Authorities failed to address rising religious intolerance and incitement to discrimination and violence against Muslims, allowing hardline Buddhist nationalist groups to grow in power and influence ahead of the November general elections. The situation of the persecuted Rohingya deteriorated still further. The government intensified a clampdown on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Reports of abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law in areas of internal armed conflict persisted. Security forces suspected of human rights violations continued to enjoy near-total impunity.
On 8 November, Myanmar held much anticipated general elections, which saw the opposition National League for Democracy claim the majority of seats in Parliament. A new government was scheduled to be in place by the end of March 2016. 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.
In June, the military blocked an attempt to amend the 2008 Constitution to remove its legislative veto over constitutional amendments and a clause which bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from being elected President by Parliament.
In July Myanmar ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention and signed the ICESCR.
There was an alarming rise in religious intolerance, and in particular anti-Muslim sentiment, with hardline Buddhist nationalist groups growing in influence. The authorities failed to address incitement to discrimination and violence based on national, racial and religious hatred.
Between May and August Parliament adopted four laws aimed at protecting race and religion, originally proposed by hardline Buddhist nationalist groups. The laws – the Religious Conversion Law, the Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Law, the Population Control Healthcare Law and the Monogamy Law – were passed despite containing provisions that violate human rights, including by discriminating on religious and gender grounds. There were fears that they would entrench widespread discrimination and fuel further violence against minority groups.
People who spoke out against discrimination and rising religious intolerance faced retaliation from state and non-state actors. On 2 June, writer Htin Lin Oo was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour for insulting religion in an October 2014 speech criticizing the use of Buddhism to promote discrimination and prejudice. Women’s rights activists and other human rights defenders who spoke out against the four protecting race and religion laws were subjected to harassment and intimidation, including sexually abusive threats.
The Rohingya Minority
The situation of the Rohingya minority continued to deteriorate. Most remained effectively deprived of citizenship rights under the 1982 Citizenship Law, and continued to face severe restrictions on their right to freedom of movement, limited access to life-saving health care, and denial of their rights to education and equal employment opportunities. There were ongoing reports of arbitrary arrests and torture and other illtreatment of Rohingya in detention, as well as deaths in custody at the hands of security forces. Access to Rakhine State for international observers remained severely restricted.
In February, the President announced the revocation of all Temporary Registration Cards (TRCs) – also known as white cards – leaving many Rohingya without any form of identity document. The move effectively barred Rohingya – and other former TRC holders – from being able to vote in the November elections. The exclusion of the Rohingya was further cemented by the disqualification of almost all Rohingya who applied to contest the elections as candidates. Many other Muslims were also disqualified on discriminatory grounds.
The deteriorating situation of the Rohingya led increasing numbers to leave Myanmar. According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, 33,000 people – Rohingya as well as Bangladeshi nationals – left the Bay of Bengal by boat during the year. In May, a crackdown on trafficking in neighbouring Thailand saw thousands of people – many Rohingya fleeing Myanmar – stranded at sea on overcrowded boats controlled by traffickers and people smugglers. Many were beaten and held hostage for ransom.