AAPPB doc­u­ments ap­palling jail con­di­tions

The ac­tivist group re­leased an 80-page re­port re­veal­ing the in­hu­mane and un­san­i­tary state that per­sists in Myan­mar’s prison sys­tem, where mis­treat­ment, ex­ploita­tion and dis­ease are the norm.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NICK BAKER n.baker@mm­times.com – Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Ye Mon Tun

TUBERCULOSIS, cholera and dysen­tery are just some of the more com­mon ail­ments plagu­ing in­mates at Myan­mar’s pu­trid pen­i­ten­tiaries.

While the coun­try may be chart­ing a rapid course of re­form, be­hind the high walls and iron bars of the prison sys­tem pos­i­tive change has pro­ceeded at a more slug­gish pace. Thou­sands of pris­on­ers con­tinue to be kept in gru­el­ing con­di­tions where mis­treat­ment and ex­ploita­tion are still the norm, ac­cord­ing to an ac­tivist group.

The As­sis­tance As­so­ci­a­tion for Po­lit­i­cal Pris­on­ers (AAPP) re­leased a study into Myan­mar pris­ons on Septem­ber 25 that painted a grim pic­ture.

“[Pris­ons here] are hid­den from the pub­lic eye and pris­on­ers are shown lit­tle sym­pa­thy by the gen­eral pub­lic,” the re­port said.

“This cre­ates an en­vi­ron­ment of in­creased im­punity, which in turn leads to the vi­o­la­tion of ba­sic hu­man rights for many in­di­vid­u­als.”

Part of this was blamed on woe­fully out­dated and rarely en­forced reg­u­la­tions. The Pris­ons Act, also known as the In­dia Act of 1894, is still in use to­day. This is com­pli­mented by the so-called Jail Man­ual which was last re­vised in 1950.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2015 re­port by the US State Depart­ment, there were 60,000 in­di­vid­u­als held in ap­prox­i­mately 43 pris­ons and 50 labour camps around Myan­mar.

Ba­sic health con­di­tions in many of these fa­cil­i­ties were de­scribed by the AAPP re­port as “abysmal”.

“Pris­on­ers are plagued by a large num­ber of dif­fer­ent ill­nesses, in­clud­ing heart dis­ease, malaria, high blood pres­sure and tuberculosis … Dysen­tery and sca­bies [are] con­sid­ered a fairly nor­mal con­di­tion in prison,” the re­port said.

Mal­nu­tri­tion was also a ma­jor con­cern with a num­ber of pris­on­ers “liv­ing on the brink of star­va­tion”.

San­i­ta­tion is of­ten so sub­stan­dard that in some fa­cil­i­ties sewage con­tain­ers over­flow with ex­cre­ment on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

The re­port cited one ex­am­ple from Sit­twe Prison, where wa­ter wells and sewage holes are so close to one an­other that dur­ing the rainy sea­son sewage mixes with the drink­ing wa­ter, caus­ing cholera out­breaks and pris­oner deaths.

Over­crowd­ing was also de­scribed as “per­va­sive”.

Site vis­its by a Myan­mar Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tion team ear­lier this year re­vealed se­vere over­crowd­ing in Hk­tami Prison in Sa­gaing Re­gion, where 688 pris­on­ers were held de­spite its 300-per­son ca­pac­ity. An­other visit, to Loikaw Prison in Kayah State found 518 in­mates held de­spite a 409 per­son ca­pac­ity.

On top of this, the pris­ons sys­tem­at­i­cally tor­ture in­mates, ac­cord­ing to the AAPP. Tor­ture is em­ployed “not only as a means of ex­tract­ing in­for­ma­tion and false con­fes­sions, but also to pun­ish, de­grade and hu­mil­i­ate de­tainees”.

The AAPP claimed thou­sands of pris­on­ers are forced in to labour while serv­ing their sen­tence, some­times in prison labour camps, and other times at the bat­tle­front as porters.

In the prison labour camps, food, cloth­ing and med­i­cal sup­plies are re­port­edly very lim­ited, mak­ing these fa­cil­i­ties “harsh and life threat­en­ing”.

AAPP joint sec­re­tary U Bo Kyi told The Myan­mar Times that the prison sys­tem in this coun­try falls “far short of in­ter­na­tional stan­dards”.

He said that over­crowd­ing was the most ur­gent prob­lem to fix, as many health and nutri­tion is­sues stem from the sheer num­ber of peo­ple locked up to­gether.

How­ever, U Bo Kyi also sounded a note of op­ti­mism. “I see pos­i­tive signs for prison re­form be­cause many for­mer po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers are now in par­lia­ment and hold­ing gov­ern­ment po­si­tions – they know just how bad the prison sit­u­a­tion is,” he said.

The re­port made sev­eral rec­om­men­da­tions to the new gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing re­view­ing all leg­is­la­tion per­tain­ing to the prison sec­tor in or­der to bring it in line with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, rat­i­fy­ing rel­e­vant in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tions and en­sur­ing all prison staff are ad­e­quately trained, es­pe­cially in hu­man rights and the use of force.

But it also ac­knowl­edged that com­pre­hen­sive re­form will be dif­fi­cult due to “a lack of fund­ing and in­sti­tu­tional bar­ri­ers posed by the con­tin­u­ing con­trol of key min­istries by the mil­i­tary”.

Lawyer U Robert Sann Aung said that as the first step of re­form, the gov­ern­ment needs to re­move the Pris­ons Depart­ment from the mil­i­tary-con­trolled Min­istry of Home Af­fairs and shirt it to a newly cre­ated Min­istry of Jus­tice. The mil­i­tary has “used the pris­ons to op­press … since Gen­eral Nay Win’s ad­min­is­tra­tion,” he said.

Photo: AFP

An of­fi­cer stands guard out­side In­sein Prison in Yan­gon on June 27.

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