The United Nations Working Group On Arbitrary Detention has issued a ruling that the Burmese government’s detention of Kachin farmer Laphai Gam is arbitrary, and demanded his immediate release. Burma Campaign UK took his case to the United Nations for review last year.
The ruling by the United Nations was made public on 30th January 2014. It also rebuked the government of Burma regarding national laws not complying with international law, stating; “The Working Group reminds the Government that its national laws should comply with all obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law.”
Laphai Gam is a Kachin farmer who was living in a refugee camp for Internally Displaced Persons with his family after fleeing from conflict areas in Northern Burma. To support his family, he requested permission from a camp supervisor to work as a herdsman outside the camp. While taking a lunch break during the trip, he was taken by the Burmese Army 37th battalion for questioning.
He was brutally tortured and forced to make false confessions about his connections with the Kachin Independence Army, and different bombings in the area. According to family members, during the interrogations, he was repeatedly kicked, beaten till his scalp was cut open, forced to drink water mixed with fuel, and burnt. He was also forced to have sexual intercourse with another male prisoner.
He was charged under Article 17/1 of the Unlawful Association Act and after over a year of detention, on 15th November 2013, was sentenced to 2 years in jail. At the trial, he said to the judge that he had no other choice but to confess so that the torture would stop.
The UN Working Group concluded that: “…a number of fundamental human rights violations have occurred, to which it does not find any robust denial in the response from the government.”
As well as drawing attention to the fact that the Government of Burma had not denied that Laphai Gam had been tortured, and confessions extracted under torture, the UN working Group also stated that: “…such pervasive use of torture to extract evidence nullifies the possibility to fulfil the guarantee of the right to a fair trial.”
The UN Working Group was so concerned about the use of torture in this case that it has referred it to the Special Rapporteur on torture.
The UN Working Group stated that; “…military courts and tribunals and the military assuming the role of a justice provider is unacceptable, as these fall far below the requirements of international human rights standards.” It went on to say that Mr Gam has been: “…denied his fundamental right to a fair trial…”
The official opinion of the UN Working group is that the detention of Laphai Gam is in contravention of Articles 13, 18, 19 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It also stated that the arrest and detention is also in breach UN General Assembly Resolution 43/173, which established the ‘Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.’
The Working Group called for: “…the immediate release of Mr Gam and adequate reparation to him.”
“The case of Laphai Gam highlights how, despite some reforms by President Thein Sein, the illegal detention of people on the grounds of their ethnicity has not ceased,” said Wai Hnin, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK. “Even after Thein Sein promised to release all political prisoners, and even after the UN has ruled Laphai Gam’s detention is illegal, Thein Sein still keeps him in prison.”
Burma Campaign UK is calling for a permanent independent review mechanism in Burma, with international experts, which can review cases and ensure the release of anyone in detention because of their political beliefs, ethnicity or religion.