Burma’s path to democratic reform and improved human rights stalled in 2014, Human Rights Watch warned in its latest world report.
The New York based human rights organisation cited the widespread persecution of Burma’s ethnic Rohingya that has become a humanitarian crisis, the military’s ongoing dominance in the country’s politics, and little improvement in government transparency before the planned 2015 elections.
“After two years of steady if uneven progress, Burma’s human rights situation was a car crash in 2014,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director said in a statement issued to the media.
Mr Adams noted that the government had so far failed to change the country’s undemocratic 2008 constitution, which delivers a 25% of all parliamentary seats to the military.
“The army is still calling the shots on major issues, while the government seems confident it has satisfied other countries to keep the aid and investment dollars flowing.”
The government has received harsh international criticism for its refusal to recognise ethnic Rohingya, instead labelling them as ‘Bengali’ (which implies that they are foreigners). The country’s census in March and April last year did not permit Rohingya to identify themselves as an ethnic minority, leading to boycotts. Preliminary results released last year revealed that as many as 1.2 million people were not included in the census.
Meanwhile United Nations High Commissioner on Rights estimate that there are as many as 140,000 Rohingya currently displaced inside Burma, forced to live in squalid camps, due to fear of persecution. Human Rights Watch said that the number of Rohingya fleeing Burma by boat rose dramatically in 2014, with estimates suggesting between 50,000 to 100,000.
HRW said that freedoms of the press and religion were also under attack. Six journalists were arrested, while the dead body of another was found with apparent signs of torture following his arrest by the military in September.
Mr. Adams warned that Burma’s elections planned for 2015 looked to reinstall a military dominated government.
“Burmese authorities and donors are sleepwalking arm-in-arm into an electoral disaster in 2015,” he said, “Unless constitutional changes are made, the donors will wake up after election day to a government still controlled by the military. They need to press now for real human rights and democratic reforms.”