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Reform of the Police and the Judiciary is a Matter of Urgency

By Burma Partnership  •  August 19, 2014

Polices stand guard in Monywa townshipOver recent weeks, there has been a spate of unprovoked attacks by the Burma Police Force on peaceful, innocent civilians. On 14 August, nearly 50 police personnel in Mandalay Region shot at a group of around 200 farmers from Nyaung Wine Village, Singu Township. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a 30-year-old mother of two, Ma San Kyin Nu, is allegedly one of the victims, and has been admitted to Mandalay General Hospital for urgent medical treatment as a result of her injuries. The farmers were protesting against the fact that over 6,000 acres of their land was confiscated in 1991 by the 121 Logistic Battalion of the Burma Army – without any compensation being provided – by continuing to plough their fields.

After the police violence, the protesting farmers prevented police from making any arrests; however, later, another 100 police arrived and blockaded the entire village. Local residents then took matters into their own hands and briefly detained about 40 police officers, angered at the brutal approach of the police to the land conflict. Although the policemen were eventually released after negotiations, the dangers and risks of uncontrolled police violence and impunity are evident: blood has been shed and anarchy has prevailed. Even if police allegations that the protestors were armed with slingshots is true, under no circumstances is the use of live ammunition by police or other state security forces on civilian protestors proportionate or justified.

Furthermore, on 14 May, All Burma Federation of Students Union (ABFSU) member Kaung Htet Kyaw was beaten by police during a suppression of a farmers’ protest in Thegon Township in Pegu Region. Kaung Htet Kyaw sustained severe head injuries. ABFSU responded by releasing a statement denouncing police mistreatment.

The AHRC also reports that, on 4 July, police in Bago No. 1 Police Station arrested a 37-year-old man, Zin Aung, without an arrest warrant or court order, and without notifying an administrative officer, on grounds of stealing bottles of motorcycle fuel. While in custody for three days, he was tortured, and subsequently died of his injuries. According to the AHRC, police have now been threatening the relatives of the deceased. This case follows on the heels of other custodial torture cases which implicate the Burma Police Force, such as those of Kyaw Nyunt, Than Htun, and Myo Myint Swe.

Furthermore, Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma (ND-Burma) has published its periodic Report on the Human Rights Situation in Burma covering the first half of 2014. ND-Burma’s report focuses on 103 documented cases of human rights violations in Burma from January to June 2014. There are many serious human rights cases highlighted in the report, including ones of torture, extra-judicial killing, illegal arrests and detentions, forced displacement and rape. Many such cases clearly entail the collusion or actual involvement of the Burma Police Force or enforcement agencies.

These cases show that there is a long way to go in terms of reforming the Burma Police Force. Rather than protecting people from violent crime, the police are perpetrating violent crime; rather than respecting people’s human rights, they are abusing them; rather than enhancing security, they are undermining it; rather than supporting the judiciary, they are using it to do their dirty work, or even by-passing it altogether; and rather than assuaging the fears of communities around the country, they are exacerbating those fears.

The European Union (EU) has been working with the Burma Police Force on its police reform program. The EU states that “it has decided to support the reform of the [Burma] police force in the areas of crowd management and community policing [emphasis added] with a €10 million package. Improving respect by the police for human rights and the accountability of the police to Parliament, civil society and the media will be at the heart of this action [again, emphasis added].” The aims are noble, but the implementation clearly leaves a lot to be desired.

The Burma Police Force requires intensive, rigorous, principled training on effective policing and human rights compliance throughout the country. Disciplinary procedures need to be implemented at all levels of the police force. Any policeman discovered to be in breach of any rules or regulations needs to be subjected to the appropriate disciplinary procedure, all the way from verbal warnings to jail sentences, depending on the offense.

At the same time, in order to tackle police impunity properly, the Burma Government needs to show political will, especially as regards reforming the judiciary, so that victims of police brutality will start to develop confidence in the system and feel that they have a genuine avenue to redress for such brutalities and rights abuses. However, if the Burma Police Force remains unaccountable and impunity is not tackled, then police brutality will not only continue but the impunity will become more entrenched – however many millions the EU pours into its police reform programs.

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