“Eight Seconds of Silence”
New Report Details Deaths of 127 Burmese Democracy Activists in Custody
AAPP Calls for UN Security Council Action in Burma
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPP) today released a 148 page report detailing the deaths of 127 democracy activists in custody in Burma.
The report, entitled “Eight Seconds of Silence: The Death of Democracy Activists Behind Bars,” notes that all the deaths were a result of torture or ill-treatment, and comes at a time when deaths of democracy activists behind bars have been increasing significantly. In 2005 and early 2006 alone, ten activists have died from torture and ill-treatment while in custody.
The AAPP submits this report along with “The Darkness We See: Torture in Burma’s Interrogation Centers and Prisons,” a landmark report on the use of torture in Burma released by the AAPP last December, to the newly-established UN Human Rights Council, which will convene its first meeting on June 19, 2006 in Geneva, through the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Louise Arbour. The AAPP expects the human rights violations perpetrated by the brutal junta, and the deepening political and social crises in Burma, to be a test case for the Human Rights Council, which has replaced the much-criticized and ineffective UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). Despite the 13 consecutive resolutions on Burma the UNHCR adopted, it was unable to make the Burmese junta comply with any of them.
Since 1988, at least 127 democracy activists have died in custody. 90 of these deaths have been in the prisons, 8 in the interrogation centers, 4 in the labor camps and 10 shortly after release. Further, 15 cases of disappearances have been documented as well. Though the AAPP has documented 127 cases of death in custody, there are likely numerous more cases of death. Even those cases documented are not complete due to the current political situation in the country. Only when Burma is free and democratic will the full extent of the regimes crimes be known.
Thus, the AAPP is calling on the UN Security Council to adopt a binding resolution on Burma to empower the Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his efforts to facilitate national reconciliation and democratization in Burma.
“As the report shows, many courageous Burmese have been willing to risk torture and death rather than renounce their beliefs or give up their non-violent struggle” says Tom Malinowski, Washington Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch. “The report rightly urges the UN Security Council to become engaged on Burma…The Burmese government’s policies clearly threaten the Burmese peoples; they also threaten the stability of Burma’s neighbors and thus merit Security Council action”
Currently, there are 1,156 political prisoners in Burma, all of whom face potential torture and ill-treatment, and possible death.
“Nothing is more revealing about the situation of human rights in a country than the existence of political prisoners…In recognition and fulfillment of its pledge first made fifteen years ago and repeatedly since, to honor the political will of the people of Myanmar, the release of all remaining political prisoners will signal the preparedness of the Government to now rise to its outstanding responsibility. Once freed, they could have a decisive role in Myanmar’s long-anticipated transition to democracy. The postponement of democratic reform can be justified no longer.” says Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, who has monitored the situation in Burma for six years.
Eight Seconds of Silence looks for the first time at the aftermath of democracy activists’ deaths. In Burma, when a democracy activist dies behind bars, their corpse is sometimes cremated and buried with out the consent of the family. This is done in order to hide the true circumstances of the death. Family members are often offered bribes to remain silence about the deaths of their loved ones.
When a family is allowed to bury their loved ones, they still must adhere to the orders of the authorities. The authorities are known to set arbitrary funeral dates for deceased political prisoners, leaving some family members unable to attend the funeral. Military Intelligence infiltrates many funerals, taking note of those who attend so that they can be detained and interrogated at a later time.
The cause of death for political prisoners is never truthfully recorded. The authorities pressure doctors to falsify autopsy reports, and then use these reports to explain away any accusations of torture and ill-treatment. Because families have no independent witnesses or verification of the cause of their loved one’s death, they are unable to contest the authorities’ explanation.
The military regime’s oppression extends even into death.
“We have released this report to expose the true circumstances of our colleagues’ deaths. They are modern day martyrs in the struggle to free Burma,” says Tate Naing, Secretary of the AAPP, “Though this report exposes the brutality that has led to the deaths of democracy activists, it also shows the courage of these fallen men and women. While they did not live to see the realization of their dream, their memory is carried in the hearts of those who continue to struggle for the realization of a free Burma.”