The Darkness We See: Torture in Burma’s Interrogation Centers and Prisons

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In June 2005, many world leaders gathered to call for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Nobel Peace Laureate. Their actions imply a commitment to ensuring Burma begins an earnest transition to democracy.

Prior to beginning her third period of house arrest, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi reminded the world that such change can not come about until all political prisoners in Burma are released.

In March 1988, a teashop brawl between students and local authorities sparked the long latent desire of  the people of  Burma for democracy and human rights. In the months that followed, unrest spread throughout the country as people from all walks of life began to gather and voice their demands to the military dictatorship. The unrest culminated on August 8, 1988 as thousands joined in an uprising that would shake the ruling regime. The Darkness We See: Torture in Burma's Interrogation Centers and  Prisons (AAPP-B)However, the military regime quickly regrouped, killing thousands of demonstrators and arresting and imprisoning thousands more. Most of those arrested and detained then and in the following seventeen years have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment while in the country’s interrogation centers and prisons.

Most recently, Aung Hlaing Win, a 30-year old member of  the National League for Democray, was attacked by government authorities in May 2005 and brought to an interrogation center where he was tortured to death. Though an autopsy revealed his body had marks consistent with torture, Aung Hlaing Win’s death was ruled a result of  natural causes. He was buried without his family’s knowledge, and the authorities attempted to bribe his family to keep quiet. The authorities who tortured him are known and thoughhis family has filed his case in court, the case has consistently been rejected. No action has been taken against his torturers.

The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the current moniker for the military regime which has ruled Burma since 1962, refutes the claims of torture and ill-treatment in its interrogation centers and prisons, and even denies that there are political prisoners. However, as former political prisoners flee to countries bordering Burma, they are able to recount the torture and ill-treatment which they suffered, as well as that which they witnessed. The credible testimony of  several former political prisoners invalidates the SPDC’s claim that torture and ill-treatment are not used in the interrogation centers and prisons.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) has conducted interviews with thirty-five former political prisoners to detail the torture and ill-treatment inflicted on political prisoners while in the interrogation centers and prisons, and to show the physical and psychological effects of this torture and ill-treatment. All persons interviewed for this report were tortured in one of  the country’s many interrogation centers before being imprisoned in one of  the country’s forty-three prisons where torture was justified as both official and unofficial punishment for breaking arbitrary prison rules. Except for one, all persons interviewed were actively involved in movements opposing the SPDC prior to their arrest; most were student leaders in the 1988 democracy uprising.

There are five components of this report:
o Legal Framework Prohibiting Torture and Ill-Treatment.
Through the promulgation of ‘security’ legislation, arbitrary detention, failure to provide detainees with fair trials, and tacit approval of torture and ill-treatment, the SPDC has flouted international law and avoided being held accountable for their actions. This section looks at international standards prohibiting torture and ill-treatment, the SPDC’s abuse of  the justice system, and the possibilities for bringing the torturers to justice.
oTorture in the Interrogation Centers and Prisons. The same methods of torture have been used over the past seventeen years on political prisoners, varying only according to the torturers’ imaginations. The torture detailed here is that recounted by the interviewed former political prisoners. Though divided into physical, psychological and sexual abuse, the testimonies of those interviewed revealed the deep psychological impact of all torture.
o General Prison Conditions. This section looks at the cell conditions, hard labor, food provisions and hygiene for political prisoners. The inhuman prison conditions give rise to disease and illness among the prisoners. The deliberate aggravation of  prison conditions and the suffering arising from such conditions raise the possibility that these conditions should be classified as torture, as opposed to ill-treatment.
o Prison Health Care System. The prison health care system is such that it too may rise to the standard for torture and not just illtreatment. This section examines the illnesses contracted in prison, the medications provided to political prisoners, the poor quality of the prison hospital, and the incompetence of the prison doctors. The management of  political prisoners’ health is purposefully incompetent, and causes needless suffering for many.
oThe Future for Political Prisoners. Torture and ill-treatment create physical and mental suffering which former political prisoners must contend with for the remainder of  their lives. The physical and psychological effects of torture and ill-treatment are often ignored by former political prisoners for fear of  being perceivedweak, and, in the case of  mental suffering, ‘mad.’ Many former political prisoners also must overcome the social stigma attached to them, and struggle to reestablish their identities. Rehabilitation and counseling for former political prisoners in Burma is needed.

The treatment of political prisoners is a reflection on the political situation in Burma. It is clear that torture is state policy for the SPDC. Torture is endemic in Burma’s interrogation centers and prisons and serves the dual function of breaking down suspected political dissidents and creating a climate of  fear. The people of  Burma all fear acting in any manner that could be perceived as in opposition to the SPDC, as they know such actions can lead to arrest, torture and long-term imprisonment, all with impunity.

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