AP and HRC Lab investigation: Videos on social media reveal that Myanmar security forces use victims’ bodies as tools of terror

May 26, 2021

A collaboration between the Associated Press and Human Rights Center Investigations Lab at UC Berkeley published today—Myanmar’s junta using bodies to terrorize—shows that security forces in Myanmar have been systematically taking the bodies of victims in Myanmar since the February 1 military coup. 

HRC Lab researchers found and analyzed open source information as well as media reports following the military coup in Myanmar, identifying 122 unique incidents that depict security forces killing people and taking their bodies during street protests, neighborhood raids, checkpoint stops, and other contexts. 

This Associated Press video accompanying the story highlights HRC Lab investigators Brian Nguyen, a Berkeley journalism student, and Devon Lum, HRC lab coordinator and recent lab alum, explaining how the Lab identified and verified open source information to support AP journalists in reporting this story. 

“Courageous people in Myanmar are taking videos of state-violence and sharing what they capture with the world,” said Alexa Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center. “Our students and staff are finding and verifying this user-generated content to help journalists and other researchers amplify information about atrocities that would otherwise be carried out in secret and with impunity.” 

Our analysis of online content revealed a consistent pattern of behavior by Myanmar security forces: taking and sometimes returning bodies that were allegedly in their possession to families with signs of desecration or post-mortem operation. 

The Human Rights Center Investigations Lab’s Brian Nguyen and Devon Lum led the project, with support from HRC Associate Director Andrea Lampros and Investigations Lab Director Stephanie Croft. Students Karina Nguyen, Maeve Sneddon, Avani Yadav, Subuk Hasnain, Shealyn Massey, Tanya Tandon, and Briana Zhuang also contributed research. 

The HRC Investigations Lab, based at Berkeley Law, works with multiple partners—including these award-winning reporters and editors at the Associated Press—to find and analyze social media content to uncover atrocities and potential war crimes. The work with AP is part of an ongoing collaboration that includes partners at Berkeley Journalism.