Human Rights Commission is a shield for military violations, say CSOs

October 9th, 2018  •  Author:   Ye Mom , Frontier  •  4 minute read

YANGON — The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission has failed to reveal and investigate human rights violations committed by the Myanmar military, a dozen civil society groups said in a damning report that claimed the institution has yet to prove itself after seven years.

The MNHRC is being used as a shield to protect the military, known in Myanmar as the Tatmadaw, the organisations said in a statement that also called for the commission’s reform. At the October 9 launch of the report in Yangon, Mr Alex Moodie, research director of Progressive Voice — the report’s leading author — urged the commission to publicly condemn military atrocities.

“The commission should stand with victims whose rights have been violated and investigate the violations,” he said. The commission has a broad mandate under the MNHRC Law which it can use to protect human rights, but it has yet to fulfill this mandate, the report said.

U Thwin Lin Aung, director of Genuine People’s Servants said the MNHRC failed to take decisive action in almost all critical human rights cases and said he believed the commission is losing public trust.

“Now, more than ever, we need a strong, capable, and principled human rights institution that is independent from the government and military,” he said.

The report, ‘Return to Sender:’ MNHRC Enabling Law Must Be Returned to Parliament for Structural Reform, also says that the MNHRC has neither the will nor sufficient independence from the all-powerful military to adequately protect the rights of the victims of military abuse.

“We want the commission to go to ethnic conflict areas for their investigations and to make a public statement if the military prevents them from entering those areas,” said Ma Thinzar Shunlei Yi, advocacy coordinator of Action Committee for Democracy Development.

The report highlights two cases relating to the Tatmadaw that it says demonstrate the commission’s toothlessness. In October 2012, Brang Shawng, an ethnic Kachin, submitted a complaint letter to the MNRHC after the military shot dead his 14-year-old daughter. The commission failed to investigate or to protect the complainant from criminal charges made by the military, it said.

The second case is that of Ko Par Gyi, a freelance journalist who was covering armed conflict between the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and the Tatmadaw when he was taken into custody, tortured and killed by Myanmar soldiers. After a public outcry, the MNHRC launched an investigation, yet despite the commission’s recommendation for the case to be tried in a civilian court, the two soldiers involved were acquitted in a closed-door military tribunal.

A third case, in which four commissioners resigned after the MNHRC “bungled” an investigation into the torture of two domestic workers while they were working for the family of a prominent tailoring shop, showed a lack of commitment to human rights and “hugely damaged public trust” in the commission.

“The commission has been dogged by [these] three controversial cases that have represented some key failures of the use of its powers of investigation,” the report said. It urged parliament to amend the MNHRC Law, following public consultation, to guarantee the organisation’s independence and to hold public hearings on the mandate and activities of the commission.

MNHRC chairman U Win Mra told Frontier on Tuesday that he wasn’t familiar with the contents of the report but said that the commission is working “to protect and promote human rights.

“We don’t act as a shield for anyone,” he said.

Win Mra noted recent efforts by the government to improve conditions for inmates in prisons and police detention centres, which he said were in direct response to criticisms by the commission of overcrowding and poor amenities in jails across Myanmar.

“The government is increasing space [for inmates] in prisons,” he said, among other improvements that come with increased budgets.

He also mentioned the commission’s training of Tatmadaw officers on international human rights principles in military academies and staff bases across Myanmar as a notable achievement.

– Additional reporting by Ben Dunant

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