Report: Prison Reforms Must Respect Human Rights

By The Irrawaddy 11 November 2016

Prison reforms currently being considered in Burma fall short of meeting international human rights standards, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

New draft prison legislation represents a significant improvement on laws currently in effect that are more than a century old, but it still fails to meet international norms, the UK-based rights group said.

Burma’s prisons have for decades been known to facilitate conditions where prisoners were cramped into small cells or kept in overcrowded spaces, denied adequate health care and clean water, and subject to arbitrary transfers, torture and forced labor, Amnesty said in a new report.

The draft Prisons Law of July 2015 is among the priority laws identified by the government’s Commission for the Assessment of Legal Affairs and Special Issues.

“It is heartening to see that the government and the country’s parliamentarians, many of whom endured torture and other ill-treatment in these same prisons, are considering crucial prison reforms. Now, they must ensure that no other prisoners are subject to the same fate,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific in a statement.

The report titled Myanmar: Bring Rights to Prisons assesses that the proposed new legislation fails to prohibit torture and other ill-treatment or include safeguards against other abuses, including unlawful detention and forced labor.

Mandatory independent monitoring of prison conditions and the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism for prisoners would create greater transparency for a prison system that has long relied on secrecy, the report says.

It also urges lawmakers to introduce provisions in the draft law that will guarantee that minimum standards of health, food, potable water, accommodation, sanitation and hygiene are met.

Provisions that address the special needs of juveniles and women and regulate the use of force by prison officials should also be added, it adds.

Amnesty International calls for ‘‘problematic’’ provisions in the draft law to be removed, including the resort to restraint and prolonged solitary confinement as disciplinary measures.

The new draft law is set to repeal the 1894 Prisons Act, the 1900 Prisoners Act and the 1920 Identification of Prisoners Act. Amnesty added that it believes that the draft law has been sent back by Parliament to the Ministry of Home Affairs to be amended.