When it comes to human rights, Burma has made historic progress since 2011, but significant challenges remain.
In April of last year, following a peaceful and competitive election, the National League for Democracy, the then-opposition party chaired by former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, began its five-year term in government.
The new government promptly released hundreds of political prisoners and relaxed a number of the laws restricting civil society. However, the Constitution continues to guarantee the military 25% of parliamentary seats, and requires the military to appoint the leaders of the Ministries of Defense, Border Affairs, and Home Affairs, the latter of which controls the police, prisons, and sub-national governance.
Furthermore, some provisions of Burmese laws, such as provisions of the Telecommunications Act restricting freedom of speech, do not comport with international standards of democracy and human rights.
According to the Human Rights Reports for 2016 recently issued by the State Department, the three leading human rights problems in Burma were human rights violations in ethnic minority areas affected by conflict; restrictions on freedoms of speech; and abuses and restrictions against the Rohingya population.
Laws that have historically been used to criminalize free speech — especially against the military — and peaceful assembly remain in force and have been applied in some cases.
In 2016, security forces were reported to have committed serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual violence, forced recruitment, and destruction of property.
In addition to these abuses, the government continued to deny citizenship to the Rohingya ethnic minority. This resulted in additional human rights violations, including restrictions on movement, limitations on access to health care, livelihood, shelter, and education, arbitrary arrests and detention, and forced labor.
In October and November 2016, security forces responded to violent attacks against Border Guard Police posts with “clearance operations” that are alleged to have included killings, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual violence, and other abuses, resulting in the displacement of at least 100,000 Rohingya.
While the government took limited action to punish some police officers responsible for abuses, many government and security officials continued to act with impunity.
Promoting human rights and democratic governance is a core element of U.S. foreign policy, said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The Human Rights Reports demonstrate the United States’ unwavering commitment to advancing liberty, human dignity, and global prosperity around the world, including in Burma.