Burma has a quasi-parliamentary system of government in which the national parliament selects the president and constitutional provisions grant one-quarter of parliamentary seats to active duty military appointees. The military also has the authority to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs, and border affairs and one of two vice presidents, as well as to assume power over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. In 2015 the country held nationwide parliamentary elections that the public widely accepted as a credible reflection of the will of the people. In 2016 parliament selected National League for Democracy (NLD) member Htin Kyaw as president and created the position of State Counsellor for NLD party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, formalizing her position as the civilian government’s de facto leader.
Under the constitution, civilian authorities have no authority over the security forces; armed forces Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing maintained effective control over the security forces.
Ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State occurred during the year. In early August some security forces deployed throughout northern Rakhine State, committing enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests and displacing villagers, the majority of whom were Rohingya. On August 25, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for coordinated attacks against 30 security outposts in northern Rakhine State, killing 12 security personnel. Augmented security forces, as well as local vigilante groups acting independently or in concert with security forces, then reportedly committed widespread atrocities against Rohingya villagers, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, and burning of tens of thousands of homes and some religious structures and other buildings. This displaced more than 655,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh as of December, as well as an unknown number within Rakhine State, and more than 20,000 villagers from other ethnic groups, many of whom were evacuated by the security forces.
In addition to the atrocities in Rakhine State, the most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings; politically motivated arrests; authorities’ human rights violations against civilians in other ethnic minority areas and conflict zones, particularly in Kachin State and Shan State; continued harsh conditions in prisons and labor camps; restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and association, including intimidation and arrest of journalists; restrictions on freedom of religion; continued statelessness for some populations and severe restrictions on freedom of movement; criminalization of same-sex sexual activities, although the law was rarely enforced; and trafficking in persons, including forced labor of adults and children.
Although the government took some limited actions to prosecute or punish officials responsible for abuses, the vast majority of such abuses continued with impunity.
Some nonstate groups committed human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor of adults and children, and failure to protect civilians in conflict zones.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal but remained a significant problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. Spousal rape is not a crime unless the wife is younger than 13 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 statistics and victims typically did not report it. 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 reported continued allegations of rape by military and security officials in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine States. The military rejected all allegations rape was an institutionalized practice in the military but admitted in 2014 its soldiers had committed 40 known rapes of civilian women since 2011.
Sexual Harassment: The penal code prohibits sexual harassment and imposes fines or a maximum of one-year’s imprisonment for verbal harassment and a maximum of two years’ imprisonment 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: Coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization did not occur. In 2015, however, the government enacted the Population Control and Health Care Law, which contains provisions that, if enforced, could undermine protections for reproductive and women’s rights, including imposing 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 if the government enforced the law. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but it was not clear if the formal sector respected this requirement. NGOs reported sectors such as the garment industry did not comply. Poverty affected women disproportionately. The law governing hiring of civil service personnel states nothing shall prevent the appointment of men to “positions that are suitable for men only,” with no further definition of what constitutes positions “suitable for men only.”
Customary law was widely used to address issues of marriage, property, and inheritance, and it differs from the provisions under statutory law.
Birth Registration: The 1982 Citizenship Law automatically confers full citizenship status to 135 recognized national ethnic groups as well as to persons who met citizenship requirements under previous citizenship legislation. Moreover, the government confers full citizenship to second-generation children of both parents with any citizenship, as long as at least one parent has full citizenship. Third-generation children of associate or naturalized citizens can acquire full citizenship. Residents derive full citizenship through parents, both of whom must be one of the 135 officially recognized “national races.” Under the law the government does not officially recognize Rohingya as an ethnic group.
A prominent international NGO noted significant rural-urban disparities in birth registration. In major cities (for example, 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 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. Many child rights activists in Rangoon noted such fees were decreasing and were less often mandatory.
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 ($7.50). There was anecdotal evidence of violence against children occurring within families, schools, in situations of child labor and exploitation, and in armed conflict. The MSWRR expanded its child protection pilot programs. In Rakhine State continued violence left many families and children displaced or with restrictions on their movement, which in turn 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 Christian boys is 16 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. A review conducted by a UN organization in February found child marriage remained an important and underaddressed 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 ($7.50). 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.).
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There was one synagogue in Rangoon serving a small Jewish congregation. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, hearing, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in air travel and other forms of transportation, but directs the government to assure that persons with disabilities have easy access to public transportation. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.
The Ministry of Health is responsible for medical rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, and the MSWRR is responsible for vocational training, education, and social protection strategies. The government recognized the Myanmar Federation of Persons with Disabilities to serve as an umbrella group for organizations that serve persons with disabilities. The National Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disability is the ministerial committee formed to monitor the implementation of the law; for the second consecutive year, it did not convene.
Civil society groups reported that often children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other persons, and many never attended school due to stigma and lack of any accommodation for their needs.
According to the Myanmar Physical Handicap Association, a significant number of military personnel, armed group members, and civilians had a disability because of conflict, including because of torture and landmine incidents. There were approximately 12,000 amputees in the country–two-thirds believed to be landmine survivors–supported by five physical rehabilitation centers throughout the country. Persons with disabilities reported stigma, discrimination, and abuse from civilian and government officials. Students with disabilities cited barriers to inclusive education as a significant disadvantage.
Military veterans with disabilities received official benefits on a priority basis, usually a civil service job at equivalent pay, but both military and ethnic-minority survivors in rural areas typically did not have access to livelihood opportunities or affordable medical treatment. Official assistance to nonmilitary persons with disabilities in principle included two-thirds of pay for a maximum of one year for a temporary disability and a tax-free stipend for permanent disability. While the law provides job protection for workers who become disabled, authorities did not implement it.
Ethnic minorities constituted 30 to 40 percent of the population. The seven ethnic minority states composed approximately 60 percent of the national territory, and significant numbers of minorities also resided within the country’s other regions. Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against minorities persisted, including in areas such as education, housing, employment, and access to health services. International observers noted significant wage discrepancies based on religious and ethnic backgrounds were common.
Burmese generally remained the mandatory language of instruction in government schools. Civil society organizations expressed disappointment the government’s National Education Strategic Plan, which was released in April, did not cover issues related to mother tongue instruction and was not adequately informed by consultations with ethnic stakeholders. 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 KNU, 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 severe 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.
In early August the military deployed in parts of northern Rakhine State reportedly committed serious human rights violations and abuses, including enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests. On August 25, ARSA claimed responsibility for coordinated attacks against 30 security outposts in northern Rakhine State. The security forces, as well as vigilante groups acting in concert with security forces, then reportedly committed widespread atrocities against Rohingya villagers, 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 655,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh as of December 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 or “transportation for life.” 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.
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.
Law enforcement practices contributed to high levels of stigma and discrimination against female sex workers and transgender women that in turn 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 Bamar 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 to education opportunities. Religious groups noted the January assassination of Ko Ni had a chilling effect on Muslims fighting for improved treatment under the law (see section 1.a.).
In April, 12 nationalist monks and dozens of local residents in Rangoon forced two madrassahs to be chained shut. The group alleged the structures were illegal and demanded local officials close them. Muslim leaders noted the madrassahs had been used for prayers for many years and told local media they believed nationalists bullied them because of their religion.
In May nationalist monks claimed Rohingya were hiding illegally in Mingala Taungnyunt Township in Rangoon. Media reports indicated the monks informed local police about their suspicions, and when local police investigated and found no one to be living illegally in the neighborhood, the monks and Buddhist laypersons instigated violence against the Muslim community in the neighborhood. Media also reported two Muslim residents were injured before police intervened by firing warning shots into the air. Police arrested eight persons for their involvement in the violence.
On October 30, Buddhist leader Sitagu Sayadaw gave a sermon to soldiers, live-streamed on Facebook to more than 250,000 persons, at a military training school in Kayin State, where he quoted a parable in which a Buddhist king is told by his advisors that the killing of millions of Hindu Tamils only added up to one and a half real human beings. In his sermon the Sitagu Sayadaw also noted the need for Buddhist leaders and the military to work together for national unity. The remarks were generally interpreted as condoning the military’s abuses against members of religious minority groups and suggesting that in the course of battle, it is less of a sin for soldiers to kill non-Buddhists than to kill Buddhists.
Multiple sources noted that 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.