BURMA

Video shows Burmese militia's brutal interrogations

Screen grabs from the video that was shared on social media.
Screen grabs from the video that was shared on social media.
Text by: Chloé Lauvergnier
6 min

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A video showing police officers and soldiers from a Burmese ethnic militia brutally beating young men has been widely circulating on social media. The security forces from the Karen National Union—a former rebel group made up of an ethnic minority in Burma, the Karen— were interrogating young men who they accused of using drugs. And while KNU authorities say that the punishment was “inappropriate” in this particular case, they did admit to regularly using physical force during interrogations.

This video has been making the rounds on social media in Burma for the past week. Because of the nature of the footage, FRANCE 24 chose to share only screengrabs in which the victims’ faces have been blurred.

The video shows four young men, handcuffed and sitting on the ground. They are surrounded by men wearing military fatigues and khaki uniforms. One of the uniformed men starts kicking one of the young prisoners, first in the back and then in the head. He then does the same thing to the next man. While hitting them, he asks: “What came over you? Why were you arguing? Why were you fighting? What’s the problem? How dare you?”

These young men were kicked in the head and back.

Then another uniformed man starts hitting the young men. This time he uses a stick to beat their arms and hands. “Do you want to fight each other? Go on, start hitting each other!” he says.

Another man in uniform uses a stick to beat the young men.

Then, the camera moves to show four other young men, who are also sitting on the ground, tied to one another. The men in uniform also beat them with the stick, cracking down on their hands, arms and backs and, in one case, a man’s shin. You can hear one of the young men sobbing.

This group of young men were also abused by KNU security forces.

"In certain regions, the armed factions of ethnic organisations maintain public order”

Buu Tho (pseudonym) is a Burmese journalist who investigated this video. He found that the video was filmed in early July in the southern region of Tanintharyi, in a zone controlled by the 4th Brigade of the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU).

The KNU is a political group that represents the Karens, a minority ethnic group that makes up about 7 to 8% of the overall population in Burma. Most Karen live in Burma (about 90%) though about 10% live across the border in Thailand.

For roughly sixty years, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed branch of the KNU, fought against the central government in Burma in a separatist struggle. In 1976, they softened their demands and asked for the creation of a semi-autonomous state. The fighting was particularly intense during the rule of Burma’s military junta (1962 - 2011), which led a campaign persecuting minorities.

In January 2012, several months after the junta was dissolved, a final ceasefire was signed between the KNU and the Burmese government, marking an end to more than half a century of conflict. However, the KNU and the KNLA were not dissolved or disarmed, and continue to wield authority in certain zones, according to our Observer.

The men in uniform in this video are police officers and soldiers from the 4th Brigade of the armed wing of the KNU. They are speaking a Karen language and they are wearing the organisation’s insignia. I was able to confirm this with a senior official in the KNU.

The young prisoners who are sitting on the ground are also Karens, from the Tham Him refugee camp, located a few kilometres across the border in Thailand [Editor’s note: This camp was set up in 1997, after a Burmese army operation in the Tanintharyi region caused the displacement of many civilians.] The young men are accused of taking drugs. They were arrested by security guards at the camp and handed over to Thai police. The police then handed them over to the 4th Brigade of the KNLA, who operate on the other side of the border.

In certain areas in Burma, it is the armed branches of political ethnic organisations who maintain security and keep the peace. For example, in the Tanintharyi region, which has historically been controlled by the KNU, it is still KNU policemen who arrest and interrogate delinquents and criminals.

I think it is likely that a KNU policeman filmed and shared the video to warn people that “this is what will happen to you if you take drugs”. It is like they are trying to make an example out of these young men.

However, the idea backfired. The KNU has stated that this punishment was inappropriate and that it does not align with its ideology. The organisation knows that this video could harm its image as it has been widely shared and criticised on social media.