Jour­nal­ist calls for MNHRC over­haul

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - PYAE THET PHYO SHOON NAING news­room@mm­times.com – Trans­la­tion by Zar Zar Soe

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

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