Imprisoned protesters suffering

March 31st, 2022  •  Author:   Mizzima  •  7 minute read
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Campaign group Progressive Voice has released a statement describing and condemning the conditions imprisoned protesters against the coup have been suffering in prison.

According to Progressive Voice:

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 prisons 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 who were unable to escape at close range. 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 a notorious colonial-era prison. Overcrowded cells, unhygienic conditions, denial of healthcare, routine torture and even killing constitute 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 that ‘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 have been oppressed in various ways. They were beaten when they were detained, they are being 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 of 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 the 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 military coup, as well as condemning 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 by prosecuting the 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 dual-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.

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