On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June 2015
Accountability for Acts of Torture is the Key to Preventing Repetition
Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) is working with KontraS (Indonesia), the National Peace Council (Sri Lanka), Associacaon Chega Ba Ita (Timor-Leste), and Wimutti Volunteer Group (Myanmar) to strengthen the voices of torture survivors in their struggle for accountability and dignity. Together we have documented 200 testimonies from victims of torture, using participatory tools that integrate methods to assist victims to heal and empower themselves.
These four countries share a history of mass abuse, where widespread torture was used as a tool for repression. We have learned two key lessons from our work to date:
- Torture survivors are rebuilding their lives with little support or acknowledgement from the government or society. In many cases, they continue to face discrimination and are shunned by their communities. This is particularly true for women victims of sexualized torture.
- Impunity for torture in the past actively contributes to new cases of torture, as security institutions’ refusal to acknowledge the wrongs of these past actions allows perpetrators to act without fear of repercussion.
Countries in transition to democracy face unique challenges and opportunities in protecting the right of their citizens to be free from torture. Through our work with survivors, we know that the period during or after transition offers both a heightened opportunity for positive change, but also an increased susceptiblity to institutionalizing the practices of the past. In countries such as these, where mass violations have occurred with impunity, the likelihood that torture will continue is heightened. Systematic and widespread torture under a dictatorship or during conflict makes torture an accepted norm. This normalization of torture has a profound effect on the current and future practice of torture.
The emblematic Ko Par Gyi case in Myanmar highlights how impunity for past torture increases the risk of repetition. Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Ko Par Gyi, was a freelance journalist and photo reporter, as well as a veteran democracy activist who had worked with opposition leader Aung San SuuKyi in the 1980s. In late September 2014, he was covering the fighting between a Karen ethnic armed group, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), and the Burmese army in southeastern Myanmar’s Mon State, when he was taken into military custody. News of his death appeared only a month later, on October 23rd, when the Ministry of Defense sent a short statement to the Interim Myanmar Press Council, claiming that he was arrested for his affiliation with insurgents, and that he was shot dead on October 4th while attempting to seize a gun from a guard. Following public outrage, Ko Par Gyi’s body was exhumed on November 5th by a forensics team. According to witnesses present at the exhumation, including Ko Par Gyi’s wife, Ma Thandar, also a well-known human rights activist and torture survivor, Par Gyi’s corpse showed evidence of torture, including cuts on his chest and scars on his shins.
Galuh Wandita, the Director of AJAR, emphasizes the link between accountability and prevention: “A first step in preventing torture is ensuring accountability for the widespread torture that has taken place in the past. Effective remedies, including assistance to victims and acknowledgement of wrong-doing by state institutions, are the foundations to stopping torture from recurring.”
In order to demonstrate their commitment to eliminating the practice of torture, we call on the governments of Myanmar, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Sri Lanka, as well as on ASEAN, to take immediate action:
- Review the process and findings of the court martial in the Ko Par Gyi case and refer it to a civilian court.
- Ensure that the Myanmar Police Force, following the death inquest verdict, conducts a full investigation and brings criminal charges in a civilian court against those found responsible for the killing, extrajudicial detention, and torture of Ko Par Gyi.
- Ratify the Convention Against Torture and acknowledge acts of torture as criminal acts.
- Acknowledge and rehabilitate victims of torture from 1965 and the conflicts in Aceh and Papua, by establishing a Presidential Committee on truth and justice, reparations, and reform.
- Criminalize acts of torture and prevent the commission of torture by enacting the draft anti-torture law and revising the penal code.
- Require security institutions to open archival information on political detainees to victims and civil society groups.
- Implement the recommendations of the truth and reconciliation commission (CAVR), specifically on support and reparations for torture survivors.
- Enact legislation for the establishment of an institute of memory and a trust fund to assist victims, with strong participation of victims and civil society.
- Implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, particularly those pertaining to victims and survivors of torture.
- Support and strengthen civil society initiatives to rehabilitate victims in war-affected communities.
- The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) must proactively engage issues around torture prevention and accountability, and specifically request that the Government of Myanmar provide information on the Ko Par Gyi case.
- Civil society groups in the ASEAN member countries are encouraged to campaign on the Ko Par Gyi case, as a way to highlight the practice of torture still entrenched in the region.
26 June 2015
Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR), KontraS, NPC, ACBIT, WVG
Galuh Wandita, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Myanmar has yet to sign or ratify the Convention Against Torture (CAT), or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Under domestic law, torture is not specifically recognized as a crime, but acts that may be considered to be torture are penalized.
- Sri Lanka provides constituional protection against torture, and already adopted the Convention Against Torture (CAT). The official LLRC, Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, has published its findings and recommendations, which include key provisions related to combatting impunity for torture.
- Indonesia provides constitutional protections against torture and has ratified the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Yet torture is not criminalized in Indonesia’s penal code. In Papua, military personnel use torture as a strategy to suppress dissent. In other parts of the country, torture is still regularly used to force confessions from detainees during investigations of ordinary crimes. The acknowledged impunity and denial of massive crimes that took place in the past are the foundation for this on-going impunity for acts of torture.
- Timor-Leste ratified the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Various transitional justice mechanisms have been established, including a hybrid court for serious crimes, a truth and reconciliation commission (CAVR), and a bilateral commission for truth and friendship with Indonesia (CTF). However, there has been little progress in implementing the key recommendations of these bodies.