private companies or individuals with ties to the military. Common charges used to convict the peaceful protesters included criminal trespass, violation of the Peaceful Assembly and Processions Act, and violation of section 505(b) of the penal code, which criminalizes actions that the government deemed likely to cause “an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.” The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) reported more than 100 arrests and indictments during the year, with approximately 116 individuals, including farmers and laborers, known to be facing trial.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
While the constitution and laws allow citizens to form associations and organizations, the government sometimes restricted this right. The former government reportedly blocked efforts of ethnic language and literature associations to meet and teach, and it impeded efforts of Islamic and Christian associations and other organizations to gather and preach. The new government did not address these restrictions as of November.
In 2014 the government adopted the Law Relating to Registration of Organizations, which effectively voided State Law and Order Restoration Council Law 6/1988. The 2014 registration law stipulates voluntary registration for local NGOs and removes punishments for noncompliance for both local and international NGOs.
Activists reported that civil society groups, community-based organizations, and informal networks operated openly and continued to discuss openly human rights and other political problems.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law does not explicitly and comprehensively protect freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Laws provide rights for citizens to settle and reside anywhere in the country “according to law.” Laws related to noncitizens empower the president to make rules for the purpose of requiring registration of foreigners’ movements and authorize officials to require registration for every temporary change of address exceeding 24 hours.
In-country Movement: Regional and local orders, directives, and instructions restricted freedom of movement. In September the government amended the 2012 Ward or Village Tract Administration Law, removing the requirement that persons who intend to spend the night at a place other than their registered domicile inform local ward or village authorities in advance. The new law requires that guests inform local authorities only if their stay outside their registered domicile is longer than one month.
The government restricted the ability of IDPs and stateless persons to move. While a person’s possession of identification documents primarily related to their freedom of movement, authorities also considered race, ethnicity, religion, and place of origin as factors in enforcing these regulations. Residents of ethnic-minority states reported that the government restricted the travel of, involuntarily confined, and forcibly relocated IDPs and stateless persons.
Restrictions on in-country movement of Muslims in Rakhine State were extensive. Authorities required the Rohingya, a stateless population, to carry special documents and travel permits for internal movement in five areas in Rakhine State where the Rohingya ethnic minority primarily resides: Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Kyauktaw, and Sittwe (see Stateless Persons). Township officers in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships continued to require Rohingya to submit a “form for informing absence from habitual residence” for permission to stay overnight in another village and to register on the guest list with the village administrator. Obtaining these forms and permits often involved extortion and bribes.
Restrictions governing the travel of foreigners, Rohingya, and others between townships in northern Rakhine State varied, depending on township, and usually required submission of a document known as “Form 4.” A traveler could obtain this form only from the Township Immigration and National Registration Department (INRD) and only if that person provided an original copy of a family list, temporary registration card, and two guarantors. Travel authorized under Form 4 is valid for 14 days. The cost to obtain the form varied from township to township, with payments required to village administrators or to the township INRD office in amounts ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 kyats ($38 to $76). Change of residency from one village or township to another in northern Rakhine State required permission from the INRD or the township, district, and state officials. While Rohingya could change residency, the government would not register them on a new household registration list in that new location. This practice effectively prevented persons from changing residency.
On March 28, the President’s Office lifted the state of emergency in Rakhine State that had been in place since 2012. This act did not improve freedom of movement for IDPs and stateless persons, since local administrative orders restricting those freedoms stem from separate legislation. Township administrators in Maungdaw and Buthidaung in northern Rakhine State reinforced this circumstance by announcing in April that the curfew order would remain in place until further notice.
Travel restrictions effectively prevented Muslims from northern Rakhine State from traveling outside of the state. There were reports of the government preventing Rohingya living outside Rakhine State from traveling into the northern part of the state.
There were reports of regular, unannounced nighttime household checks in northern Rakhine State and in other areas.
Foreign Travel: The government reduced restrictions preventing foreign travel of political activists, former political prisoners, and some local staff of foreign embassies. While some administrative restrictions remained, local organizations reported encountering far fewer delays and restrictions. Stateless persons, particularly the Rohingya, were unable to obtain documentation necessary for foreign travel.
Exile: There was a sizeable diaspora, with some citizens choosing to remain outside the country after years of self-imposed exile. During the year the government encouraged exiles to help rebuild their country, and some returned home.
Emigration and Repatriation: According to the Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of the end of September, the verified population of concern for UNHCR and the Thai Ministry of Interior, including those who were unregistered, was 103,366. The government allowed UNHCR and other organizations limited access to monitor potential areas of return to assess conditions for the eventual voluntary return of refugees and IDPs.
UNHCR reported nearly 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees lived in two official camps, Kutapalong and Nayapara, in Cox’s Bazar district in southeastern Bangladesh, with approximately 35,000 undocumented Rohingya living adjacent to the two camps in makeshift settlements. An additional 200,000 to 500,000 undocumented Rohingya were living outside the camps among the local host population in the surrounding towns and villages. Neither Bangladesh nor Burma claimed the stateless Rohingya as citizens. In Malaysia UNHCR registered approximately 54,400 Rohingya, of whom approximately 13,300 were asylum seekers and 41,100 were refugees. NGOs believed there were many more unregistered Rohingya in Malaysia. At the end of September, the total number of registered asylum seekers and refugees from Burma in Malaysia was 150,226, including more than 41,000 Chin and 39,000 non-Rohingya Burmese Muslims and other ethnic groups from Burma.
According to the United Nations, in the first half of the year, mixed maritime movements of refugees and migrants through Southeast Asia were limited to isolated attempts by several hundred persons trying to reach Malaysia and Australia, fewer than during the first six months of any year since 2011.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
There were an estimated 220,000 persons displaced by violence in Rakhine and Kachin States and northern Shan State. This figure did not include the southeast, where estimates ranged from between 100,000 and 400,000 persons displaced due to prolonged armed conflict in those areas. Accurate figures were difficult to determine due to poor access to affected areas.
As of September the UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs estimated that more than 100,000 persons remained displaced because of continued armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States. Camps housing more than half of the IDPs were located in areas beyond government control where government forces restricted humanitarian access. There were approximately 172 locations hosting IDPs. Some IDPs found refuge with hosting families, and others hid in forested areas straddling the border with China.
Fighting between government forces and ethnic armed groups continued in Kachin, Shan, Karen, and Rakhine States. Ethnic armed groups also clashed among themselves in northern Shan State. Access to displaced persons continued to be a challenge, with the government restricting access by humanitarian actors to provide aid to affected communities. In Shan State, of the 80,000 displaced by the prior conflict, local and international relief agencies reported more than 42,000 had returned. Following November attacks by ethnic armed groups on security forces in Shan State, many displaced persons crossed into China, with the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimating them at 15,000 at that time. Since mid-April circumscribed fighting between the military and the Arakan Army displaced approximately 1,500 persons in Buthidaung, Kyawktaw, Ponnagyun, and Rathedaung townships in Rakhine State. The government relocated the displaced, who initially stayed in schools, to areas where they could build makeshift shelters within their displaced communities.
Armed clashes between a faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the Border Guard Police in September led to more than 5,600 IDPs from 22 villages taking refuge in Myaing Gyi Ngu Township (two hours north of Karen State’s capital Hpa An). Additional estimates of up to 2,000 persons sought shelter in border areas and stayed with host communities. A number of local and community-based actors provided support and assistance, including youth groups, faith-based organizations, and private donors. International actors provided support, in coordination with their government counterparts.
Approximately 120,000 persons, including Rohingya and Kaman Muslims, and ethnic Rakhine remained displaced in Rakhine State following the 2012 violence, and reports estimated that security operations in northern Rakhine displaced 30,000 persons. Nearly 90,000 Rohingya IDPs lived in Sittwe’s rural camps, where they relied on assistance from aid agencies. Humanitarian agencies provided access to clean water, food, shelter, and sanitation in most IDP camps. The government limited health and education services and livelihood opportunities through systematic restrictions on movement. Rakhine State authorities and security officials imposed severe and disproportionate restrictions on movements of Rohingya IDPs. Conditions in Aung Mingalar, the sole remaining Muslim quarter in Sittwe, remained poor, with Rohingya allowed to leave the fenced and guarded compound to shop for necessities at nearby markets or to visit outside health clinics if they paid a fee to security services. There were reports that some Rohingya were able to engage in limited commercial activities outside Aung Mingalar. While restrictions on movement remained in place, local residents reported some easing of restrictions on their movements.
During the year humanitarian agencies more regularly received travel authorizations to provide assistance, but humanitarian access to Rakhine State was irregular and often restricted. Humanitarian workers continued to be under pressure from local communities to reduce assistance to Muslim IDPs and villages, despite limited adequate access to meet humanitarian need.
UNHCR noted some small-scale, spontaneous IDP returns in the southeast of the country.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.
UNHCR did not register any asylum seekers during the year.
The Myanmar Population and Housing Census reported that there were an estimated 1.09 million Muslims residing in Rakhine State who were stateless because of discriminatory provisions in the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law. The census did not enumerate the Rohingya population in specific due to their statelessness, but according to UNHCR the census number was an accurate estimate of the stateless Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State. Based on preliminary analysis, there were likely significant numbers of stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality throughout the country, including persons of Chinese, Indian, and Nepali descent.
Provisions of the Citizenship Law relating to the acquisition of citizenship discriminate on the grounds of race or ethnicity and contributed to statelessness. Following the entry into force of the 1982 law and procedures, the government released a list of 135 recognized “national ethnic groups” whose members, according to the law, are automatically “citizens.” The government list of 135 official ethnic groups excluded the Rohingya, and subsequent actions by the government rendered members of the Rohingya ethnic minority stateless. The law defines “national ethnic group” only as a racial and ethnic group that can prove origins in the country back to 1823, the year prior to British colonization. Several ethnic minority groups, including the Chin and Kachin, criticized the classification system as inaccurate. While the majority of the country’s inhabitants automatically acquired citizenship under these provisions, some minority groups, including the Rohingya; persons of Indian, Chinese, and Nepali descent; and “Pashu” (Straits Chinese), some of whose members had previously enjoyed citizenship in the country, are not included on the government’s list. The law does not provide protection for children born in the country who do not have a “relevant link” to another state. As a result statelessness continued to increase, since children of stateless parents could not acquire citizenship. UNHCR and a number of human rights and humanitarian organizations continued to advocate amendment of the Citizenship Law to bring it in line with the country’s international human rights obligations and commitments (see section 6, Children).
The name Rohingya is used in reference to a group that self-identifies as belonging to an ethnic group defined by religious, linguistic, and other ethnic features. Rohingya do not dispute their ethnogeographic origins from present day Bangladesh, but they hold that they have resided in what is now Rakhine State for decades, if not centuries. Previously authorities usually referred to Rohingya pejoratively as “Bengali,” claiming that the Muslim residents of northern Rakhine State are irregular migrants from Bangladesh or descendants of migrants transplanted by the British during colonial rule. In May the government policy began using “Muslims in Rakhine State” to refer to the population. In May the government announced a plan to continue its citizenship verification process in Rakhine State by continuing to issue Identity Cards for Nationality Verification (ICNV). As of December the government issued ICNVs to 3,162 of the 390,000 Kaman Muslims and Rohingya, who surrendered their previous national identity card–the Temporary Identity Certificate–in 2015 at the government’s request. The government no longer requires all participants to identify as “Bengali” as a condition of participating in the process, nor does it require applicants to list their race or religion on forms in the earliest phases of the process. As of December an estimated 2,000 Rohingya participated in the new government’s citizen verification process, applying for ICNV as a first step. As of December the government had not released results, and individuals going through the process had not enjoyed any additional benefits in recognition of their participation. The government continued to call Rohingya to participate, but many of them expressed the need for more assurances about the results of the process. Many said the government once recognized them as citizens but expressed fear the government would either not grant them citizenship or would grant them a form of lesser citizenship, curtailing their rights.
According to the Citizenship Law, two lesser forms of citizenship exist: associate and naturalized. According to other legal statutes, these citizens are unable to run for political office; serve in the military, law enforcement, or public administration; inherit land or money; or pursue certain professional degrees, such as medicine and law. According to the Citizenship Law, only the third generation of associate or naturalized citizens are able to acquire full citizenship.
Rohingya experienced severe legal, economic, and social discrimination. The government required them to receive prior approval for travel outside their village of residence; limited their access to higher education, health care, and other basic services; and prohibited them from working as civil servants, including as doctors, nurses, or teachers. Authorities singled out Rohingya in northern Rakhine State to perform forced labor and arbitrarily arrested them. Authorities required Rohingya to obtain official permission for marriages and limited the registration of children to two per family, but local enforcement of the two-child policy was inconsistent. For the most part, authorities registered additional children beyond the two-child limit for Rohingya families, yet there were cases of authorities not doing so.
Restrictions impeded the ability of Rohingya to construct houses or religious buildings.
Local security officials in Rakhine State committed violent crimes and arbitrarily arrested an unknown number of Rohingya, according to reports. Many of these reports occurred during October to December following attacks against police and border authorities by local groups and a subsequent security clearance operation. The perpetrators and the reported abuses remained unconfirmed at year’s end.
The number of voluntary migrants departing Rakhine State dropped to its lowest since 2011, with only a few hundred departures reported in the first six months of the year. This significantly reduced the risk to Rohingya migrants who had been vulnerable to human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and other abuses once on boats and during transit. Following violent attacks against Border Guard Police posts on October 9, however, UN and NGO reports estimated more than 20,000 persons in northern Rakhine State began to move across the Bangladeshi border to flee security operations underway in the area.
There were reports of extrajudicial killings, rape, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, forced labor, sex trafficking, torture, mistreatment in detention, deaths in custody, and systematic denial of due process and fair trial rights in Rakhine State.
According to media reports and local NGOs, on January 11 in Shwe Zar Kat Pa Kaung Village, Maungdaw Township, villagers found the bodies of two young men, reportedly including one minor, in a boat the day after they went fishing. Villagers noted that they last saw the two near a Border Guard Police station, but no investigation took place and the perpetrators were unknown at year’s end.
Local organizations reported 24 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention in Rakhine State, mostly in Buthidaung Township. Most of the individuals detained by the government secured their release by payment of up to 950,000 kyat ($715). A number of those arrested reported authorities beat them while in prison. One man arrested on April 5 in Buthidaung Township reported that officials handcuffed and tied him to the roof of the prison, where they slapped, punched, and beat him and set his chest on fire. Officials released him following payment of 10 million kyat ($7,500). Local NGOs reported widely credible incidents of forced labor, most allegedly perpetrated by the Tatmadaw and the Border Guard Police. Government officials reportedly used villagers for maintenance work and were either unpaid or received compensation that was well below market rates.