Discrimination Ahead of Polls to Blame For Rights Decline in Myanmar

By Joshua Lipes
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A Buddhist monk chants slogans as he holds a banner protesting a law which grants voting rights to temporary citizens in Yangon, Feb. 11, 2015.
A Buddhist monk chants slogans as he holds a banner protesting a law which grants voting rights to temporary citizens in Yangon, Feb. 11, 2015.

Human rights in Myanmar backtracked in key areas in 2015 despite November elections widely seen as free and fair, according to a report released Wednesday, which counted discrimination ahead of the vote 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 noted “an alarming rise” in religious intolerance in the country, particularly against Muslims, in the lead up to the polls that saw the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) claim the majority of seats in parliament.

“Although widely praised as being credible and transparent, the elections were otherwise marred by the disenfranchisement of minority groups and ongoing restrictions on freedom of expression,” the report said.

“The authorities failed to address incitement to discrimination and violence based on national, racial and religious hatred,” it said.

Myanmar’s parliament adopted four laws aimed at “protecting race and religion” which were originally proposed by hardline Buddhist nationalist groups, despite containing provisions that Amnesty said violate human rights, including on religious and gender grounds.

People who spoke out against discrimination and rising religious intolerance faced retaliation from state and non-state actors, the report said.

The situation of the ethnic Muslim Rohingyas in the country “deteriorated further still” in 2015, Amnesty said, with ongoing discrimination in law and practice, and authorities failing to hold perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence to account.

Myanmar’s government also “intensified a clampdown on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly” in 2015, using “broad and vaguely worded laws.”

Authorities intimidated and monitored human rights defenders and peaceful activists, while journalists remained subjected to harassment, arrest, prosecution and imprisonment solely for carrying out their activities peacefully, according to the report.


Amnesty also cited “arbitrary restrictions” on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as contributing to a decline in rights in Cambodia, with authorities increasing arrests for online activity.

The report said that impunity continued for human rights violations in the policing of demonstrations in 2013 and 2014, including at least six deaths resulting from what it called “unnecessary and excessive use of force.”

Local human rights groups continued to receive complaints about new land disputes affecting thousands of families and involving well-connected military and political figures.

Amnesty also documented Cambodia’s “flagrant violations” of the United Nations Refugee Convention, including refoulements, in 2015.


In Vietnam, the report said, “severe restrictions” on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly continued, while the media and the judiciary—as well as political and religious institutions—remained under state control.

Amnesty counted at least 45 prisoners of conscience “imprisoned in harsh conditions after 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.

“A reduction in criminal prosecutions of bloggers and activists coincided with an increase in harassment, short-term arbitrary detentions and physical attacks by security officers,” the report said, adding that members of civil society were also targeted.

Scores of ethnic Montagnard asylum-seekers fled to Cambodia and Thailand from Vietnam between October 2014 and December 2015, citing harassment and discrimination by authorities.


Amnesty said that tough restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly also continued in Laos, as authorities prepared to further tighten control of civil society groups in the country.

After the enactment of a decree on management of information through the Internet in 2014, at least two individuals were arrested in relation to information posted online, it said.

The group cited reports of restrictions on practicing Christianity, including arrests and prosecutions.

No progress was recorded in the case of prominent civil society member Sombath Somphone, three years after his enforced disappearance.


In China, a series of new laws with a national security focus were drafted or enacted which “presented grave dangers” to human rights, according to Amnesty.

The government launched a nationwide crackdown against rights lawyers, while other activists and human rights defenders continued to be systematically subjected to harassment and intimidation, it said.

Authorities also further regulated the Internet, mass media and academia.

Religious freedom was “systematically stifled” as the government continued its campaign to demolish churches and Christian crosses in Zhejiang province.

Authorities also stepped up restrictions on religious affairs in the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and maintained “extensive controls” over Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.

North Korea

North Korea, routinely ranked among the worst nations with regards to human rights, continued to languish in 2015, Amnesty said.

“Authorities continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals without fair trial or access to lawyers and family, including nationals of [South Korea],” the report said.

“Households, particularly those with members suspected of having fled the country or trying to access outside information, remained under systematic surveillance.”

Amnesty noted that North Korea’s regime arranged for more than 50,000 people to work in other countries, collecting their wages directly from employers and keeping the majority for its own revenue.





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