Does the Rule of Law Really Exist in Myanmar?
By Maung Thitsar | December 26, 2016
Hundreds of Rohingya civilians have been arrested by the Myanmar military in northern Maungdaw and Rathedaung Townships since October 9, 2016 under the mere suspicion of links with the Rohingya rebel group that carried out raids on three Border Guard Police (BGP) posts, apart from several hundreds tortured and killed during the brutal military offensives. Reports from reliable sources emerge that these victims of the arbitrary arrests are now being handed long-term imprisonments by the Maungdaw District Court without fair trials.
In fact, the victims don’t even get to attend the Courtroom or know under what charges they are being sentenced to long-term imprisonments. Having fair trials or rights to hire defence lawyers is a distant right. Detained in closed vans parked in front of the Maungdaw District Court building, they don’t even get to see who the prosecuting lawyers or the judge are. What they get to know is some security forces go inside the Courtroom to meet Judge who would issue an instantaneous and arbitrary order of long-term imprisonments.
“At least 600 men/boys have been arrested by the military during multiple raids conducted in the Rohingya villages in Maungaw and Rathedaung on pretext of the ‘Region Clearance Operation’ since October 9. They had earlier detained and brutally tortured in the cells of the BGP Headquarter in KyiKanPyin before they were eventually transferred to the Buthidaung Prison”, said U Aye Myint, a Maungdaw based human rights observer.
Of the approximately 600 people, around 80 people and further around 200 people were handed 20-25 years each in prison on December 16 and December 22 respectively.
“The fact that we don’t exactly how many people are sentenced to long-term imprisonments on every other day. The BGP blocks all the roads to the District Court during the so-called court proceedings. So, nobody can approach to the courtrooms for information.
“All we get to know is through some former inmates — that have seen the situation of these newly arrested victims and been — released recently from the Buthidaung Prison” U Aye Myint continued.
The victims are just told by the police on duty how many years they are imprisoned for. After that, they are taken back to the Buthidaung Prison where they had been brought from apparently for the hearing of the so-called court verdict.
Worrying reports of tortures against the Rohingya inmates/detainees continue to emerge amid the continual arrests of more civilians by the Burmese military in northern Maungdaw. Tortures on the detainees/inmates in addition to the denial of the rights to independent and fair trials could amount to crimes against humanity under international laws, according to U Aye Myint.
“Some inmates released recently from the Buthidaung Prison said”, added U Aye Myint “we feel those Rohingyas shot dead at sight during the military operations were lucky. One can’t tolerate seeing their situation. They are victims of extrajudicial punishments. They were/are extremely tortured during interrogations. They were whacked using rods and rotans. Their nails and beards have been pulled out. Their bodies are full of wounds and cuts. They said they were sentenced for 20 years with unknown charges. But they are likely to die in three years.”
The arbitrary arrests and detentions are prohibited by international laws and hence, committing them is an international crime. The article 9 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) decrees that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
However, the Myanmar government, through its media channels, keeps releasing reports that the authorities are proceeding the cases of the people arrested according to the Rule of Law and give the accused rights to defend and fair trials. That’s nothing but the blanket denials by the Myanmar government of multiple human rights violations.
The government announced on the social media that a Rohingya rebel group — named ‘ the Faith Movement’ which represents only a handful of people in northern Maungdaw — carried out the raids on the three Border Guard Police posts. But the paradigm of the arrests made by the military and the Border Guard Police goes to indicate that the government is targeting the civilians and crippling the Rohingya population at large more than going after the members of the apparent rebel group. One of the methods being used to disable the civilian population is arbitrary arrest, torture and long jail-terms ordered through improper and unfair judicial procedures.
What makes the situation more dangerous is that none of the relatives of these inmates recently imprisoned has been allowed to visit them in the prison.
According to the official statement of Myanmar on December 9, 575 (Rohingya) people have been arrested in Maungdaw District since October 9, 2016. Although the figures in the official statement alone is incredibly high, the actual numbers of people arrested could be more than twice as high as the figures in the official statement because the Burmese government grossly under-reports the civilian casualties caused by its armed forces.
Amidst all the reports of the crimes of Genocide against a group of people, the Rohingya, by the armed forces of Myanmar, one can’t resist but question “Does the Rule of Law Really Exist in Myanmar?”, which its state-counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, likes to brag about.
Maung Thitsar is a human rights activist based in Yangon, Myanmar. He can be reached at: email@example.com
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