December 2, 2005

On Friday 2nd December 2005 a new report – The Darkness We See – exposes for the first time the true scale of torture in Burma’s prisons. Political prisoners in Burma are routinely tortured, facing physical, mental and sexual abuse.

The report is published by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) – based in Thailand.  “Since 1988, the regime has committed as yet untold horrors against political prisoners,” says Ko Tate, Secretary of the AAPP. “This report finally reveals these horrors, and should eliminate any doubt as to the severity of human rights violations against those suspected of political dissent in Burma.”

The evidence in the report is based on interviews with thirty-five former political prisoners conducted by AAPP.  The report is divided into sections detailing the various forms of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse used by the junta.  The report also explains how deliberately poor prison conditions combined with purposeful medical negligence are encouraged and perpetrated by the junta to cause an aggravated degree of suffering tantamount to torture.  It concludes that Burma’s prisons have become institutions whose primary function is to deliberately and systematically shatter the identity of political activists and other civilians deemed threatening by the junta.

Types of torture used on political prisoners include:

  • Severe beatings, often resulting in loss of consciousness and sometimes death.
  • Electrocution to all parts of the body, including genitals.
  • Rubbing iron rods on shins of prisoners until flesh is ripped off, a tactic known in Burma as the “iron road”.
  • Burning with cigarettes and lighters.
  • Prolonged restriction of movements, for up to several months, using rope and shackles around the neck and ankles.
  • Repeatedly striking the same area of a person’s body every second for several hours, a tactic known in Burma as “tick-tock torture”.
  • Using dogs to attempt to rape prisoners.
  • Keeping prisoners in cells full of rats, maggots and faeces.Since 1988 as many as ten thousand political prisoners could have faced this kind of treatment. Most political prisoners in Burma are arrested for publicly expressing or otherwise indicating opposition to the ruling military junta.  Burma’s most high-profile political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, is the world’s only Nobel Peace Prize recipient in detention. Hundreds of members of her political party, the National League for Democracy, are held in prison.  Most have been tortured.

    The report also reveals for the first time the chain of command and individuals responsible for torture in Burma.  The Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Defense, and Minister of Foreign Affairs all serve on a three-person committee responsible for overseeing the detention of prisoners charged under section 10 (A) and (B) of the junta’s State Protection Act, which provides the “legal” basis for which many prisoners are held.  In that capacity, these individuals are directly responsible for torture in Burma, in addition to those serving under them.

    Torture carried out during initial interrogations is carried out mainly by the Military Intelligence Service, which is under the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence, organized under the Minister of Defense. Interrogation is additionally conducted by the Bureau of Special Investigations, and the Special Investigations Department (also known as the Special Branch, part of the Burma Police Force), that report to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
    The report recommends that the UN Security Council should immediately take up the issue of Burma, and calls for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s personal involvement.  “We are pleading for the United Nations to take meaningful action,” added Ko Tate, “If not now, when?”  The UK, Burma’s former colonial power, serves as the chair of the UN Security Council in December.

    This media release has been distributed by the Burma Campaign UK. For more information and advance copies of the report contact Mark Farmaner on 020 7324 4713.

    Photographs of torture implements used in Burma’s jails and re-enactments of torture positions are also available.

    Read the report here: The Darkness We See


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