Report: Myanmar Security Forces Remain 'Outside Civilian Control'

More than a year after Myanmar’s National League for Democracy swept national elections in the formerly military-ruled country, bringing an end to government by generals or by army-backed civilians, security forces remain outside effective civilian control, the U.S. State Department said in a report released on Friday.

Human rights abuses in China meanwhile continued unabated through last year, with a new law requiring the registration of foreign NGOs further limiting the space for civil society in the communist-ruled country, according to the Department’s Human Rights Report for 2016.

Despite improvements in the exercise of freedom of speech and assembly in Myanmar following the forming of an NLD government in March 2016, civilian authorities “did not maintain effective control over the security forces,” leading to the deaths of civilians in conflict zones, the State Department said.

Meanwhile, more than 120,000 Muslim Rohingya remain displaced in camps in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, with a further 30,000 driven from their homes by security operations following armed attacks by Muslim militants on border guard posts in October.

Reports of torture also surfaced throughout the year, as security forces subjected both citizens and stateless persons to “harsh interrogation techniques designed to intimidate, including severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep.”

“As in previous years, authorities took little action to investigate incidents or punish alleged perpetrators,” the State Department said.

Human rights problems persisted in other areas, too, the State Department said, pointing to incidents of rape and forced labor, politically motivated arrests, conflicts over land, and harassment of journalists.

“Conditions in prisons and labor camps remained harsh,” according to the report.

Authorities across Myanmar meanwhile arrested and jailed citizens in some cases for openly criticizing the government, “generally under the charges of protesting without a permit or violating national security laws.”

“Many individuals in urban areas, however, reported far greater freedom of speech and expression than in previous years,” the State Department said.

Severe violations in China

Meanwhile in China, human rights violations “remained severe” throughout the year, the State Department said in its report.

“Citizens had limited forms of redress against official abuse,” including extrajudicial killings, torture, illegal detentions at unofficial “black jails,” and coerced confessions.  Human rights lawyers, journalists, writers, and petitioners were also jailed and harassed, the State Department said.

Civil society organizations already watched closely by authorities have meanwhile been further restricted in their activities by a new law limiting contacts with foreign NGOs, according to the report.

The law places foreign NGOs operating in China under the supervision of China’s Ministry of Public Security, a move indicating that authorities consider such groups a “national security” threat, the State Department said.

“Although the law was not scheduled to go into effect until January 1, 2017, many foreign NGOs and their domestic partners began to curtail operations before the year’s end, citing concerns over the law’s vaguely worded provisions.”

“As a result, an already limited space for civil society was further constrained,” the State Department said.