“Just the tip of the iceberg”: Dozens of detainees tortured to death in Myanmar

“Just the tip of the iceberg”
Dozens of detainees tortured to death in Myanmar

The generals who seized power in Myanmar a year and a half ago are leading a regime of fear. Opponents regularly arrest them. According to the latest studies, what they have to endure in detention is appalling.

According to human rights activists, since the military coup in Myanmar a year and a half ago, numerous arrested opponents of the junta have died atrociously in custody. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented in detail six cases in the past few months in which activists have either been tortured to death or died because they were denied medical care. The results have now been published.

“These deaths are just the tip of the iceberg of the suffering and torture at the hands of the military and police,” said Manny Maung, the organization’s Myanmar expert. At least 73 people died in police stations, military interrogation centers and prisons. The prisoner aid organization AAPP even estimates that nearly 700 citizens may have died shortly after their arrest, Maung said. “However, we have only been able to speak to witnesses and sources linked to six people because there is so much fear.” Many fear reprisals if they expose the junta’s atrocities. Despite the great danger, the organization managed to interview family members of the victims, analyze 40 photos and five videos, and get the opinion of independent doctors.

“The physical marks on the bodies and faces indicate that these men must have suffered immensely and that torture took place,” said Rohini Haar, an emergency physician consulted with Human Rights Watch who analyzed the images of the bodies. “There are so many signs of abuse and torture that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what ultimately killed these people.” Scalded and acid-etched skin, missing teeth, broken bones, deep wounds and severe bruises – the horror those arrested must have endured is almost unimaginable. None of the victims’ families received official medical certificates or autopsy reports from the military, according to HRW.

Bodies quickly cremated

In February 2021, the military staged a coup against the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace Prize winner is in solitary confinement in prison. The generals continue to suppress any resistance with bloody violence and have established a regime of fear. The six victims were men between the ages of 43 and 58. Almost all died within 24 hours of their arrest, with one activist dying two months later. The military junta has officially acknowledged very few deaths in custody, but attributed them to illness or heart failure, it said. According to Human Rights Watch, some bodies were cremated immediately after death, or families were instructed to have them cremated immediately, apparently to cover up torture. “The families deserve to know what happened to their loved ones,” Maung said. It is unacceptable that some families have not received the bodies of their loved ones to at least deal with the loss.

The UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said in October 2021 that he was giving credible reports of “more than 8,000 arbitrarily detained, many of whom were tortured and dozens were tortured to death”. HRW called the junta’s widespread and systematic abuses since the coup – including murder, torture and unlawful detention – crimes against humanity.

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