Torture used on 'ordinary criminals' in Burma

Oct 29, 2009 (DVB), Victims of state-sanctioned torture in Burma range from the elderly to teenage girls who lack any sort of institutional measures to tackle the problem, an investigation has found.

Furthermore, Burma's 2008 constitution does not prohibit the use of torture, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said.

The latest investigation deviates from the common belief that torture is reserved for political prisoners, and warns that "perpetrators do not discriminate" over their victims.

AHRC documented the case of two young males who were beaten by police "hundreds of times" with batons and made to stand on their tiptoes with sharp spikes under their feet and pose "like I was riding a motorcycle".

The report states that these methods are commonly associated with military officers or army troops in Burma, but in this case the perpetrators "were police in an ordinary suburban station".

"Thus the methods of torture ordinarily associated with cases of political prisoners or alleged insurgents are actually in the entire system," AHRC said.

It adds that torture victims are "typical of the overwhelming majority of victims throughout Asia: poor people accused of ordinary crimes, for which the purpose of the torture is both to extract confessions and/or to obtain money".

Burma has never been a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which provides for consideration of torture as a crime against humanity.

Several reports have been released in recent years that have documented torture as a state policy in Burma, although much of the material has focused on political prisoners.

Kyaw Hsan Hlaing, who as a 15-year-old was sentenced to five years in prison following the 1988 uprising in Burma, told DVB that interrogators often employ both physical and psychological torture to extract information.

"In prison you are put on your own for long periods of time; you have no contact with other people," he said. "This loneliness is one of the worst effects of psychological torture."

He added that there is no psychological therapy for torture victims upon release from prison, and many cross the border into Thailand to seek help among exiled organizations.

"For political prisoners they often can't go back to their families or really associate with other people inside the country," he said. "They become very aggressive, very irritable and very fragile."

Reporting by Francis Wade

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