Progress on human rights “stalled” in Myanmar last year, Amnesty International has said in an annual report critical of failures to investigate abuses and the impunity granted to the security forces and other government officials.
The international human rights watchdog said there were “backward steps in key areas” in Myanmar, to which it devoted four pages of its 424-page report released on February 25 on human rights in 160 countries and territories in 2014.
The report on Myanmar focussed on 10 issues, including discrimination, internal armed conflicts, the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, land disputes and impunity.
The section on discrimination dealt with Rakhine State and said the situation of the Rohingya worsened during the year.
“Individuals suffered persistent discrimination in law and policy, exacerbated by a deepening humanitarian crisis, ongoing eruptions of religious and anti-Muslim violence and government failures to investigate attacks on Rohingya and other Muslims,” Amnesty said in the report.
“The authorities also failed to address incitement to violence based on national, racial and religious hatred,” it said, and warned that the Rakhine Action Plan unveiled by the government in October would, if implemented, “further entrench discrimination and segregation of Rohingya”.
On internal armed conflicts, the report said the government continued to deny full and sustained access for humanitarian workers to displaced communities in Kachin State, particularly those in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Army.
It also referred to the displacement of civilians during fighting between the Tatmadaw and armed ethnic groups in Kayin and Mon states in September.
“Freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly remained severely restricted, with scores of human rights defenders, journalists, political activists and farmers arrested or imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights,” it said, highlighting the case of KoHtinKyaw, leader of the Movement for Democracy Current Force.
He was sentenced in September to a total of 13 years and four months’ imprisonment after being convicted of violating 11 counts of Section 505(b) of the Penal Code and three counts under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law.
Amnesty said President U Thein Sein had in June signed into law amendments to the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Assembly Law but despite the revisions it retained “severe restrictions” on the right to freedom of assembly.
The report said media reforms were undermined by the arrest and imprisonment of journalists and other media workers. At least 10 media workers remained in prison at the end of the year, it said.
“The President failed to keep his promise to release all prisoners of conscience by the end of 2013, despite a far-reaching Presidential Pardon announced on 30 December 2013,” it said, and also expressed concern about a panel appointed to review political prisoner cases.
“The Committee for Scrutinizing the Remaining Prisoners of Conscience, established by the government in February 2013, did not function effectively and it was unclear whether it would continue to operate beyond 2014,” the report said.
The section on land disputes referred to the fatal shooting by riot police of a woman during a protest by villagers in December against the fencing of farmland for the controversial Letpadaung copper mine near Monywa.
“Environmental and human rights concerns relating to the mining project had not been addressed by the end of the year,” the report added.
On torture, Amnesty said Myanmar failed to ratify the UN Convention against Torture “as promised by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in January”.
It said investigations into complaints of torture against the military and police “were rare and suspected perpetrators were seldom held to account”.
It cited the death in military custody in October of freelance journalist KoAungKyawNaing, also known as Ko Par Gyi.
“After national and international pressure, in November the police and the MNHRC [Myanmar National Human Rights Commission] opened an investigation. At the end of the year no one was known to have been held to account for his death,” it said.
It also referred to the detention by the Tatmadaw in August of seven farmers at a village in Chin State who were accused of being in contact with an armed ethnic group.
“The seven were ill-treated – some of them tortured – over a period of between four and nine days. By the end of the year there was no information about an independent investigation into the case or of suspected direct perpetrators or their superiors being brought to justice.”
The report said immunity from prosecution for past violations by the security forces and other government officials remained codified in Article 445 of the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.
It said the MNHRC remained “largely ineffective in responding to complaints of human rights violations,” noting that an 11-member panel was appointed in September to replace the previous 15-member body.
“Most members were government-affiliated and the selection and appointment process lacked transparency, casting further doubts on the independence and effectiveness of the Commission,” it said.
Amnesty noted that the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Ms Yanghee Lee, had warned against potential backtracking on human rights in a report to UN General Assembly in October.
It also noted that Myanmar had failed to sign an agreement for the establishment of an Office of the UN High Commission on Human Rights and to ratify core international human rights treaties.