An Open Letter from the Asian Human Rights Commission to the chairpersons of four parliamentary committees
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
Chairwoman, Pyithu Hluttaw Rule of Law & Tranquillity Committee
Thura U Aung Ko
Chairman, Pyithu Hluttaw Judicial & Legal Affairs Committee
U Aung Nyein
Chairman, Amyotha Hluttaw Public Complaints & Petitions Committee
Dr Aye Maung
Chairman, Amyotha Hluttaw Citizens’ Fundamental Rights, Democracy & Human Rights Committee
We are taking the unusual step today of writing to the four chairpersons of parliamentary committees in Myanmar pursuant to a letter sent to the four of you dated 26 November 2012 by Phyo Wai Aung, the young man falsely accused and tortured to confess of involvement in the April 2010 Myanmar New Year festival bombing in Yangon. In his letter, Phyo Wai Aung appealed to your respective committees to help him restore his dignity and reveal the truth about what had happened to him from the time of his arrest at home one night shortly after the bombing until his release from prison on a presidential order of 3 August 2012.
The president’s order, although mercifully enabling Phyo Wai Aung to be reunited with his family – in hospital, where he had to remain to undergo treatment for cancer that was deliberately neglected by prison authorities for most of his time of incarceration – did not overturn the patently flawed and unjust conviction delivered against him by a court sitting inside the central prison in Yangon. Phyo Wai Aung had applied to appeal the verdict but on 9 October 2012 Judges Myint Aung and Myint Han of the Supreme Court inexplicably rejected his application (Criminal Appeal No. 14/2012, Death Sentence Confirmation No. 12/2012). Thereafter, he wrote to you to request whatever assistance your committees could provide.
I personally met with Phyo Wai Aung at hospital in December 2012. The man I met obviously had tremendous courage and determination. He was digging up reserves of energy to fight his case into the future, and to rebuild his family, so badly damaged by the noxious effects of the case brought against him. I could see the rightful expectation of a person, wronged for reasons beyond his control, wanting to clear his name of the charges levelled against him, and to ensure that his family is not haunted because of the malicious allegations Phyo Wai Aung successfully defended. I learned with great sorrow of his passing away on 4 January 2013, before he could clear his name or begin to do all those things again that would enable his family to lead a normal, happy life.
From my brief meeting with Phyo Wai Aung, and what I know of his case through the extensive documentation and advocacy work that the Asian Human Rights Commission has conducted on it over the last three years, I am confident that he would want us all to continue to fight to have his innocence officially declared, not only so that his own name could be restored, but so that the facts of the behaviour of the Myanmar Special Branch and judiciary could be fully revealed. His passing away does not change the facts of what was done to him over eleven days of torture in police custody after his arrest, and in the months and years subsequently when he was subjected to institutionalised abuse both physical and psychological in nature of the most egregious varieties.
Accordingly, we urge you to take up his case in your respective committee mandates with a view to achieving the following outcomes:
1. Reopening of the case and having the criminal conviction of Phyo Wai Aung quashed.
2. Providing Phyo Wai Aung’s family with redress commensurable with the gravity of the loss suffered, not only through his death but through the constant suffering caused by the case brought against him.
3. Investigating of all those officials complicit in the gross human rights abuses of human rights that occurred in this case, with a view to the necessary actions being taken against each. In the case of judicial officers and others who abetted the abuse, action should be disciplinary in nature; in the case of the Special Branch police responsible for Phyo Wai Aung’s torture, it should be criminal in nature.
We are aware that a number of your committees have submitted reports to the parliament that already speak to institutional defects in the judicial and police services, and the extent of executive control of the judiciary, while others have also received and are investigating thousands of complaints from around the country on a range of issues. We consider this case to be of utmost importance, intersecting with all of your mandates, since it speaks loudly to the larger institutional problems with which you are concerned while also calling for specific measures to redress the deceased victim and family.
Thus, we encourage you to take the opportunity to do justice for Phyo Wai Aung and to respect the contents of his final letter appealing for your help. For our part we will continue to raise the case at both the domestic and international level until such a time that not only can we say that justice has in fact been done for Phyo Wai Aung, but that the culture of arbitrary detention, torture, forced confession and judicial complicity in gross acts of violence and abuse in Myanmar is once and for all at an end.
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong
Chief Justice, Naypyitaw, MYANMAR
Director General, Office of the Attorney General, Naypyitaw, MYANMAR
Chairperson, Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, Yangon, MYANMAR
UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, OHCHR-UNOG, SWITZERLAND
UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, OHCHR-UNOG, SWITZERLAND
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, OHCHR-UNOG, SWITZERLAND
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Regional Office, THAILAND