Myanmar President Htin Kyaw’s office said Thursday that it is looking into the case of two teenage maids tortured by their employers and has asked the home affairs ministry to provide protection to the citizen journalist who first reported the incident.
The President’s Office also instructed the ministry to report on how the local police station in the part of the commercial capital Yangon where the maids were abused is handling the case, according to a statement it released.
The two girls—Ma San Kay Khaing, 17, and Ma Tha Zin, 16—endured five years of torture and physical abuse at the hands of a prominent family of tailors for whom they worked as maids in Kyauktada township in the commercial capital Yangon.
The two were “imprisoned” by their employers and denied rightful wages. They also were cut with scissors and knives and burned with an iron.
Swe Win, senior correspondent at the independent online news service Myanmar Now, first reported the case in June and filed a report with township police.
When the police failed to take action, he filed a case with the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC), according to a Myanmar Times report.
The MNHRC mediated a financial settlement between the tailors and the families of the two maids in which the girls received a combined sum of U.S. $4,000, and the perpetrators went unpunished.
The case has caused an uproar among the public and human rights groups, who have blasted the commission for letting the perpetrators off the hook after it mediated a financial settlement between them and the victims’ families.
Many have called for the disbandment of the five-year-old commission.
The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has filed a lawsuit against the abusers under the country’s law on protecting the rights of children.
“What had happened is a violation of Section 66 (D) of the children’s rights law, and as such we have the responsibility to take action and file the case,” said Win Myat Aye, minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement.
The ministry is housing the two teenagers at a vocational training school in Yangon’s Bahan township, where they are receiving medical treatment, he said.
Yangon police have arrested four members of the family accused of the abuse. Owner Tin Thuzar, 57, was arrested on Tuesday, and Tin Min Latt, 37, Su Mon Latt, 27, and Ko Latt, 63, were arrested on Wednesday, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the police force has filed charges against them for trafficking and abusing the two underage girls.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the MNHRC defended its actions in mediating negotiations and a payout for the girls instead of pursuing its own court case.
The commission’s response prompted Htay Win Aung, a lawmaker from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party who represents Dawbon constituency, to submit an emergency proposal to parliament on Thursday to censure MNHRC members.
“This case of having parts of limbs damaged being settled with a monetary payment, in a very short period, contradicts the objectives laid out in pamphlets the commission itself had published and distributed to the people,” Htay Win Aung told lawmakers.
“In many cases of enslavement, torture, causing losses of limbs or organs and exploitation of labor in our country are violations of the Children’s Rights Act or Workers’ Rights Act and some of these cases cannot be condoned in any way,” he said.
‘We cannot accept this’
Activist and politician Zin Mar Aung, who currently serves as an NLD deputy representing Yangon’s Yankin township in the lower house of parliament, said the Commission under the banner of human rights hadn’t given protection to the victims and instead mediated between the parties in a case where inhuman acts were committed.
“We cannot accept this,’ she said. “We are in total agreement with the people’s wishes to have a civilized society.”
Aye Thar Aung, deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament, agreed that the MNHRC should step up its duties to investigate human rights violations and deliver justice to victims in cases like the one involving the two maids, but not be dissolved.
“Instead of resigning, the commission should work more zealously for human rights protection,” he said.
Prominent legal activist and human rights lawyer Robert San Aung said he will file charges against the MNHRC for criminal concealment.
“By helping the perpetrators avoid a police charge and escape due punishment with a monetary payment is, in the eyes of the law, an obstruction of justice,” he said.
He also said he would ask President Htin Kyaw for permission to file a lawsuit against members of the MNHRC as well as against those who have threatened reporters covering the case to deter such practices in the future.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt, Waiyan Moe Myint and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.