RANGOON — Burmese state media on Friday announced that President Thein Sein has ordered the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to investigate the killing of local journalist Aung Kyaw Naing while in custody of the Burma Army.
“The President’s Office has ordered the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to submit a special investigation report to the president at the earliest after conducting investigation on the death case [sic],” a statement in The Global New Light of Myanmar said.
The announcement pointedly referred to Aung Kyaw Naing, who is better known as Par Gyi, as “Captain Aung Naing, communication-in-charge of the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization,” the political wing of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA).
Government officials had so far been silent on the high-profile killing, news of which first emerged on Oct. 24, when the Interim Myanmar Press Council announced it had received a letter of the Burma Army informing the council of the death.
The killing sparked a local and international outcry, with human rights groups, media freedom advocates and foreign embassies expressing concern over the incident and calling for a transparent and credible investigation.
The Burma Army letter said Aung Kyaw Naing had been apprehended on Sept. 30 by Light Infantry Battalion 208 in Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw town. He was interrogated, shot dead and buried in a remote village on Oct. 4 by an unnamed roving battalion, supposedly because he tried to seize a weapon from a soldier in order to escape. The letter claimed he had been a Karen rebel officer.
The Karen rebel group and the reporter’s wife, Thandar, have denied the claim and said he had been reporting on an outbreak of fighting between DKBA and the military. Aung Kyaw Naing was an activist and a body guard of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for many years before becoming a freelance reporter contributing to several Rangoon-based news publications.
The investigation by the Human Rights Commission will now be closely watched and poses a test for the independence and credibility of the commission.
Sitt Myaing, secretary of the commission, told The Irrawaddy that it plans to have a meeting with Thandar on Friday and that some committee members will travel to the Mon State capital Moulmein and Kyaikmayaw to investigate the killing on Saturday.
“We have asked the relevant army units, police forces, KKO [Klohtoobaw Karen Organization] and local administrative teams to collect evidence for the investigation. Their collaboration is quite crucial,” he said.
Thandar said the commission did not have a reputation for being independent or thorough when it came to investigating rights abuses, but she was cautiously hopeful that the truth might come to light.
“As far as I’m concerned, I am aware of the fact that the commission has rarely successfully handled the cases they were assigned,” she told The Irrawaddy. “[But] as long as there is accountability and responsibility from someone who committed the killing of my husband, everything will be alright.”
A recent report by Burmese civil society groups delivered a damning review of the work of the Human Rights Commission since its establishment in 2011. It also criticized its ability to carry out future investigations independent of the government.
“To date, the [commission] has still not successfully investigated and taken effective action on any case submitted to it,” the report said. “One of the biggest flaws is the lack of independence that the selection committee has. Too many of its members are either government or government-affiliated.”
Kyaw Hsu Mon and Kyaw Phyo Tha contributed to this report.