Saturday, August 19, 2017

MNHRC defends itself against public outrage in child torture case

UPDATE: Pyithu MP submits urgent proposal to take disciplinary action against MNHRC.

The arrest yesterday of suspects involved in the protracted abuse of child maids was apparently not enough to persuade the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission it had failed to obtain justice after washing its hands of the case following financial settlement.

Members of the Myanmar National Human Rights Comission yesterday defended their work helping settle a case involving abused child maids. Photo: Aung Khant / The Myanmar TimesMembers of the Myanmar National Human Rights Comission yesterday defended their work helping settle a case involving abused child maids. Photo: Aung Khant / The Myanmar Times

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, the MNHRC defended what it termed a successful resolution of the complaint, and said they would be ready to take the stand should any dissatisfied party seek legal recourse.

Yet it was public outcry, and not the MNHRC nor a lawsuit filed at a police station, that finally resulted in legal action. Three months after the initial reporting of the case, family members from Ava Tailoring in downtown Yangon were arrested in connection to the long-term physical and psychological abuse of teenage girls, according to the Kyauktada township police.

Daw Tin Thuzar was arrested late on the evening of September 20. Her son, Ko Tin Minn Latt, was called into the police station earlier on the same day, but was not arrested until yesterday morning, when his sister, Ma Su Mon Latt, was also apprehended. All three face charges under the Anti-Human Trafficking Law.

The family is believed to be responsible for torturing two girls, Ma San Kay Khaing, 17, and Ma Thazin, 16. The girls bear the physical wounds of burnings and stabbings, and told police they were kept enslaved against their will for five years at the tailoring shop on 40th Street. A third victim, Ma Tin Tin Khaing, also reportedly endured abuse, according to the Yangon Police Facebook page.

The case was first reported in June by Myanmar Now chief correspondent Ko Swe Win, who said he filed a case with the Kyauktada township police. When no action was taken in response to the report of torture, Ko Swe Win took the case to the Myanmar National Human Rights Council (MNHRC).

The MNHRC has been accused of pressuring the victims’ families to accept settlement through financial compensation for unpaid wages. The alleged abusers paid the girls a combined K5 million (US$4065) on September 15, at the arrangement of the MNHRC, which then closed the case.

And perhaps it would have ended there were it not for the swift outcry of injustice circulating on social media. Human rights groups, lawyers, international organisations and members of the public quickly condemned the commission.

“Both sides [the abusers from Ava Tailoring shop and the victims, teenage girls from Kawhmu township] are satisfied with the result. So whether others deem this condition right or wrong has nothing to do with us,” said U Zaw Win, a commission member.

Another commissioner, Daw Than Nwe, told the press that the victims had asked for compensation, and so that was what the MNHRC focused on.

“We didn’t restrict them from going through the criminal justice system,” she said. “There is nothing in the compensation agreement that bars them from filing a lawsuit. All we did was help them to receive the financial compensation they likely never would have seen had they pursued criminal charges.”

A letter demanding the commissioners’ immediate resignation was passed around by activists at the press conference yesterday.

An online petition called “Justice for the Domestic Helpers” was also launched. The change.org campaign calls for effective legal action against the owners of Ava Tailoring, an investigation into the MNHRC and the police who were involved in the negotiation process, and transparency as the case goes through the legal system.

Yangon residents, lawyers and members of civil society organisations yesterday peppered the MNHRC with demands about why the case was not handled more accountably, through the relevant legal channels, and why legal advice was not sought.

“The commission is supposed to advocate on behalf of those who have their human rights violated. But what they did instead was curtail justice by negotiating with the violators,” said activist Ko Thet Swe Win.

In response to criticism over the police inaction following the initial reporting of the case, a police tribunal headed by Pabedan township officer U Khin Maung Htwe was established yesterday. The tribunal has been tasked with determining what actions, if any, were taken in response to Ko Swe Win’s complaint filed in June.

“We are still investigating who was involved in handling the lawsuit filed by Ko Swe Win. Nothing has been confirmed yet,” said U Khin Maung Htwe.