Burma: Five years on, still no investigation into Sumlut Roi Ja’s enforced disappearance

Paris, Bangkok, 28 October 2016: Burma’s government must launch a thorough, independent, and impartial investigation into the disappearance of Sumlut Roi Ja and sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), FIDH and its member organization ALTSEAN-Burma said today. The two organizations made the call on the fifth anniversary of Sumlut Roi Ja’s alleged abduction by the Burma Army [Tatmadaw].

The authorities’ protracted failure to investigate the enforced disappearance of Sumlut Roi Ja is emblematic of the impunity for human rights violations that Burma’s security forces have enjoyed for decades. Burma’s new government has an opportunity to reverse this trend by ordering an immediate investigation into Sumlut Roi Ja’s enforced disappearance and ratifying the ICPPED, said FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.

On 28 October 2011, Tatmadaw soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 321 detained 28-year-old Sumlut Roi Ja, an ethnic Kachin woman, along with her husband and father-in-law from their family farm near Hkaibang Village, Momauk Township, Kachin State.

Soldiers suspected the three had ties to the ethnic armed opposition group Kachin Independence Army (KIA). At gunpoint, the soldiers ordered the three to carry corn to their outpost on Mubum mountain. On the way to the outpost, Sumlut Roi Ja’s husband and father-in-law managed to escape, evading the soldiers’ gunfire. Witnesses said they saw Sumlut Roi Ja at the Tatmadaw camp on Mubum mountain several days after she was detained.

Sumlut Roi Ja’s family members filed numerous petitions asking authorities to disclose her fate or whereabouts. However, both military and civilian authorities have consistently refused to launch an investigation into Sumlut Roi Ja’s disappearance in order to identify and prosecute the soldiers who allegedly abducted her. In March 2012, Burma’s Supreme Court rejected a writ of habeas corpus submitted by Sumlut Roi Ja’s husband two months earlier. Despite evidence to the contrary, the Supreme Court claimed there was no indication that the Tatmadaw had detained Sumlut Roi Ja before her disappearance. Tatmadaw officials denied having detained her. The whereabouts of Sumlut Roi Ja remain unknown, but her family presumes that she is dead.

The case of Sumlut Roi Ja is all the more significant because it will test the NLD-led government’s resolve and commitment to addressing human rights violations in ethnic minority areas. Burma’s new government must take action against impunity and hold the perpetrators of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, accountable, said ALTSEAN-Burma Coordinator and FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard.

The case of Sumlut Roi Ja underscores the ongoing serious human rights violations perpetrated by the Tatmadaw in ethnic minority areas, including the deliberate targeting of civilians in conflict, extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detention, and violence against women. Ninety-seven women and young girls have been recorded as victims of conflict-related sexual violence in Kachin and Shan States since the resumption of conflict between the Tatmadaw and the KIA in June 2011 and November 2015. More than 20 of the victims were killed outright, or died as a result of their injuries.[1] This figure includes the rape and murder of two Kachin schoolteachers, Hkawn Nan Tsin, 21, and Maran Lu Ra, 20, in Kawng Hkar Village, Muse Township, Shan State, in January 2015. The police investigation into the case appears to have stalled and, to date no one has been arrested for the crime.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) is currently considering two unsolved cases of enforced disappearance, including the case of Sumlut Roi Ja.[2]

On 24 October 2016, WGEID Chair-Rapporteur Houria Es Slami told all UN member states that it was “high time” for the international community to put the fight against enforced disappearances to the top of its agenda. Es Slami recommended the immediate ratification of the ICPPED, to be immediately followed by the implementation of legislation that incorporates the provisions of the ICPPED into national law.

An FIDH survey of Burma’s political parties’ human rights commitments, conducted from August to September 2015, found that more than 42% of the political parties surveyed supported the ratification of ICPPED.

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