(Bangkok, July 13, 2011) - The abuses committed by the Burmese army against prisoners forced to serve as porters on the front in very dangerous conditions constitute war crimes, said Human Rights Watch and the Karen Human Association Rights Group (Karen Human Rights Group) in a joint report released today.
The 70-page report, entitled " Dead Men Walking: Convict Porters on the Front Lines in Eastern Burma "(" Risking their lives: Prisoners used as porters on the front lines in Eastern Burma "), exposes details the abuses holders are victims, including summary executions, torture, and the use of detainees as "human shields." The military should stop forcibly recruiting prisoners as porters and mistreating them, and officials who order or participate in such practices should be prosecuted, have highlighted the two associations.
"The prisoners are used as porters for the Burmese army of beasts swap will that transport materials through battlefield littered with mines," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch . "Forcing prisoners to serve on the front lines risking their life is taken another notch in the cruelty of the Burmese army."
Given the longstanding refusal of the Burmese government to investigate atrocities committed by his own soldiers, foreign governments concerned about these abuses should support the creation of a commission of inquiry under the auspices of the United Nations concerning violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in Burma.
The report is based on 58 interviews with prisoners employed as porters who escaped after serving in military operations in Karen State and Pegu area from 2010 to 2011. Prisoners carriers described the summary executions, torture and beatings they were witnesses or victims, and how they were used as "human shields" to trigger mines or protect soldiers against fire. They were also told they were denied medical treatment, as well as adequate food and adequate housing.
"We were trying to carry supplies to the camp, when a carrier has stepped on a mine and lost his leg," he told a holder who has escaped. "The soldiers left him, he was screaming, but nobody helped. When we went back down the mountain, he was dead. I looked up and I saw his clothes in shreds branches and a piece of his leg in a tree. "
The porters were interviewed men 20 to 57 years, convicted of reasons ranging from minor offense aggravated felony. Prison authorities have selected these men among groups from 30 to 150 inmates by prison, apparently chosen at random in detention centers across the country, including labor camps, prisons, high security and local prisons. The detainees were taken to areas where transit were collected between 500 and 700 prisoners, who were then assigned to different units of the Burmese army. Once transferred to the front, they were kept in service indefinitely in inhumane and dangerous conditions, and without remuneration. None of the detainees interviewed had volunteered for this mission.
"The barbaric practice of using prisoners as porters is a hallmark of the armed conflict in Burma for at least 20 years, exposing the prisoners at the risk of armed conflict in total disregard for their safety," said Poe Shan, director of the Association Karen Human Rights Group. "The army also forces other civilians to work as porters, but since they often flee conflict areas, the use of prisoners still required."
Both organizations have stressed that the use of prisoners as porters is by no means an isolated practice, localized, or a drift of some units or commanders: since 1992 credible evidence of persistence is available. The Burmese authorities have recognized in the past the existence of such practices, but claimed that the prisoners were not exposed to hostilities.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) has heckled the Burmese government on several occasions since 1998 on the issue of prisoners as porters, but the problem persists, especially in times of offensive military operations of great magnitude. Despite the remarkable work done by the ILO to fight against forced labor in the center of Burma, the use by the army forced civilians and detainees as porters in areas of ethnic conflict work shows no sign of abating According to the two associations.
"Recent testimonies of former detainees as porters indicate that unfair methods of the Burmese army have not changed since the mock elections last year," said Poe Shan. "The brutal treatment of porters is just one of many facets of the atrocities committed by the army against civilians in ethnic conflict areas." Since gaining independence in 1948, the Burmese government has resorted to particularly brutal anti-insurgency tactics against ethnic minorities. These tactics are especially deliberate attack towns and villages inhabited by civilians, forced displacement and resettlement on a massive scale, torture, extrajudicial executions, rape and other sexual violence against women and girls, and the use of child soldiers. Armed ethnic groups have also been implicated in abuses such as indiscriminate use of landmines, forced labor of civilians and recruitment of child soldiers. These abuses have led to calls for more urgent to create a United Nations commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of longstanding alleging violations of international humanitarian law and human rights Birmanie.Human Rights Watch and Karen Human Rights Group found that serious abuses amounting to war crimes were perpetrated with the complicity or knowledge of civil and military officials of high rank. The officers and soldiers commit atrocities with impunity. Credible, impartial and independent are necessary to shed light on the serious violations committed by all parties to internal armed conflicts in Burma, according to the two organizations.
The two associations have urged the 16 countries that have already voted in favor of a commission of inquiry under the auspices of the United Nations to include the creation of such a commission in the next resolution of the General Assembly UN Burma.
"ASEAN and the governments of the European Union should stop hoping that things will magically improve in Burma and would do better to argue vigorously for a commission of inquiry of the UN," according Pearson. "Every day that passes without the international community to act, is a new day when the Burmese army may force other carriers to serve at the peril of their lives."
Testimonies of prisoners employed as porters who escaped:
All names used are pseudonyms.
"On 20 December 2010, they [the prison officials] called names, one after the other [the prison Pya in the Pegu area]. They ordered us to put us in line and we said we would do carriers. I do not know what it meant, 'carrier'. I had never heard of. [The police] took 25 people in a truck. They fully sheeted truck. We saw nothing of what was happening outside. Sometimes it was hard to breathe. We had to wear prison uniforms, and they chained our legs, two by two. "
- "Kyaw Min," former prisoner bearer, January 2011
"I ran with two other prisoners to 10 pm. Along the way, we got caught by soldiers of another unit to 1am. These four soldiers beat us with big sticks, anywhere on the body. The soldiers tied my hands behind my back, and bound my ankles holding my legs stretched straight. One of the soldiers took a big bamboo and violently rubbed my shins with for an hour. There were five or seven soldiers at this time, and they were completely drunk. They wanted to know why we were gone, and we told them we were afraid. They are angry, saying, 'You do not love your country then?' A sergeant came and yelled at me: 'If you ever try to escape, I'll kill you!' ".
- "Tun Mok," former prisoner bearer, February 2011
"The boy told them [Burmese soldiers], 'If I saved you'll shoot me." They said, 'No, we're not going to kill you. You can go. ' They ordered the type to start running. At the same time he engaged in the descent towards the throat, they shot him in the back. And they said, 'You see what happens guys? If you are not able to climb, it will kill you. ' We were very afraid. "
- "Matthew," former prisoner bearer, January 2011
"The soldiers told us the evening there were a lot of fighting in the mountains, and we would be lucky if the next night we were still alive. We're all dead, I thought. Alive or dead, it's the same here. So 15 of us decided to escape. We crossed the river to the shore Thai side. We heard the sit-tha [Burmese soldiers] shouting, 'Do not run away! Do not run away! ' I turned to look and I was hit by the first bullet. They pulled us over four times, I think. The ball hit my right shoulder and broke my arm. It threw me to the ground. At the time I was completely stunned, others they just saved. "
- "Tun Tun Aung," former prisoner bearer, February 2011