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Burmese police still torture detainees, UN told

The Burmese police force continues to inflict torture on prisoners despite prohibition (PHOTO:DVB)

As the 27th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council convened this week, a legal advisory group has warned that Burma’s police force still uses torture during interrogations.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a non-governmental organisation that holds general consultative status with the UN, submitted twelve notices to the council on Monday, each pertaining to endemic abuses in various parts of Asia.

The group said that they have new documentation of police torture in Burma, and that the country’s law enforcement mechanisms are not adequate to solve the problem in a quick enough manner. Protection and support for detainees are also critically weak.

“The practice of police torture in Myanmar [Burma] remains unchanged despite the efforts and work of countless individuals across the globe,” read the statement, which went on to detail six cases documented since January 2013. The group said that there are “far more incidents” and that “the practice of torture by law enforcement agencies has been standard operating procedure through the interrogation process”.

One case detailed in the report was of a rickshaw driver arrested in July 2014 on charges of stealing fuel. The man was reportedly tortured in custody as police tried to obtain a confession. Upon his release, he was admitted to hospital and died from his injuries on 7 July. The ALRC said that the man’s family was threatened by authorities not to contradict official accounts of the ordeal.

“The police often know that the victims of torture are innocent,” the report continued. “The police may be acting to protect actual offenders, may not know who the actual offenders are, or do not have the means or inclination to find them within the short time available to solve cases in order to satisfy requirements for administrative efficiency dictated by their superiors.”

While many officials in Burma still adamantly deny the use of torture during interrogations, some have conceded that it does sometimes occur. Brig-Gen Win Khaung, Burma’s national police chief, told DVB that “there are still some officers who want to get the facts fast, or who act compulsively. We cannot say that such offenses are nonexistent.”

The ALRC recommended that the UN work with the Burmese government to implement counseling, case documentation and awareness programmes for relevant institutions like the police force and the judiciary.

Judicial weaknesses are of particular concern, according to Phil Robertson, Asia’s deputy director for Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“The Burmese judiciary is the Achilles heel of the reform movement because basic issues in enforcing rule of law fall to them – and frankly, the judges are nowhere close to ready to take up that challenge,” Robertson told DVB on Tuesday.

“Rather than standing up to stop abuses and enforce accountability, the judges shrink away, either because they are corrupt, or they are afraid to make a confrontational ruling, or more likely, a bit of both,” he added.

Burma is not a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, though the Burmese government did show some intention to ratify the agreement during planning discussions earlier this year. Despite that positive signal, the ALRC said that “in practice, there is no change.”