Police Failed on Victoria Rape Case: New Home Affairs Minister

By Htet Kaung Lin 14 February 2020

YANGON—Lieutenant General Soe Htut, Myanmar’s new home affairs minister, said just after being sworn in on Thursday that the Myanmar Police Force failed to properly build the case regarding the sexual assault against a toddler in a Naypyitaw nursery school. The Police Force is overseen by the Home Affairs Ministry.

“Speaking of building a case, only a strong beginning will ensure a favorable ending. Building the case properly will ensure a strong beginning,” the new Union minister told the reporters. “Regardless, no case can be cracked in one sitting. We must work hard, and we will do so.”

The toddler was allegedly sexually assaulted at the Wisdom Hill Nursery School in Zabuthiri Township on May 16 last year. The victim was less than 3 years old at the time and the case has been in the national spotlight, with masses of Facebook users calling on police to hold the perpetrator accountable.

Referring to the victim as “Victoria”, the Facebook campaign “Justice for Victoria” grew into a wider call for an end to all sexual violence, especially against children.

Police named a driver at the school as the primary suspect and arrested him twice, in May and July, though many observers believe he was used as a scapegoat. In December, Naypyitaw’s Dekkhinathiri District Court released him due to a lack of evidence and the case was technically closed.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday in Naypyitaw, the new Union home affairs minister said that establishing the rule of law is a major challenge for Myanmar.

As the home affairs minister, he said that his primary focus will be on promoting the rule of law in the country. He urged the public to cooperate with police in the process.

Legal experts have increasingly questioned the capacity of the Myanmar Police Force, citing human rights violations, including deaths during interrogations, corruption and negligence.

The Naypyitaw toddler rape case will test the capacity of the new home affairs minister, said Myanmar Media Network chairman and lawyer U Aung Soe. He added that the police’s failure to arrest high-profile fugitives such as Aung Win Khine, a suspect in the murder of lawyer U Ko Ni, and U Wirathu, the ultra-nationalist monk, have impacted the public’s trust in the police.

“I hope the home affairs minister is as good as his word on the rule of law. From a legal perspective, my view is that there was a weak beginning for the Victoria case. Now, the tempo has quickened. I welcome his admission that there was a weak beginning. All the people know that there was a weak beginning,” said U Aung Soe.

“As far as I’m concerned, the police investigation of the case was poor,” said lawyer U Than Zaw Aung. “As police hastened to bring the case to court, the case was built incorrectly.”

U Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said that though the Myanmar Police Force is an armed institution, it should be overseen by the civilian government rather than the military, as it needs to engage with the people.

According to the 2008 Constitution, the ministers of home affairs, defense and border affairs are all nominated by the chief of the military.

“[The new home affairs minister] needs to change the mindset among police at lower levels that suspects will only tell the truth when they are beaten,” U Bo Kyi told The Irrawaddy. “Due to their past experiences, people don’t want to cooperate with the police, so there is a need to fix the public perception of the police. Only then will people cooperate for the rule of law.”

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko