One year on, still no justice for Burmese rape-murder victims
TODAY marks the one-year anniversary of the brutal rape and murder of two Kachin teachers in Shan State by the Burma Army. On January 19, in Bangkok, Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) and Legal Aid Network (LAN) launched a new report detailing witness testimonies, mishandling of evidence by police, and barriers to justice for women in Burma. Finally, the report established through detailed witness testimonies that the key suspect of the murder and rape was commanding officer Major Aung Phyo Myint.
The two women, Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin and Maran Lu Ra, were devout Christians from Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State. They had been working for the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) as volunteer teachers in Kawng Kha village.
Human rights groups and locals blame the Burma Army for perpetrating the hideous crime. The death has caused international outrage; yet, there is still no truth or justice for the families and the community. On January 19, 94 civil society organizations (CSO) called on the Burmese government to give an official mandate and power to KBC to investigate the Kawng Kha case and to request an independent investigation from the international community, and for the National League for Democracy (NLD) to continue to seek justice for the families.
The village at the time of the murder had about 50 troops from the government’s Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 503, under Major Aung Phyo Myint. They arrived in the village on January 19th 2015, coming from the direction of Mong Ko, where there had been a military offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) earlier in the month. The soldiers stayed in houses around the village. According to local sources, the two teachers were fearful of the soldiers.
According to Aung Htoo, a human rights lawyer and founder of LAN, Major Aung Phyo Myint asked about the two Kachin teachers when he entered the village and if they had been married.
On the evening of the January 19, 2015, the two women went to a birthday party for a local villager’s child. After the event, they returned to their small house within the church compound. The next morning, they were found dead. Local villagers observed that the marks of boots in the dirt around the house were almost identical to those worn by soldiers.
According to KWAT and LAN, the cover-up extends to the highest levels of government. President Thein Sein said the Burma Army troops were innocent and refused to respond to appeals by KBC for an independent investigation of the case.
“The government’s priorities were clear in the Kawng Kha case – protect the military at all cost,” said KWAT General Secretary Moon Nay Li in a written statement.
When the police team was examining the crime site, Major Aung Phyo Myint ordered the villagers not to take photographs of it. They were told that if they did, their cameras and phones would be destroyed. Furthermore, according to the report, Major Aung Phyo Myint, threatened villagers stating, “Our military column has 20 mortar shells. If we are targeted as suspects, the entire village will be fired at and burnt down.” KWAT and LAN believe Major Aung Phyo Myint is the top suspect in the case.
The police dare not investigate the military; they are totally subservient to them. This perpetuates the Burma Army’s continuous acts of impunity against women.
“The Kawng Kha Case is one of many cases of sexual violence in Burma,” said Jessica Khkum Health Program Coordinator at KWAT at the press conference on January 19.
The Burma Army has used rape as a systematic tool of oppression with impunity against women during more than six decades of civil war. The main victims of sexual violence have commonly been non-Burman ethnic minorities such as Shan, Karen, Kachin, Karenni, and Rohingya women.
The Women’s League of Burma (WLB), and its member organizations documented 118 cases of rape or other forms of sexual violence committed by Burma Army soldiers since 2010 involving over 38 different battalions.
In Shan State, for example, the ongoing conflict and troop buildup which took place in the later months of 2015 particularly affected women. According to the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF), there have been at least eight documented cases of sexual violence committed by the Burma Army since April.
Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, a human rights group working in Burma, said in Bangkok, “The Tatmadaw’s impunity for grave abuses in Kachin and Shan states has been a defining characteristic of the ongoing war. For most Kachin, the political transition has been profoundly bitter, defined more by destruction than democracy.”
Note: Changes have been made, ASIAN CORRESPODENT is not responsible for these.
Source: ASIAN CORRESPODENT