Burma torture now 'more widespread'

Jan 18, 2010 (DVB), Torture in Burma is "now more widespread than at any time in recent decades", according to an open letter sent by an Asian rights group to the UN's torture rapporteur.

The letter, signed by the executive director of the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), claims that the spread of torture was partly a result of the Supreme Court in Burma making exemptions to rulings which would have forbidden the use of evidence gained from torture, thereby setting precedence, or giving orders, that allow the practice.

"The current Supreme Court of Myanmar [Burma] has enabled their use and has thereby encouraged the practice of torture by virtue of a number of orders," said executive director Basil Fernando.

The letter, addressed to Dr Manfred Novak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, also details the gruesome practices meted out to a number of prisoners; torture it describes as "grave" and "extreme".

These were used on Dr Wint Thu and eight others who had lead prayers for democracy, the letter said.

It also detailed the shocking treatment of a monk, who was "forced…to kneel on sharp gravel while an officer jumped up and down on his calves. If he didn't give him the answers that they wanted then they hit him on the head with a wooden rod."

Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), doubted however the role of the Supreme Court in encouraging torture.

"It is not related to the supreme court because the Supreme Court has no power; everything is under the control of military intelligence. There is no rule of law; there is no separation of power."

He further questioned whether torture was used for gaining evidence, arguing instead that "it is used for gaining revenge".

In effect then the internal legality or otherwise of torture is neither here nor there, and the Burmese government rather uses brutality as a punishment and deterrant, not necessarily in order to gain intelligence.

Fernando told DVB that the rise in the use of torture was partly due to "the whole debate over torture [being] relitivised.

"The Bush and Blair period [through their use of torture] passed a very wrong message that international norms can be waivered. In my experience, I have never seen a period where extrajudicial killings are so common" he continued. "We are in a period where human rights are being respected less and less".

He also shared Bo Kyi's assessment that "this is like the governments punishment for what the people do. The Burmese courts aren't a court, they just rubber stamp and legitimise what the governments do; it doesn't stand against what they do."

The letter concludes that senior judiciary "should be considered complicit in this abuse and should be subject to international scrutiny and censure in same measure as the torturers themselves".

Worryingly, Fernando also adds that torture is difficult to remove from a system once it becomes common practice, and that "whatever happens in Myanmar in coming years, the use of torture will remain endemic."

Reporting by Joseph Allchin

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