Voters wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus line up to cast their ballots at a polling station near Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, November 8, 2020. © 2020 AP Photo/Thein Zaw

(Bangkok) – The Myanmar government has repeatedly violated basic civil and political rights, and failed to hold the country’s security forces accountable for atrocities against ethnic minorities, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2021.  
 
The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party overwhelmingly won the November 8, 2020, election, which was marred by serious problems. Prior to the vote the government prosecuted its critics, censored opposition party messages, and did not provide equal access to state media. Systemic problems include the continued ethnic Rohingya disenfranchisement, the 25 percent of assembly seats reserved for the military, and the lack of an independent and transparent Union Election Commission. The commission cancelled voting in 57 primarily ethnic minority townships for security reasons, but provided little or no consultation or explanation to affected political parties and candidates.  
 
“Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling National League for Democracy have turned their backs on human rights concerns since taking power, betraying promises to Myanmar’s people to revoke repressive laws and break with abusive past practices,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “By winning a significant parliamentary majority, the NLD has an opportunity to introduce rights-respecting reforms that would protect everyone.” 
 

In the 761-page World Report 2021, its 31st edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth argues that the incoming United States administration should embed respect for human rights in its domestic and foreign policy in a way that is more likely to survive future US administrations that might be less committed to human rights. Roth emphasizes that even as the Trump administration mostly abandoned the protection of human rights, other governments stepped forward to champion rights. The Biden administration should seek to join, not supplant, this new collective effort. 

 
About 600,000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine State, subject to government persecution and violence, confined to camps and villages without freedom of movement, and cut off from access to adequate food, health care, education, and livelihoods. The squalid and oppressive conditions imposed on the Rohingya amount to the crimes against humanity of persecution, apartheid, and severe deprivation of liberty, said Human Rights Watch. 
 
The authorities used overly broad and vaguely worded laws to arrest and prosecute dozens of human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and other people for criticizing the government and military or protesting peacefully.  
 
The Covid-19 pandemic intensified the crisis for workers in Yangon’s industrial zones, as employers engaged in union busting and mass layoffs. During 2020, labor rights violations and worker unrest increased significantly.  
 
The military regularly committed abuses against civilians during fighting with ethnic armed groups in Chin, Kachin, Karen, Rakhine, and Shan States. The government has taken no serious action to hold abusive military commanders or soldiers accountable.  
 
In Rakhine State, fighting between the Myanmar military and Arakan Army continued to escalate, increasing insecurity and displacing an estimated 190,000 civilians in Rakhine and Chin States, the majority ethnic Rakhine. In March the government designated the Arakan Army a terrorist organization.  
 
Almost one million Rohingya live in camps in Bangladesh after fleeing the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide that started in August 2017. In January 2020, the International Court of Justice, in a case brought by Gambia, unanimously issued a provisional order that requires Myanmar to protect the Rohingya from genocide, and to preserve evidence of atrocities. Aung San Suu Kyi and the government defended the Myanmar military’s actions and denied atrocities had taken place.  
 
The government maintained internet restrictions in eight townships in Rakhine and Chin States into a second year. Although 2G networks were restored in early August, blocks on 3G and 4G services were extended until the end of 2020. The restrictions have made it especially difficult for humanitarian agencies to aid those in need in the war-torn area.