There was some progress on human rights in Burma during 2016. Following the National League for Democracy (NLD) Government's inauguration on 30 March, the positive trend on civil and political rights continued. The government showed early commitment to repealing repressive legislation by setting up a commission to identify priority laws for repeal or reform. The government also showed commitment to addressing the underlying issues in Rakhine State by setting up the new hybrid Burmese/international Rakhine Advisory Commission headed by Kofi Annan, to provide advice and recommendations for a durable solution. However, the situation in Rakhine State deteriorated following attacks on Border Guard Police posts on 9 October. There were widespread allegations of torture, ill treatment, extrajudicial killing, arson, mass rape and other forms of sexual violence committed by security forces. Limited media, diplomatic and humanitarian access made it difficult to verify facts, and initial statements from the government's Investigation Commission set up by the government were not credible. The intensification of military operations in Kachin and Shan States led to civilian casualties and widespread displacement of civilians. Some NGOs have documented shelling of civilians. Arbitrary arrest, restrictions on movement and limited humanitarian access are also deeply concerning.

UK human rights priorities in 2016 focused on supporting the democratic transition, in particular the new civilian administration. Although the military respected the outcome of the election, they remained in control of the key Ministries of Defence, Borders and Home Affairs, as well as the powerful General Administration Department, which staffs regional and state-level governments. In August, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi launched a new peace initiative ("Union Peace Conference: 21st Century Panglong"), which brought most of the key actors to the table for dialogue. This has been followed up with a number of regional-level dialogues on the peace process. However, continued military offensives in the north-east diminish trust and hamper progress in the peace process. The UK remains active in supporting the peace process through funding and political dialogue, including via the multi-donor Joint Peace Fund which supports a nationally-owned and inclusive peace process in Burma.

The interim recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, led by Kofi Annan, are expected in spring  2017. The UK stands ready to provide support for these recommendations, as well as wider efforts to resolve on-going conflict situations and ease the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine. We will monitor freedom of expression and religion, in particular the increasing use of Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Act, which effectively limits online freedom of expression and carries a penalty of up to three years in prison. The UK will continue to provide support for legislative reform, as there are still many laws that do not comply with international standards, including some which have already been reformed. In light of ongoing concerns over human rights in Burma, we will also aim to maintain the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma at the Human Rights Council.

Disclaimer:

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.