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Burma

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law protects the privacy and security of the home and property, but observers said these protections were poorly enforced.

The law does not protect the privacy of correspondence or other communications of citizens, and activists reported authorities had expanded surveillance of civil society organizations’ operations.

Some activists reported the government systematically monitored the travel of citizens and closely monitored the activities of politically active persons, while others reported they did not experience any such invasions of privacy. The government reportedly conducted surveillance in some circumstances by using the Special Branch police, official intelligence networks, and other administrative procedures (see section 2.d.).

The law restricts the ability of Buddhist women to marry non-Buddhist men by imposing a requirement of public notification prior to any such marriage and allowing for objections to the marriage to be raised in court, although this law was rarely enforced.

In January state-run newspapers made public the names of more than 1,400 individuals, including children, whom the government allegedly deemed to be terrorists, the families of terrorists, or sympathizers of terrorist groups. No information was provided regarding how such determinations were made and whether the individuals in question were formally charged or in detention, wanted for prosecution, or sought for questioning. There did not appear to be any formal judicial process involved. Observers noted publishing such a list put the individuals at risk of harm.

In Rakhine State local authorities prohibited Rohingya families from having more than two children, although this prohibition was inconsistently enforced. Also in 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. In 2016 the BGP in Buthidaung Township issued instructions to village administrators outlining additional requirements for members of the Rohingya community to obtain a permit to marry. 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.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through elections held by secret ballot, although certain provisions prevent it from being a fully representational system and assuring the free expression of the will of the people. Constitutional provisions grant one-quarter of all national and regional parliamentary seats to active-duty military appointees and provide the military with the authority to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs–which has responsibility for subnational governance as well as police, prisons, and other matters–and border affairs, and indefinitely assume power over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. A separate constitutional provision prohibits persons with immediate relatives holding foreign citizenship from becoming president. Amending the constitution requires more than 75 percent approval by members of parliament, giving the military effective veto power over constitutional amendments.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International organizations reported the country conducted its November by-elections for 13 national- and state-level offices in accordance with generally accepted democratic principles. Observers considered the 2015 national election to be generally reflective of the will of the people, notwithstanding some structural shortcomings. Observers raised concerns that 25 percent of seats in parliament were reserved for unelected military officers; potential Muslim candidates were disqualified by their political parties on an apparently discriminatory basis; almost all members of the Rohingya community, many of whom voted in elections prior to 2015, were disenfranchised; and the government canceled voting in some conflict-affected ethnic minority areas. The NLD, chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, won more than 77 percent of the contested 1,150 seats at the state, regional, and union levels in the 2015 election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Opposition parties and civil society organizations continued to exercise their rights to assemble and protest.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Nevertheless, women and minorities continued to be underrepresented in government. Aung San Suu Kyi was the only woman in a cabinet of 24 ministers serving at the national level. The representation of women at both the national and the state and regional levels was more than 10 percent among elected representatives. Women led two subnational governments, including the chief ministers of Kayin State and Tanintharyi Region.

As of October, five chief ministers of the seven ethnic states belonged to the ethnic groups of their states, including the chief minister of Rakhine State; one of two union-level vice presidents belonged to the Chin ethnic minority group and one belonged to the Mon ethnic group. The representation of ethnic minority parliamentarians from ethnic minority political parties at both the national, state, and regional level was approximately 9 percent. These figures from all levels did not account for ethnic minority members of the NLD (which included numerous ethnic members) or the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Rohingya continued to be excluded from the political process, because their political rights (whether to vote or run for office) remained severely curtailed since the vast majority are stateless. Although Rohingya comprised approximately one-third of the total population in Rakhine State and clear majorities in some voting districts at the time of the 2015 national election, there were no Rohingya representatives in the state parliament, and most Rohingya-majority areas were represented by an ethnic Rakhine nationalist party.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal but remained a significant problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. Spousal rape is not a crime unless the wife is younger than 14 years. Police generally investigated reported cases of rape, but there were reports police investigations were not sensitive to victims. Civil society groups continued to report police in some cases verbally abused women who reported rape, and women could be sued for impugning the dignity of the perpetrator.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious problem. Abuse within families was prevalent and considered socially acceptable. Spousal abuse or domestic violence was difficult to measure because the government did not maintain comprehensive statistics and victims typically did not report it, although the government attempted to document cases and stated cases were on the rise. Laws prohibit committing bodily harm against another person, but there are no laws specifically against domestic violence or spousal abuse unless the wife is younger than 14. Punishment for violating the law includes sentences ranging from one year to life in prison, in addition to possible fines. Overlapping and at times contradictory legal provisions complicated implementation of these limited protections.

The United Nations, media, and NGOs during the year documented the widespread use of rape and sexual violence by the military in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States since at least 2011. The military rejected all allegations that rape was an institutionalized practice in the military.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code prohibits sexual harassment and imposes a maximum of one year’s imprisonment and a fine for verbal harassment and a maximum of two years’ imprisonment and a fine for physical contact. There was no information on the prevalence of the problem because these crimes were largely unreported. Local civil society organizations reported police investigators were not sensitive to victims and rarely followed through with investigations or prosecutions.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. In 2015, however, the government enacted the Population Control and Health Care Law, which contains provisions that, if enforced, could impose coercive birth-spacing requirements. Under the law the president or the national government may designate “special regions” for health care following consideration of factors such as population, natural resources, birth rates, and food availability. Once a special region is declared, the government allows the creation of special health-care organizations to perform various tasks, including establishing regulations related to family planning methods. The government has not designated any such special regions since the law’s enactment.

A two-child local order issued by the government of Rakhine State pertaining to the Rohingya population in two northern townships remained in effect, but the government and NGOs reported it was not consistently enforced (see section 1.f.).

Discrimination: By law women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, including property and inheritance rights and religious and personal status, but it was not clear the government enforced the law. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but it was not clear the formal sector respected this requirement. NGOs reported some sectors, such as the garment industry, did not comply. Poverty affected women disproportionately. The law governing hiring of civil service personnel states nothing shall prevent the appointment of men to “positions that are suitable for men only,” with no further definition of what constitutes positions “suitable for men only.”

Customary law was widely used to address issues of marriage, property, and inheritance, and it differs from the provisions under statutory law.

Children

Birth Registration: The 1982 Citizenship Law automatically confers full citizenship status to 135 recognized national ethnic groups as well as to persons who met citizenship requirements under previous citizenship legislation. Moreover, the government confers full citizenship to second-generation children of both parents with any citizenship, as long as at least one parent has full citizenship. Third-generation children of associate or naturalized citizens can acquire full citizenship. Residents derive full citizenship through parents, both of whom must be one of the 135 officially recognized “national races.” Under the law the government does not officially recognize Rohingya as an ethnic group.

A prominent international NGO noted significant rural-urban disparities in birth registration. In major cities (e.g., Rangoon and Mandalay), births were registered immediately. In larger cities parents must register births to qualify for basic public services and obtain national identification cards. In smaller towns and villages, however, birth registration often was informal or nonexistent. For the Rohingya community, birth registration was a significant problem (see section 2.d.). The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State noted in its interim report nearly one-half of all residents in Rakhine State lacked birth documentation and recommended the government introduce a comprehensive birth registration campaign.

A birth certificate provided important protections for children, particularly against child labor, early marriage, and recruitment into the armed forces and armed groups. Sometimes a lack of birth registration, but more often a lack of availability, complicated access to public services in remote communities.

Education: By law, education is compulsory, free, and universal through the fourth grade. The government continued to allocate minimal resources to public education, and schools charged informal fees.

Education access for internally displaced and stateless children remained limited.

Child Abuse: Laws prohibit child abuse, but they were neither adequate nor enforced. NGOs reported corporal punishment was widely used against children as a means of discipline. The punishment for violations is a maximum of two years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of 10,000 kyats ($6.30). There was anecdotal evidence of violence against children occurring within families, schools, in situations of child labor and exploitation, and in armed conflict. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement continued its child protection programs. In Rakhine State continued violence left many families and children displaced or with restrictions on their movement, and this dislocation at times exposed them to an environment of violence and exploitation. Armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States had a similar adverse effect on children in those areas.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates different minimum ages for marriage based on religion and gender: The minimum age for Buddhists is 18 years, and the minimum age for Christians is 16 for boys and 15 for girls, but child marriage still occurred. According to the 2014 census, more than 13 percent of women married between ages 15 and 19. There were no reliable statistics on forced marriage. Child marriage remained a problem in rural areas.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Children were subjected to sex trafficking in the country, and a small number of foreign child-sex tourists exploited children. The law does not explicitly prohibit child-sex tourism, but it prohibits pimping and prostitution, and the penal code prohibits sex with a minor younger than 14 years. The penalty for the purchase and sale of commercial sex acts from a child younger than 18 is 10 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits pornography and specifies a penalty of two years’ minimum imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 kyats ($6.30). If a victim is younger than 14, the law considers the sexual act statutory rape. The maximum sentence for statutory rape is two years’ imprisonment when the victim is between 12 and 14, and 10 years’ to life imprisonment when the victim is younger than 12.

Displaced Children: The mortality rate of internally displaced children in conflict areas was significantly higher than in the rest of the country (see section 2.d.). The United Nations estimated that 53 percent of the 128,000 IDPs in Rakhine State are children; the vast majority of this population is Rohingya. The UN estimated that 46 percent of the 98,000 IDPs in Kachin State are children and 48 percent of the 8,500 IDPs in northern Shan State are children.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was one synagogue in Rangoon serving a small Jewish congregation. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, hearing, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in air travel and other forms of transportation, but it directs the government to assure that persons with disabilities have easy access to public transportation. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

Civil society groups reported that children with disabilities often attended school through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other persons, and many never attended school due to stigma and lack of any accommodation for their needs.

According to the Myanmar Physical Handicap Association, a significant number of military personnel, armed group members, and civilians had a disability because of conflict, including because of torture and landmine incidents. There were approximately 12,000 amputees in the country–two-thirds believed to be landmine survivors–supported by five physical rehabilitation centers throughout the country. Persons with disabilities reported stigma, discrimination, and abuse from civilian and government officials. Students with disabilities cited barriers to inclusive education as a significant disadvantage.

Military veterans with disabilities received official benefits on a priority basis, usually a civil service job at equivalent pay, but both military and ethnic-minority survivors in rural areas typically did not have access to livelihood opportunities or affordable medical treatment. Official assistance to nonmilitary persons with disabilities in principle included two-thirds of pay for a maximum of one year for a temporary disability and a tax-free stipend for permanent disability. While the law provides job protection for workers who become disabled, authorities did not implement it.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities constituted 30 to 40 percent of the population. The seven ethnic minority states composed approximately 60 percent of the national territory, and significant numbers of minorities also resided within the country’s other regions. Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against minorities persisted, including in areas such as education, housing, employment, and access to health services. International observers noted significant wage discrepancies based on religious and ethnic backgrounds were common.

Burmese generally remained the mandatory language of instruction in government schools. The government’s National Education Strategic Plan, released in April 2017, did not cover issues related to mother-tongue instruction. In schools controlled by ethnic groups, students sometimes had no access to the national curriculum. There were very few domestic publications in indigenous-minority languages.

Tension between the military and ethnic minority populations, while somewhat diminished in areas with cease-fire agreements, remained high, and the military stationed forces in some ethnic groups’ areas of influence and controlled certain cities, towns, and highways. Ethnic armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organization and the Karen National Union, pointed to the increased presence of army troops as a major source of tension and insecurity. Reported abuses included killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and rapes of members of ethnic groups by government soldiers. Some groups also committed abuses (see section 1.g.).

The Rohingya in Rakhine State faced severe discrimination based on their ethnicity. Most Rohingya faced extreme restrictions on their ability to travel, avail themselves of health-care services, engage in economic activity (see section 7.d.), obtain an education, and register births, deaths, and marriages (see section 2.d.). Most of those displaced in 2012 remained confined to semipermanent camps with severely limited access to education, health care, and livelihoods.

The military and other security forces committed widespread atrocities against Rohingya villagers starting in August 2017 that were documented during the year, including extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, and burning of hundreds of villages, religious structures, and other buildings. These atrocities and associated events forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh as of September and constituted ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Political reforms in recent years made it easier for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community to hold public events and openly participate in society, yet discrimination, stigma and a lack of acceptance among the general population persisted. Consensual same-sex sexual activity remains illegal under the penal code, which contains a provision against “unnatural offenses” with a penalty of a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Laws against “unnatural offenses” apply equally to both men and women; these laws were rarely enforced. LGBTI persons reported police used the threat of prosecution to extort bribes. While the penal code is used more for coercion or bribery, LGBTI persons, particularly transgender women, were most frequently charged under so-called shadow and disguise laws. These laws use the justification that a person dressed or acting in a way that is perceived as not being in line with their biological gender is in “disguise.” According to a report by a local NGO, transgender women reported higher levels of police abuse and discrimination than other members of the LGBTI community.

In March, authorities in Rangoon used the “unnatural offenses” law to charge an openly gay restaurant owner for allegedly sexually assaulting a male member of his staff. The case was pending at year’s end.

There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. LGBTI persons reported facing discrimination from medical-care providers.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The constitution provides for the individual’s right to health care in accordance with national health policy, prohibits discrimination by the government on the grounds of “status,” and requires equal opportunity in employment and equality before the law. Persons with HIV/AIDS could theoretically submit a complaint to the government if a breach of their constitutional rights or denial of access to essential medicines occurred, such as antiretroviral therapy, but there were no reports of individuals submitting complaints on these grounds. There are no HIV-specific protective laws or laws that specifically address the human rights aspects of HIV.

There were continued reports of societal violence and discrimination, including employment discrimination, against persons with HIV/AIDS. Negative incidents such as exclusion from social gatherings and activities; verbal insults, harassment, and threats; and physical assaults continued to occur. Laws that criminalize behaviors linked to an increased risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS remain in place, directly fueling stigma and discrimination against persons engaged in these behaviors and impeding their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.

High levels of social stigma and discrimination against female sex workers and transgender women hindered their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and social protection services. Police harassment of sex workers deterred the workers from carrying condoms.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were reports of other cases of societal violence, and anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination persisted. Members of Buddhist nationalist groups, including members of Ma Ba Tha, continued to denigrate Islam and called for a boycott of Muslim businesses.

Muslim communities complained about unequal treatment by police, pressures to practice Islam in private, difficulty in obtaining citizenship cards, close monitoring of their travel by local government, and restrictions on education opportunities. In addition some Muslims reported discrimination by private parties in renting housing. Religious groups noted the January 2017 assassination of Ko Ni had a chilling effect on Muslims fighting for improved treatment under the law (see section 1.a.).

Anti-Muslim hate speech, and in particular anti-Rohingya hate-speech, was prevalent on social media, in particular Facebook, the most popular social media platform in Myanmar. Independent reporting indicated that the military, using false accounts, was also responsible for generating and promulgating hate speech content.

Multiple sources noted restrictions against Muslims and Christians impeded their ability to pursue higher education opportunities and assume high-level government positions and that Muslims were unable to invest and trade freely.

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