Discrimination, Restrictions on Freedom of Expression Cited For Rights Decline in Myanmar
|Displaced Rohingyas wait outside a humanitarian center for aid at a camp on the outskirts of Sittwe, Rakhine state, Feb. 26, 2014. (Photo: AFP)|
By Joshua Lipes
February 25, 2015
Human rights in Myanmar backtracked in key areas in 2014 despite ongoing reforms in the Southeast Asian nation, according to a report released Wednesday, which counted discrimination and restrictions on freedom of expression among the worst violations in the country.
In its annual report on the state of the world’s human rights, London-based Amnesty International said the situation of the ethnic Muslim Rohingyas “deteriorated” in 2014, with ongoing discrimination in law and practice, and authorities failing to hold perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence to account.
“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,” the report said.
“The authorities also failed to address incitement to violence based on national, racial and religious hatred.”
An estimated 139,000 people—mostly Rohingya—remained displaced in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state after violence erupted between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas in 2012, Amnesty said, adding that the situation had worsened when some aid organizations were expelled from the country after they were attacked by Rakhine people for allegedly giving preferential treatment to Muslims.
Rohingyas also remained deprived of nationality under Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Act, leaving them open to restrictions on freedom of movement that affected their livelihoods, the report said.
The government in October introduced a new Rakhine State Action Plan which, if implemented, would further entrench discrimination and segregation of the Rohingyas, it said, adding that the announcement appeared to trigger a new wave of people fleeing the country in boats to join the 87,000 who have already done so since the violence started in 2012.
The government and ethnic armed groups failed to agree to a nationwide cease-fire, and ongoing conflict in Myanmar’s Kachin and Northern Shan states led to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law reported on both sides, including unlawful killings and torture, and other ill-treatment, such as rape and other crimes of sexual violence.
Amnesty said that freedom of expression and right of peaceful assembly remained “severely restricted” in 2014, with “scores” of human rights defenders, journalists, political activists and farmers arrested or imprisoned “solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights.”
Myanmar’s President Thein Sein failed to keep his promise to release the country’s remaining prisoners of conscience in 2014, it said, while protests against land confiscations and forced evictions were “widespread,” some of which were met with “unnecessary or excessive use of force” by security forces.
Amnesty also slammed Myanmar’s failure to ratify the U.N. Convention against Torture as promised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noting that allegations of torture and other ill-treatment were “persistent,” though investigations into complaints were rare and suspected perpetrators were seldom held to account.
Meanwhile, it said, immunity from prosecution for past violations by the security forces and other government officials remained codified in the country’s junta-backed 2008 constitution, denying victims of past rights violations and their families truth, justice, compensation and any other form of reparation.
In Cambodia, respect for the right to freedoms of expression, association and assembly deteriorated due to a seven-month ban on public gatherings, the report said, which was instituted following a three-day crackdown on January 2014 protests in Phnom Penh that resulted in at least four deaths and 23 arrests.
Authorities used “excessive force” against peaceful protesters, resulting in deaths and injuries, it said, and district security guards and plain-clothed men in the capital frequently used weapons such as sticks, wooden batons, metal bars, electroshock weapons and slingshots to break up demonstrations.
Human rights defenders and political activists faced threats, harassment, prosecution and sometimes violence, though impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses persisted, with no thorough, impartial and independent investigations into killings and beatings, Amnesty said.
Thousands of people affected by land grabbing by private companies for development and agro-industry faced forced eviction and loss of land, housing and livelihood in 2014, it said.
The group cited an April report by local rights group Licadho, which estimated that the total number of people affected since 2000 by land grabbing and forced evictions in 13 provinces monitored—about half the country—had passed half a million.
In one-party communist Vietnam, “severe restrictions” on freedoms of expression, association and assembly continued in 2014, Amnesty said, as the state continued to control the media and the judiciary, as well as political and religious institutions.
At least 60 prisoners of conscience remained jailed in harsh conditions following “unfair trials,” including bloggers, labor and land rights activists, political activists, religious followers, members of ethnic groups and advocates for human rights and social justice, while new trials and arrests took place.
Amnesty said authorities attempted to curtail the activities of unauthorized civil society groups through harassment, surveillance and restrictions on freedom of movement, while security officers frequently harassed and physically attacked peaceful activists and held them in short-term detention.
In communist Laos, state controls over the media, judiciary and political and social institutions also contributed to severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in 2014, Amnesty said.
Draft laws and a decree to control the use of the internet and social media were completed by the end of the year, it noted.
The report cited a “lack of openness” and a “scarcity of information” in the country, which it said made independent monitoring of the human rights situation difficult.
It also noted that the enforced disappearance of prominent civil society member Sombath Somphone remained unresolved at the end of the year, adding that police had provided little information about the progress of their investigation.
“This compounded fears that the failure to properly investigate Sombath Somphone’s abduction of to attempt to locate him indicated complicity in his disappearance, which undermined the development of an active and confident civil society,” the report said.