Is Myanmar lying about crackdown death toll?

A United Nations expert has spoken out on the discrepancy between the actual death toll figure and the government figures on the recent government crackdown on protestors.

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A United Nations expert has spoken out on the discrepancy between the actual death toll figure and the government figures on the recent government crackdown on protestors. The UN last week said an independent United Nations human rights expert has said that at least 31 people died during the crackdown by Myanmar authorities on peaceful protesters a few months ago, a figure that is 16 more than had been acknowledged by the Myanmar 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 tomorrow.

According to UN statement, Mr. Pinheiro, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, visited communist 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.

Citing what he called “credible eye-witness reports,” Pinheiro said there were more than 30 fatalities in Yangon associated with the September protests, including the killing a Japanese photojournalist. In the UN release, he claimed that lethal force was used by the security forces in responding to peaceful demonstrators as “unnecessary and disproportionate.”

In Pinheiro’s report, he also said that between 3,000 and 4,000 people were arrested in September and October, and between 500 and 1,000 are still being detained, according to the UN. “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.’”

The UN release added that “of particular concern are numerous accounts of the use of large capacity informal detention centers, unacknowledged by state authorities, which are regarded as ‘secret’ facilities,” Pinheiro said, adding that detainees have included children and pregnant women.

According to the UN, Mr. Pinheiro also claims 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.”

Pinheiro has condemned 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.

Further, 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.

According to the UN, Pinheiro has also recommended 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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