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Human rights in Burma ‘a car crash’

Human rights in Burma saw serious setbacks in 2014, according to the latest report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Progress made since President Thein Sein took power in 2011 has derailed, with the international community not meeting its responsibility to shore up the reform process, the Washington-based rights group says in its World Report 2015, released on Thursday.

The country has seen “significant slowdowns and in some cases reversals of basic freedoms and democratic progress.”

“After two years of steady if uneven progress, Burma’s human rights situation was a car crash in 2014,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The HRW analysis of Burma shines a spotlight on the repression and persecution of Burma’s 1.1 million strong Rohingya Muslim minority, the majority of whom live in Arakan State in the country’s west.

The report also accuses both prominent anti-Muslim group the “969 Organisation” and the government-backed The Association for the Protection of Race and Religion or Ma Ba Tha as it is commonly known, of inciting violence in the country.

In January 2014, the United Nations claimed that it had “credible evidence” to suggest that over 40 Muslim men, woman and children had been killed in a massacre at Duchira Dan [Du Char Yar Tan] in northern Arakan State.

In its World Report, HRW said Burmese government-led investigations into violence in the area were “below international standards” as they “did not include impartial investigators.”

The subsequent expulsion of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) from the region, and later the country as a whole, is also condemned.

HRW notes that the on going ethnic conflict in the northeast of the country, despite the nationwide ceasefire negotiations, has involved reported shelling of populated violence.


Internal displacement is endures across Burma, with an estimated 350,000 people who remain internally displaced in the east of the country, with more than 110,000 refugees residing in nine camps on the Thai side of the border.

Some of the previous progress made on relaxation of media control by the state has been undone by increased intimidation of the press in 2014.

Journalists have been jailed, and the freelance reporter Par Gyi was killed by the army – attempts to investigate his death suffered serious government obstruction.

The report also criticises the situation of freedom of expression and assembly in Burma, pointing out that there are over 230 confirmed political prisoners or individuals who face charges for assembly and expression of views. The number of those arrested under the Peaceful Procession Law while protesting against widespread illegal land grabs has also risen.

Despite rhetorical commitment to reforms on the international stage, change has been inconsistent, with the slated 2015 elections being called into question with the cancellation of by-elections in 2014.

There is also serious governmental reluctance to enact much needed constitutional reforms, with the army keen to maintain their hold on power. HRW says, “The Burmese Defense Services, or Tatmadaw, rejected constitutional amendments, and senior military leaders in numerous speeches vowed to safeguard the existing constitution as one of the military’s core duties.”

Thein Sein reneged on his pledge to US President Obama to establish an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country and has objected to international pressure to allow independent human rights monitoring and reporting.

The HRW report reads that despite these serious threats to human rights, international aid and development support from all major donors to Burma has increased.

“The army is still calling the shots on major issues, while the government seems confident it has satisfied other countries to keep the aid and investment dollars flowing,” said Brad Adams.


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