Chapter 4 - Human Rights Violations - Torture

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During the course of its work, the Truth and Justice Committee investigated allegations of torture at the ABSDF-Northern Camp. The Committee drew on international human rights law to determine whether or not torture took place.


To define torture as a human rights violation under international law, the following four elements must be present:
  • Severe pain or suffering, whether mental or physical
  • Inflicted intentionally
  • It must be State Action
  • Done with a particular purpose, such as to obtain information or a confession, to punish, or to intimidate

According to the data that the Committee has collected, the treatment of those arrested under the suspicion of being “spies working for the enemy” at times constituted torture. In reviewing the elements, the Committee found that victims suffered severe pain and suffering of both a physical and/or mental nature (Element 1). Many victims suffered both mentally and physically. The pain was inflicted intentionally (Element 2) under the authority of ABSDF-Northern Camp leaders (Element 3).

The Committee found that torture was most often used during interrogation for the purpose of getting detainees to confess to being spies and provide information about their contacts and alleged activities. Torture was also committed outside of interrogations to intimidate detainees and punish them for violating strict rules of detention (Element 4).
Ohn Kyaing, a survivor recounts his story

Torture during Interrogation

The majority of survivors that spoke to the TJC reported that they were interrogated extensively. Interrogations started at or soon after arrest and, for some, continued regularly throughout months of detention. Most interrogations took place at the Intelligence Unit barrack. They typically lasted 2-4 hours but some lasted much longer – even overnight. Many survivors told the TJC about how they endured a range of different types of torture during interrogation sessions. These included:
  • electric shock
  • beatings
  • dropping of yin baung gyan (hot tar) on body
  • burning with hot nails/knives
  • suffocation with plastic bag
  • rolling on the shins with bamboo sticks.
Kyaw Myo,  a survivor recounts his story

Electric Shock

The Committee found that electric shock was one of the most common patterns of torture. It was reportedly only used at the Laisin/Pajau Headquarters, where interrogators made use of military hand-powered (crank-powered) phones to generate electrical charges to use against victims. In his account to the Committee  Yeh Lin Aung describes the pain inflicted by this device:

“I was given electric shock that was generated from the military-use crank telephone.  Two wires were attached to the crank telephone.  Then they aggressively turned the crank, which generated voltage. I couldn’t take it. They didn’t stop it.  They put the wire on my big toe and here and there on my whole body. I really couldn’t take it while [they were] turning the crank.”

Kyaw Khine Win, the personal assistant of Than Chaung, told the Committee how Tin Maung Aye (also known as Ar Seit) was brutally shocked:

“I sadly saw how Ar Seit was brutally tortured, right before my eyes. Than Chaung himself got involved. During the interrogation, they put a wire in his anus while generating the electricity from the generator.  Then they made a hole in his ear and attached it to his arm.  When he was given the electric shock, he was shaken, as if he was cutting his ear himself. I saw it with my own eyes.”

While shocks were applied to all areas of the body, interrogators sometimes targeted the most sensitive parts of the body to produce the most pain. At least one female detainee reported that she received shocks to her breasts. Men were also shocked on the genitals. Kyaw Myo from Battalion #501 gave the Committee this account:

“First they tied a wire on my foot but nothing happened because of a malfunction. Then they put the wire into my male organ and gave the electric shock. I still could resist saying, ‘No, I am not a spy.’ Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore when they suffocated me by putting plastic bag to my face.”

Beatings

All survivors that spoke to the TJC gave statements about how they were beaten during interrogation, sometimes severely. Beatings took place at both the Bamaw Post and Laisin/Pajau Headquarters. Victims were kicked and beaten with fists, bamboo or other objects. One guard made his own pair of numchucks to beat detainees with.

Nang Saw’s account to the Committee illustrates the type of beatings that took place during interrogations:

“I was beaten with a small strong solid bamboo with a little hole in it. (I was) tied with my hands behind my back and had my legs stretched on the ground.  Then they beat me on (my) thigh and arms very strongly.  While beating (my) thigh, I put myself forward, and then they beat me on my back. How it was harsh! I couldn’t raise my arm, which became so big, dark and green.”

Nang Saw described to the Committee how the incident left her with permanent injuries:

“This is my finger that was directly hit by the bamboo. After that, a sort of scar remained on it but it didn’t cut or bleed out. But this finger (thumb) was displaced and I can’t rely on it anymore.”

Like most victims who spoke with the Committee, Nang Saw experienced multiple beatings. Here she describes another event:

“What happened was I passed out while I was being beaten up. They beat me again when I gained consciousness. It went on the whole night. That night, I was taken for the interrogation about 11 or 12 pm while everyone was sleeping. Then they sent me back when it was nearly morning.

“Have you ever read in a book that you would see ‘stars and moon’ when you got hit? It was real. I really saw them. They kicked me right on my face and I saw sparks in my eyes. Very often, they came and beat me. Anybody could come and beat me. They gave me electric shock too. It took about 2 hours for each time.”

Burning with hot tar (Yin Baung Gyan)

Detainees in the Bamaw Post faced a particular type of torture involving the use of hot tar. Several survivors described how interrogators melted down Yin Baung Gyan, (a roofing material made of a combination of plastic and tar) and dripped it on victims, causing serious burns. As in the following case of Ohn Kyaine, this was sometimes accompanied by burning with hot knives:

“They dropped the burnt tar-plastic roof on my chest.  You still see them (scars). Each of my hands was tied at the wood stump and I was forced to lie on my back. They pulled my longgyi up. There was a fire next to me, where they burnt the knife and placed it on my skin. (The scars are still there?) Yes, they are. I fondly keep them. These are my souvenirs of Democracy (movement).”

Pouk Kway, the Company Commander of the Headquarters Security Unit, confirmed that interrogators applied heated Yin Baung Gyan to victims’ bodies during interrogations at the Bamaw Post.

Multiple Forms of Torture

Detainees were often subjected to multiple forms of torture during one interrogation session. Testimony from Ko Toe Kyi illustrates the different forms of abuse a victim faced:
“I had to face the torture of roll
ing on my shin with bamboo stick. I was also beaten on my shin and my head with the bamboo stick, and given the electronic shock. I could no longer breathe for a while when they were using the method of placing a plastic bag over my head. One of the interrogators from the Intelligence Unit, Zaw Zaw Min, stabbed me on the thigh with a knife and stirred (twisted) the knife into the wound.”

San Win also gave a  harrowing account:

“They were beating my face and whole body, and applying the electric shock. As a result, my face was very swollen the next day. They also strangled and squeezed my neck and placed a plastic bag over my head. I had to face the torture of having a heated four-inch nail placed on my breast. Consequently I have scars on my breast until today.”

For some their suffering continued even after interrogations appeared to be over. Htein Linn, a survivor of numerous beatings and violations, gave a harrowing account of how he was left to die outside in freezing conditions after his final interrogation.

“The last round was the worst when they left me out there under the icy weather. No one had that experience but me. By that time, the execution including Htun Aung Kyaw, had been done. They just left me out there alone.

“The next morning, Than Chaung was asking his men to bury me thinking I was dead. But I wasn’t. He didn’t say to kill me. Everyone thought that I had died during the night, including my fellow inmates on the hill. I wasn’t dead. They dragged me out of the hut. They tied my hands behind my back and left me out there. I was wearing a uniform but nothing else.

“... They were at the Intelligence Hut. I am unsure if they were having tea or alcohol, but it was as if they were waiting for the time of my death. After a while, they came out and asked me if I was dead. Then they poured water on me. They all were wearing big military jackets and had a fire, which I saw through the holes of bamboo wall…

…It  started about midnight. I was left outside alone on the ground with my hands tied behind my back until the following night. It was the worst thing because I had been beaten up. It was almost 24 hours.” 

Torture during Group Interrogations

Some survivors also told the TJC how they were tortured during group interrogations in addition to individual sessions. Sometimes a large group of detainees was questioned together in the detention hall. At other times smaller groups of 3-10 detainees were moved to Assam Hill and other parts of the Laisin/Pajau Camp, and interrogated separately.

These interrogations appear to have followed a pattern. The group of detainees was first given a limited amount of time alone to talk amongst each other and to provide information about weapons, poison or other alleged plans. The detainees were threatened with punishment if they could not come up with any information in the time given. In some sessions detainees were beaten, and threatened with guns. In at least one incident, interrogators used detonators to compel detainees to speak. Many survivors spoke not only of the physical harm but also the terror and psychological torture that they experienced. 

In one incident Ko Cho Gyi’s wrist was chopped off during the interrogation of a group of three detainees. One eyewitness described what happened: 

“It was the time when almost all the interrogations were over. I don’t remember if they were asking Ko Cho Gyi for poison.  Ko Htun Aung Kyaw, Ko Cho Gyi and Ko Kyaw Wai (who was later beheaded) were taken to the execution hill. Later they took Ohn Kyaine up there too. I was one of the security details. I don’t know exactly what happened. They chopped Ko Cho Gyi’s wrist while his hands were tied behind his back.”

According to Kyaw Khine Win Ko Cho Gyi was taken to a medic following the incident, where his hand was cut off, and his wound was dressed and treated.

Detonator Incident

The Committee also heard evidence from multiple eyewitnesses about a group interrogation in which a group of detainees was threatened with detonators. During this incident Kyaw Wai, Thet Naing, and Aung Phoe were injured.  Yeh Linn Aung, a survivor who was present at the incident, described what happened.

“There were 20 people. We were sitting in circle. We were called one by one. When we were there, Kyaw Wai was asked to sit in the middle of the circle. Each of us was asked to come forward and tied with two detonators attached to a wire. It was not C3 or C4. Each of us had two detonators tied with hanging wire but they were not attached to the battery yet.

Kyaw Wai’s detonator was already joined with the battery, on his right hand…here (wrist).  I think they were asking for poison. Then they placed a China-made table alarm watch on the small chair. There was a pair of knives and a chopping board too. I saw it with my own eyes.

Finally, all of us 20 people were tied with detonators and asked to provide what they were asking in five minutes. Myo Win was a main person doing the talking. Since we had nothing, how could we give them anything? Some of us were so frightened that we were saying, ‘please give them what they want.’ All of us were sad. Nothing came out from anybody.  We kind of knew they would blow off his wrist when the five minutes were up. I had my head down thinking that splinters may hurt me when it went off. I sneaked a look at Kyaw Wai’s hand and tried not to close my eyes.  Then Myo Win ordered, ‘Do it.’ One ABSDF solider put the wire together. It went off. I think the battery they used was a Chinese made one with a Monkey brand. It was either a green or a white one.

Smoke came out from Kyaw Wai’s hand and a cupful of blood spilled on the ground.  The upper half of flesh on his hand was gone.  There were already two female medics.

They took him (to the place where they did dressing). I don’t remember well whether or not they used surgical blade or anything, but they cut his hand on the chopping board.  When I looked at him again, they were stitching two pieces of skin together and covering it with gauze.”

Kyaw Wai was removed and the interrogation continued.  According to Yeh Linn Aung, Than Chaung began to question Thet Naing. When he didn’t receive the answers he wanted, he shot at Thet Naing’s ear, grazing it with a bullet. Then it was Aung Phoe’s turn and his big toe on his right foot was attached to the detonator.  Yeh Linn Aung told the Committee:

“It happened just like it happened to Kyaw Wai. We were only given five minutes. I think Aung Phoe’s wrist had already been cut off by that time. I was watching. I was young and I was really frightened and I could hear my heart beating ‘thump thump thump.’ I was watching out of the corner of my eye. The blood came out. The big toe and the one next to it – the flesh was blown off. I can still see the big white rounded bones sticking out. And then the medics came and they cut off the necessary things. Then they cut the three biggest toes of Aung Phoe’s foot off.”

Kyaw Wai lived out the rest of his detention with one hand until he was beheaded in early 1992. Aung Phoe and Ko Cho Gyi also managed to survive with their serious injuries, only to be executed on February 12, 1992.

Torture, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment in Detention

In addition to torture, the Committee found that detainees were subject to harsh conditions of detention amounting to inhumane and degrading treatment. According to international human rights law, inhumane and degrading treatment is defined as acts that inflict mental or physical suffering, anguish, humiliation, fear or debasement, but that fall short of torture. The Truth and Justice Committee heard testimony about a range of ways that victims were tortured and inhumanely treated while detained at the ABSDF-Northern Camp.

Beatings

Detainees were also beaten outside of interrogation sessions. One survivor reported that beatings were considered a daily practice for the victim. Detainees who violated any rules during the night were subject to public beatings and humiliation the following morning. One survivor described a typical morning scene at the detention center:

“Anyone who asked for permission to urinate [during the night] would get beaten the next morning.  When the wardens inspected, if they found someone had urinated outside of the bottle or used others’ bottles because he needed more bottles, or someone urinated without permission, or someone was considered ‘annoying’ to them because he was coughing for the whole night, would be punished in the morning. They called out the names of those who did such things and made them lay face down against the ground. Then they beat them on the back with a big wooden stick while holding it with two hands.”

Aung Phoe reportedly lost his hand in this way. According to Kyaw Swar Win Maung guards were misinformed that Aung Phoe had untied the rope that bound his hands. The guards allegedly took his wrist, placed it on a block and beat it a stick. Later Aung Phoe’s wrist became infected from the beating and was chopped off by medics.

Detainees were also subject to random beatings at any time.  Yeh Linn Aung told the Committee how he and Soe Lay were beaten one day for no apparent reason.

“It was our turn to carry the bamboo to the Camp Commander’s barrack. It was too heavy. It seemed to me that Aung Than was coming back from the new camp and was drunk. Seven of us stood still after putting down the bamboo.  We were not tied up but we were all shackled at the leg.  We could only return to our place when told to do so. He [Aung Than] saw us in front of the barrack. He was drunk. He came straight to us and hit me with me with a block of chopped wood, right on the side of my head. I put my arm up to cover my head, otherwise my head would have been badly hurt. I thought my arm had broken but it had only cracked. It has remained  curved. So I had to take a break of a week or ten days. Soe Lay got slapped and fell down the slope behind him.  That’s how they treated us at their will.”

When the wardens and high rank camp personnel got drunk, they sometimes stormed the prison hall and beat up anyone they wanted.  In one particularly brutal attack in November 1991, a group of drunken high rank personnel paid a midnight visit to the prison hall and beat all of the 60 detainees. A female victim, Nang Aung Htwe Kyi, was beaten on her face and head with a burnt piece of wood until she bled. Another male victim, Yeh Linn Aung, had his head beaten up harshly. He was later admitted to hospital and received 11 stitches for his head wound. He described the event to the Committee:

“(I heard) the sound of footsteps of a group of 5 people. We were called to sit up right away (from our bed). We were already tied at the back, blindfolded and shackled. There was a lot of noise. I heard ‘bang and bang’ of beating from the other corner that was getting close to me. I knew it was coming to me. I was spun while hearing ‘a big bang’. I saw ‘stars and moon’ at the same time. And I collapsed after I got another hit. I felt very dizzy. The piece of cloth that blindfolded me was released and I tried to sit up because I had to sit up when I was told. Massive amounts of blood fell on my pants and the white mosquito net. I got the worst beating at that time. Then they left after beating. Everyone got hurt and had bleeding head wounds. They even asked if anyone had not bled yet. If someone was not bleeding, they beat him again. It was quite a big wooden stick they used. Almost 60 people got hurt and were bleeding.”

Forced postures

All of the former detainees interviewed by the Committee spoke about being constantly tied up, shackled, and forced to hold certain postures while in detention. Every evening when detainees returned from work, they were usually blindfolded, had their legs bound, and had their hands tied behind their back.  Often detainees were forced to eat while restrained and blindfolded.

In addition to these restraints, they were forced to sleep on one side. Turning to the other side, making any movement, scratching, or using their voice without permission placed the detainee at risk of severe punishment.

“For nearly one year that we were detained until we escaped, we were tied hand at the back, legs and blindfolded while going to bed. And once you were told to lie down, you were not allowed to move. If you wanted to, you had to ask for permission.”

Restrictions on movement also applied to urinating during the night. Detainees were only given one toilet break, if any.  As Htein Linn described it,

“Each of us got two small bottles to pee. No more. We were not allowed to urinate anytime we wanted but only at midnight when we were called to get up. Whether or not you wanted, we had to do it. It was only our chance until the morning.”

Most of the time toilet breaks during the night was not provided at all. Instead each detainee was given two small empty bottles of glucose drink to urinate in during the night. Detainees risked severe punishment if, while urinating, they spilled over or made the ground wet.

Due to the strong cold weather, sleeping on the ground, and lack of nutrition, some victims reported that they suffered from beriberi, a condition that made them urinate frequently. One of the survivors said in the interview with the Committee that he urinated in his bed often.

“During that time, I suffered beriberi and my legs and hands were swollen. I couldn’t control my urine and went all the time. Wunna Zaw who slept next to me was always wet with my urine.”

Lack of Adequate Food, Clothing and Medical Care

According to former ABSDF-Northern authorities interviewed by the TJC, they provided for the basic needs of the detainees. Former Chairperson Aung Naing told the Committee:

“We all supported the detainees with blankets and regularly fed them rations. The medical department took care of them and always assigned medical personnel. I provided for their health care and shelter.”

Victims and survivors recalled differently. Most described their food as a basic diet of carbohydrates: rice and gruel, sometimes with salt. There was little meat provided in the beginning resulting in a lack of protein. Some detainees told how they foraged for additional food during work hours. They collected Roselle leaves and added them to their rice.

Most survivors spoke about having inadequate clothes and blankets, especially in the midst of Kachin State’s freezing winter. According to reports, any good clothing a detainee had was confiscated when they were arrested. This included all slippers. The story of Myint Thein illustrates the inadequate clothing available and his creative coping strategy.

“I was already prepared. I guessed that they would come to arrest me so I prepared by wearing a shirt and trousers, and an under jacket underneath my dirty clothes. I saw that they took all the good clothes when they put victims in jail. No one would take my dirty clothes. Actually the inner was good but the outer was bad. As a result I protected myself against the bad weather better than the rest of the victims.”

The TJC heard different accounts about access to medical care for detainees in the ABSDF-Northern Camp. In some cases such as the ‘Detonator Incident’, medics were on hand to provide some relief from torture-inflicted injuries immediately.

Ma Thin Thin Nyi, who herself was interrogated and tortured, later provided medical assistance to detainees. She described her work in this way:

“I gave injections and the dressings to the detainees. We gave enough medical treatment. But after we gave treatment somebody came and did what they wanted to the victims. So whatever treatment we gave only lasted for awhile.”

Other survivors claimed that medical care was slow to come, as Moe Zaw Tun relates:

“No medical treatment was provided. I didn’t dare to ask permission to urinate as I would be beaten up. We were asked to move from the lecture hall to a prison hall where 55 of us were detained. By that time, my health condition was quite deteriorated. I was always lying on my bed and couldn’t walk. Only by that time, the medic came to give me treatment.”

The Committee also heard evidence of cases where lack of medical care contributed to the death of detainees.

Finding

Having analyzed the data received and reported in this section, the Committee finds that certain forms of torture methods were applied to survivors during the interrogation and detention period, such as electric shock, putting plastic bag over head, harsh beatings, using explosive devices, and cutting off of fingers and wrists. The Committee has full confidence that these abuses took places, based upon the accounts of witnesses, survivors, and alleged perpetrators.

The Committee finds that some torture methods were only used in certain areas. For instance, burning with hot tar (Yin Baung Gyan) only happened in Bamaw Post while electric shocks were only applied in Laisin/Pajau Headquarters where they had access to electricity. 

As a result of being subjected to severe, repetitive, and long-lasting forms of torture and ill-treatment, many survivors are experiencing physical and emotional trauma. We will explore this is in greater detail in the Impact chapter and make recommendations at the end of this Report for how to assist those affected.