Thursday, September 21, 2017

Kachin civilians suffer ‘systematic’ torture at hands of state security: rights group

A new report from an international rights group has documented “widespread and systematic” use of torture by state security forces against civilians in Kachin and Shan states over the past three years.

‘I thought they would kill me’: Ending wartime torture in Myanmar argues that the use of torture during the Kachin conflict constitutes a crime against humanity. Thai-based NGO Fortify Rights, which issued the report on June 9 to mark the third anniversary of the outbreak of fighting, has called on Nay Pyi Taw to actively investigate and ban the practice.

“The similarities in incidents of torture documented in disparate locations during a three-year period indicate that torture was carried out as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population with the backing of the state,” the report said.

“Civilians were systematically tortured in rural villages, areas of armed conflict, government facilities, and places of detention.”

According to the report, which is based on 78 interviews conducted with Kachin soldiers, civilians and civil society members in both Shan and Kachin states, the problem is not limited to any one state security agency. No government representatives were interviewed for the report.

“Members of the Myanmar army, Myanmar Police Force, and Military Intelligence deliberately caused severe and lasting mental and physical pain to civilians in combat zones, villages, and places of detention,” it said.

The report documents security forces using torture during interrogations with civilians suspected of assisting the Kachin Independence Army, and even occasionally as retribution for losses sustained elsewhere.

“After the [Myanmar army] soldiers were defeated elsewhere, they came back to the village, and that’s when we were tortured,” said 27-year-old farmer Naw Din, whose name was changed for the report. “They hit me with the long part of their guns. Sometimes they hit me in the forehead.”

The report focuses on cases of young men being tortured. But as the authors note, “Myanmar civil society organisations … have documented widespread rape and sexual violence directed at women in Kachin State and northern Shan State since the outbreak of hostilities in June 2011.”

The group’s research did not reveal any cases of torture committed by members of the KIA but the report said the rebel army also needs to reform. The KIA has been regularly accused of forcibly recruiting civilians into its ranks, particularly ethnic Shan villagers.

“Fortify Rights shares concerns expressed by UN officials and others regarding allegations of the KIA's ongoing use of child soldiers, forced labor, and antipersonnel landmines,” it said.

The report also calls international bodies to take action in the conflict on the grounds that the abuses constitute an international crime.

“In all instances, perpetrators were aware of the factual circumstances of the armed conflict and the victims’ civilian status. As such, incidents documented by Fortify Rights appear to meet the statutory requirements of torture as a war crime.”

Presidential spokesperson U Ye Htut did not immediately respond to requests for comment.