Burma: Released prisoners tell stories of torture; ICRC role needed

Source: Asian Human Rights Commission
Date: 24 Sep 2009

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) welcomes the release of prisoners from jails around Burma during the last week, especially human rights defenders and persons who were detained during and after the protests of August and September 2007, including numbers of persons on whose cases the AHRC has issued urgent appeals. However, it notes with grave concern the reports of torture that some detainees experienced during interrogation. The physical and mental injuries caused in this period were either not adequately treated or not treated at all during the detainees’ incarceration, causing some of them lifelong damage. Among those cases that have been reported in the media:

Ko Myo Yan Naung Thein, a former technical institute student, was assaulted by unknown assailants and taken from a march during September 2007; he suffered injuries to his nerves during torture under interrogation and did not get adequate treatment in Sittwe Prison; he is now reportedly unable to walk.

Ko Bo Bo, a former student leader also known as Ko Moe Kyaw Thu, had been imprisoned on a range of charges since 1992. He told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that after his arrest he was taken to a military intelligence unit in Rangoon where he was hooded and repeatedly assaulted, denied water and refused access to a toilet. During his term at Ohboe Jail he was twice seriously assaulted, in 2000 and 2005, causing him to suffer constant headaches. U Aung Myint, who was also detained after September 2007 and jailed on a two-year sentence at Myaungmya, of which he served nearly the full time, also told RFA that he and other prisoners had been tortured and had not received timely medical attention during imprisonment.

The AHRC believes that there will have been many other instances of torture and assault during interrogation and imprisonment followed by a subsequent lack of appropriate treatment–constituting an additional form of cruel and inhuman treatment and punishment–among the persons released last week. It is also aware that such treatment is by no means confined to cases of political detainees. Torture and abuse of persons in custody is endemic across all types of cases in Burma, and had ordinary criminal detainees also been interviewed many, perhaps most, would have had similar stories to tell.

Accordingly, the Asian Human Rights Commission takes this opportunity to again call for the maximum amount of global effort to have the mandate of the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit detention facilities in Burma renewed without further delay. Although renewal of the mandate–which the group suspended in 2005 because of the government’s failure to respect its internationally-recognized conditions–cannot fully prevent torture or protect detainees from abuse, it would be a practical and quickly-implementable step to reduce the incidence of abuse and ameliorate some of its worst consequences.

Renewal of the ICRC prison visits mandate is long overdue. There is absolutely no reason for the government of Burma to object to the visits, given that the agency is bound by confidentiality, and the visits cost the government nothing. If then this much cannot be done, what good can be said of the release of a few thousand shattered bodies, while tens of thousands more continue to have the same types of abuses heaped upon them daily?

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984

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