US wants probe into claims of mass torture of detainees by Myanmar’s military

·4-min read
A man in his 20s allegedly tortured by Myanmar's military during an interrogation session in March 2021 (AP)
A man in his 20s allegedly tortured by Myanmar's military during an interrogation session in March 2021 (AP)

The US State Department has demanded a thorough investigation into claims that Myanmar’s military was exposing detainees to brutal torture techniques ever since it wrested power after a military coup.

Washington said it was “outraged and disturbed” by reports that Myanmar’s military regime had been using “systematic torture”.

“Reports of torture in Burma must be credibly investigated and those responsible for such abuses must be held accountable,” the said the state department’s statement.

The United Nations’ top expert on human rights in Myanmar also called for strong international pressure on the Myanmar Junta, which has been in power in the country ever since it took control from the country’s democratically-elected government.

The strong reaction came as a comprehensive report by the Associated Press revealed disturbing details of systematic and methodical torture of detainees in prisons and camps.

The investigative report, based on interviews with 28 people, details how a young man was forced to kneel on sharp rocks, a monk was made to hop like a frog and an accountant was shocked using electric probes.

Soldiers line up arrested protesters in Yangon, Myanmar on 3 March 2021 (AP)
Soldiers line up arrested protesters in Yangon, Myanmar on 3 March 2021 (AP)

The report was based on photographic evidence, sketches and letters, along with testimony from three recently defected military officials.

Since the takeover, the country’s military regime has detained more than 9,000 people, including politicians, activists, protesters and other civilians. More than 1,200 people have been killed since February, including at least 131 detainees tortured to death.

The Myanmar military dismissed the AP’s findings as “nonsense”.

Reacting to the report, the UN’s special rapporteur on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said it’s “very likely just the tip of the iceberg”.

He said the report also shed light on the “scope and systemic nature of the junta’s criminal torture campaign”.

This undated photo shows injuries on a man who said he was tortured in June 2021 while being held at an interrogation centre in Myanmar's Chin state (AP)
This undated photo shows injuries on a man who said he was tortured in June 2021 while being held at an interrogation centre in Myanmar's Chin state (AP)

“The confession of military personnel who directly witnessed detainees being tortured to death will be important for accountability efforts, as well as the AP’s uncovering of torture and interrogation centre locations,” he added.

Lawmakers in Washington urged Congress to hold a vote on the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2021 or BURMA Act, which would authorise additional targeted sanctions against the military by the US.

The US, UK and European Union have already issued sanctions on high-ranking Myanmar military members and state-owned enterprises. But these countries are yet to sanction American and French oil and gas companies working in Myanmar.

They are the single-largest source of foreign currency revenue, which the military is using, in part, to purchase weapons.

“The disturbing reporting by the Associated Press on the sadistic torture and horrific violence committed by the Burmese military junta are sadly the latest in a long string of their atrocities, including genocide against the Rohingya,” said Michael McCaul, a US congressman from Texas.

The chilling findings revealed that the military has been allegedly attempting to hide evidence of its mass torture on detainees.

An aide to a high-ranking commander told the AP that he watched security forces torture two prisoners to death. Afterwards, he said, soldiers attached glucose drip lines to their corpses to make it look like the men were still alive, then forced a military doctor to falsify their autopsy reports.

The tortured detainees also included a dozen of women and children who were mostly psychologically tortured, especially with the threat of rape, according to the report.

Sixteen-year-old Su, identified only by her first name, said she was asked to kneel with her hands in the air as a soldier warned her to “get ready for your turn.”

Another teenage girl, around 13, said she used to cry constantly and fainted at least six times the day they were arrested. The soldiers used to spray her with water instead of calling a doctor for help.

“Even if they did not rape us physically, I felt like all of us were verbally raped almost every day because we had to listen to their threats every night,” said Cho, an activist detained along with her husband.

The claims have evoked a sharp response from the human rights groups as well who urged for an immediate international response.

Susannah Sirkin, director of policy at Physicians for Human Rights said: “The AP’s searing and expansive investigation sheds light into the black-box of the Myanmar military’s detention facilities. The Tatmadaw’s [official name of Myanmar’s armed forces] methodical torture regime – and attempts to hide it from public view – demand immediate global acknowledgement and action.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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