Lower House Votes to Dismiss MNHRC Members

By Moe Myint 26 September 2016

RANGOON – The Lower House approved the emergency proposal of MP U Htay Win Aung, calling for the dismissal of three Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) members for urging two underage domestic workers to settle a case of abuse with cash compensation instead of legal action.

The girls, San Kay Khaing, 17, and Tha Zin, 16, originally from Rangoon’s Kawhmu Township—also known as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s constituency—escaped from the Kyauktada Township household of a prominent tailoring family earlier in September, after five years in domestic servitude. With the MNHRC serving as a “broker” between the families of the victims and the alleged abusers, the latter paid out a total of US$4,000.

Five members of the family are currently in police custody, arrested after outrage spread regarding the handling of the case.

In Monday’s parliamentary debate session, 16 lawmakers spoke in support of the proposal. They were largely from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), but among them were one military appointee and a lawmaker from the Ta’ang National Party (TNP).

The Lower House summoned the MNHRC’s chairman U Win Mra and commission member U Zaw Win to the hearing and allowed one person to speak in the commission’s defense.

The MNHRC’s U Zaw Win, an ex-military general and former director general of the correctional department within Burma’s notorious Insein Prison, briefly presented a statement to House Speaker Win Myint saying that the group had carried out their work on the case “honestly.”

When a vote was called on the proposal, out of 400 lawmakers, 383 voted in support, 8 abstained and one objected.

The Irrawaddy called MP U Htay Win Aung, who submitted the proposal, to ask his opinion on the outcome, but he declined to comment.

NLD lawmaker U Zar Ni Minn described the MNHRC’s actions in the abuse case as ignoring the existing laws in Burma as well breaching provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The pursuit of cash compensation, he said, was reckless and not in line with the commission’s obligations.

U Zar Ni Minn also urged the MNHRC to form a department specifically focused on the protection of children.

TNP lawmaker Daw Nan Muu encouraged the MNHRC to carry out more surveys on the ground, and pointed out that since the group’s formation under ex-President Thein Sein, few people in conflict-torn Shan State had heard of MNHRC’s work.

Ko Swe Win, chief reporter at Myanmar Now media outlet, first looked into the case of the domestic workers after it was brought to his attention. He spoke to The Irrawaddy on Monday and said he was gladdened by the lawmakers’ efforts.

He said that three commission members, including U Zaw Win, and Daw Mya Mya, former central committee member of the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association, and Dr. Nyan Zaw, former superintendent of Moulmein hospital, facilitated the MNHRC’s response in the abuse case.

“One commission member told reporters [in a press conference] that sometimes she even beats housemaids, and that contravenes existing laws,” Swe Win said.

The MNHRC, he added, should be re-formed with new members, he added.

The commission was formed with 11 members and established in 2011. The MNHRC’s chair Win Mra and member Khin Maung Lay are now also serving as commission members in the Kofi Annan-led Arakan State Advisory Commission, which is focused on finding lasting solutions to violence and tension in Arakan State.