Journalist calls for MNHRC overhaul
For revealing the prolonged abuse of two child maids, Myanmar Now correspondent Ko Swe Win was honoured with two awards this weekend, and used the stage to demand the human rights body be reorganised.
WHILE receiving two awards for his reporting this weekend, journalist Ko Swe Win called for an overhaul of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission as soon as possible.
The chief correspondent of Myanmar Now, a news agency supported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was honoured for his work revealing how the police and the rights body failed to respond to a case involving the longterm abuse of two teenage maids.
“If [the MNHRC] is reorganised, the government must ensure that the new members really posses the ability to respond to human rights matters with good intentions,” he said while receiving the President’s Certificate of Honour from Minister of Information U Pe Myint on September 23. “They need to determine whether the members are really qualified for the commission and have a relevant, resultsdriven background.”
Ko Swe Win’s account of his initial reporting of the case months ago to the Kyauktada township police, followed by his witnessing of the MNHRC arranging a financial settlement, ignited outrage across social media. The public anger in turn prompted the arrest last week of five family members connected to the case.
The two initial victims, Ma San Kay Khine and Ma Thazin, had endured years of physical violence and psychological abuse before eventually escaping bondage at the Ava Tailoring shop on 40th Street in Yangon and returning to their parents.
Ko Swe Win told The Myanmar Times yesterday that he had thought about not writing an article due to the sensitivity of the issue and young age of the victims, but was angered by the sideskirting of proper legal action. The MNHRC closed the case after Ava Tailoring’s owners agreed to provide financial compensation.
“I tried my best to follow the legal channels concerning the case, but it ended with compensation and I could not do anything further. That’s why I decided to write the article,” he said in Yangon yesterday while receiving a second award from the Myanmar Journalist Network.
He added that he had only been able to write the article because he was privy to a closed-door meeting on September 15, during which the MNHRC arranged the financial agreement. The rights body has defended its handling of the case, saying it was responding to the request of the victims’ families, and that it had never stood in the way of criminal proceedings. Myanmar Now chief correspondent
But Ko Swe Win said the commission and the police both could, and should, have done more.
“This is a criminal case because it involved the torture of underage young child labourers,” he said. “It also involves slavery because the girls were kept confined and were not allowed to meet their parents. This case should not have been settled through a monetary agreement.”
He also encouraged the government to be more transparent with the media in future cases.
“I appreciate the government for awarding these certificates because it means the government stands on the side of the truth and shows full support for the media and our investigations, not only in this one case, but also in the future,” he said.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has been providing security to Ko Swe Win and to the victims’ families by order of the president. The President’s Office announced last week that it would review the MNHRC’s involvement in the case.
On September 22, Pyithu Hluttaw MP U Htay Win Aung from Dawbon township submitted an urgent proposal calling for disciplinary action against the commission members due to their failure to protect the two housemaids. The proposal was accepted for debate.
‘I tried my best to follow the legal channels ... but it ended with compensation.’
Ko Swe Win