Death toll in Myanmar crackdown higher than Government figures – UN expert

7 December 2007 –

An independent United Nations human rights expert says that at least 31 people died during the crackdown by Myanmar authorities on peaceful protesters a few months ago – 16 more than had been acknowledged by the Government.

“Several reports of killings indicate that the figure provided by the authorities may greatly underestimate the reality,” Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro states in a report to be presented to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council next Tuesday.

Mr. Pinheiro, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, visited the country at the Government’s invitation to verify allegations of abuses during the Government crackdown, determine the numbers and whereabouts of those detained or killed, and collect testimony about what happened.

According to “credible eye-witness reports,” there were more than 30 fatalities in Yangon associated with the September protests, including the killing a Japanese photojournalist, states Mr. Pinheiro, who describes the lethal force used by the security forces in responding to peaceful demonstrators as “unnecessary and disproportionate.”

In his report, the Special Rapporteur also states that between 3,000 and 4,000 people were arrested in September and October, and between 500 and 1,000 are still being detained. In addition, 1,150 political prisoners held prior to the protests have not been released. Most of the arrests took place during the crackdown on the demonstrations and the night raids carried out by the security forces and “non-law enforcement officials.”

Of particular concern are “numerous accounts of the use of large capacity informal detention centres, unacknowledged by State authorities, which are regarded as ‘secret’ facilities,” he says, adding that detainees have included children and pregnant women.

Mr. Pinheiro says he is aware of at least 74 cases of enforced disappearance, and calls allegations of the burning of a large amount of bodies “very disturbing.”

In addition, he condemns the new arrests of political activists, despite the assurances given by Prime Minister Thein Sein to the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, in early November that no more arrests would be carried out.

Mr. Pinheiro has shared his report and a list of names of 653 detainees, 74 persons disappeared and 16 killed – in addition to the list of 15 dead provided by the authorities – with the Government for comments.

He also recommends a number of measures to the Myanmar Government, including releasing unconditionally all those taken into custody for peaceful assembly or the peaceful expression of their political beliefs, revealing the whereabouts of those still detained or missing, returning the remains of the deceased to their families for proper burials and ensuring immediate access by Red Cross officials to all detainees.

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