December 7, 2007 / 8:07 PM / 12 years ago

UN report raises death toll in Myanmar crackdown

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By Jason Szep

BOSTON, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Myanmar’s crackdown on democracy protests in September killed at least 31 people, three times the official count, with up to 4,000 arrested and 1,000 still detained, a report by a U.N.’s rights envoy showed on Friday.

The report, to be presented to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council on Dec. 11, said Myanmar’s military rulers used "excessive force" in quelling the monk-led street protests and had violated "fundamental rules of international law".

The 77-page report, written by U.N. special rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro following his Nov. 11-15 fact-finding visit, is among the fullest accounts to date of the suppression of the country’s largest uprising since 1988.

Official media in Myanmar have only acknowledged that 10 people died in the crackdown. Pinheiro said authorities confirmed to him 15 deaths and he found evidence of a further 16 people killed in street demonstrations.

The report cites at least 74 cases of "enforced disappearance" where Myanmar’s authorities are either unable or unwilling to account for the whereabouts of individuals.

Along with live ammunition and rubber bullets, authorities used a range of weapons against protesters including tear gas, smoke grenades, wooden sticks, rubber batons and slingshots, said the report obtained by Reuters.

Up to 4,000 people were arrested, compared to the official count of 2,927, while between 500 and 1,000 were "still detained at the time of writing", including 106 women, of whom six were nuns.

Pinheiro described large-capacity informal detention centers and said he had credible reports of a special punishment area known as "military dog cells" in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison.

This consists of a compound of nine tiny isolation cells measuring 6-1/2 feet (two meters) by 6-1/2 feet (two meters) constantly guarded by a troop of 30 dogs. Its inmates were held in "degrading conditions," the report said.

Cells lacked ventilation or toilets. Detainees, mostly political prisoners, slept on thin mats on the concrete floor and were only allowed to bathe with cold water once every three days for five minutes, the report said.


One detainee described being forced to kneel bare-legged on broken bricks and to stand on tiptoes for long periods. Monks were disrobed and intentionally fed in the afternoon when they are religiously forbidden to eat, the report said.

Pinheiro’s findings contrasted with U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari’s upbeat assessment on Nov. 13 when he said the situation in Myanmar was improving.

According to Pinheiro, state security groups continued to detain people suspected of roles in the protests, primarily through nocturnal home raids. The authorities were also rounding up family members, close friends and suspected sympathizers of protesters in hiding.

"This constitutes hostage taking — explicit or implicit pressure on the suspected protesters to come forward as a condition for releasing or not harming the hostage. It is a violation of fundamental rules of international law," the report said.

The military has run the reclusive Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma since 1962, refusing to hand over power after the National League of Democracy led by opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won a 1990 election. (Editing by Alan Elsner)

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