An Ongoing Human Rights Violation: Burma’s Prisons

This is a blog posting from Dina Fine Maron and M. Francesca Monn, writing from Mae Sot, Thailand, a town on the border with Burma. Maron and Monn are interning with PHR for the month, collecting information about medical conditions and human rights abuses inside Burma’s prisons. This research is being completed with the help of Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B), a Thailand-based advocacy group consisting of former Burmese political prisoners.  Many AAPP-B employees have generously shared their experiences in prison to supplement our knowledge. 

Until a massive prisoner release in January, more than 1,000 of Burma’s citizens, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners- Burma (AAPP-B), were locked away in Burma’s prisons because of their political beliefs and their perceived or real involvement in resisting Burma’s military junta government.

AAPP, a group that documents these arrests, maintains that these prisoners’ fates are unjust; political prisoners are charged under laws designed to curb free speech and expression and are sent to prison without any opportunity to mount a defense for themselves or consult a lawyer. Many of these political prisoners were released in mid-January – in some cases stepping out from beyond prison walls for the first time in decades – but hundreds of political prisoners remain locked in prisons across the country, according to the AAPP. 

Testimony from a series of interviews held with former political prisoners revealed that torture in prison is common, and can include beatings and deprivation of sleep, food, and water for days on end. Prisoners are also commonly subjected to conditions including solitary confinement that collectively amount to psychological torture.

While conditions in Burma’s 42 prisons and 100+ labor camps are quite poor, political prisoners face particularly harsh and life-threatening conditions. They are also frequently denied necessary medical treatment.

The conditions faced by Burmese political prisoners do not meet the UN Standard Minimum Treatment of Prisoners or Burmese prisons regulations drawn up more than a century ago. Burma’s own Prisons Act of 1894 sets a low threshold for health care in prisons.

Those regulations call for:

  • Transfer of ill prisoners to outside health facilities when their conditions warrant increased medical attention 
  • Separation of sick and healthy prisoners
  • Medical care for any ill prisoners
  • A health clinic in each prison
  • A qualified medical professional on staff in each prison
  • Weekly inspection of prisons by medical professionals to ensure sanitary conditions and decent food quality

The testimony of former political prisoners and those familiar with the conditions inside Burma’s prisons has made it clear that these expectations have not been met. It is therefore crucial to call for improved prison conditions as well as the immediate, unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners.  

Check back for more information about Maron and Monn’s trip and the conditions faced by Burmese prisoners.


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