Three years since the rape and murder of two Kachin schoolteachers from Kaung Kha village in Kutkai Township, northern Shan State, justice still waits to be served, due to an inability to identify and bring charges against the suspects.
On Jan. 19, 2015, two volunteer teachers, Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin, who were both 20 years old and worked with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), were raped and killed in their hut. At the time of the incident, soldiers from the Myanmar Army’s Infantry Battalion (IB) 503 were present in the small village and 28 soldiers were suspected of involvement in the double murder.
On Friday, a third memorial service for the two victims was held at the Nawng Nang prayer hill in Myitkyina, where the two victims are buried.
A Truth Finding Committee set up after the killings continues to pursue the case, although there has been no progress on the legal front, said KBC secretary the Rev. Dr. Hkalam Sam Sun.
“It was shocking to see how the victims were brutally murdered and raped,” recalled Dr. Sam Sun, noting that he counted 41 stab wounds in Maran Lu Ra’s body and 37 in Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin’s body when he saw their corpses on Jan. 20, 2015. “We could sense that the two teachers struggled to defend themselves.”
He told the mourners gathered to pay their condolences on Friday that “we want to know who committed this brutal act, and we want to know the truth. If we know, we can forgive them. The Tatmadaw [Myanmar Army] leaders have told us that whenever we talk about this case, it damages the Tatmadaw’s dignity. We understand their concerns and we have explained to them that we do not implicate all Tatmadaw soldiers, just those few inhuman actors.”
“Why are they so afraid to reveal the truth even though the leaders know it — it is not a very difficult case to solve,” he told The Irrawaddy.
“The Military Northern Commander told us they had tested all the solders and the DNA did not match,” said Dr. Sam Sun, recalling a meeting with Lt Gen Tun Tun Naung, who is now head of the Bureau of Special Operations No.1 under the Ministry of Defense.
The case has still not yet been brought to the judiciary even though complaints were filed with the Muse Township police. “There have been no developments regarding the case,” said Brang Dee, a lawyer from the Kachin Lawyers Network who is providing legal advice to the KBC.
The Muse District police head the investigation team but have rejected the KBC’s request to talk to soldiers about the case.
Questioning of the villagers was conducted long ago, the lawyer said, but the KBC’s representatives were not allowed to meet and interrogate the soldiers of IB 503 who were in the village.
During Myanmar’s more than 60 years of civil war, sexual violence and rape against women allegedly by Tatmadaw soldiers in the conflict zones has rarely been brought to justice.
However, a number of horrific rapes and killings have received increased public attention in the past seven years.
One case involved Sumlut Roi Ja, who was abducted by members of the Tatmadaw’s IB 321 in Loi Jel town in northern Kachin State on Oct. 28, 2011. Her whereabouts remain a mystery more than six years later and she is presumed to have been raped and murdered. Her family filed a case with the courts but the Supreme Court rejected it in March 2012, citing a lack of evidence. “That case [Sumlut Roi Ja] is still pending as only our application of writ was rejected. We will talk to the family for their decision,” said U Mar Khar, the lawyer helping Sumlut Roi Ja’s husband in the case.
Since the war broke out in 2011 in Kachin and northern Shan State between the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed organizations such as the Kachin Independence Army, Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army and the Arakan Army, “the violence against women, including Maran Lu Ra, Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin, Sumlut Roi Ja, Ja Seng Ing, persists and women still lack protection,” said Khon Ja, the coordinator of the Kachin Peace Network. Ja Seng Ing was a 14-year-old girl who was shot and killed on Sept. 13, 2012 by a column of Tatmadaw soldiers in Sut Ngai Yang village in Kachin State.
The use of sexual violence against women has a long history as a war tactic, as documented by international research agencies, she added. The pattern of sexual violence has never changed and the perpetrators are still at large, as detailed in the Women’s League of Burma’s report Same Impunity, Same Pattern, which was released in January 2014.
Khon Ja told The Irrawaddy that justice could be obtained if guarantees were provided for the safety of witnesses, the investigation was transparent and the case was forwarded to the correct legal institution.
“Even though the perpetrators have not yet been brought to justice, if there was a safe and protective environment for the women, and young girls did not have to suffer like them, I hope that Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin would be happy,” Khon Ja said.
Sharing the views of many gender activists, Khon Ja said, “Women are also entitled to our citizen’s rights to protection and safety … We have the right to choose whether we keep the same pattern [of abuses] or create a safe environment for women, elders and children or take legal action against those perpetrators.”
She said a long-term protection and prevention plan for women should be implemented based on the policies set in accordance with the United Nations’ Security Council Resolution on women, peace and the security sector, and by allowing media access to conflict zones.
In order for the women and the victims to recover from traumatic experiences, both long- and short-term support is crucial, as well as providing capacity-building for the related ministries and allocating funds to the relevant institutions.
Most of all, allowing meaningful participation by women in every stage of the peace-building process would result in better implementation, Khon JA said.