Analysis

One Year on, Still No Justice in Myanmar’s ‘Victoria’ Toddler Rape Case

By San Yamin Aung 22 May 2020

YANGON— It has been one year since the high-profile rape of a toddler in Naypyitaw upset and angered the entire country, yet there is still no sign of justice being done for the young victim.

On May 16, 2019, the girl, who was not yet 3 years old at the time—and who has since been dubbed “Victoria” by supporters on social media—was sexually assaulted at her nursery school, Wisdom Hill. News of the crime left Myanmar society reeling, prompting thousands to take to the streets of big cities to demand the truth.

Even the President’s Office weighed in, saying leaders at the highest level had been closely monitoring the case since it was first reported, and vowing to ensure that the truth is uncovered.

But as the case turned one year old on Saturday with the rapist still free, many netizens asked whether the truth was being actively suppressed in the case, and lamented the absence of the rule of law in the country.

“We opened the case to get the truth,” the victim’s father told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. “But the truth has eluded us,” he said.

An arrest was made shortly after the crime was reported, and a Naypyitaw court heard the case for nearly five months, before freeing the suspect—widely believed to have been framed—in December, citing lack of evidence. The accused was a driver of the Wisdom Hill school supervisor. Most members of the public appear to believe the two teenage sons of the supervisor to be the real perpetrators, based on the accounts of the victim and her parents, and see the accused driver as a scapegoat.

However, police stood by their conclusion that the driver was the only possible offender in the case and said there was no possibility that the two teenage brothers were the offenders. The brothers, whose father is a police lieutenant, were not among the witnesses heard by the court.

Legal adviser U Khin Maung Myint, who has been closely monitoring the case, said the truth has failed to come out because officials responsible for the investigation had failed to fulfill their duties.

The police have been widely criticized for mishandling the case, in particular for making false accusations, mishandling evidence and revealing the identities of the victim and her parents in violation of the Child Rights Law.

U Khin Maung Myint said that while there had been failures by the Attorney-General’s Office, the Advocate-General’s Office and the police—both in their investigation of the case and in failing to reinvestigate the case after the court process ended—the President’s Office also had a duty to closely follow up on the case, as it made pledges to the public several times that the truth would be established.

When The Irrawaddy asked what the President’s Office was doing about the case during a press briefing in late February, the office’s spokesperson U Zaw Htay said President U Win Myint had ordered the Supreme Court of the Union, the Home Affairs Ministry and the Union Attorney-General’s Office to find the truth in the case, to ensure accountability and responsibility, to comply with the law and to disclose the findings of the investigation.

The spokesperson said President U Win Myint had also instructed relevant organizations to take all necessary action against those who failed to comply with the law and procedures, and who failed to fulfill their duties in investigating the case. The police officers who revealed the identities of Victoria and her parents were among the responsible officials who would be punished, he said.

Yet to date, there has been no more word on punishments for the responsible officials.

The Irrawaddy contacted the President’s Office to ask about whether any officials had been punished, but had yet to receive a reply as of Thursday evening.

“Even after the president’s instructions to ensure responsibility and accountability in this high-profile case, no further information has been released to the public. It is yet another example of the lack of accountability,” legal adviser U Khin Maung Myint said, adding that it was important for those seeking justice to show unity as they push for the truth in the case.

Writer U Htin Lin Oo, a prominent figure in the public campaign calling for the truth in the Victoria case, said he would continue to demand justice until it is served.

Along with the Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar (ILAM), the writer plans to sue the police officers involved in revealing the identities of the toddler and her relatives. However, this effort has been delayed due to travel restrictions and stay-home orders imposed by the government in the wake of the country’s first COVID-19 case in late March, he said.

Lawyer U Thein Than Oo from ILAM said the group would press ahead with the lawsuit against the police officials once the travel restrictions are lifted.

“We can’t accept that the case will just end like this. We are not in positions of authority, but as legal professionals we will do whatever we can to fight this injustice,” he said.

The victim’s father told The Irrawaddy that the family’s original plans, worked out with their lawyers, have also been put on hold due to the COVID-19 crisis. He vowed to continue the fight, however.

“Truth is our life,” he said. “And that is what we will continue to pursue.”

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