Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings unrelated to internal conflict.
On June 20, a government soldier shot and killed Gum Seng Aung in Myitkyina, Kachin State. Media, police and nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports varied greatly as to the details. Allegedly, Gum Seng Aung and another individual were crossing a bridge when another group harassed them. They asked nearby soldiers for assistance, leading to an apparent scuffle that resulted in Gum Seng’s death. Reports indicated his body was found more than two miles from the location of the conflict, drawing further questions as to the veracity of the official description of events. Residents carried the body of Gum Seng Aung through the streets of Myitkyina as a martyr. Media reports indicated that the soldiers responsible for Gum Seng Aung’s death turned themselves in to local police. Authorities charged the soldiers with manslaughter and turned them over to the military for subsequent investigation. Military officials held a closed tribunal following an investigation. On November 29, they held a public hearing in Myitkyina attended by 16 civil society representatives, including family and friends of the victim. At the hearing a soldier admitted to shooting Gum Seng Aung accidentally. The jury did not reach a verdict or sentence the soldier by the end of the year, agreeing on the need for additional time to deliberate further.
In September the Kachin Baptist Convention submitted a letter to the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma asking for assistance in the investigation of the January 2015 deaths of two Kachin volunteer schoolteachers. The teachers, Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin, were found dead in Kaung Hkar Village, Muse District, and Shan State. Civil society and the media claimed members of the Burmese Army 503 Battalion raped and killed the women, while government officials argued that the forensic evidence did not implicate the military or indicate rape. The Baptist group had established an independent inquiry commission in February 2015, but it continued to report insufficient cooperation from the military and police.
Arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflict also occurred (see section 1.g.).
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances of private citizens outside of conflict-affected border states (see section 1.g.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the law prohibits torture, members of security forces reportedly tortured, raped, beat, 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.
Security forces reportedly subjected detainees to harsh interrogation techniques designed to intimidate and disorient, including severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep. Authorities reportedly no longer used burnings and water torture as a common practice, but human rights groups continued to report incidents of torture in conflict-affected states. As in previous years, authorities took little action to investigate incidents or punish alleged perpetrators.
There were credible reports of rapes of women in Rakhine State, including by security forces, that local authorities and security forces failed to investigate or prosecute alleged perpetrators (see sections 1.g. and 1.d.).
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and labor camps continued to be harsh due to overcrowding, degrading treatment, and inadequate access to quality medical care and basic needs, including food, shelter, and hygiene.
Physical Conditions: The Correctional Department operated an estimated 43 prisons and approximately 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 46 of these centers across the country, where prisoners could opt to serve a shortened period of their prison sentence in “hard labor,” which was considered by many as more desirable.
A human rights group and prominent international NGO estimated there were approximately 60,000 prisoners–50,000 men and 10,000 women–held in separate facilities in prisons and labor camps. Estimates placed the number of juvenile detainees at a few hundred. Overcrowding was reportedly a problem in many prisons and labor camps. Some prisons held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners and occasionally held political prisoners 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 supplemented prisoners’ official rations with medicine and basic necessities. Inmates reportedly paid wardens for basic necessities, including clean water, prison uniforms, plates, cups, and utensils.
Detainees were unable to access quality and timely medical care. Prisoners suffered from health problems, including malaria, heart disease, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, skin diseases, and stomach problems, resulting from unhygienic conditions and spoiled food. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections in prisons reportedly remained high. 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 quality and timely medical care. Between 2011 and 2014, 120 persons reportedly died in 46 of the prisons and labor camps, reportedly from “weather, diet, lifestyle, and accidents.”
Prison conditions in Rakhine State were reportedly among the worst, with reports of 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 that authorities denied them permission to observe the Buddhist holy day, 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 International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) followed up with the relevant authorities on allegations of inappropriate conditions.
Independent Monitoring: The government restored the ICRC’s unfettered access to prisons, prisoners, and labor camps in 2013, yet the ICRC did not have access to military or nonprison detention sites. The ICRC continued to expand its assistance to prison facilities in ethnic-minority areas, including in Shan, Kachin, and Rakhine States. Following the resumption of access, the ICRC and the government upgraded water and sanitary facilities, medical infrastructure, and waste management systems in prisons and assisted detainees in restoring or maintaining contact with family members. 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.
Improvements: The government continued to make systematic improvements to the country’s prison system. With continued ICRC access to civilian prisons and labor camps, reports of torture have decreased while progress in overcrowding and vocational training opportunities have contributed to improvements in detention conditions and basic services.
The law does not specifically prohibit arbitrary arrest but requires permission of a court for detention of more than 24 hours. On October 4, the government repealed the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, used by the former regime to arrest and detain activists arbitrarily.
The law allows authorities to extend sentences after prisoners complete their original sentence, and the government used this provision. 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. Authorities continued to interpret these laws broadly but used them less frequently than in past years to detain activists, student leaders, farmers, journalists, or human rights defenders.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Home Affairs, led by a uniformed military general in accordance with the constitution, oversees the police force, which is largely responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order in urban areas and nonconflict areas. The Defense Services oversees the Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs (OCMSA) and plays a significant role in the maintenance of law and order, particularly in conflict areas. The Border Guard Police, under the Ministry of Home Affairs, shares responsibility for policing in northern Rakhine State with the police force.
Outside of conflict areas, security forces generally operated with respect for the rule of law, and various organizations noted the significant decrease under the new government of the pervasive and threatening influence security forces previously exerted on the lives of inhabitants. In conflict areas security forces continued to exert fear on civilians through physical abuse and threats to individual livelihoods. Public information was unavailable as to the results of any military investigations into such abuses, and generally security forces appeared to act with impunity. Legal mechanisms exist to investigate abuses by security forces but were seldom used and generally perceived to be ineffective. In one high-profile Shan State case, seven soldiers, including four officers, received five-year prison sentences with hard labor in September for the death of five civilians in June (see section 1.g.).
In Rakhine State police failed to investigate crimes motivated by intercommunal tension and in some instances discouraged family of the victims from pursuing legal action. On August 18, soldiers in Sittwe, Rakhine State, found an unconscious Rohingya woman named Raysuana outside their compound. They called village leaders to take the woman to a clinic, where she died. Clinic attendants reportedly noted injuries suggesting rape, but police refused to investigate and instead ordered villagers to bury Raysuana without a post mortem examination.
The government continued to train police on international policing standards. Foreign governments and the international community provided training on conflict-sensitive policing, community policing, crowd management, victim-centered approaches to law enforcement, and other relevant topics.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
While the law generally requires warrants for searches and arrests, the OCMSA and police reportedly conducted searches and made arrests at will. Special Branch police responsible for state security matters reportedly held persons during what they termed an “interrogation phase,” a period not defined in law, before pretrial detention. With court permission police may detain individuals without charge for up to two weeks, with the possibility of a two-week extension.
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. In January the government passed the country’s first legal aid law. The law stipulates that the Office of the Supreme Court of the Union is to manage the national legal aid scheme, with implementation overseen by a Union Legal Aid Board.
There is a functioning bail system, but bribery was a common substitute for bail. Bail is commonly offered in criminal cases. In some cases the government refused detainees the right to consult a lawyer promptly.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests. In April the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), the political wing of a cease-fire signatory ethnic armed group, published a statement accusing the military in Rakhine State of forcing civilians to act as porters and human shields. On May 5, the military filed charges of sedition and incitement under the penal code against U Khaing Myo Htun, a deputy information officer for the ALP and human rights activist. U Khaing Myo Htun reportedly gathered video documentation of the military’s actions to support the public statement. He was arrested on July 25. Hundreds of supporters protested his arrest outside the courthouse at his first hearing in August. U Khaing Myo Htun remained in detention after courts denied his appeal for bail pending trial at multiple hearings, with his last hearing taking place December 2.
The government released and pardoned student leaders Zeyar Lwin and Paing Phyoe Min in April following their July 2015 arrest. The government also released the 60 persons in detention related to the 2015 Letpadan education reform protests, with all charges dropped early in the year.
Pretrial Detention: There were reports that authorities frequently and arbitrarily extended pretrial detentions. By law suspects may be held in pretrial detention for two weeks (with a possible two-week extension) without bringing them before a judge or informing them of the charges against them. Lawyers noted that 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.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The government generally did not allow detainees to challenge the legal basis of their detention in court prior to the two-week pretrial detention period.
Amnesty: On April 8, the president released more than 100 political detainees and on April 11, pardoned 83 political prisoners. Over the course of the year, according to human rights organizations, the government released more than 235 political prisoners through either pardon or serving their sentences and dropped charges against hundreds more.
The law calls for an independent judiciary, although institutional corruption sometimes characterized the judicial system and appeared at times under the de facto control of the military and government. According to studies by civil society organizations, all level of officials received payments at all stages in the legal process for purposes ranging from routine matters, such as access to a detainee in police custody to fixing the outcome of a case. As in the previous year, the government did not take legal action against judges for corruption.
The government repealed or amended many of the laws used historically to deny individuals a fair public trial. The government repealed the Emergency Provisions Act in October. Also in October the government amended the Peaceful Assembly and Processions Act. Other laws remained on the books, including the Habitual Offenders Act, the Electronic Transactions Law, the Television and Video Act, the Law on Safeguarding the State from the Danger of Subversive Elements, and section 505(b) of the penal code, used to censor or prosecute public dissent. Provisions in the laws that allow the government to manipulate the courts for political ends remained in place, but the government used them less frequently than in previous years. It continued occasionally to use some of these laws to criminalize peaceful dissent and deprive citizens of due process and the right to a fair trial.
On January 22, the government sentenced Kachin activist Patrick Kum Jaa Lee to six months in prison for sharing a photograph on Facebook that the military deemed was defamatory. Authorities arrested Patrick in October 2015 and charged him under the 2013 Telecommunications Law. The government released him on April 1 after he finished serving his sentence in Insein Prison.
The government released Naw Ohn Hla and five other activists in April after they finished serving their sentence for protesting a land dispute in front of the Chinese embassy in Rangoon.
The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, but it also grants broad exceptions, in effect 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. 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, but in most appellate hearings, the original verdicts were upheld. No legal provision allows for the compelled testimony or confessions of guilt by defendants to be used in court; nonetheless, authorities reportedly engaged in both. According to local human rights lawyers, judicial violations of many of these rights and standard trial procedures declined under the new government.
Ordinary criminal cases were open to the public. While there is no right to confront witnesses and present evidence, defense attorneys could sometimes call witnesses, conduct cross-examination, and examine evidence. Defendants did not have the right to access government-held evidence, but sometimes they received access. Prodemocracy activists generally appeared able to retain counsel, but defendants’ access to counsel was often inadequate. There were reports of the 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.
Concerns regarding judicial impartiality remained, and under the new government, NGOs and lawyers reported that interference in criminal trials to dictate verdicts became less common.
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 up to one year.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government released hundreds of political prisoners during the year. As of October only a small number of political prisoners remained in prison throughout the country, none convicted since the new government came to power. Two separate protests related to labor and land disputes in May led to more than 150 of the arrested political detainees during the year (see section 7). The government released most after a few days without conviction, while 15 individuals remained in detention awaiting trial as of December. As of December, 66 political detainees were facing trial on various charges. This number did not include detainees in Rakhine State, estimated to be in the hundreds.
Many released political prisoners experienced significant 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. Under the code of criminal procedure, released political prisoners faced the prospect of serving the remainder of their sentences if rearrested for any reason.
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 is the owner of all land; however, the 2012 Farmland Law allows for registration and sales of private ownership rights in land.
In January the new government formally endorsed a new land use policy following public consultations dating to 2014. The new policy emphasizes the recognition, protection, and registration of legitimate land tenure rights of smallholders, communities, ethnic nationalities, women, and other vulnerable groups. It also includes the recognition, protection, and ultimate registration of customary tenure rights, which were not formerly legally recognized. The law allows the government to 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 under either law; administrative bodies subject to political control by the national government make final decisions on land use and registration. Civil society groups raised concerns that the laws do not recognize rights in traditional collective land ownership and shifting cultivation regimes, which are particularly prevalent in upland areas inhabited by ethnic minority groups. Acquisition of privately owned land by the government remained governed by the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, which provides for compensation when the government acquires land for a public purpose. Civil society groups criticized the lack of safeguards in the law to provide payment of fair market compensation.
Researchers had concerns that land laws, including the Farmland Law and the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Law, facilitate land confiscation without providing adequate procedural protections. Parallel legal frameworks and traditional forms of land tenure in areas controlled by ethnic groups in Kachin, Mon, Karen, and Shan States may not have formal legal recognition under the land laws.
Parliament’s Land Acquisition Investigation Commission did not have legal authority to implement and enforce its 2013 report recommendations to return thousands of acres of confiscated but unused land or provide compensation to farmers from whom the government took the land, and media sources reported little progress in returning the confiscated lands. The Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Law requires that land be returned if not used productively within four years, but civil society groups reported that land taken by the military was left unused for long periods.
Early in the year, the government disbanded the Land Use Management Central Committee created in 2014 by then president Thein Sein and replaced it with the Land Acquisition Reinspection Central Committee, with subcommittees at the state and regional, district, township, and village tract levels to continue addressing land grabbing.
There were no specific reports of returns of confiscated land throughout the year.
Under the former military regime, various government agencies–including the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, the Myanmar Ports Authority, and the army–frequently confiscated land from farmers and rural communities, generally without due process or adequate compensation. Following the attacks in October in northern Rakhine State, hundreds of homes were burned, with some reports alleging the government was the perpetrator and others alleging local Rohingya groups were to blame. The government established an investigation commission in November to acquire facts about such claims. The government did not announce plans for assistance to affected communities.
On December 22, the government sentenced 72 Shan State farmers to one month in prison for “trespassing” on land that traditionally, under customary law, belonged to those farmers. The Tatmadaw Eastern Command, which also claimed the land, pressed charges against the farmers after they rejected a compromise by which the military would formally own the land but the farmers could use it with their permission.
The law protects the privacy and security of the home and property, yet human rights organizations reported that government agents entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. In September the government amended the 2012 Ward or Village Tract Administration Law, abolishing the requirement for overnight guests to register with local authorities. The new law requires registration for stays longer than one month.
The law does not protect the privacy of correspondence or other communications of citizens, and it was widely believed authorities regularly screened private correspondence, telephone calls, and e-mail. The government reportedly continued to control and monitor the licensing and procurement of all two-way electronic communication devices. The government required businesses and organizations that wished to use these devices to apply for licenses.
Activists reported that the government systematically monitored the travel of citizens and closely monitored the activities of those known to be politically active. The government did so by using the Police Special Branch, official intelligence networks, and other administrative procedures (see section 2.d.).
The law does not restrict the right of adult women and men to marry, but a 1998 Supreme Court directive prohibits legal officials from accepting petitions for marriages and from officiating over marriages between Burmese women and foreign men. The directive was sporadically enforced.
In May 2015 the government enacted the Population Control and Health Care Law, which contains provisions that could undermine protections for reproductive rights and women’s rights (see section 6, Women). In August 2015 the government enacted the Buddhist Women Special Marriage law. The law stipulates notification and registration requirements for marriages between non-Buddhist men and Buddhist women. The law also introduces new obligations for non-Buddhist husbands and includes penalties for noncompliance. The Monogamy Bill, also passed in 2015, criminalizes polygamy and adultery.
In northern Rakhine State, local authorities required members of the Rohingya minority to obtain a permit to marry officially, a step not required of other ethnicities. Waiting times for the permit could exceed one year, and bribes usually were required. According to human rights organizations, on April 28, Border Guard Police in Buthidaung Township issued new instructions to village administrators outlining additional requirements for members of the Muslim community to obtain a permit to marry. The government referred to the revised procedures as “matters related to marriage of Bengali race.” The new required documents included: a letter from the district immigration authorities that the couple were of legal age to marry; a letter from a station commander showing the couple was free of criminal offenses; a letter from a health assistant assuring the couple was free of communicable diseases; and a letter from village administrators confirming that the individuals were single, unmarried, and that any previous marriage was dissolved at least three years prior. Unauthorized marriages could result in prosecution of Rohingya men under the penal code, which prohibits a man from “deceitfully” marrying a woman, and could result in a prison sentence or fine. The law prohibits the adoption of children by non-Buddhist families.
Incidents involving use of excessive force and other abuses in conjunction with internal conflicts occurred across the country but varied widely. In Chin State and most of the southeast, widespread and systematic violent abuses of civilian populations in ethnic minority areas continued to decline, largely due to a number of bilateral cease-fire agreements reached with ethnic armed groups. These areas also broadly fall under the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signed by eight ethnic armed groups. In Kachin and Rakhine States and parts of Shan State, clashes between NCA nonsignatory groups and the government continued, with credible allegations of abuse of civilian populations by both the military and ethnic armed groups. The majority of clashes took place in northern Shan and Kachin States; however, fighting between the Arakan Army and the military in Rakhine State early in the year, as well as Rakhine violence from October through December, caused significant displacement and allegations of abuse. Conflict between ethnic armed groups themselves increased significantly, most notably in northern Shan State where the Restoration Council of Shan State fought with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) for much of the year. Both of these groups, and the military, were alleged to have abducted, tortured, and killed suspected combatants, burned villages, and forced civilians to porter or act as human shields.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that it continued to receive reports indicating that the actual use of forced labor was decreasing overall (see section 7.b.).
In Kachin and Shan States, continuing armed clashes between the government army and ethnic armed groups displaced thousands of persons, compounding long-term displacement of conflict-affected communities in these areas.
The army continued to station forces in most ethnic armed groups’ areas of influence and controlled most cities, towns, and highways. There were continued reports of widespread abuses by government soldiers and some ethnic armed groups, including killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and rapes of members of ethnic groups in Shan, Kachin, and Rakhine States. Impunity for these abuses and crimes continued.
Killings: Military officials reportedly killed, tortured, and otherwise seriously abused civilians in conflict areas without public inquiry or accountability. Use of indiscriminate force also resulted in civilian deaths. Some ethnic armed groups, most notably the Restoration Council of Shan State and the TNLA, allegedly killed civilians suspected of being members of rival armed groups. Clashes between government forces and ethnic armed groups broke out periodically in northern and southern Shan State during the year, as well as in northern Rakhine State at the end of the year.
From October through December, there were numerous unconfirmed reports of unlawful killings by government security forces and by local Rohingya against civilians. On October 9, three large groups of militants (identified by the government as a group called Aqa Mul Mujahidin) attacked three Border Guard Police posts in northern Rakhine State. The attacks resulted in nine police officers dead and five wounded. The government began a security operation to search for the perpetrators, dozens of stolen arms, and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition. In the process of these clearance operations, there were unconfirmed reports of, according to the government, approximately 100 civilian deaths, as well as 900 homes burned and approximately 30,000 displaced civilians. The tensions escalated on November 12, when clashes in northern Rakhine State resumed during a search for assailants and weapons, resulting in additional violence. On November 15, the government reported that between November 9 and November 14, the violence resulted in 69 locals and 17 security personnel killed and 234 locals arrested. There were again unconfirmed reports of abuses by security forces against Rohingya civilians, including rape, deaths, and burning of homes, as well as reports of abuses by local Rohingya against civilians. Gaining reliable information continued to be difficult as the government restricted media and humanitarian access during the continuing security situation. On November 28, the government announced the formation of a commission headed by Vice President Myint Swe to investigate reports of human rights abuses in northern Rakhine State. On December 19, the government also organized a three-day trip for 13 journalists to Maungdaw with the support of government security forces.
On June 25, soldiers in Light Battalion 362 located in Mong Yaw in northern Shan State killed five men after arresting and interrogating dozens for possible association with ethnic armed groups. Villagers discovered the bodies in shallow graves a few days later. In July the chief of military security affairs, Lieutenant General Mya Tun Oo, held a press conference admitting the army’s culpability for the murders and stating the government would prosecute the perpetrators. Following an investigation, on September 13, the military held a court-martial, allowing 15 residents of the village to attend to witness the proceedings. Seven soldiers, of whom four were officers, confessed to the killings, and the military court sentenced them to five years of hard labor. During the same incident in June, soldiers reportedly killed two other men, whose bodies villagers found next to the other five. The military did not accept responsibility for those two deaths, and an investigation was pending at year’s end.
Abductions: There were multiple reports of government soldiers abducting villagers in conflict areas. During a military offensive against the Shan State Army on May 18, military personnel allegedly killed two civilians and arbitrarily arrested and detained 13 civilians. One of those detained, the village chief of Wan Long, Loong Aw Aung, disappeared following his arrest. He remained missing at the end of the year.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: NGO reports documented the military’s torture and beating of civilians alleged to be working with or perceived to be sympathetic to ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Shan States. There were also continued reports of forced labor and forced recruitment by the Kachin Independence Army.
Between May 11 and May 20, the military reportedly led attacks in Kyaukme Township in Shan State. Soldiers abused, beat, and killed individuals not involved in the conflict. The Shan Human Rights Foundation reported that the military forced 48 civilians in three separate occasions to march in front of soldiers as protection for nearly 24 hours, each time without food or water. On May 14, following a battle, the military allegedly arrested, beat, and tortured five villagers using wires attached to a car battery during two nights, later forcing them to porter for the soldiers. Villagers reportedly discovered and identified the bodies of three civilians not engaged in the conflict. The government had not investigated these events by year’s end.
A prominent civil society group reported that army soldiers committed numerous crimes of sexual violence against ethnic women and girls in ethnic states.
The military continued to take steps to cease forcing civilians to serve as military porters, yet unconfirmed reports continued that the military forced civilians to carry supplies or serve in other support roles in areas with outbreaks of conflict, such as northern Shan, Rakhine, and Kachin States.
Armed actors, NGOs, and civilians inside the country and operating along the border reported continued landmine use by the military and armed groups. While the government and ethnic armed groups continued to discuss joint landmine action, the discussions did not result in any joint landmine removals. The military unilaterally undertook limited landmine clearance operations in the southeast and cleared small numbers of improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordinances when identified.
The state-level Mine Risk Working Groups (MRWG) continued the process of formation, with two new groups established in June in Kayin and northern Shan States. Composed of state government representatives from various ministries, international NGOs, and local NGOs, at year’s end these groups operated in Kachin, Shan, Kayah, and Kayin. In April and July, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement’s Department of Social Welfare held national-level MRWG meetings. The department also organized two union-level MRWG meetings in April and June. The department endorsed a mine risk standardized training tool, developed by MRWG members, that was available for all MRWG members to use. The department and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) conducted a series of training sessions throughout the year, including the first training of trainers using the new standardized tools in September.
Child Soldiers: As in previous years, there continued to be progress in implementing the 2012 joint plan of action between the government and the United Nations to cease the recruitment of child soldiers and to demobilize and rehabilitate those serving in the armed forces. As of October the UN Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR)–the official mechanism for monitoring and reporting grave violations against children–had verified only one case of child soldier recruitment. This was a significant decrease compared with the six verified cases in 2015 and 29 for 2014. The government released 101 child soldiers identified within the military’s ranks, bringing the total to more than 800 child soldiers released since 2012. The military continued identifying suspected minor cases in addition to those reported by the CTFMR to the military. The CTFMR received these reports through the hotline, the forced-labor complaint mechanism, and the community-based networks. Children who fled military service or received demobilization from civil society organizations rather than through the official CTFMR process continued to face arrest and imprisonment on charges of desertion while the military investigated their cases.
The military continued enforcing its ban of all recruitment at the battalion level and continued to sanction military officers and noncommissioned personnel for complicity in child soldier recruitment and use. The military also provided information to the CTFMR that linked specific accountability measures to the respective case(s) of child recruitment or use, allowing for verification of the military’s accountability measures. The military did not make these reports available to the public.
The United Nations reported that the government improved upholding its commitment under the action plan to allow UN monitors to inspect for compliance with agreed-upon procedures, to cease recruitment of children, and to implement processes for identification and demobilization of those serving in armed conflict. UN monitors were able to access all requested military installations, in both conflict- and nonconflict-affected areas, including recruitment centers, training centers, military bases, detention facilities, and border guard forces. Access to certain locations within facilities remained a periodic challenge.
The Ministry of Social Welfare, UNICEF, and other partners provided social assistance and reintegration support to discharged children.
Military officials, in cooperation with the CTFMR, continued training military officers, including recruitment officers and officers up to the rank of captain, on international humanitarian law. UNICEF trained personnel assigned to the country’s four recruitment hubs and reported increased numbers of prospective child soldiers rejected at this stage. The military enhanced its recruitment procedures beginning in 2015 and continuing throughout the year, including the addition of age assessment training integrated into monthly training for recruitment personnel, as recommended by the CTFMR.
Ethnic armed groups reportedly continued to use forced recruitment and child soldiers and sometimes asked for ransom. There were multiple reports of the Kachin Independence Army forcibly recruiting members of the Taileng (also known as the Red Shan) ethnic group residing in Kachin State. Other ethnic armed groups known to recruit and use child soldiers included the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Karen National Liberation Army, Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council, Karenni Army, Shan State Army South, and the United Wa State Army.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuses: The government restricted the passage of relief supplies and access by international humanitarian organizations to conflict-affected areas of Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States immediately following renewed clashes. The government regularly denied access to the United Nations and international NGOs, arguing the military could not assure the NGO workers’ security or that humanitarian assistance would benefit ethnic armed group forces. In some cases the military allowed gradual access only as government forces regained control over contested areas. While locally based organizations generally had unhindered access to the 46,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in areas outside government control, international organizations and UN agencies could enter these areas on official missions only by following a government approval process. As of September the government had not granted humanitarian access to nongovernment controlled areas in Kachin State and only granted limited, sporadic humanitarian access in Rakhine. More than 98,000 persons remained displaced by conflict in Shan and Kachin States, and more than 120,000 in Rakhine. In some cases villagers driven from their homes fled into the forest, frequently in heavily mined areas, without adequate food, security, or basic medical care (see section 2.d.).
Following the attacks in northern Rakhine State in October, the government launched a clearance operation, including restricting all humanitarian access to Maungdaw Township. The government restored access to some parts of Maungdaw in December, but humanitarian access remained limited at the end of the year.
There were some reports of the use of civilians to shield combatants (see Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture).
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There was at least one report that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Border Police Unit officers stationed in Cova Lima district allegedly shot and killed a man with a mental disability in August. Police were conducting an internal investigation into the killing, which had not concluded by September. Human rights organizations were not aware of any cases based on allegations of unlawful killings in the previous year, and the Prosecutor General’s Office stated there was insufficient evidence for trial but it was unable to comment on whether the investigations continued or the case had been closed.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices and limits the situations in which police officers may resort to physical force and the use of firearms. During the year there were multiple reports of the use of excessive force by security forces. Most complaints involved maltreatment, use of excessive force during incident response or arrest, and threats made at gunpoint.
For example, in January police officers from the Public Order Battalion stationed in Maliana reportedly beat a medical staff member on duty in the hospital who attempted to interfere with their harsh treatment of a patient. Police leaders responded by opening an investigation into the incident, and the case was in process in Suai District Court.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions generally did not meet international standards, and the larger of the country’s two prisons was overcrowded.
Physical Conditions: According to human rights monitoring organizations, police station detention cells generally did not comply with international standards and lacked sanitation facilities and bedding, although the police were making efforts to improve them. The prison in Dili (Becora) was overcrowded. It had an estimated capacity of 290 inmates, but in September held 555 adult and juvenile male convicts and pretrial detainees. According to independent monitoring, juvenile and adult prisoners were in the same block, although separate blocks housed pretrial detainees and convicts. Gleno Prison was not overcrowded, but held women as well as adult male convicts and pretrial detainees, albeit in separate blocks. Conditions were the same for male and female prisoners, who shared recreation areas. Housing blocks separated nonviolent offenders from violent offenders. There were no specific supports for offenders with mental disabilities.
Authorities provided food three times daily in the prisons; however, there was no budget for food in police station detention centers, and officers and independent monitors reported that police purchased food for prisoners out of their personal funds. While authorities provided water in prisons, it was not always available in detention centers. Due to lack of Ministry of Health staff, the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice (PDHJ) found that there was no regular staffing of medical centers at the hospitals and medical staff might only be available on a weekly or monthly basis at the facility. For urgent cases and those beyond basic needs, authorities took inmates to a local hospital in Gleno or Dili. Access to clean restroom facilities was generally sufficient, although without significant privacy. PDHJ assessed ventilation and lighting as adequate in prisons, but not in detention centers. Prisoners were able to exercise for two hours daily.
Administration: Independent monitors reported that prison authorities followed case management guidelines and standard operating procedures to track prisoners. Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of problematic conditions. The PDHJ oversees prison conditions and prisoner welfare. It monitored inmates in Dili, and reported that the government was generally responsive to recommendations. Nonetheless, some human rights monitoring organizations questioned how widely known the complaint mechanism was and whether prisoners felt free to utilize it. Prisoners were able to practice their religion without significant restrictions.
Prisons permit 30-minute visits twice per week, but some visitors complained that the duration was too short, given the time required to travel for the visit.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent human rights observers.
Improvements: Authorities completed construction of a new prison on the south coast, to be occupied early in 2017.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The law does not fully clarify the roles of the national police (PNTL), the judicially mandated Scientific Police for Criminal Investigations, and the military (F-FDTL). Security sector experts also said that the operational roles and relationship between the PNTL and the F-FDTL were unclear.
The PNTL is legally responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. It has several specialized units, including border, maritime, and immigration units.
The F-FDTL is legally responsible for external security, and may play a role in internal security only in “crisis” or “emergency” situations declared by the government and president. The F-FDTL, however, may support police in joint operations if requested by a “competent entity.” The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but the chief of defense, the F-FDTL’s senior military officer, exercised day-to-day command over the armed forces. F-FDTL military police responded occasionally to incidents involving only civilians.
During the year multiple clashes between members of the police and military took place. For example, in August an off-duty PNTL officer in Ainaro shot an off-duty F-FDTL officer with his service weapon. The PNTL subsequently fired the officer, and the Prosecutor’s Office was conducting a criminal investigation. During the year security forces undertook only ad hoc investigations into specific incidents.
According to expert sources, civilian oversight of the PNTL and the F-FDTL remained relatively weak. Various bilateral partners continued efforts to strengthen the development of the police, especially through community policing programs and technical assistance efforts, including work to improve disciplinary and accountability mechanisms within the PNTL.
The PNTL’s internal accountability mechanisms remained somewhat ineffective, but improved. Rates of reported cases closed without investigation decreased, but the office responsible for internal affairs (the PNTL Department of Justice) did not have sufficient resources to investigate and respond to all cases brought to its attention. The office increased its use of disciplinary measures, including demotions, written admonitions, and fines. Nonetheless, especially outside the capital, district commanders may not fully engage in the disciplinary process, perhaps due partly to lack of familiarity with disciplinary procedures.
The internal affairs office may recommend that the Commander General refer cases to the Office of the Prosecutor General for investigation. The office reported 35 investigations during the year, including some from the previous year, of which 21 were still under investigation, 13 had been closed, and one had been transferred to the Prosecutor General’s Office for criminal investigation.
F-FDTL regulations permit referral of disciplinary incidents amounting to crimes to the prosecutor general (misconduct is processed internally). One security sector NGO assessed the F-FDTL’s disciplinary system as strong but not entirely free of political influence.
Citizens reported obstacles to reporting complaints about police behavior, including repeated requests to return later or to submit their complaints in writing.
There was a widespread belief that members of the security forces enjoyed substantial immunity for illegal or abusive actions. During the year, nonetheless, a criminal trial of F-FDTL officers accused of beating a civilian to death in Laivai in 2010 took place in Baucau District Court; two officers were convicted and three found innocent. The officers also were discharged from the military.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires judicial warrants prior to arrests or searches, except in exceptional circumstances or in cases of flagrante delicto; one reported violation of this provision involved an unauthorized raid on a home (see section 1.f.).
The law requires a hearing within 72 hours of arrest to review the lawfulness of an arrest or detention. During these hearings the judge may also determine whether the suspect should be released because conditions for pretrial detention had not been met, released conditionally (usually after posting some form of collateralized bail or on condition that the suspect report regularly to police), or whether the case should be dismissed due to lack of evidence. While the government’s 2014 decision to rescind visas for international legal advisors, who had filled critical roles as judges, prosecutors, and investigators, continued to affect the justice system, backlogs decreased during the year, particularly in courts outside of Dili. Justice sector monitoring organizations reported that the system adhered much more closely to the 72-hour timeline than in past years.
Time in pretrial detention may be deducted from a final sentence, but there is no remedy in cases that do not result in conviction.
The law provides for access to legal representation at all stages of the proceedings and provisions exist for providing public defenders for all defendants at no cost (see section 1.e.). Due to a lack of human resources and transportation, however, public defenders were not always able to attend to their clients and sometimes met clients for the first time during their first court hearing.
Pretrial Detention: The law specifies that a person may be held in pretrial detention for up to one year without presentation of an indictment, two years without a first-instance conviction, or three years without a final conviction on appeal. If any of these deadlines are not met, the detained person may file a claim for release. Exceptionally complex cases can also provide justification for the extension of each of those limits by up to six months with permission of a judge. Pretrial detainees composed approximately 20 percent of the total prison population. Procedural delays and staff shortages were the most frequent causes of trial delays. In many cases, the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the length of the sentence upon conviction.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: While persons arrested or detained may challenge the legal basis of their detention and obtain prompt release, justice sector monitoring organizations reported that such challenges rarely occur, likely due to limited knowledge of the provision allowing such challenges.
The law provides that judges shall perform their duties “independently and impartially without improper influence” and requires public prosecutors to discharge their duties impartially. Many legal sector observers expressed concern about the independence of some judicial organs in politically sensitive cases, a severe shortage of qualified personnel, and the complex legal regime influenced by the Portuguese, Indonesian, UN administration, and various other international norms. An additional problem is that all laws and many trial proceedings and court documents are in Portuguese, a language spoken by approximately 10 percent of the population. Nonetheless, observers noted that citizens generally enjoyed a fair, although not always expeditious, trial and that the judiciary was largely independent.
Administrative failings involving the bench, prosecution, and/or defense led to prolonged delays in trials. Moreover, the law requires at least one international judge on a panel in some cases, which has, after the 2014 cancellation of foreign judges’ contracts, created substantial delays.
Under the criminal procedure code, defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, access to a lawyer, the right against self-incrimination, and to attend their trial. Trials are held before judges or judicial panels; juries are not used. Defendants can confront hostile witnesses and present other witnesses and evidence. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence and have a right of appeal to higher courts. The government provides interpretation, as necessary, into local languages. Observers noted that the courts made significant progress in providing interpretation services during court proceedings. The highest court in the country has held that immediate family members cannot refuse to testify against another family member, where the crime is a public crime and the immediate family member is the victim, a decision criticized by civil society organizations.
Justice sector NGOs expressed concern that judges did not provide clear information or take the time to explain and read their decisions. Observers also noted that in many cases judges did not follow the Law on Witnesses, which provides important protections for witnesses. Additionally, the country has not passed juvenile justice legislation, leaving many juveniles in the justice system without protections and perhaps subject to vigilante justice by frustrated communities seeking justice.
The constitution contemplates a supreme court, but it has not yet been established due to staffing and resource limits. The Court of Appeals carries out supreme court functions.
A mobile court based in Dili operated in areas that did not have a permanent court. The court processed only pretrial proceedings.
For crimes considered “semi-public,” some citizens utilized traditional (customary) systems of justice that did not necessarily follow due process standards or provide witness protection, but provided convenient and speedy reconciliation proceedings with which the population felt comfortable.
The public defender’s office, concentrated in Dili, was too small to meet the need, and many defendants relied on lawyers provided by legal aid organizations. A number of defendants who were assigned public defenders reported they never saw their lawyers, and some observers noted that few defenders viewed their role as client advocates or were confused about their duties to the client versus the state. Public defenders did not have access to transportation to visit clients in detention, so sometimes met their clients for the first time in court.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
As there is no separate civil judicial system in the country, civil litigation experienced the same problems encountered in the criminal justice system. No regional human rights body has jurisdiction in Timor-Leste.
There is no comprehensive national legislation on land rights and the government was criticized for disregarding many private claims and evicting some residents from land defined as public property or for which title was unclear. During the year the government expropriated an undisclosed number of homes in connection with large development projects in Oecusse and Suai. In Oecusse, NGOs and media reported evictions with varying compensation, sometimes including building materials and labor costs for new homes in alternate locations. In Suai, communities complained that they were given some compensation but that they were led to believe additional funds and government support would be forthcoming. The Suai communities also complained that the alternative housing provided by the government did not meet community standards and that the relocations significantly changed their livelihoods and cultural systems.
The lack of a legal framework also led to land acquisition by means, such as payment to undocumented occupants of the land or purported owners, which may not hold up once parliament adopts a land law.
The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. In one reported case, in August police and F-FDTL personnel entered the home of a prominent resistance veteran without appropriate authorization and harassed his family. Security force officials claimed they had no advance knowledge of the raid and were investigating the allegations. Observers also noted a general lack of privacy protections throughout the government, particularly in the health sector.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including as a result of torture.
Media outlets reported that, on November 26 and 27 in Kasese District, the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and Uganda Police Force (UPF) killed between 60 and 250 persons, including unarmed civilians, during clashes with supporters of Charles Wesley Mumbere, the Rwenzururu king. According to the UPF, on November 26, the king’s royal guards attacked an unspecified number of police stations in Rwenzori Region, resulting in the deaths of 14 police officers; 41 royal guards also were killed. The following day security forces reportedly stormed the palace and arrested the king after he failed to comply with a UPDF order to surrender his royal guards to the military. According to unconfirmed reports, security forces killed women and children who were on the compound during the raid, and several bodies were found with bound hands, possibly indicating victims had submitted to arrest before being killed. Amnesty International reported that “many people appeared to have been summarily shot and their bodies dumped.” One international organization alleged security forces made no attempt to minimize civilian casualties, an assertion security forces did not dispute.
UPDF officers claimed soldiers fired in self-defense after royal guards attacked them with machetes, bows and arrows, and spears. Civil society and international organizations claimed the government’s disproportionate use of force was unjustified and that the Rwenzururu Kingdom presented no immediate security threat. The government claimed the kingdom had militant secessionist ambitions, which forced it to take immediate and definitive action.
In addition to the king, 139 royal guards were arrested and charged with murder, terrorism, and treason. On December 15, media published images of the guards at their initial hearing, where defense lawyers asserted their visible injuries resulted from torture. Media reported the president ordered a parliamentary committee tasked with investigating the raid to stop its investigation. The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) had not completed its investigation into the raid by year’s end. Trials of the king and his guards continued at year’s end.
On October 17, media reported game rangers attached to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) killed seven unarmed, suspected poachers. Reports asserted the park rangers facilitated the poachers’ hunts in exchange for a portion of the revenue and then killed the seven for failing to pay the rangers their promised share. The UWA denied its staff was involved in the killings and said the UPF was investigating.
Local leaders and civil society organizations reported that police had yet to take action against officers who in September 2015 allegedly shot and killed five persons in Apaa Parish in the north. The killings occurred during a land dispute related to the government’s border demarcation.
There were no known developments in the investigation into the African Union’s August 2015 indictment of three UPDF soldiers for their alleged role in the July 2015 killing of seven civilians at a wedding party in Marka, Somalia. Media reported the killings occurred following a bomb attack on an African Union Mission in Somalia convoy.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year.
Following the December 2015 disappearance of Christopher Aine–campaign aide to Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister and presidential candidate–police offered a reward of 20 million shillings ($5,700) for information on his whereabouts, ostensibly to question him about his involvement in a clash between President Museveni’s supporters and security team. On April 7, a local television station aired footage of Aine with General Caleb Akandwanaho (aka Salim Saleh), the president’s brother, and a senior advisor at a Kampala hotel. Aine said he had fled to Tanzania in December 2015 to escape harassment and intimidation by state security operatives.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. The 2012 Antitorture Act stipulates that any person convicted of an act of torture may be subject to 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine of 7.2 million shillings ($2,050), or both. The penalty for conviction of aggravated torture is life imprisonment. Nevertheless, there were credible reports security forces tortured and beat suspects.
From January to June, the African Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) registered 856 allegations of torture by police, the Flying Squad (a UPF unit assigned to violent crimes), special investigations units of police, and the UPDF. The ACTV provided legal advice to 142 torture victims and initiated three public litigation cases of torture against the government.
The ACTV reported that Twaha Kasaija, whom marine police arrested for theft on March 23, was tortured to death at Walukuba Police Station. According to the ACTV, Kasaija’s injuries suggested he was punched, kicked, and beaten with batons, wire cable, and sticks. Kasaija’s brother, Abdul Rahman Muyima, and neighbor, Mohammed Kitakule, also were arrested and appeared to have been beaten with batons, wire cable, and sticks. Police arrested officers Patrick Katete and Charles Okure (the officer in charge) but later released Okure on bond; Katete remained in jail awaiting trial on murder charges at year’s end.
The UHRC reported it awarded 36.6 million shillings ($10,450) in compensation to victims of torture and other abuses from January through June.
PRISON AND DETENTION CENTER CONDITIONS
Prison conditions remained poor and, in some cases, life threatening. Serious problems included overcrowding, physical abuse of detainees by security staff and fellow inmates, inadequate food, and understaffing. Local human rights groups, including the ACTV, received reports of torture by security forces and prison personnel. Reports of forced labor continued. Most prisons did not have accommodations for persons with disabilities.
Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding remained a problem. According to the Uganda Prisons Service (UPS), the prison system had a maximum inmate capacity of 22,000 but incarcerated 48,689. The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), which had visited 13 police stations and 13 prisons by August, reported that four of the five prisons in the north were particularly overcrowded. Gulu Prison, for example, held 1,400 inmates in a facility designed for 400. Prison authorities blamed the overcrowding on the criminal justice system’s inability to process cases in a timely manner.
As of August, 233 babies stayed in prison with their mothers. Some women’s prisons also had day-care facilities. Authorities in Kampala separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, but prisons in other areas did not.
The UPS reported 67 inmate deaths between January and August. Causes of death included malaria, cardiac arrest, anemia, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. Media reported deaths also occurred as a result of suicide and police abuse.
In interviews with prisoners, FHRI received reports of prison staff and fellow inmates beating and abusing prisoners, although there were fewer such reports than in previous years. In Koboko Prison, for example, guards reportedly assigned certain inmates leadership positions and gave them sticks, which they often used to beat fellow prisoners.
The UHRC inspected 106 of the country’s 247 prisons and four military detention facilities during the year. It found that prisons in Koboko and Nebbi districts did not have health centers, requiring inmates to walk long distances, under guard, to access medical care. Outside Kampala, some prisons lacked sufficient food, water, medical care, means to transport inmates to court, bedding, infrastructure, and sanitation facilities.
Provision of food and medical services in jails also was inadequate. According to detainees and guards at the 13 police stations FHRI had visited by August, detainees received only one meal per day. According to the UHRC, which inspected 183 of 300 police stations during the year, some stations did not provide meals to suspects and most lacked the means to transport suspects to court.
Administration: Recordkeeping remained a problem. The UPS claimed it was unable to manage information because it lacked computers.
The UPS reported that its assistant commissioner in charge of human rights investigated and mediated complaints between management and prisoners. The UPS added that each prison had a human rights committee responsible for addressing complaints and relaying them to the assistant commissioner. Prison authorities acknowledged a backlog in the investigation of complaints.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed FHRI and the ACTV to conduct prison visits with advance notification. The International Committee of the Red Cross declined to comment on whether it conducted prison visits during the year.
Improvements: During the year prison authorities hired 1,548 new staff–mainly wardens, cadet principal officers, and cadet assistant superintendents of prisons–increasing the total number of UPS staff to 7,448. The UPS acknowledged, however, that it still had a staff shortage of 5,000. The UPS also installed flush toilets in 47 of the 58 prisons, constructed four new prisons, and renovated two others. Unlike in the previous year, women had separate facilities in all prisons. The UPS had a budget to accommodate pregnant women and mothers with infants, and pregnant mothers received antenatal care services and special diets.
Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, security forces often arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, including opposition leaders, politicians, activists, demonstrators, and journalists.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the UPF has primary responsibility for law enforcement. The UPDF, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security and may aid civil authorities when responding to riots or other disturbances of the peace. The Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence is legally under UPDF authority and may detain civilians suspected of rebel or terrorist activity. Other agencies with law enforcement powers include the Directorate of Counter Terrorism, Joint Intelligence Committee, and Special Forces Brigade, among others.
The UPF reported its ability to perform its law enforcement duties was constrained by limited resources, including low pay and lack of vehicles, equipment, and training. The UPF’s Professional Standards Unit investigated complaints of police abuse, including torture, assault, unlawful arrest and detention, death in custody, mismanagement of case documentation, and corrupt practices. Police continued to use excessive force, including torture, and impunity was a problem (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.).
Between January and August, police ignored the instruction of the director of public prosecution (DPP) to add Aaron Baguma, former commander of Kampala’s Central Police Station, to the list of suspected accomplices in the October 2015 killing of Donah Katusabe, a Kampala businessperson. On August 30, 12 days after the court issued an arrest warrant for Baguma, he turned himself in and was charged with murder, kidnapping with intent to murder, and robbery. The court, which remanded him to Kigo Prison, subsequently released him on bail. The case continued at year’s end.
Police and soldiers not only failed to prevent societal violence, they sometimes targeted opposition supporters. For example, on July 12 and 13, media broadcast videos of police, soldiers, and plainclothes officers using sticks to beat unarmed supporters of the main opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, as his car passed on a Kampala street; they also beat motorcycle taxi drivers who appeared uninvolved in Besigye’s procession. In one instance a police truck veered onto a sidewalk to hit from behind and knock over a man waving at Besigye’s passing vehicle. Police arrested Benon Matsiko, an officer, for allegedly driving the truck, noting he would face internal disciplinary measures; Matsiko denied he was the driver. Another man–who media members subsequently identified as Yusuf Lubowa, a member of a progovernment civilian group called Bodaboda 2010–then kicked the fallen man in the same knee struck by the vehicle. Although media reports showed that Lubowa had participated in multiple police operations against Besigye supporters, the UPF claimed it did not know him. Police initiated an internal disciplinary proceeding and charged five officers and four commanders with unlawful exercise of authority and discrediting the reputation of police. There was no known update on these cases by the end of the year.
Private lawyers separately filed a criminal case against Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kale Kayihura and seven senior commanders, accusing them of torture for their role in the July 12 and 13 beatings. On July 21, a magistrate’s court issued criminal summonses for IGP Kayihura and the seven senior police officers to appear on August 10 for arraignment on charges of torture. According to the private prosecution lawyers, the officers refused to receive the summonses, and none appeared in court. On August 26, Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma halted the criminal case against Kayihura and the other officers, stating the case could not proceed until the court resolved NRM Youth League member Robert Rutaro’s petition that challenged the court’s authority to try the IGP as a private citizen for actions he took in his institutional role. By year’s end, the court had not resolved the petition.
The UHRC reported it provided human rights training to 232 security officials in police and district administrations of Fort Portal, Mbarara, and Arua districts.
The UPF reported that it opened an unspecified number of new community police stations to expand its community policing operations. In 2015 it authorized civilians to police their respective communities as “crime preventers.” Crime preventers, nominally under the authority of district police commanders, received one to two months of training and have arrest authority. While estimates of their number varied, the IGP claimed there were 11 million crime preventers nationwide, equating to approximately one-third of the country’s population. UPF officials stated they intended to place 30 crime preventers in each village in the country. Media and civil society reports accused crime preventers of human rights abuses. On April 18, for example, the chief administrative officer of Lira District said his office had received many reports of crime preventers involved in rape, arbitrary arrests, and torture.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires that judges or prosecutors issue a warrant before an arrest is made, unless the arrest is made during commission of a crime or while in pursuit of a perpetrator. Nevertheless, authorities often arrested suspects without warrants. The law requires authorities to charge suspects within 48 hours of arrest, but they frequently held suspects longer without charge. Authorities must try suspects arrested under the Antiterrorism Law within 120 days (360 days if charged with a capital offense) or release them on bail; if the case is presented to the court before the expiration of this period, there is no limit on further pretrial detention. While the law requires authorities to inform detainees immediately of the reasons for detention, at times they did not do so. The law provides for bail at the discretion of the judge, but many suspects were unaware of the law. Judges generally granted requests for bail. The law provides detainees the right to legal representation and access to a lawyer; but this right often was not respected. The law requires the government to provide an attorney for indigent defendants charged with capital offenses. Citizens detained without charge may file civil suit against the Attorney General’s Office for compensation for unlawful detention. Security forces held suspects, particularly opposition leaders, incommunicado and under house arrest.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests, particularly of opposition leaders, remained a problem. Police often carried out “preventative arrests” for alleged treason and incitement of violence.
On February 24, the day of local government elections, police detained opposition candidate Besigye at his home, effectively denying him the right to vote. Following the February elections, police intermittently placed Besigye under 10-day house arrests. Police reportedly confined him to his home for the entire month of March, releasing him on April 1, the day the Supreme Court validated the president’s electoral victory. Despite widespread media and nongovernmental organization (NGO) reporting, the UPF repeatedly denied Besigye was under house arrest, and the IGP claimed police were merely “closely monitoring Besigye’s movements.” Media reported that on May 5, police resumed Besigye’s house arrest and confined Kampala’s opposition-affiliated mayor, Erias Lukwago, and opposition chief whip Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda to their homes.
On May 11, Besigye eluded police surveillance at his home and drove to Kampala’s city center, where he was filmed taking a mock presidential oath of office in front of a crowd of protesters. Police arrested Besigye and flew him to the remote Karamoja Region in the northeast, where they detained him at the Moroto Police Station. Two days later, Besigye was charged with treason and remanded to Moroto Prison. On May 16, he was transferred to Luzira Prison in Kampala after defense lawyers and his family asked for a transfer. He remained in detention until July 12, when the court released him on bail. Besigye’s treason case continued at year’s end.
Pretrial Detention: Case backlogs due to an inefficient judiciary that lacked adequate funding and staff, the absence of plea bargaining prior to 2015, and insufficient use of bail contributed to pretrial detentions as long as seven years. The UPS reported 55 percent of inmates were pretrial detainees. The judiciary introduced a plea bargaining mechanism at High Court circuits across the country in 2015 after a successful pilot program in 2014.
FHRI reported police arrested Moses Tumusime in 2008 on murder charges. He last appeared in court in 2008 and remained in custody in Kitalya Prison. In November the officer in charge of the prison reported Tumusime was still held on remand and that his file was sent to the High Court in 2012.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested have the right to file a legal challenge against their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if a judge determines the detention to have been unlawful. This mechanism was seldom employed and rarely successful.
Amnesty: Since 2000 the government has offered blanket unconditional amnesty for all crimes committed by individuals who engaged in war or armed rebellion against the government, barring grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, genocide, willful killings of innocent civilians, and other serious crimes perpetrated against civilians or communities without military necessity.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect this provision. Corruption, understaffing, inefficiency, and executive branch interference with judicial rulings often undermined the courts’ independence.
The president appoints Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, and High Court judges and members of the Judicial Service Commission (which makes recommendations on appointments to the judiciary) with the approval of the National Assembly.
Due to vacancies on the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, High Court, and the lower courts, the judiciary did not deliver justice in a timely manner. At times the lack of judicial quorum precluded cases from proceeding.
Judicial corruption was a problem. The Center for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) reported in August that judicial corruption mainly consisted of cash bribes to clerks and magistrates for favorable treatment. CEPIL noted that instances of corruption in the lower courts were more visible and egregious as magistrates openly contravened court rules to favor one party. In the higher courts (High Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court), corruption was more discreet and nuanced. Media reported several incidents of police arresting lower court judicial officers for allegedly soliciting bribes, while there were no such arrests of higher court officials. CEPIL’s report noted that “systemic corruption within the justice system undermines human rights and public confidence.”
Although the law provides for a presumption of innocence, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges and have free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, as necessary. An inadequate system of judicial administration resulted in a serious backlog of cases, undermining suspects’ right to a speedy trial. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney of their choice. The law requires the government to provide an attorney for indigent defendants accused of capital offenses. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and appeal, with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to obtain evidence the state intends to use prior to their trial, although this right of disclosure is not absolute in sensitive cases, and authorities did not always respect this right. The law allows defendants to confront or question witnesses testifying against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, but authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. These rights extended to all groups.
All nonmilitary trials are public. A single judge decides cases in the High Court, while a panel of at least five judges decides cases in the constitutional and supreme courts. The law allows military courts to try civilians that assist members of the military in committing offenses or are found possessing arms, ammunition, or other equipment reserved for the armed forces. On September 16, the High Court ruled that member of parliament (MP) Michael Kabaziguruka, who was charged with treason along with 26 military officers, would be tried by a military court.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
During the year authorities detained numerous opposition politicians and activists on politically motivated grounds. Authorities released many without charge but charged others with crimes including terrorism, treason, inciting violence, holding illegal meetings, and abuse of office. No statistics on the number of political detainees or prisoners were available.
There was no available information on whether the government permitted international human rights or humanitarian organizations access to political detainees.
On February 29, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) claimed security force personnel had arrested and detained approximately 300 of its supporters nationwide over the course of the election season. The UPF claimed it had arrested 132 persons from various political parties for illegal election-related activities.
On June 8 and 13, police arrested Michael Kabaziguruka, an MP and FDC deputy commissioner on the Electoral Commission, and released him within two days of each arrest. On June 26, police rearrested Kabaziguruka and subsequently transferred him to Kigo Prison, where he awaited trial at year’s end. On June 28, a military court charged Kabaziguruka and 26 others, predominantly military officers, with treason for allegedly plotting the violent overthrow of the government. According to Kabaziguruka’s lawyers, the government based its most recent charges on the same evidence as it used for its 2012 treason case against Kabaziguruka and three other individuals, a case the government dropped. On July 1, in a meeting with opposition politicians, the president accused Kabaziguruka of attempting to assassinate him. On September 16, the High Court ruled that Kabaziguruka be tried in a military court; Kabaziguruka appealed.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. Victims may report cases of human rights violations through the regular court system or the UHRC, which has judicial powers under the constitution. These powers include the authority to order the release of detainees, pay compensation to victims, and pursue other legal and administrative remedies, such as mediation. Victims may appeal their cases to the Court of Appeal and thereafter to the Supreme Court but not to an international or regional court. Civil courts and the UHRC have no ability to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses criminally liable, and bureaucratic delays hampered enforcement of judgments that granted financial compensation.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Police did not always obtain search warrants to enter private homes and offices.
The Antiterrorism Act and the Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill authorize government security agencies to tap private conversations to combat terrorism-related offenses. The government utilized both statutes to monitor telephone and internet communications.
The government encouraged university students and government officials, including members of the judiciary, to attend NRM political education and military science courses known as “chaka mchaka.” While the government claimed the courses were not compulsory, human rights activists and opposition politicians reported authorities pressured civil servants and students to attend.