Posts tagged ‘Prisoners’

10/13/2011

Myanmar: Prisoner Release a Good Move

Myanmar, an Asian country surrounded by Thailand (southeast), Laos (east), China (northeast), India (northwest), and Bangladesh (west), witnessed the release of political prisoners yesterday, in what appears to be a thawing in the brutal regime that has gripped the country for past several decades.

Historically, Myanmar was known as Burma. British-India captured Burmese coastal areas in 1826, and expanded into Rangoon and Lower Burma in 1853. After Britain annexed the rest of the country in 1886, they administered it from India. Burma became a separate colony, when it was severed from India in 1937. In WWII, the Japanese occupied Burma (1942-45).

As Burma gained total independence from Britain in 1948, they slipped into civil war (1948-51), which was not settled until the Karens Tribe was awarded a separate area (1954). The country then lost their grip on democracy in 1962, as 50 years of military rule began. Under the first military junta, one ruler presided for the next 26 years (1962-88), 750,000 Indians were returned to India in 1965, when their businesses were nationalized. By 1970, 50,000 guerillas were fighting the government from Thai bases.

The second tragic episode in Burmese history commenced when another military junta deposed the first in 1988, causing things to go from bad to worse. Burma renamed itself Myanmar in 1989, as a hard-liner became Head of State and imposed Martial Law. Opposition leaders were put under House Arrest. When the junta lost the 1990 election in a landslide, they refused to step down, prompting 200,000 to demonstrate for democracy, and the regime to torture and kill pro-democracy activists. 160,000 were moved into resettlement areas in 1990, as many others fled to Thailand.

The West finally stepped up pressure against the brutal government in the past decade, as sanctions were imposed by the U.S. in 2003. Following the suppression of protests by Buddhist monks in 2007, the Red Cross accused Myanmar of abuse, prompting the EU to impose sanctions. Despite these measures, relief was delivered in 2008, after a cyclone had killed 80,000.

Although elections were held in 2010 for the first time in two decades, they were labeled fraudulent by the West, because a key opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was not released from House Arrest, until one week after the balloting. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party won 80% of the seats, and in March 2011, their leader, Thein Sein, who had retired from the military in 2010, became the first civilian President in 50 years.

Perhaps Myanmar is now finally moving in the right direction with civilian leadership, and the release yesterday of political prisoners. The world can only wait and see if they are now on track towards serious political change, or if the past practices of the repressive regime will continue.

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05/31/2011

Prisons: The Wrong Place to Privatize

The U.S. Supreme Court (5-4) recently upheld a California Federal District Court ruling that ordered a reduction in the state’s prison population from 156,000 to 126,000, because the conditions were so overcrowded and bad, they violated the Eighth Amendment ban against Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

Although the California-owned prison facilities were designed to hold a maximum of 80,000 prisoners, the state system was operating at about 200% of capacity. In some situations, up to 54 prisoners shared a single toilet. Prisoners were also being denied minimal health care, as medical conditions were untreated, or ignored, and suicidal inmates were held in cage-like booths.

While conditions in California’s facilities were unnecessarily cruel, they were probably not unusual. Throughout the country, other states also have overcrowded substandard conditions.

Most lawyers would agree it is not easy to sue a state government, and it is even more difficult once state functions have been privatized. Unfortunately, the trend towards privatization has been growing. The Republican-controlled Florida legislature recently reduced the State Dept. of Corrections staff by 1,751 workers, and voted to privatize even more of their state prisons.

The worst problem with privatization is the Bill of Rights was created as a check against the conduct of the government. It was not written to control the behavior of private sector actors. Right-wing judges interpret the 8th Amendment ban against Cruel and Unusual Punishment as applicable only to the government.

If the California prison situation had been operated by private contractors, the prisoners’ case would have been much more difficult, since the defense attorneys would have argued the 8th Amendment simply did not apply.

Some government functions should never be privatized. Prisons are one of them. Anyone in the custody of the state must be treated humanely, but there is no guarantee of such treatment, once the state is not involved. States should not delegate the job of incarceration to private sector profiteers, as they would certainly cut financial corners even more than states like California.

05/10/2011

Torture: What The Law Says About It

The Geneva Convention, relative to the Treatment of Prisoners-of-War, (as amended 1949) was ratified by every member of the UN, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and the U.S. Those who have prisoners must, as a matter of international law, obey it. Since the treaty cannot be described any better than through its own terms, the following is a series of quotes from the Geneva Convention:

HUMANE TREATMENT: “Prisoners-of-war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission…causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner-of-war, in its custody, is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach.…Prisoners-of-war must at all times be protected particularly against acts of violence” (Art. 13).

NO TORTURE: “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted upon prisoners-of-war to secure from them information of any kind” (Art. 17).

INTERROGATION LIMITS: “Every prisoner-of-war, when questioned… is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number (Art. 17). “Prisoners-of-war, who refuse to answer, may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment, of any kind” (Art. 17).

NO DARK CELLS: “Corporal punishments, imprisonment in premises without daylight and in general, any form of torture or cruelty are forbidden.” (Art. 87).

NO CLOSE CONFINES: Prisoners-of-war may not be held in close confinement except…during…circumstances which make such confinement necessary” (Art. 21).

NO ISOLATION: Prisoners shall not be separated from prisoners-of-war belonging to the armed forces with which they were serving at the time of their capture” (Art. 22).

FOOD: Canteens shall be installed in all camps, where prisoners-of-war may procure foodstuffs, soap and tobacco and ordinary articles in daily use” (Art 28).

SHELTER: Prisoners-of-war shall be quartered under conditions as favorable as those for the forces of the detaining power, who are billeted in the same area….The foregoing provisions shall apply in particular to the dormitories of prisoners-of-war, as regards both total surface and minimum cubic space, and the general installations, bedding, and blankets” (Art 25).

MEDICINE: Medical inspections of prisoners-of-war shall be held at least once a month (Art. 31).

RECREATION: The detaining power shall encourage the practice of intellectual educational and recreational pursuits, sports and games amongst prisoners, and shall take measures necessary to ensure the exercise thereof by providing them with adequate premises and necessary equipment” (Art 38).

MAIL: “In the event a prisoner is transferred, prisoners shall be advised of their new postal address, and allowed to inform their next of kin…Mail and parcels addressed to their former camp shall be forwarded to them without delay” (Art. 48). “Every prisoner-of-war shall be enabled to write direct to his family…informing his relatives of his capture, address and state of health (Art. 70). “Prisoners-of-war shall be allowed to send and receive letters and cards…not less than two letters and four cards monthly” (Art. 71). “Prisoners-of-war shall be allowed to receive…parcels or…shipments containing in particular, foodstuffs, clothing, medical supplies and articles of a religious, educational or recreational character” (Art. 72). “The censoring of correspondence addressed to prisoners-of-war, or dispatched by them, shall be done as quickly as possible” (Art. 76).

RED CROSS: There shall be “no obstacle to the humanitarian activities which the…Red Cross…undertake for the protection of prisoners-of-war, and for their relief” (Art. 9).

ACCESS TO PRISONERS: “Representatives or delegates of the protecting powers, shall have permission to go to all places where prisoners-of-war may be, particularly to places of internment, imprisonment and labor, and shall have access to all premises occupied by prisoners-of-war….They hall be able to interview the prisoners and in particular the prisoners representatives, without witnesses, either personally, or through an interpreter” (Art. 126).