During interrogation and imprisonment, the use of torture techniques to extract confessions and further degrade and humiliate detainees is a commonplace occurrence in Burma.
The systematic use of torture in Burmese prisons, detention centers and labor camps continues today in direct violation of international law. The International Criminal Court includes the use of widespread, systematic torture in its definition of crimes against humanity. Confessions acquired through torture are neither reliable, nor recognized by the international community. Despite the previous government’s stated intention to sign the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) by 2014, the convention remains unsigned even under the NLD Government. It is crucial that the UNCAT and its optional protocol are ratified, and that the Government strictly prohibits the use of torture in any form to demonstrate a commitment to upholding human rights, justice and accountability in Burma. The ratification of the UNCAT is essential in ending the culture of impunity by state forces in Burma and providing a system of redress for those who have experienced such inhumane physical and psychological torment, and who continue to live with the ramifications of such treatment today.
While the following list is by no means exhaustive, it provides a brief overview of some of the most commonly used methods of torture employed by Burma’s security forces. For more detailed information regarding torture techniques, readers can refer to the AAPP report entitled “After Release I had to Restart my Life from the Beginning,” specifically chapter four “Torture in Interrogation Centers and Prisons”.
Prisoners, particularly in interrogation centres are routinely beaten with batons, kicked and punched repeatedly in order to extract confessions. They can be given electric shocks across the body. We have documented numerous cases of prisoners being beaten unconscious only for them to be revived and the beatings continued. Cigarettes have often been used to burn prisoners flesh.
Sensory deprivation occurs when prisoners are hooded or blindfolded with a variety of different materials. The fabrics used are often dirty and may include thick cotton, rice bags, blankets or the prisoner’s’ own clothes. This is done to deprive prisoners of their sight, sense of smell and their ability to hear; and often makes it difficult for prisoners to breathe. It is common for detainees to be deprived of their senses in this way for long periods of time, causing anxiety, stress, disorientation and to lose their sense of time. Sensory deprivation of this manner also usually occurs in conjunction with other torture methods, such as beatings, meaning detainees are unable to anticipate harm and react defensively.
Particularly during interrogation, sleep deprivation is a common form of torture. Detainees are forced to sit or stand in uncomfortable positions so that they cannot sleep. If they do fall asleep, they are often violently or aggressively awoken, causing them to wake in shock and fear. Sleep deprivation in this manner can occur for days, or in the most extreme of reported cases, up to 15 days at a time, with this particular prisoner only being permitted to sleep for short periods (around 15 minutes at a time). This kind of treatment can lead to extreme disorientation, paranoia and hallucinations and even death after prolonged periods of time. It is an extremely dangerous, and yet commonplace form of torture used in Burma.
Threats against detainees and their families are commonly used to extract information during interrogation, by causing severe distress and fear It is not uncommon for interrogators to follow through with these threats. Threats of being killed or shot are routine and prisoners report extreme psychological disturbance and fear of death, after having had guns held to their heads and/or being forced to dig their own graves. As well as this, interrogators often use detainees’ family members to inflict further psychological distress and extract confessions. Family members of detainees are commonly arrested and interrogated, often within earshot of the prisoner. Prisoners are often exposed to recordings of their loved ones crying or in distress and told that they will be harmed or killed if they do not confess. It is also not uncommon for the interrogation and/or torture of loved ones to be staged by prison guards in an adjacent cell. They may yell, scream and pretend to be harmed, acting out the torture, as the prisoner listens on, unable to see what is actually happening. This causes them to genuinely believe their friends or family are actually being harmed and not only causes detainees serious psychological distress, but also often provokes false confessions.
Stress positions are designed to force the body into positions that place a huge amount of weight on certain muscles and joints for prolonged periods of time. They cause excruciating pain and eventually muscle failure. There are a number of commonly used stress positions used in Burma that place detainees under extreme physical and psychological stress. These include, but aren’t limited to, the ‘Simeekhwet Dance’, forcing prisoners onto their knees and elbows without allowing their hands and feet to touch the floor, and the Poun-Zan, where the prisoner must stand on their toes and raise their arms in the air. In this position, sharp nails are often placed under the heels of the prisoner to cause excruciating pain and injury if they break their positions.
Tick Tock Torture
Tick tock torture involves detainees being hit repeatedly in the same place on their bodies for hours, and sometimes even days on end causing severe physical and psychological pain. Rulers are a commonly used instrument used to inflict this kind of torture.