Military Investigating Itself Over Civilian Deaths

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 22 July 2019

YANGON—The  Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) will decide whether or not to prosecute soldiers over the deaths of civilians in military custody in Rakhine State pending the results of an ongoing investigation, Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun of the Tatmadaw True News Information Team said.

“The court of inquiry has collected the accounts of witnesses. Based on those accounts, we will [decide] from a legal perspective to initiate prosecutions or not,” he said.

The Tatmadaw launched an investigation on July 12 that is expected to take at least two weeks, Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said.

“We will take action according to the procedures of the court of inquiry. The court of inquiry has to gather compelling evidence and can’t only consider anecdotal evidence,” he said.

The court of inquiry is tasked with interviewing military members, locals and others involved in each incident, he explained.

In one case, soldiers allegedly stopped a vehicle that was transporting a patient from the village of Pan Myaung in Minbya Township on March 12 and detained all 10 people in the vehicle; the patient, unable to reach the hospital in time, died while in detention, family members said.

In another case, three people died in detention after the Tatmadaw arrested 27 residents of Lekka Village in Minbya Township on April 10, accusing them of being Arakan Army (AA) fighters. The Tatmadaw has said one of the deaths was a suicide, one was related to a heart condition and another was drug related.

In yet another case, eight villagers died while detained as the Tatmadaw investigated around 200 residents of Kyauktan Village in Rathedaung Township in May on suspicion of having ties to the AA.

In another, two of eight people detained from Pauk Taw Pyin Village in Mrauk-U Township on June 21 later died at a local hospital purportedly from being tortured while in detention.

And in another, a Kyauktaw Township resident detained on May 25 later died at a local hospital purportedly from injuries sustained while in detention.

“Mrauk-U Township suffered the most detentions and resultant casualties during the war in Rakhine State. We’d like to urge the court of inquiry to make impartial investigations with sympathy for those who were injured and killed,” said township lawmaker U Tun Tha Sein of the Rakhine State parliament.

The Rakhine people will not have trust in the court of inquiry if it only consists of military officials, he added.

“People will not have trust if there is no transparency. We will be satisfied if either the court of inquiry or the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission present their findings correctly and take action [against the perpetrators],” he said.

U Tun Tha Sein said the Tatmadaw has not contacted local elected lawmakers to join the investigation in Mrauk-U Township.

Daw Thein Ma Yi, the wife of one of the 27 detainees in Mrauk-U’s Lekka Village, said no one has come to her village to investigation yet. “The military say the deaths have nothing to do with them. All of [the detainees] were in good health when they were taken by the military from our village. No one was sick. They died within two or three days of being interrogated, so we don’t have trust in the military,” she said.

The military filed lawsuits against 24 others for violating various laws listed under the 2014 Counter-Terrorism Law and for illegal weapons possession under the Arms (Temporary Amendment) Act, 1949.

The Irrawaddy has found that over the past seven months more than 70 civilians have been injured during armed clashes between the Tatmadaw and the AA, while 16 civilians have died during or immediately after being detained by the Tatmadaw on suspicion of having ties to the AA.

Four officers and three soldiers were dismissed from the military and sentenced to 10 years with hard labor in April 2018 for their participation in the massacre of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine State in 2017 but were released in November after serving less than a year.

In 2017, military soldiers killed three ethnically Kachin displaced persons in Kachin State’s Mansi Township and disposed of their bodies. Local villagers retrieved the bodies and filed complaints with post-mortem examination reports. A military tribunal sentenced six military officers including a battalion commander to six years in prison with labor in the case.

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