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MNHRC failing to protect human rights, say NGOs

FILE PHOTO: Members of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission held a press conference last year to defend themselves on charges of neglecting their duty in a case involving the alleged torture and abuse of minors. (PHOTO: DVB)

Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) lacks independence and is failing to speak out on a range of human rights issues that are affecting people in Burma, according to three notable rights group in the country.

In a joint report released earlier today, Progressive Voice, the Action Committee for Democracy Development, and the Smile Education and Development Foundation said that the MNHRC’s greatest weakness is its failure to serve as a voice for the country’s most vulnerable people.

Aung Khaing Min, executive director of Progressive Voice, told DVB on Monday that the Commission should be composed of independent members as opposed to being appointed by the president.

“Most of the seven commissioners are former civil servants who have no experience in human rights issues,” he said.

The joint report urged the Burmese government to change the make-up of the MNHRC so that at least a third of both the Commission membership and staff are from backgrounds related to gender equality, ethnic rights and religious minorities or from civil society organisations with human rights experience.

Speaking in response to the criticisms, Sitt Myaing, the vice-chairman of MNHRC, said that Commission is insufficiently staffed to cover the entire country.

“Anyone can criticise the Commission, but I can tell you that we do promote and protect human rights,” he told DVB by telephone. “Nevertheless, it is a frustrating situation and we are not satisfied.”

He said the MNHRC’s mandate called for 300 staff but that it only had 57 employees due to budget restraints.

“The parliament has approved the appointment of new buildings from the Ministry of Construction,” said Sitt Myaing. “So we should be able to hire more staff in 2018, I think.”

He added that commissioners have recently been tasked with giving lectures about human rights to military personnel and have inspected prisons. They also deal with many letters of complaint.

Asked for comment by DVB after the report was released today, Khon Ja, coordinator of Kachin Peace Network, said that the role of MNHRC is akin to an advisory commission to the government. She said they did not have the power to do anything if the administration ignored their advice.

She also rebuked the Commission for not keeping complaints confidential.

“A Kachin man sent a letter of complaint to the Commission, saying that his daughter had been shot dead by a government soldier during an armed clash,” she explained. “But instead [of investigating the matter], the man was arrested and charged with ‘defaming the military’.”

In a well publicised case over a year ago, the MNHRC was censured by parliament for failing to act on a case where two housemaids working for the Ava Tailor garment shop in downtown Yangon accused their former employers of enslaving and torturing them.