BURMA: Extensive use of torture by police in recent cases 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has followed with concern reports of the most recent criminal cases targeting persons deemed threats to the state in Myanmar, and in particular the alleged use of grave forms of torture to extract confessions from them.

Among these is the case of Dr. Wint Thu and eight others accused over their involvement in a prayer campaign for the release of political prisoners, and of having had contact with groups abroad that the state has designated unlawful, whom it is alleged that from September to their trials in December the Special Branch held incommunicado and tortured.

Officers including Sub-inspectors Aung Thwin, Hsan Lin and Win Myint Htun allegedly forced Than Htaik Aung to stand with toothpicks inserted into his heels, to drink putrid drain water, and allegedly also came into his cell and urinated. Officers including Police Captain Zaw Lwin and Sub-inspectors Thet Wei, Kyaw Myo Hlaing and Kyaw Htoo Naing allegedly forced U Nandawuntha, a monk, to stand throughout two days of interrogation and then forced him to kneel on sharp gravel while an officer jumped up and down on his calves. If he didn¡¦t give him the answers that they wanted then they hit him on the head with a wooden rod. Dr. Wint Thu and Ko Myo Han were also both allegedly forced to stand throughout interrogations of two and four nights respectively.

Four officers at the Aungthapyay interrogation facility in Yangon Division, including Sub-inspectors Win Myint and Soe Aung allegedly dripped candle wax onto the genitalia of co-accused Wei Hypoe, splashed him with boiling water and tied him to metal bars then assaulted him with bamboo rods. They also applied a stinging substance to his open wounds.

In a related case Special Branch officers Sub-inspector Thet Wei and Kyaw Htoo Naing alleged injected a detainee from Nyaung-U by the name of Ko Zaw Zaw with an unknown substance during interrogation.

All of the victims of alleged torture were sentenced to long jail terms in December, at a closed court inside a prison. Their convictions were reportedly based upon the confessions that the police obtained through the use of torture.

Although the Evidence Act and other parts of law prohibit the use of confessions obtained during police interrogation, the current Supreme Court of Myanmar has enabled their use and has thereby encouraged the practice of torture by virtue of a number of orders, including two rulings from 1991. In the first of these, the U Ye Naung case, the court overturned all previous precedent and effectively also the Evidence Act itself by allowing for evidence obtained during a Military Intelligence interrogation to be admitted to trial where the accused could not prove that it had been obtained through duress. Similarly, in the second, the Maung Maung Kyi case, the court placed the burden of proof onto the accused to show that he had not been tortured and threatened into making a confession.

The systemic consequences of these and other similar rulings are twofold: first, courts at all levels in Myanmar routinely accept as evidence confessions that have been obtained through the use of torture; and second, anecdotally the use of torture is now more widespread than at any time in recent decades. The AHRC has over the last couple of years received many reports of the use of torture, including extreme forms of torture normally associated with politically driven inquiries, in ordinary criminal cases. The making of payments to police officers to have them not torture detainees is also reportedly commonplace, although the making of such payments does not apply in cases like that of Dr. Wint Thu where the families of victims are not even able to locate the whereabouts of their loved ones, much less do anything to stop their suffering through the payment of money or by other means.

Once deeply embedded in a system of policing torture is, as you know, extremely difficult to remove. Whatever happens in Myanmar in coming years the use of torture will remain endemic. Clearly, it is not something that will be addressed through some modest international interventions or expressions of concern. Notwithstanding, the Asian Human Rights Commission takes this opportunity to urge you to take up the incidence of torture in Myanmar with the Special Rapporteur assigned to monitor the situation of human rights in that country and together with him to communicate your concerns with a view to impressing upon the members of the senior judiciary at the very least that until they reverse the earlier rulings that have enabled the sorts of practices described in this letter and instead issue orders to prohibit unequivocally the use of torture by police then they should be considered complicit in this abuse and should be subject to international scrutiny and censure in same measure as the torturers themselves.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

1. UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
2. UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OLT-001-2010
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),