Burmese authorities have arrested a Kachin man after he alleged his daughter was shot and killed by the Burma Army, leading to condemnation by international human rights organisations.
An alliance of human rights organisations responded following the man’s arrest by sending an open letter last month to President U Thein Sein calling for the man’s release, named as Shayam Brang Shawng, a human rights campaigner, and an immediate investigation into the case.
“The criminal prosecution of Brang Shawng highlights a culture of disregard for human rights within Myanmar’s military, judiciary, and human rights commission,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, one of the organisations involved in the letter, “The authorities should punish soldiers who commit crimes, not retaliate against individuals like Brang Shawng who seek truth and justice.”
Brang Shawng, 49, could spend two or more years behind bars after being prosecuted under Article 211 of the penal code, which covers the crime of making “false charges.”
He was charged after he filed a complaint with the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) where he alleged that the Burma Army was behind the death of his 14 year-old daughter, named as Ja Seng Ing.
The government claims that a landmine killed Ja Seng Ing, a claim refuted by Fortify Rights.
Fortify Rights held a month-long investigation into the death of Ja Seng Ing and said it believed that the military killed Ja Seng Ing, slamming the case against the father as ‘without merit.’ Fortify Rights said Burma Army soldiers from Infantry Battalion 389 killed the 14 year-old after firing their weapons indiscriminately into her home village, named as Sut Ngai Yang, around 4pm on September 13 in response to a landmine having killed members of their unit nearby an hour earlier. The Kachin Independence Army is alleged to have planted the landmine.
Fortify Rights said it had viewed photographic evidence and interviewed five eyewitnesses to support its claim and added that the shooting was not inconsistent with past Burma Army tactics, having documented attacks against civilian targets throughout Kachin and Shan State since the current conflict erupted in 2011, including assassinations, indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, sexual violence and looting.
The legitimacy of the case against Brang Shawng was also undermined because a key witness, the doctor who treated his daughter’s injuries at the time, has since been transferred to the other side of Burma and struck off from the witness list before he could testify in court. The presiding judge was also replaced after hearing the prosecution’s witnesses, his replacement immediately ruled to confirm the charges against Brang Shawn in spite of not yet having heard evidence.
The human rights organisations condemned the MNHRC of lacking independent powers following information that it had refused to assist Brang Shawn in the case, even going so far as to expel him when he visited the commission’s office in August 2013.
The open letter said that the continuation of the case against Brang Shawng “would have a chilling effect” on potential complaints to the MNHRC and “risks further entrenching impunity in the country.
“The human rights commission is duty-bound to address this injustice but has so far remained silent, It’s not too late for the commission to fulfill its mandate by investigating and speaking out on the case against Brang Shawng,” Mr Smith said, “This case calls into question the Myanmar authorities’ commitment to human rights and genuine reforms.”
The alliance’s members include Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, and Harvard Law School along with Fortify Rights.