Detained But Not Forgotten

March 28th, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  10 minute read
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“They are oppressed in various ways. They were beaten when they were detained. They are denied medical treatment and freedom of speech. The regime must stop doing this to innocent people”

a member of Dawei Political Prisoners Network

One of the calling cards of the Myanmar military’s brutal suppression of the people of Myanmar is through arbitrary arrest, interrogation, trumped up charges and harsh sentences, long periods of solitary confinement, denial of medical treatment in detention, and torture hidden behind walls of prisons and interrogation centers. In recent weeks, snippets of news from inside confinement sheds light on the atrocious human rights violations taking place behind bars. While gross human rights violations occur on the ground both inside and outside prisons in Myanmar, the Human Rights Council is stagnating on bringing about justice and accountability for atrocity crimes committed by the Myanmar military.

Since launching their failed coup d’état attempt, the Myanmar military has arrested at least 12,913 people of which 9,873 remain in detention, with the situation becoming critical as arbitrary arrests increase daily and prison conditions continue to worsen. Last week, prison guards at Kalay Prison, Sagaing Region mercilessly massacred at least seven prisoners and injured 12, shooting prisoners at close range who were unable to escape. In Insein Prison, Yangon, prisoners have disappeared from their cells with other inmates, families and lawyers unable to get answers on their whereabouts. The outside world is not privy to the goings-on inside these prisons, as information rarely gets out. Insein is the notorious colonial-era prison, with overcrowded cells, unhygienic conditions, denial of healthcare, routine torture and even killing constituting a part of life there. In their report released on 23 March, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners lays out how conditions in Insein and for prisoners throughout Myanmar since the coup, have deteriorated dramatically. Furthermore, they concluded ‘with no judiciary in Burma anymore’, the international community must push harder for the release of political prisoners.

Last week, nine prisoners at Dawei Prison held a three finger salute before their court hearing on trumped up charges related to arms possession and counterterrorism. Originally from the Hollywood movie, the Hunger Games, and appropriated by protesters in neighboring Thailand – the three finger salute has been widely used as a symbol of opposition and resistance in Myanmar. All were placed in solitary confinement for a month and denied their basic rights, a form of psychological torture. Another group of political prisoners are on a hunger strike to protest the conditions and their confinement in Dawei Prison. “They are oppressed in various ways. They were beaten when they were detained. They are denied medical treatment and freedom of speech. The regime must stop doing this to innocent people”, a member of Dawei Political Prisoners Network told the Irrawaddy.

The situation for women, girls and members of the LGBTQI community inside prisons and interrogation centers is horrific. Sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual assault, rape, torture, beatings and threats of violence are routine and widespread. In September, transgender activist and writer, Saw Han Nway Oo was arrested and brutally tortured and beaten, with hot water poured over her body, forced to wear men’s clothes and sexually harassed based on her gender identity. In late February, one woman and two men were blindfolded and raped inside the interrogation center at Mandalay Palace and denied medical treatment for their injuries. On 22 March, a joint statement in response to this incident at Mandalay Palace and other incidents of sexual assault in prisons was published by the LGBT Alliance Myanmar. They called on the International Committee for the Red Cross and other concerned organizations to raise awareness, conduct investigations and prevent sexual abuse in prisons in Myanmar.

These incidents are indicative of decades of sexual and gender-based violence committed by the Myanmar military, which has routinely and systematically used sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of their warfare, particularly against ethnic women and girls. This was a conclusion based on evidence and reports by the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) mandated by the Human Rights Council to investigate the Rohingya genocide and war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kachin and Shan States. Women’s organizations, such as Women’s League of Burma, Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand, Karen Women’s Organization and Shan Women’s Action Network and many others have been collecting and reporting on sexual and gender-based violence over decades on these abuses by the Myanmar military. Yet, with all the evidence gathered, victims and survivors past and present have yet to see justice served.

Amidst the atrocities that continue to be committed on the ground and human rights situation inside prisons and in detention centers, the UN Human Rights Council held its 49th Regular Session with enhanced Interactive Dialogue on Myanmar with the UN Secretary-General’s assistant, High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Rapporteur on human rights situation in Myanmar. Many member and observer states of the Council condemned the human rights and humanitarian catastrophe in Myanmar, especially since the attempted coup caused by the military as well as the situation of the Rohingya. Yet, the international community’s impetus to take concrete actions to end the military junta’s terrorist acts against civilians and to hold the perpetrators to account is waning. In an open letter, 116 Myanmar civil society organizations urgently called on the Human Rights Council to address the Myanmar military’s deep rooted impunity through prosecuting Myanmar military leadership for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by exploring all possibilities for the establishment of a jurisdiction, using evidence gathered by the IIFFMM and the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM). It is time for the data and evidence gathered by these mechanisms to be utilized to bring about justice for the victims and survivors of these grave crimes and the impunity that this military has enjoyed for decades finally be put to an end.

The dire situation in prisons and detentions, as well as the ongoing campaign of terror across the country by the Myanmar military, highlights the need for urgent and concrete coordinated actions by the international community. Outside the prison walls, the junta is waging war, burning villages to the ground, slaughtering civilians and destroying lives. The international community and the Human Rights Council have a duty to end the impunity of the Myanmar military and bring about justice and accountability for victims and survivors. Concrete steps, including the establishment of a jurisdiction to prosecute grave crimes – which is the logical step to take with the wealth of information collected by mechanisms such as the IIMM – must be taken without further delay. Current crimes are made possible only because there was no accountability for past crimes and so now the international community must step up and fulfill its obligations. It was encouraging to see the US Secretary of State designate the violence committed against the Rohingya as genocide, but the US has to back up this determination by rallying the international community around the prosecution of the Myanmar military leadership and secure justice and accountability, while simultaneously cutting funds, arms and duel-use goods, jet fuel and legitimacy to the military junta. The people of Myanmar need this from the international community, as they continue to reject and resist the military junta. Their unwavering determination and strong will for a fully-fledged federal democracy, is being hard fought – let it not be in vain.


[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

Myanmar: MPs demand ASEAN action in response to damning UN report

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

It’s not over until it’s over: sanctions must stop Telenor’s sale to the Myanmar military

By Access Now

BHRN strongly condemns the Junta’s forcible evictions through mass destructions of civilians’ homes

By Burma Human Rights Network

Telenor Myanmar Sale to M1 Group’s Investcom Approved: Providing Essential Telecoms Infrastructure as a Vital Service

By Business Wire

UN Secretary-General’s new report whitewashes the UN’s historical failures in Myanmar

By FORUM-ASIA, Progressive Voice

Facebook approves adverts containing hate speech inciting violence and genocide against the Rohingya

By Global Witness

A Year On, No Justice for Myanmar Massacre

By Human Rights Watch

Myanmar: UN Rights Body Should Advance Justice

By Human Rights Watch

Myanmar military brokers procuring from EU, despite arms embargo

By Justice For Myanmar

၃၄ နှစ်ပြည့် ချင်းအမျိုးသားတပ်ဦးဖွဲ့စည်းတည်ထောင်ခြင်းအထိမ်းအမှတ် ချင်းတော်လှန်ရေးနေ့အခမ်းအနားသို့ အမျိုးသားညီညွတ်ရေးအစိုးရအဖွဲ့က ပေးပို့သည့်သဝဏ်လွှာ

By National Unity Government

“အမျိုးသားညီညွတ်ရေးအစိုးရက ၇၃ နှစ်မြောက် ပအိုဝ်းအမျိုးသားနေ့သို့ပေးပို့သည့် သဝဏ်လွှာ”

By National Unity Government

Statement on the report of the Secretary-General on progress made in the implementation of follow-up action to the recommendations of the Rosenthal Report

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Human Rights)

Statement on the Report on serious crimes of international concern committed by the illegal military junta submitted to 49th session of Human Rights Council

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Human Rights)

Myanmar: UN report urges immediate, concerted effort by international community to stem violence, hold military accountable

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Statement 3: Change of operator in the Yadana project in Myanmar

By PTT Exploration and Production

U.S. Genocide Designation for Rohingya a ‘Profoundly Meaningful Step’ Toward Justice

By Refugees International

Sale of Telenor Myanmar approved by Myanmar authorities

By Telenor Group

TotalEnergies implements its responsible withdrawal from Myanmar

By TotalEnergies

DFA Undersecretary Lazaro, EU Ambassador to ASEAN and Special Envoy to Myanmar Driesmans Discuss ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relation

By The Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines



Violence Against or Obstruction of Health Care in Myanmar (23 February – 08 March 2022)

By Insecurity Insight

Myanmar’s Quest for a Federal and Democratic Future: Considerations, Constraints and Compromises

By ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

Myanmar Humanitarian Update No. 16 | 19 March 2022

By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Thomas H. Andrews (A/HRC/49/76)

By United Nations Human Rights Council

A brief and independent inquiry into the involvement of the United Nations in Myanmar from 2010 to 2018 – Report of the Secretary-General (A/HRC/49/73)

By United Nations Human Rights 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.”