a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that regime security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings of civilians, prisoners, and other persons in their power. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which noted that the actual number was likely to be much higher, there were 1,300 verified reports of persons killed by the regime as of November 22. Some ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and Peoples Defense Force (PDF) groups or members committed human rights abuses, including killings, disappearances, physical abuse and degrading treatment, and failure to protect local populations in conflict zones (see also section 1.g.). Examples include the following.
On February 9, Mya Thwate Khaing was shot in the head by police while peacefully protesting the military coup in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. She was taken to the hospital but died of her injuries several days later. Her death was widely considered the first fatality in the protest movement that began on February 2.
On February 28, regime security forces killed as many as 26 persons in eight cities and injured scores during a day of massive nationwide demonstrations against the regime. According to multiple media reports, eyewitnesses accounts, and documentary evidence, police arrested hundreds and used tear gas, flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets, and live rounds in confronting demonstrators.
On March 11, regime security forces shot and killed at least 11 persons in five cities according to multiple media reports, eyewitness accounts, and photographic evidence. Regime security forces used live rounds against unarmed demonstrators in addition to the use of tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and rubber bullets.
On March 27, a national holiday known as Armed Forces Day, regime security forces killed more than 100, including 13 children, across the country according to media reports, eyewitness accounts, and social media posts. Regime security forces met demonstrations on March 28 with further violence, killing at least 22 more individuals.
According to media reports, in April regime security forces continued to kill demonstrators and other civilians, including, on April 9, at least 28 persons in Bago Region. The killing came as regime security forces confronted demonstrators and sought to clear residents’ makeshift barricades.
In May the Chin Human Rights Organization reported that the military cremated the bodies of two civilians who were allegedly tortured to death by regime security forces in Chin State’s capital Hakha.
In July local media reported the death of 40 civilians allegedly killed by the military in Sagaing’s Kani Township. According to a local resident who spoke with the news website Irrawaddy, “Junta troops raided our villages. We fled and found corpses when we came back to the villages.”
In July local media reported the rape and killing of a 55-year-old woman by three soldiers in Kachin State. The military acknowledged the incident after the family filed a complaint, but no action was known to have been taken against the alleged perpetrators.
In September local media reported the King Cobra civilian defense group killed an alleged regime informant in Sagaing Region. King Cobra claimed its members committed 26 other killings.
AAPP alleged that at least 100 political prisoners died due to torture inflicted by authorities between February 1 and September 9. Well-known poet Khet Thi, who wrote the line, “They shoot in the head, but they don’t know the revolution is in the heart,” was reportedly tortured to death by regime security forces. The 45-year-old was detained on May 8 and died the following day in transit to the hospital in Monywa, Magway Region.
There were numerous reports of disappearances allegedly committed by the regime.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture; however, members of regime security forces reportedly tortured and otherwise abused suspects, prisoners, detainees, and others. Such incidents occurred, for example, during interrogations and were widely documented across the country. Alleged harsh interrogation techniques were designed to intimidate and disorient and included severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep. Other reported interrogation methods described in news reports included rubbing salt into wounds and depriving individuals of oxygen until they passed out.
A 19-year-old prodemocracy supporter told local media that on April 9, he was taken to a military compound on the outskirts of Bago Township, Bago Region where “the commander tied my hands from the back and used small scissors to cut my ears, the tip of my nose, my neck and my throat.”
In April media reported regime forces struck Wai Moe Naing, a high-profile Muslim protest leader and a Muslim, with an unmarked vehicle during a motorbike demonstration in Monywa.
Transgender writer Han Nwe Oo shared on social media that while in detention she was ridiculed for being transgender, sexually assaulted, and faced “atrocious” interrogation for two days at a military camp inside Mandalay Palace, Mandalay Region in September.
According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), women in custody were subjected to sexual assault, gender-based violence, and verbal abuse. Police in some cases verbally abused women who reported rape. Women who reported sexual assault faced further abuse by police and the possibility of being sued for impugning the dignity of the perpetrator. On July 19, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders noted “[w]omen human rights defenders are particularly at risk in remote rural areas and are often beaten and kicked before being sent to prison where they may face torture and sexual violence with no medical care provided.”
In one case in April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that security force members severely beat and sexually assaulted a female detainee accused of involvement in small-scale bomb attacks against regime targets in Rangoon. Her injuries were so severe she struggled to eat or urinate. Her cellmate reported similar treatment.
Also in April, local media reported that a high school student from Rangoon was arrested with her mother and described how she was “touched by a police officer who told me he could kill me and make me disappear.”
In Rangoon a journalist detained in March told media he witnessed police burn a detained female journalist with cigarettes and threaten to rape her if she did not provide information on her involvement in prodemocracy activities.
Impunity for rights abuses was pervasive for security force leaders and members. There was no credible evidence that the regime took action to investigate incidents or punish alleged perpetrators of abuses or to include human rights training as part of its overall training of regime security forces. The regime routinely denied responsibility for atrocities. For example, in April local media reported that the regime issued a blanket denial of abuses during a meeting with the UN special envoy for Burma, rejecting her allegations as “one-sided,” while denying it had killed children, among other atrocities.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons, labor camps, and military detention facilities were reportedly harsh and frequently life threatening due to overcrowding; degrading and abusive treatment; and inadequate access to medical care (including COVID-19 treatment) and basic needs, including food, shelter, and hygiene.
Physical Conditions: There were 48 known prisons and 50 known labor camps in 2020. Women and men were held separately. Some prisons held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. Children were sometimes held in pretrial detention with adults. More than 20,000 inmates were serving court-mandated sentences in labor camps located across the country in 2020; data were not available for the reporting year. The Associated Press reported on October 28 that the military had transformed dozens of public facilities (e.g., community halls) into interrogation centers across the country after the coup.
Several reports document poor conditions within prison facilities, including inadequate sewage systems, insufficient – and often inedible – rations, and a lack of basic necessities. Overcrowding was reportedly a serious problem in many prisons and labor camps. According to AAPP, occupancy at Insein Prison, the country’s largest, was nearly three times its intended capacity prior to the military coup.
Medical care was inadequate, and this reportedly contributed to deaths in custody. Prisons failed to adopt measures to protect prisoners from COVID-19, and there were widespread reports of COVID-19 transmission, illness, and deaths among prisoners. Despite regular regime reporting at national and subnational levels on COVID-19 cases and deaths, the regime failed to make data available on the impact of COVID-19 in prisons. According to AAPP, COVID-19 vaccinations were limited only to high-profile prisoners. In addition to COVID-19, prisoners suffered from other health problems, including malaria, heart disease, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, skin diseases, and intestinal illnesses caused or exacerbated by unhygienic conditions and spoiled food. There were also numerous reports of political prisoners being denied medical services.
Former prisoners complained of poorly maintained physical structures that provided no protection from the elements and were infested with rodents, snakes, and molds.
Conditions for women were deplorable, with a lack of access to sufficient toilets and no privacy. Prison guards denied requests for sanitary products for menstruation and other basic hygiene products. After the coup, sexual violence, gender harassment, and humiliation by officials increased.
In September human rights watchdog Just Power reported that a prominent human rights activist suffered from deteriorating health conditions as a result of her “unjust arrest and detention.” According to the report, regime security forces denied her access to health services, including to medicines provided by her family.
Administration: Prisoners and detainees could sometimes submit complaints to judicial authorities prior to the coup, but there was no clear legal or administrative protection for this right. There is no credible evidence of prisoners and detainees submitting complaints after the coup. Some prisons prevented full adherence to religiously based codes of personal conduct, ostensibly due to space restrictions and security concerns.
In April local media reported that a journalist fasting in observance of Ramadan was accused of staging a hunger strike and sent to solitary confinement at Insein Prison.
Independent Monitoring: The Department of Corrections in the Ministry of Home Affairs operated the prisons and labor camp system.
The International Committee for the Red Cross had no access to prisons, labor camps, or military detention sites during the year. After March 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs under the deposed civilian government claimed it could not allow access because of COVID-19 prevention measures. After the coup, the military continued to deny access to all prisons and detention sites.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime did not have access to prisons or labor camps and on February 1, ended cooperative capacity-building programs with the Department of Corrections. The drug and crime office continued to provide limited COVID-19-related personal protective equipment and primary basic health care assistance (e.g., infection prevention and control supplies) directly to the prisons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law does not prohibit arbitrary arrest. Persons held generally did not have the right to appeal the legality of their arrest or detention either administratively or before a court. The law allows authorities to order the 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.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Incommunicado detention was common. Since the coup, the regime detained politicians, election officials, journalists, activists, protesters, and Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) members and refused to confirm their locations in violation of international law, according to HRW. In August AAPP reported that an estimated 5,000 individuals listed by the regime as “under detention” were in unknown locations, accounting for approximately 82 percent of arrests since the coup. Even when the whereabouts of prisoners was known, prisoners were regularly denied access to lawyers and family members.
After the coup, the military regime suspended aspects of privacy protection law to legalize arrests and private property searches without a warrant.
Authorities may hold suspects in pretrial detention for two weeks (with a possible two-week extension) before bringing them before a judge or informing them of their charges. The regime is not, however, obliged to respect this provision of the law. There is a functioning bail system, although the courts regularly denied bail to prodemocracy supporters. There were numerous reports that authorities did not inform family members or attorneys of arrests in a timely manner, did not disclose their location, and regularly denied family visitations.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were numerous reports of arbitrary arrest, including detention by the regime in unknown locations. Since the coup, regime security forces have made at least 8,000 arrests and more than 6,500 of those individuals remain in some form of detention.
In May, HRW reported the arrest of a lawyer defending a deposed local political leader after a court hearing in Nay Pyi Taw and the arrest of lawyer defending a political prisoner in Ayeyarwady Region. In June, HRW reported the arrest of a lawyer defending more than 120 political prisoners in Kachin State.
In July, UN human rights experts expressed concern about the arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders, citing credible information of such treatment of human rights defenders, including labor rights and student activists.
According to AAPP, among those the regime detained as of September were more than 175 family members of prodemocracy supporters, including 15 children. In August, for example, a family member delivering food and medicine to a political prisoner was detained at Insein Prison for six days. In September regime security forces reportedly arrested the wife and young child of a human rights activist to coerce his surrender. The activist was charged under terrorism legislation for supporting the CDM. His wife and child were missing as of December.
According to the independent news service Myanmar Now, a 14-year-old boy was detained in Taungtha Township, Mandalay Region in September by the regime to coerce his father, a former local National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, to turn himself in to police. The boy’s mother told a reporter, “They came for my husband and took the kid, saying they needed him to show them where dad was.…I keep waiting for his release. I don’t want anything else; I just want my son back.”
Pretrial Detention: Prior to the coup, judges and police sometimes colluded to extend detentions. According to the Independent Lawyers’ Association in 2020, arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detentions resulted from lengthy, complicated legal procedures and widespread corruption. These problems continued following the coup, worsened by the regime’s ability to detain persons indefinitely without trial. For those facing trial, detention prior to and during trials sometimes equaled or exceeded the sentence after conviction. The regime amended the legal aid law in May, removing the right to legal aid services during pretrial detention. Additional amendments limited legal aid for stateless persons, asylum seekers, foreigners, and migrant workers.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although habeas corpus exists in national law, regime security forces violated this law by arresting and detaining individuals without following proper procedures. Arbitrary arrest or detention was drastically increased to suppress political dissent, according to AAPP and detainees had limited ability to meaningfully challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court due to its lack of judicial independence from the regime.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, a protection the regime has not respected. On February 4, the regime dismissed five NLD-appointed justices of the Supreme Court and replaced them with justices who support the regime. The remaining four justices, including the chief justice, were holdovers from the previous military junta.
In February the regime declared martial law in numerous townships across the country and transferred judicial (and executive) power to regional military commanders in several cities. In martial law courts, defendants have few or no rights, including access to legal counsel and the right of appeal (except in cases involving the death penalty, which may be appealed to armed forces commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing). The hearings are abbreviated, the verdict is reached within one or two sessions, and the sentences are typically the maximum penalties allowed. According to regime public announcements, by November, 61 cases were heard in martial law courts, with 280 defendants convicted and sentenced, including at least 80 defendants sentenced to death.
Judicial corruption was a significant problem. According to NGOs, officials at all levels received illegal payments at all stages of the legal process for purposes ranging from influencing routine matters to substantive decisions, such as fixing the outcome of a case.
Although no formal changes to trial procedures in civilian courts were made following the coup, the lack of judicial independence leaves much to the interpretation of the regime. The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial but also grants broad exceptions, effectively allowing the regime to violate these rights at will. While the right to counsel remains in the law, many defense lawyers were unwilling to handle prodemocracy cases due to fear for their personal safety. According to HRW, at least six lawyers handling political cases were arrested since the coup. Defendants do not enjoy a presumption of innocence or, even when the law provides for them, the rights to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them; to be present at their trial; to free interpretation; or to receive adequate representation. There is no right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Trial procedures were also affected by COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The regime detained and arrested politicians, election officials, journalists, activists, protesters, religious activists, and CDM members. Political prisoners were not always held separately from the prison’s general population. Many political prisoners were held incommunicado.
Many former political prisoners were subject to surveillance and restrictions following their release, including the inability to secure identity or travel documents. AAPP estimated that there were more than 6,000 political prisoners as of year’s end.
Deposed state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested on February 1 and held in an unknown location. She faced 11 separate charges for a range of offenses running from interacting with a crowd during the COVID-19 pandemic to sedition. Her trial was closed to the public and the regime placed a gag order on her attorneys so that the attorneys could not communicate with the public about her case. On December 6, she was convicted of inciting unrest and violating COVID-19 restrictions and sentenced to four years in prison. Also arrested February 1, deposed president Win Myint, was tried on the same charges and also convicted and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. Just hours after the news of guilty verdicts for Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint broke on December 6, state media announced that the regime had “reduced [their] sentences…by two years.” The regime announcement also highlighted that the two would remain detained in their unknown locations, in conditions reportedly equivalent to house arrest.
Amnesty: The regime included some political prisoners among the more than 23,000 inmates released to mark Union Day on February 12. The regime released all those who met set criteria (e.g., not charged under Section 505 of the penal code, which criminalizes disseminating information that could agitate or cause security forces or state officials to mutiny), with no specific leniency for political prisoners. According to some human rights activists, the regime used the general pardon order to make space available for more political prisoners.
Amnesty was also granted to several high-profile ethnic Rakhine politicians, including Aye Maung and writer Wai Hin Aung, sentenced to long jail sentences for high treason under the deposed NLD government. In September the regime also released controversial ultranationalist Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, charged with sedition by the deposed government for comments he made during a 2019 promilitary rally.
Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country
Bilateral Pressure: There were credible reports that the regime attempted to pressure the Thai government to impose stricter control on movement across the border with Burma to undermine the ability of prodemocracy supporters from organizations, including the National Unity Government (NUG) and the Committee Representing the Union Parliament that created it, to depart the country.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The law allows complainants to use provisions of the penal code and laws of civil procedure to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. Individuals and organizations may not appeal an adverse decision to regional human rights bodies but may make complaints to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission. After the coup, the ability of complainants to raise human rights abuses through the judicial system or the commission was limited.
Property Seizure and Restitution
Under the 2008 Constitution the state owns all land, although there is a limited amount of freehold land, and the law allows for registration and sale of private land ownership rights. Most land is held in long-term lease, meaning that while the government still owns this leasehold, private parties may lease land on a long-term basis with a general expectation that the leasehold would automatically roll over upon its expiration. The law provides for compensation when the government acquires privately held land for a public purpose; however, the postcoup situation is unclear. The government may also declare land unused or “vacant” and assign it to foreign investors or designate it for other uses. There is no judicial review of land ownership or confiscation decisions; administrative bodies subject to regime control make final decisions on land use and registration. The law does not favor recognition of traditional land tenure systems (customary tenure). There were numerous reports that the regime used its authority to seize property of prodemocracy supporters.
In March the regime reportedly seized assets worth approximately $3.8 million from staff members of a foundation accused of financially supporting the CDM.
In September the regime Anti-Terrorism Central Committee released a public notice requiring landlords to provide a list of tenants to their ward administration offices or face confiscation of the property.
As of November 15, credible media reports indicated that the regime has seized approximately 70 properties owned by NLD officials. The regime’s amendment of three laws enabled the extrajudicial seizure of property owned by defendants. The regime has also seized properties belonging to members of the Committee Representing the Union Parliament and NUG or their families.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law protected privacy and the security of the home, but enforcement of these rights was limited after the coup. Unannounced nighttime household checks were common. The law does not protect the privacy of correspondence or other communications. The regime regularly monitored private electronic communications through online surveillance; there were numerous reports that the regime monitored prodemocracy supporters.
On March 1, the New York Times reported that the military employed invasive dual-use surveillance, hacking, and forensic technologies to monitor and target critics and protesters. Before the coup, the military built an “electronic warfare capability” and bought surveillance technology, including cell phone-hacking tools to monitor prodemocracy activists.
In July local news outlet Frontier Myanmar reported that the regime ordered mobile phone companies to install equipment to enable them to monitor calls, text messages, and locations of selected users, flagging each time they use words such as “protest” or “revolution.” Mention of these words may trigger heavier surveillance or be used as evidence against those being watched. The regime also monitored social media use, including data from visited websites, as well as conversations in public and private chat groups. According to the magazine Frontier Myanmar, this “cybersecurity team” was based inside the police’s Special Branch, a notorious surveillance department that heavily monitored suspected dissidents in the previous era of junta rule.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
After the coup, escalating conflict between the regime and joint EAOs-PDF groups focused on the northwest part of the country, with frequent fighting in Chin State and Sagaing and Magway Region. Conflict was also reported in Kachin, Kayah, and Karen States and in the Mandalay, Bago, and Tanintharyi Regions. Conflict between the military and the Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine State declined following the coup because of a pre-coup de facto ceasefire. In March the regime removed the Arakan Army from its designated list of terrorist organizations; however, local media reported clashes between the AA and the military on November 9 after the military entered an AA-controlled area in the border area of Maungdaw Township.
Fighting between EAOs in Shan State continued.
Reports of killings, disappearances, excessive use of force, disregard for civilian life, sexual violence, and other abuses committed by regime security forces and some EAOs and PDF groups were common.
The NUG issued a code of conduct for PDF groups in June and included a call to respect human rights in its September 7 “people’s defensive war” declaration. No data was available to measure the impact of the NUG’s efforts to prevent human rights abuses by PDF groups.
Killings: Deliberate killings and deaths due to excessive or unjustified use of force by the regime were reported. For example:
On March 3, regime security forces killed at least 24 persons across the country in confrontations with peaceful demonstrators. In one Rangoon neighborhood alone, at least seven protesters died and 17 were critically wounded in a confrontation with regime security forces. Over the March 13-14 weekend, regime security forces shot and killed demonstrators indiscriminately across the country, killing at least 42.
In May a young mother in Magway’s Salin Township reportedly died from indiscriminate military fire during a raid. According to Myanmar Now, the raid was in response to prodemocracy graffiti.
In July, NUG-designated Minister for Human Rights Aung Myo Min reported that the military killed at least 32 civilians and displaced more than 6,000 residents from 13 villages in Sagaing’s Debeyin Township during intensified military operations targeting EAO and PDF strongholds.
In September the military was suspected of killing and mutilating five civilians in Magway’s Gangaw Township. According to the Irrawaddy, the victims were shot, and in some cases mutilated or showed signs of torture.
Also in September, the Irrawaddy reported on the killing of 18 civilians in Magway’s Yaw village perpetrated by the military. One resident recalled, “Most of them were shot in the head. Their heads were broken, and their brains spilled out like a ripe papaya that has fallen from a tree.” An 86-year-old resident was found tied up, with signs that he had been beaten to death.
In late September, according to a Radio Free Asia report, security forces responding to an attack by local defense forces in Thantlang, Chin State, shot and killed Baptist pastor Cung Biak Hum as he and others tried to extinguish fires the forces set. When his body was recovered, his ring finger was cut off and the wedding ring apparently stolen.
On December 5, regime security forces violently suppressed prodemocracy protesters in Rangoon. Tactics included, according to numerous reports, ramming a police vehicle directly into a crowd, killing five and injuring another 15. Escalating violence between the military and EAOs exposed many children to violence. AAPP reported in September that 61 children were killed in military-EAO conflicts.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were reports of such abuses by EAOs and PDF forces. In December Myanmar Now reported the targeting of alleged military informants and others seen as sympathetic to the regime. In June commanders of the Karen National Defense Army, the armed wing of the Karen National Union, confirmed Karen National Defense Army soldiers killed 25 alleged military spies and detained 22 others for approximately one week near Waw Lay, Myawaddy Township, Karen State.
Child Soldiers: The military and some EAOs (Kachin Independence Army, AA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Karen National Liberation Army, Shan State Army, and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) were listed in the UN secretary-general’s 2021 Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict as perpetrators of the unlawful recruitment and use of children. There were no data on PDF groups. Meaningful use of the National Complaint Mechanism, focused on the elimination of forced labor but which also prohibits the use and recruitment of child soldiers, was limited after the coup. There was no credible evidence that the regime or EAOs prosecuted offenders.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: According to numerous local media reports, UN counterparts, and NGOs the regime restricted the passage of relief supplies, including medical supplies, and access by international humanitarian organizations to conflict-affected areas including in Kachin, Chin, Kayah, Karen, Tanintharyi, and Shan States. HRW reported on December 13 that restrictions on humanitarian assistance imposed by the regime since the coup were creating a “nationwide humanitarian catastrophe.” The United Nations estimated that the number of persons needing assistance would go from one million before the coup to 14.4 million by 2022. On November 8, the United Nations stated, “access to many people in desperate need across the country remains extremely limited due to bureaucratic impediments put in place by the armed forces.” HRW further reported that the military has seized food deliveries meant for displaced populations and arrested individuals on “suspicion of supporting aid efforts.” Visas for aid workers have also been delayed or denied. UNICEF reported in October that “the need to procure travel authorization [from the regime] remains a major access impediment and a high constraint factor for the humanitarian partners’ capacity to reach people in need.”
The regime reportedly forced civilians to act as human shields, carry supplies, or serve in other support roles. In September the Karen National Union reported to a local media outlet that approximately 300 civilians, including a number of women and children, were forced by regime security forces to perform military support duties. In September, Democratic Voice Burma reported that more than 100 soldiers abducted five local residents to act as guides for regime security forces in Kachin State.
As of September, the World Health Organization reported 260 attacks on health-care workers since the coup, representing 39 percent of such attacks globally during the year. In a February case, a doctor was arrested in Rangoon for providing first aid to prodemocracy supporters who had been shot while peacefully protesting. In July the Irrawaddy reported that the regime arrested five volunteer doctors working on COVID-19 prevention activities after luring them to a house under false pretenses.