Torture and Death in Myanmar’s Military Detention

July 11th, 2019  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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“Don’t give me water, Mom. I will not last long. My organs are badly damaged. I can’t breathe. Don’t give me water, Mom. I have to go,”

Zaw Win Hline

The situation of human rights in Myanmar[1] is increasingly deteriorating with the Myanmar military becoming evermore emboldened to act with impunity, continuing to evade accountability for the grave crimes they have committed in Rakhine State. Just days after the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar delivered her oral statement at the 41st Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council, warning of possible fresh war crimes being committed under the blackout of information due to the ongoing internet shutdown, reports of the military burning down villages emerged as civilians, such Zaw Win Hline who was tortured, continue to die while in military custody.

Fifteen days after the Myanmar government shut down the internet in eight townships in Rakhine State and in Paletwa Township in Chin State, the Myanmar military burned down villages in Rathedaung Township as they carried out “clearance operations” against the ethnic armed organization, the Arakan Army (AA). A school teacher residing in Amyet Taung Village where the Myanmar military torched homes stated that while the Myanmar military assumed AA members were residing in the village, this “wasn’t true” and that “It [the attacks] only affects the civilians…The villagers are now fleeing their homes and are in trouble.”

While the Myanmar military steps up its presence in Rakhine State as they conduct such heinous operations, they have also continued to arrest and detain those suspected of being members of the AA. Most recently, a local resident from Shwe Tun Phyu Village in Mrauk-U Township, Zaw Win Hline, was arrested by the Myanmar military on 20 June, 2019, suspected of being a member of the AA. He died on June 24th after being subjected to several days of interrogation and torture. According to his mother, when he was brought to the Sittwe hospital having sustained severe injuries, he was vomiting blood and unable to eat or drink water. Reportedly his last words, “Don’t give me water, Mom. I will not last long. My organs are badly damaged. I can’t breathe. Don’t give me water, Mom. I have to go,” were shared widely on the internet drawing outrage among rights activists, sparking a campaign demanding justice. According to reports, soldiers had beaten him with packed stones in a longyi (traditional Burmese sarong) on his back and chest.

Such cases of torture, as well as extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests that continue to be reported widely in Rakhine State, constitute war crimes under international law. According to reports by Radio Free Asia, some 14 civilians have died in custody of the military or the police since March 2019 during the intensification of the Rakhine conflict. Meanwhile, the Myanmar Police Force has filed charges against four of the top leaders of the AA under the Counter-Terrorism Law. This is the first time leaders of any ethnic armed organization have been charged under the Counter-Terrorism Law.

The Myanmar military is also becoming evermore intolerant of criticisms against them. A report by Athan, a freedom of expression activist organization, found that the Myanmar military has sued nearly 80 individuals over a three and a half year period, with numbers surging in the past three months. Many have been charged under the outdated and repressive colonial-era penal code – Article 505(a) – and are accused of “causing or intending to cause members of the armed forces to mutiny, fail or disregard their duties.” In addition, there is a wider trend of increasing numbers of political prisoners under the National League for Democracy-led government. The recent numbers of political prisoners documented by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners indicate a total of 466 political prisoners with 34 currently serving their sentences, 161 awaiting trial inside prison and 271 awaiting trial outside prison. This is an increase of 78 political prisoners since last month.

Meanwhile, Christopher Sidoti, a member of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) has likened the conditions for Rohingya internally displaced person’s camps in Rakhine State to a Nazi concentration camp. Speaking on the continuing restrictions on the freedom of movement for the Rohingya, he stated “What has happened in the past two years has strengthened the genocidal intent.” His comments come as the IIFFMM prepares their report to the Human Rights Council, which will be delivered at the upcoming 42nd Regular Session in September 2019.

Nearly two years after the genocide, Rohingyas have yet to see justice for the atrocities that were committed against them and the Myanmar military has further been emboldened to act with impunity, while the government increasingly turns authoritarian. As the UN Security Council continues to face stumbling blocks to hold the perpetrators of the genocide to account, efforts such as those made by the Dutch Parliament to pursue accountability under the Genocide Convention at the International Court of Justice are commendable. The UN Special Rapporteur posed the question to Member States during her oral address: “are you going to continue to fail to protect all the people of Myanmar?” Countries must respond to this by immediately acting to end the ongoing impunity of the Myanmar military. As a statement by civil society organizations calling for the referral of the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court states, “International inaction will only delay the justice owed to the people of Myanmar.”


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

ရခိုင္ျပည္နယ္တြင္ လက္ရွိျဖစ္ပြားေနေသာ လက္နက္ကိုင္ပဋိပကၡဒဏ္ ခံေနရသည့္ ျပည္သူမ်ား၏ အေျခအေနမ်ား၊ ၎တို႔ ရင္ဆိုင္ေနရသည့္ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးခ်ိဳးေဖာက္ခံေနရမႈမ်ားႏွင့္ စပ္လ်ဥ္း၍ အရပ္ဘက္ အဖြဲ႕အစည္းမ်ား၏ ထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္

By 15 Civil Society Organizations

Fresh Military Violations Highlight Ongoing Impunity in Myanmar: Amnesty International Oral Statement at the 41st Session of the Human Rights Council

By Amnesty International

Myanmar: International Community Must Ensure Justice and Accountability

By Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Progressive Voice and Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA)

BHRN Condemns Sentence Against Activist Ko Htin Kyaw

By Burma Human Rights Network


By Back Pack Health Worker Team

HRC41 Oral Statement on Item 4: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar


India: Protect Refugees, Prevent Forced Returns

By Fortify Rights

ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, Requests Judicial Authorisation to Commence an Investigation Into the Situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar

By International Criminal Court

Oral Statement for the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

By International Federation for Human Rights


By Karenni National Women Organization

Statement of the 6th Congress of Karenni National Women Organization (KNWO)

By Karenni National Women Organization

ပထမဆံုးအႀကိမ္ ေကာ္သူးေလတစ္ခုုလံုုးဆိုုင္ရာေက်းရြာပိုုင္ဘံုုသစ္ေတာ ႏွီးေနွာဖလွယ္ပြဲထုုတ္ျပန္ေၾကျငာခ်က္

By The First Community Forest Forum

Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar: Oral Update to 41st Session of the Human Rights Council

By Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar



လက္ရွိအစိုးရသက္တမ္းအတြင္း လြတ္လပ္စြာထုတ္ေဖာ္ေျပာဆိုခြင့္ကို ခ်ိဳးေဖာက္ေသာ တပ္မေတာ္၏ တရားစြဲဆိုမႈမ်ား

By Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization

Myanmar: Briefing by the Special Envoy

By UN Security Council

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”