RANGOON — Six preeminent international human rights organizations have sent an open letter to President Thein Sein calling for an end to the prosecution of Shayam Brang Shawng and an independent investigation into the death of his daughter in Kachin State’s Sut Ngai Yang Village.
Brang Shawng, 49, is being prosecuted under Article 11 of Burma’s Penal Code, which mandates a sentence of up to two years imprisonment and a fine for “false charges […] with intent to injure.” In October 2012, Brang Shawng had written to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC), alleging that soldiers from the Burma Army shot and killed his 14-year-old daughter Ja Seng Ing the previous month.
The military maintains that Ja Seng Ing was killed by a mine belonging to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). 10 Kachin community organizations, under the name of the Ja Seng Ing Truth Finding Committee, published a report two weeks ago in which several eyewitnesses stated that she was shot by the Burma Army during a retaliatory incursion into Sut Ngai Yang Village after a KIA mine injured at least two soldiers.
Burma Army Major Zar Ni Min Paik initiated the prosecution against Brang Shawng in March last year, referring to an internal army investigation which concluded that a KIA mine was responsible for Ja Seng Ing’s death and citing the letter to the MNHRC.
“The case against Brang Shawng is a gross perversion of justice,” said Matthew Bugher, Global Justice Fellow at Harvard Law School. “The military has retaliated against Brang Shawng for speaking out about the death of his daughter, rather than ensuring that those responsible are held to account.”
The MNHRC is appointed by and reports directly to President Thein Sein. Bugher told The Irrawaddy that Brang Shawng’s prosecution is a clear violation of the Commission’s establishing law.
“Rather than upholding the rights of citizens, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission has once again acquiesced in the face of military abuses and retaliation against rights defenders,” he said. “The prosecution of Brang Shawng is based on his letter to the Commission, and yet the commission refuses to address the case in any way. In fact, the case violates the Commission’s law, which bars retaliatory actions against those submitting complaints.”
According to a press release from Fortify Rights, Brang Shawng has been forced to appear in court more than 40 times after repeated instances of the complainant or prosecution witnesses failing to appear. A key witness, the doctor who treated Ja Seng Ing’s injuries and pronounced her dead, was “transferred to a remote posting in Chin State and struck from the witness list before he was able to testify in court,” according to the release.
The report of the Ja Seng Ing Truth Finding Committee includes testimony from Brang Shawng and his wife regarding the events surrounding their daughter’s death, along with witness accounts from Ja Seng Ing’s classmates, her teacher, and the owner of the home where she was treated. All agree that Ja Seng Ing died as a result of a bullet wound.
Speaking after the release of the committee’s report, Fortify Rights executive director Matthew Smith said that the Brang Shawng case was representative of a broader deterioration of conditions in Kachin State, since the breakdown of a ceasefire agreement with the KIA in 2011.
“Our documentation has shown that the military’s behavior hasn’t changed,” Smith told The Irrawaddy on Dec. 8. “We’ve documented unlawful killings, torture, and other abuses by the army and we’ve seen no accountability. This case goes a step further and persecutes a surviving family member.”
“On the peace process, I’d say: Not only are tensions rising but we’re also seeing ongoing abuses, impunity, and now attempts to silence human rights defenders like Brang Shawng. The government and military have an opportunity to change course on this case and we hope they do,” he added.
In addition to Fortify Rights and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, signatories of the open letter to Thein Sein included Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights and the International Commission of Jurists.
Additional Reporting by Andrew D. Kaspar.