Burma: Ratify the UN Convention Against Torture (2013)
In honor of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) urges the Government of Burma to immediately consider ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) and to codify provisions into domestic law.
“Ratification of the CAT would be a clear signal that Burma is not only committed to eradicating torture within its borders,” says AAPP (B) Joint-Secretary Bo Kyi, “but would be a symbolic gesture of solidarity with victims of torture nationwide. It would help distance Burma from its militaristic past and move the country closer on the road to national reconciliation.”
While the Government of Burma has made important initial strides towards reform, the International Day in Support of Survivors of Torture shines a spotlight on the lack of progress made towards eradicating torture in Burma.
Torture, endemic in Burma, most often occurs in police custody. During the initial 24 hours of arrest, suspects often are not permitted to see a lawyer or contact their family members. They are subjected to cruel and inhumane conditions such as harsh interrogation techniques including sleep and sensory deprivation for confessions, verbal threats, and shackling. Since January 2013, the Network for Documentation – Burma, of which AAPP (B) is a member, reported at least 10 incidences of torture.
Prolonged incommunicado detention remains a startlingly common practice in Burma. Often, the suspect is detained without warrant or knowledge as to what law has been breached, if any. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that incommunicado detention should be made illegal, and those held incommunicado should be released without delay .
In Burma, it is peaceful protestors and human rights defenders who are often victims of incommunicado detention. In the past 3 months, at least 4 human rights activists have been held incommunicado for prolonged periods of time .
Ethnic minorities residing in areas of conflict are highly susceptible to torture. In
Kachin State, for example, suspects are brutally tortured in an effort to extract a confession. The confession obtained by torture is then submitted as evidence in court. Common abuse includes physical torture such as carving the skin with a knife or subjecting the suspect to degrading behavior such as being forced to perform humiliating acts while wearing traditional dress. In 2012 at least 36 people faced trial for allegedly being in contact with the KIA under the Unlawful Associations Act, a repressive statute that is over 100 years old. Many of the suspects, rural farmers and internally displaced persons, are victims of torture .
Impunity is a major obstacle for survivors of torture. To date there has been no prosecution of a government official in Burma for a torture related crime. Torture is most often practiced by military intelligence officers, police officers, and prison authorities who enjoy blind impunity for their crimes.
There are no effective mechanisms for victims of torture to seek redress. Under domestic law there is no mechanism that provides compensation for victims. Nor is there a witness protection program for victims of torture who decide to pursue criminal proceedings against the torturer. The Chairman of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission recently lamented that the Commission, which receives on average 50 submissions a day – many of which detail police torture – can do nothing for victims of torture other than implement education campaigns .
We regret that U Shwe Mann, Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw, dismissed the need to take concrete steps to eliminate torture in Burma by denying a motion in Parliament to ratify the UN CAT, introduced by Dr. Aung Moe Nyo (Member of Parliament, National League for Democracy-Pwintbyu) on 21 March 2013. In failing to support the motion, U Shwe Mann failed to support the thousands of victims of torture and their family members who have suffered grave injustices at the hands of authorities working in a state-sponsored capacity.
To be a former political prisoner is often synonymous with being a survivor of torture. Although the population is difficult to estimate, there are about 10,000 former political prisoners who are now attempting to rebuild their lives and reintegrate into post prison society. National health agencies and government institutions do not have enough capacity to care for the overwhelming amount of torture survivors who need ongoing and comprehensive support such as mental health counseling.
Torture does not just affect the individual, but has a ripple effect to the immediate family members, wider community, and, when the torture victim population is as large as it is in Burma, at the national level. Codifying CAT provisions into domestic law would provide victims of torture with the robust support and protections they need and deserve to move forward.
 Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture, UN Doc.A/56/156, July 2001, para. 39(f)
 Open Letter to President U Thein Sein on the Arbitrary Arrest, Incommunicado Detention and Unfair Trial of Human Rights Defenders and Peaceful Protesters, Burma Partnership and Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), 17 June 2013, available here: http://bit.ly/1ano8Sf
 Burma: Dossier of cases from Kachin State released, Asian Human Rights Commission, 21 January 2013, available here: http://bit.ly/XSFAqe
 Myanmar rights group faces challenges over police torture, Eleven Myanmar, 19 June 2013, available here: http://bit.ly/1auZnnh