'Abu Graib' Case Pending in Myitkyina

By Lawi Weng 9 October 2012

Seven Burmese police officers—accused of torturing two Kachin refugees and forcing them to have sex—failed to appear in court for the third time on Oct. 3.

A court hearing for the case had originally been set for Sept. 26, then Sept.29, and then again on Oct. 3, but the seven have failed to appear each time.

The Kachin refugees have reported to their lawyer that they were picked up by the state police in Myitkyina in June, and were accused of being Kachin rebels. While being held in a police cell, they allege that military personnel tortured them during interrogation, then the police forced them to have intercourse with each other, forced them to perform traditional Kachin dancing while naked, and also to act as if they were being crucified—an crude allusion to their Christian faith.

A case has been brought against the police officers for sexually humiliating the men, but not against the soldiers for torturing them during interrogation.

Held in a police cell in Myitkyina between June 15 – 26, the two young men allege that they were constantly abused while in detention and have since suffered trauma from their experience.

“We are very ashamed that we were forced to have sex—even though we had no option. The incident has also shamed our families,” their lawyer quoted them as saying.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, the refugees’ lawyer Mar Khar said, “This episode is a disgraceful example of a human rights abuse. It was also an assault on the men’s culture and religion.

“Those who committed these abuses must be punished,” he said. “However, the seven police officers have failed to appear before the court even though they have been given three chances.”

The lawyer said that the families of the two detainees sent letters two weeks ago to Burma’s President Thein Sein and to Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN’s human rights rapporteur for Burma.

The families of the two men allege that the men were tortured and interrogated by government troops from Infantry Battalion No. 37, which is based in Thar Lao Gyi village in Myitkyina Township.

The two men currently reside in a refugee camp in the outskirts of the town. They and their families are among the 60,000 people who have been displaced from their homes in Kachin State since conflict broke out between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in June 2011.

There are currently estimated to be more than 70 ethnic Kachin detainees in Myitkyina jail cells who are accused of being members of the KIA. Another 20 are being detained in northern Shan State, according to Mar Khar.

“They tortured and humiliated these two people in order to sow fear among the Kachin population and to send out a warning not to get involved with the KIA,” said the lawyer.