Police officers arrest a protester during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 28, 2021.
© 2021 Aung Kyaw Htet / SOPA Images/Sipa via AP Images
“They placed a plastic bag over my head to suffocate me. They did this three times…. They held mock executions.… They pointed a rifle at me and pulled the trigger repeatedly.”
This is how a detainee in Myanmar, recently released after arrest for anti-junta protests earlier this year, described to Human Rights Watch some of the torture tactics that Myanmar soldiers used during an interrogation session in a military facility. The detainee suffered extensive beatings even before the interrogation. “My back felt broken,” the former detainee said. “I was on my knees and they had kept kicking my head… There was so much blood. I really didn’t think I was going to come out alive.”
Reports of torture by Myanmar’s long-abusive security forces are being increasingly well-documented. An expose by the Associated Press on October 28 includes credible and consistent accounts of torture of 28 detainees released in recent months, with information from victims, medical forensic analysts, and military defectors who witnessed abuse.
Myanmar’s junta announced a partial prisoner amnesty on October 18. The announcement said 1,316 people would be pardoned and charges dropped against 4,320 people who “participated in protests.” But many of these people have yet to be released, and some of those freed have given harrowing accounts of their mistreatment.
Several women released described to Myanmar media abuse they suffered at an interrogation center in Yangon, including mock executions and sexual assault. Human Rights Watch documented similar accounts at the same facility and elsewhere since the February 1 military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government.
Consistent accounts of torture of those critical of the junta, as well as widespread and systematic killings and other atrocities by Myanmar’s security forces, has led Human Rights Watch to conclude that abuses since the February coup amount to crimes against humanity.
Concerned governments need to increase pressure on Myanmar to end this brutal crackdown. Targeted sanctions on the military leaders overseeing abuses have not been enough. Governments should block foreign currency transactions to overseas banks controlled by the junta, including billions of dollars in revenues from oil and gas, mining, and timber ventures that are paid to junta-controlled entities. The United Nations Security Council should impose an arms embargo and refer the country’s situation to the International Criminal Court. Failure to act will only invite more impunity, and more torture.