Burma has a quasi-parliamentary system of government in which the national parliament selects the president and constitutional provisions grant one-quarter of parliamentary seats to active duty military appointees. The military also has the authority to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs, and border affairs and one of two vice presidents, as well as to assume power over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. In 2015 the country held nationwide parliamentary elections that the public widely accepted as a credible reflection of the will of the people. In 2016 parliament selected National League for Democracy (NLD) member Htin Kyaw as president and created the position of State Counsellor for NLD party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, formalizing her position as the civilian government’s de facto leader.
Ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State occurred during the year. In early August some security forces deployed throughout northern Rakhine State, committing enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests and displacing villagers, the majority of whom were Rohingya. On August 25, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for coordinated attacks against 30 security outposts in northern Rakhine State, killing 12 security personnel. Augmented security forces, as well as local vigilante groups acting independently or in concert with security forces, then reportedly committed widespread atrocities against Rohingya villagers, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, and burning of tens of thousands of homes and some religious structures and other buildings. This displaced more than 655,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh as of December, as well as an unknown number within Rakhine State, and more than 20,000 villagers from other ethnic groups, many of whom were evacuated by the security forces.
In addition to the atrocities in Rakhine State, the most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings; politically motivated arrests; authorities’ human rights violations against civilians in other ethnic minority areas and conflict zones, particularly in Kachin State and Shan State; continued harsh conditions in prisons and labor camps; restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and association, including intimidation and arrest of journalists; restrictions on freedom of religion; continued statelessness for some populations and severe restrictions on freedom of movement; criminalization of same-sex sexual activities, although the law was rarely enforced; and trafficking in persons, including forced labor of adults and children.
Although the government took some limited actions to prosecute or punish officials responsible for abuses, the vast majority of such abuses continued with impunity. Some nonstate groups committed human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor of adults and children, and failure to protect civilians in conflict zones.