US Notes Abuses in Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia in an Annual Report

Harsh restrictions imposed on Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya minority continued during the final year of that country's rule by a nominally civilian but military-backed party, while government troops acted with impunity in abusing noncombatants in conflict zones, the U.S. State Department said Wednesday in an annual report on human rights practices around the world.

The 2015 Human Rights Report also noted that authorities in Vietnam used "politically motivated arrests and convictions" of bloggers and rights activists last year to suppress freedom of speech online and the rights of assembly, association, and movement.

In Cambodia, meanwhile, government-linked mobs physically assaulted members of political opposition parties, the report said, adding that Cambodia's ruling party frequently used "a politicized and ineffective judiciary" to sentence activists and others critical of the government to lengthy prison terms.

Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya minority group experienced "severe legal, economic, and social discrimination" during the 2015 reporting period, with the government limiting their access to higher education, health care, and other basic services, the State Department said in its report.

"The government required them to receive prior approval for travel outside their village . . . and prohibited them from working as civil servants, including as doctors, nurses, or teachers," the report said.

Disenfranchised

Myanmar's ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) disenfranchised many Rohingya who had voted in previous elections, and blocked "almost all Rohingya and many [other] Muslim candidates" from running for office in nationwide Nov. 8 polls, the State Department said.

That election resulted in a landslide win for democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, raising hopes for a change in repressive government policies in Myanmar in coming years.

Meanwhile, more than 130,000 Rohingya still languish in displaced-persons camps in Myanmar following violent clashes with ethnic-majority Buddhists in the country's northwestern Rakhine state in recent years, the report said.

Government troops in Myanmar meanwhile reportedly abducted, tortured, and killed civilians in conflict areas during clashes with ethnic secessionist forces during 2015, the State Department said in its report.

"Civilians also were killed through indiscriminate use of force," the report said.

Heavy-handed surveillance

In Vietnam, the government severely restricted citizens' political rights, "particularly their right to change their government through free and fair elections," the State Department said.

The government also suppressed dissent, tightly controlled the internet and press, and maintained "often heavy-handed surveillance of activists," according to the report.

"Political and religious activists and their families alleged numerous and sometimes severe instances of harassment by [Ministry of Public Security] officials and agents, ranging from intimidation and insults to more significant abuses, such as attacks on their homes with rocks by plainclothes police."

Police assaults on activists and their family members sometimes "caused injury and trauma requiring hospitalization," the State Department added, also noting reports of the deaths in police custody of at least 14 persons during the year.

Unfair trials

In Cambodia, a court in the capital Phnom Penh tried 55 people "in an unfair manner and for largely political reasons" leading to convictions on a range of charges from staging an armed insurrection to blocking traffic, the State Department said, citing the reporting of an unnamed nongovernmental organization (NGO).

"As of November 20, the NGO estimated authorities held at least 15 political prisoners or detainees," the State Department said.

Eleven land rights activists received a royal pardon in April and were freed from prison, though, the State Department added.

Violence against some political opposition figures, and the arrest of others on apparently contrived charges, continued throughout the year, with one senator, Hong Sok Hour, jailed for posting online a "fake 1979 border treaty" between Cambodia and neighboring Vietnam.

"Many observers interpreted these actions as a means of pressuring the CNRP [Cambodia National Rescue Party] to refrain from criticizing the government for failing to demarcate the border with Vietnam properly," the report said.

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