UN: Burma Uses Convicts as Shields, Slaves

Human Rights Watch demands war crimes investigation
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 13, 2011 5:09 PM CDT
In this Jan. 17, 2011, photo released by Free Burma Rangers, convict porters in blue uniforms are shown working as forced labor for the Myanmar army.   (AP Photo/Free Burma Rangers)

(Newser) – Human Rights Watch is out with harrowing accusations about Burma's army and potential war crimes abuses, reports Reuters. The UN group accuses the military of forcing inmates from the nation's jails to act as human "pack mules" for the army on long marches, without adequate food or medical care. The inmates also are forced to walk across fields littered with land mines to find a safe path and to act as shields from enemy fire. Summary executions are common, says HRW, which is calling for a full UN investigation, reports Australia's ABC News.

"Using convict porters thus becomes a cheap, expendable, and easy solution to logistical challenges," says the report, named Dead Men Walking. A former Burma soldier interviewed by Time confirms the abuse and explains the rationale: "The government didn't want to waste soldiers but they didn't care if they lost criminals.

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