One year on from the rape and murder of two Kachin school teachers in northern Burma, advocacy group Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) released a damning report accusing the government and military of a “systematic cover-up” of the crime.
On the morning of 20 January, volunteer teachers Maran Lu Ran, 20, and Tangbau Hkwan Nan Tsin, 21, were found dead in their hostel, in a compound of the Karen Baptist Church (KBC) in Kawng Hka, northern Shan State. The absence of the two at morning classes provoked concern, prompting villagers to check their accommodation – where they found the bodies of the teachers’ badly beaten and exhibiting evidence of sexual assault.
In a report called ‘Justice Delayed, Justice Denied’, KWAT alleges that Naypyidaw has worked to protect the real perpetrators of the murders – who many believe are military members.
On Tuesday KWAT called into question the political and moral will of both the government and the military in bringing the real culprits to justice. Many laid the blame squarely at the feet of the 503rd Light Infantry Battalion –after a column of troops arrived in the village on 19 January – the night of the murders.
Rumours that combat boot footprints were present at the scene further compounded suspicions, and trucks carrying servicemen were seen leaving the village in the early hours before the bodies were discovered.
“The government’s priorities were clear in the Kawng Kha case – protect the military at all cost,” she said in the release.
‘Justice Delayed, Justice Denied’, the result of a joint enquiry between KWAT and Legal Action Network (LAN), raises concerns that the police investigation unfairly targeted local villagers, in place of identifying and thoroughly interviewing the servicemen who were stationed in the village at the time.
The Muse Strategic Military Commander and only 200 servicemen were directed to Kawng Kha after the crime came to light, however KWAT contends that only 28 of those men were questioned by police. Forensic procedures and evidence collection was reportedly sub-standard.
A police search of local households yielded no results: “Despite the fact that police searched over 10 houses in the village, no single piece of evidence which could have identified any villager as a suspect, was found,” the report said.
The report contends that all available evidence points to a visitor the village: “The Kawng Kha crime was committed by an unidentified force systematically, without being noticed by the entire village. The circumstantial as well as physical evidence implicates the soldiers from the Light Infantry Regiment No. 503, the troops of the ruling regime in Burma, as suspects. There was no other military force at the time the incident happened.”
Matthew Smith, founder and director of Fortify Rights, said the Burmese military had long committed abuses against the ethnic population with impunity, and that this case is more of the same.
“The authorities haven’t conducted a meaningful investigation and instead threatened legal action against anyone alleging government responsibility. These fear tactics are a blueprint for Thein Sein’s appalling human rights record over the last few years. Rather than take allegations of grave crimes seriously, the government typically provides knee-jerk reactions of outright denial,” he said.
In a chronology of events reported by Kachinland News, witnesses placed the victims at a birthday party the night of the murders, where Maran Lu Ran and Tangbau Hkwan Nan Tsin allegedly encountered two military men on sentry duty on their way to the latrine. The women remarked on the encounter to those at the party. The same timeline stated some locals had noticed guards following the two women as they left the party that night.
Despite mounting international and domestic pressure, President Thein Sein ignored appeals to recognise the findings of a KBC committee, formed shortly after the crime, to conduct its own independent investigation, in partnership with legal and criminal experts.
Ten days after the murders, state media defended the military’s innocence and denied the Burmese army had any part in the murders.
Advocacy groups have repeatedly called for reform to constitutional clauses that guarantee the military’s sway over the legal process. KWAT calls the influence a “structural barrier to justice in Burma.”
Burma Partnership likewise called for the government to recognise the mandate of the KBC committee, and invited the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding commission to conduct their own enquiries. Echoing KWAT, the group called upon the NLD to “promptly execute” their demands.
The NGO condemned what they see as the repeated impunity of the military in the sexual violence and assault of ethnic women across the country, stating that it: “…In effect, also encourages further abuses in all places and emboldens perpetrators to commit crimes again and again.
“In such a time as this of striving for peace by all means, guaranteeing women’s lives and security is the utmost requirement. Otherwise, achieving genuine peace and lasting national reconciliation will still be far away.”
Read more about the murdered Kachin schoolteachers case here.