MPs vote against MNHRC
Lower house lawmakers overwhelmingly supported taking action against the human rights commission yesterday, increasing pressure on the government to crack down on the mishandling of a child torture case.
LAWMAKERS in the lower house yesterday voted in favour of taking disciplinary action against the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission after the body’s botched handling of a child torture case.
In an issue that united MPs across party and military lines, the lawmakers agreed that the MNHCR had failed in its obligation to protect the young victims when the members brokered a financial settlement.
“We need to be asking who the commission was protecting when it negotiated cash compensation instead of filing a lawsuit – the victims, or the offenders?” said MP U Wai Hlaing Tun (NLD; Pathein). “In my opinion, the commission should be dissolved.”
With the passage of the urgent proposal, the government is under additional pressure to investigate any wrongdoing by the commissioners, and take action against them if evidence is found.
The President’s Office announced last week that the rights body’s involvement in the contentious case would be reviewed.
Two teenage victims, Ma San Kay Khine and Ma Thazin, 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.
Myanmar Now chief correspondent Ko Swe Win initially reported the case to the Kyauktada township police in June, but following inaction, turned to the human rights commission.
Outraged that the MNHRC appeared to be washing its hands of the case after the settlement, Ko Swe Win wrote about the closed-door financial negotiation that saw the case closed with a payment of K5 million (US$4065) to the victims’ families. His article prompted immediate and overwhelming social media backlash.
Fuelled by public outcry over the impunity, the police eventually arrested five family members connected to the tailoring shop and the abuse of the young domestic workers. Photographs of the teenagers revealed burns and scars along their arms, and bones that did not heal properly after being broken.
In yesterday’s parliamentary session, 14 National League for Democracy lawmakers, one MP from the Ta’Arng (Palaung) National Party and one military MP debated the urgent proposal submitted by representative U Htay Win Aung (NLD; Dawbon).
“The lower house approved the proposal, so now the Union government is urged to conduct an investigation and take action [against the MNHRC] if they are found guilty. The government must identify if the commissioners handled the case with honest intention,” U Hla Moe, secretary of the Pyithu Hluttaw’s Rights Committee, told The Myanmar Times after the parliamentary session.
The debate also covered whether the commission – Myanmar’s preeminent organisation to monitor human rights abuses – needs to be restructured.
Daw Nan Moe from the Ta’Arng (Palaung) National Party said that the entire commission should be scrapped, or at the very least revamped with new members.
Major Aung Zin Min agreed. “Some members have been weak in cooperating with the relevant government departments, and their negotiation process means they tried to help offenders avoid legal punishment. So they have failed to support justice and act responsibly,” he said.
U Zaw Win, a member of the commission who attended yesterday’s parliamentary debate, attempted to defend the commission’s “honest intentions in trying to remedy the situation for the victims”. He also claimed the commission had informed Yangon police about the abuse.
He said the MNHRC sent a letter dated June 29 requesting that the Yangon Region Police Force respond within a month to Ko Swe Win’s complaint letter.
“Our commission can only send suggestions to respective government departments. We have no rights to make a decision or taking action,” U Zaw Win said.
A police tribunal has been tasked with investigating the Kyaukatada township station’s alleged failure to respond to the initial complaint.
Apparently unswayed by the MNHRC member’s defence however, the Pyithu Hluttaw MPs voted 374 in favour of disciplining the commission, while one voted against and eight abstained.
U Zaw Htay from the President’s Office said yesterday that the government will form an investigative inquiry into the MNHRC, but is first awaiting a report of the case to be submitted by the commission members.
– Additional reporting by Ye Mon and translation by Thiri Min Htun
‘We need to be asking who the commission was protecting when it negotiated cash compensation.’
U Wai Hlaing Tun NLD lower house MP