Sunday

9th Aug 2020

Systematic torture in Burma as EU seeks closer ties

  • Buddhist statues in Burma. Many 8888 activists are serving lengthy prison sentences (Photo: Zero-X)

Burmese dissidents say authorities are routinely torturing political prisoners at a time when EU diplomats and companies are exploring ways to build closer relations with the regime.

Bo Kyi, who now lives in neighbouring Thailand and who runs an NGO called Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma, told EUobserver that people fleeing the country continue to tell stories of atrocities in the country's detention centres.

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Methods employed by Burmese security to extract information include: sexual abuse of men, such as inserting rubber batons into their anus; rape of women; electric shocks; burning with cigarettes; withholding medication; sleep deprivation; and prolonged solitary confinement in tiny cells.

"This is happening now," Kyi said. "Such things are getting worse - this is the kind of 'progress' we have with the new regime. I do not see any positive changes in the future."

Kyi spoke out on the 23rd anniversary of the so-called 8888 revolution in 8 August 1988. Authorities killed "at least" 3,000 people in the failed uprising, he noted. Some of its leaders are still serving 30-to-60-year-long sentences. Authorities killed "more than" 100 people in the failed so-called Saffron Revolution in 2007. He said there are currently 1,194 prisoners of conscience in Burma.

Kyi himself took part in the 1988 events and spent seven years and three months in a Burmese prison.

The Burmese junta in recent months transferred power to a group of retired military officers and gave limited new freedoms to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (no relation to Bo Kyi).

The EU reacted in April by lifting a visa ban and asset freeze on Burmese foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin and by ending its embargo on high-level visits. But it renewed for a year its sanctions on more than 500 Burmese officials and family members, as well as over 1,000 government-linked firms.

A delegation led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's special advisor Robert Cooper met with regime officials and Suu Kyi in Burma in June.

"The message of our visit was that we are also open to change ourselves in the relationship in response to developments here. We are also ready to change ... We see that something is happening in this country," Cooper said at the time.

Bo Kyi believes the authorities are making cosmetic changes in order to gain international support for their bid to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2014.

He said that until they release political prisoners the EU should harden its line by stopping Singaporean banks from acting as middlemen for Burmese interests in Europe and by supporting the creation of a UN commission of enquiry into crimes against humanity. He also alleged the EU is not honouring its existing sanctions.

"After coming in, the new administration, they want to help their pride. They want to be respected by the international community," he said. "The sanctions don't work because they are not being implemented. Severeal EU countries do not implement them. Especially with Germany, it is very clear Germany dislikes the sanctions," he added.

Igor Blazevic, a director in the Czech NGO People in Need who is currently in Thailand, corroborated Kyi's statement.

"When I was talking with one east European businessmen who is based in Burma, he was telling me how sanctions do not stop anything because sanctioned timber gets papers and stamps from Malaysia and then can easy go to Europe," he told this website.

Independent reports say German arms firm Fritz Werner sent a delegation to Burma in July. German engineering and insurance companies Deckel Maho Gildemeister, FOSCE-Lorentzenstr and Hannover Re are also active in the country.

Austria's ambassador to Thailand and Burma in March led a delegation of some 20 Austrian firms to meet top officials. The group included Bank Austria, Die Oesterreichische Kontrollbank, forestry company Roxel and gemstone buyer Swarowski. French energy firm Total is helping the regime to exploit the Yadana gas field.

Norway's Statoil is not active in Burma. But a Statoil executive shed light on industry thinking when asked if there is any country in the world where it would not invest for ethical reasons if there was a major oil find. "Maybe Burma. But then, that just means the Chinese would get the oil," the contact, who did want to be named, said.

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