Myanmar Rights Groups Urge Red Cross Probe of Junta Violence Against Political Prisoners

By The Irrawaddy 28 March 2022

Myanmar rights groups have called on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to probe human rights violations in the country’s jails and the use of sexual violence against political prisoners.

Led by the LGBT Alliance Myanmar, 18 rights groups have urged the ICRC to visit prisons where detained LGBTIQ women and men are subjected to violence and sexual harassment.

One member of an anti-regime group in Yangon said: “We heard that LGBTIQ people were tied to posts, stripped and had their genitals hit with a rattan stick, while [junta officials] spoke vulgar language. They were called ‘a-chauk’ [gay] and reportedly raped. And women reportedly had their genitals stamped on with military boots.”

Prison authorities are also committing other forms of human rights violations, especially targeting political prisoners who continue to show their opposition to the military regime while in jail. They have reportedly been placed in solitary confinement and denied visits by relatives. They have also been subjected to beatings by inmates imprisoned for crimes and denied medical treatment.

N Shar Sit Zaw from the LGBT Alliance Myanmar said: “The regime will continue to commit such violence. But we hope that pressure from various groups will discourage violence against our comrades in prison and promote their fundamental rights. So we are asking rights groups outside the country to do what they can.”

Light Behind Bars campaign poster.

While human rights violations are now widespread in Myanmar since last year’s coup, rights abuses in prisons take place in the shadows, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). The prison authorities are the junta’s stooges and are tormenting political prisoners in various ways, added the AAPP.

Anti-regime groups have launched a petition, requesting that the ICRC and other concerned international agencies put pressure on the regime to allow prison visits. Over 200,000 signatures are needed for the online petition.

The LGBT Alliance Myanmar is organizing a two-week online campaign called ‘Light Behind Bars’ to push the ICRC to help stop violence in prisons.

The civilian National Unity Government’s Ministry of Women, Youths and Children Affairs, LGBT communities and students from Yangon and Mandalay are involved in organizing the campaign.

A petition with signatures from the people will be a big boost for political prisoners who are fighting against degrading treatment in prisons, said campaign organizers.

In December, the ICRC announced that the junta had rejected its numerous requests to visit prisons. The ICRC has not been able to visit jails in Myanmar since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in 2020.

ICRC resident representative to Myanmar Stephan Sakalian met the regime’s international cooperation minister U Ko Ko Hlaing on March 22, according to a junta media report. The report mentioned nothing about prison abuses, saying only that the two exchanged views on the potential of further cooperation between Myanmar and the ICRC and ICRC humanitarian assistance to Myanmar.

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