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A sordid case of enslavement and torture at a Rangoon tailor shop

A family of four - (L to R) Ko Latt, Tin Min Latt, Su Mon Latt, and Tin Thuzar - have been arrested for allegedly enslaving and abusing two your girls in their employ since 2012. (PHOTO supplied by Kyauktada police)

Rangoon police have detained four individuals in connection with a high-profile case involving the alleged enslavement, torture and abuse of two young housemaids at a well-known tailor shop in Kyauktada Township.

Police Lt-Col Toe Myo said the suspects were brought into custody on Wednesday and will face charges under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law.

“We have opened an investigation into the case and are pressing charges under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law,” he said. “But additional charges may follow depending on the outcome of our investigation.”

The four detained suspects –Tin Thuzar, 57; Tin Min Latt, 37; Su Mon Latt, 27; and Ko Latt (no age given) – are all members of one family that operated the Ava Tailors garment shop on 40th Street, located in the heart of Rangoon’s old colonial quarter.

They are accused of enslaving and brutally torturing two minors who had worked at their tailoring shop as housemaids since 2012. The family allegedly abused the girls –San Kay Khine, now 17; and Thazin, now 16 – as punishment for minor mistakes in the workplace.

San Kay Khine claims she had all her fingers and one arm broken as a punishment for arguing back to the family, and says they often denied the girls food and water.

San Kay Khine and Thazin also say they had not been paid for their labour since 2014.

The case was brought to authorities’ attention when reporter Swe Win of the Myanmar Now news agency filed a complaint with the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC). Following negotiations mediated by the Commission, the family agreed to pay the girls a total sum of 5 million kyat (US$4,000) as compensation for mistreating them.

However, the Anti-Human Trafficking Taskforce of the national police on Tuesday issued a warrant for the family’s arrest, prompting them to go into hiding.

Police managed to track down Tin Thuzar and detained her that same evening, then apprehended the others the following day.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye announced on his Facebook page that his ministry will also file a lawsuit against the four under the Child Law.

Having mediated a five-million-kyat pay-off for the two maids, who were just 12 and 13 years of age when they started work at the tailor shop, MNHRC now finds itself under fire.

Aung Myo Min, director of human rights lobbyists Equality Myanmar, criticised the MNHRC for failing to recommend that the young women seek justice through legal channels. .

“This is not just a civil action. It is a felony, and is in breach of some serious articles in the [Burmese] penal code, as well as a violation of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child,” he said. “The suffering these children have had to endure is clear. The extent of injuries on their bodies is solid evidence of torture. Yet the MNHRC failed to recommend they seek justice via legal and human rights channels.”

On Wednesday, a number of activists and members of the public staged a protest outside the Commission’s office, with a petition calling on its senior officials to resign.

In a press conference yesterday, MNHRC’s Zaw Win said the Commission’s mandate only allows for mediating human rights disputes; it does not have the power to pass judgment, he said.

“We mediated this dispute out of sympathy for the victims, and for that they were awarded 5m kyat compensation,” he said. “It was their [the girls’] decision to settle the case; we were just mediators.”