In July of last year, a young man in Burma tried to use his MP4 player to record government-backed troops seizing his sister’s rubber farm. The troops took him and threatened him not to report the incident to the international media. The sister explained to fieldworkers of the human rights documentation organization ND-Burma what happened to her brother,
“My younger brother was beaten. My brother got injuries on his head and right side of [his] forehead. They also beat on the back of my brother. He is taking medical treatment in my village. We are arranging for [him to leave] and work in Thailand after he recovers again. If he continues to live in our village, he may lose his life.”
Today, despite international legislation and norms, the Burmese military continues to use torture and ill treatment on political prisoners and ethnic minorities. From January to December 2011 alone, Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma (ND-Burma) gathered 371 documented cases of human rights violations, 22 percent of which constituted torture and ill treatment.
Torture and ill treatment predominantly takes place under two distinct contexts: within prisons and ethnic nationality areas. For prisoners, torture occurs within the interrogation period and can last up to months or even years. Methods of torture include severe daily beatings, water and sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and sexual abuse. Prisoners are forced to endure extremely painful and dehumanizing treatment, such as being forced to kneel on stones, being beaten for hours on end, and being sexually abused. Unlike political prisoners, those who face torture and ill treatment in ethnic nationality areas usually face these abuses within the context of other human rights violations such as forced labor, forced portering, rape and sexual abuse and restriction of movement. Young women are often beaten and held captives as sex slaves by Burmese soldiers in these rural areas. Regardless of context, the victims and families of victims of torture and ill treatment are left with enduring and crippling psychological and physical issues.
The use of torture and ill treatment by the Burmese government is in direct violation of globally accepted international laws and treaties including the Geneva Conventions, the Rome Statute, Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration Burma supported and voted in favor of in 1948. Despite this global legislation prohibiting the use of torture, several structural problems within Burma’s legal system allows for the continued instances of torture and ill treatment against prisoners and ethnic minorities.
Perhaps the most glaring of these structural issues within the Burmese legal system is the fact that neither the Burmese Constitution nor current Burmese legislation specifically prohibits the use of torture. Furthermore, the presence of laws that allow for the immediate imprisonment of political opponents creates a climate in which human rights violations are far more likely to occur. Beyond a lack of legislation, Burma’s judiciary system, which rarely holds military and former military personnel accountable for human rights violations, allows for the continued usage of torture on political prisoners and ethnic minorities. The Myanmar Human Rights Commission (MHRC) which was established in September 2011 in order to investigate human rights violations across the nation has remained largely ineffective in protecting citizens from torture. Due to a 15 member staff with loyalties to the former military government and a lack of a budget to fund any real change, the MHRC remains unable to fulfill its purpose.
Torture is carried out with three main goals: to extract information, punish and instill fear. The effects of torture and ill treatment are felt by more than just the victims of these crimes, sending rippling effects that effect broader society. The use of such inhumane tactics by the Burmese government to suppress opposition cultivates a climate of fear and distrust that ultimately cripples and silences its citizens.
The road towards establishing a sense of trust will be long and arduous but if the Burmese government truly works towards addressing and rectifying the crimes against humanity they’ve committed, it is not impossible.
ND-Burma also did a video about the problems of torture and ill treatment in Burma: