Ja Seng Ing was killed as she walked to school in her green and white student uniform in the village of Hpakant in northern Kachin state in September 2012. Myanmar’s army said the girl was killed by a mine laid by Kachin rebel troops and is seeking to have her father, Brang Shawng, jailed for up to two years for falsely accusing the military of her killing.
He was taken to court after he wrote to Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission and President Thein Sein about the killing in October 2012.
In a press release issued Thursday, Bangkok-based Fortify Rights – one of the groups that signed the open letter – says a defense cross-examination indicated that members of an army committee tasked with investigating the killing had not been at site and lacked awareness of the incident.
It also adds that a key witness, the doctor who pronounced the schoolgirl dead after performing an emergency surgery, was transferred to western Chin state and removed from the witness list before providing his testimony in court.
Matthew Bugher, Global Justice Fellow at Harvard Law School, told the Irrawaddy local news website, “The case against Brang Shawng is a gross perversion of justice.”
He accused the military of retaliating against Brang Shawng “for speaking out about the death of his daughter, rather than ensuring that those responsible are held to account.”
Bugher added: “Rather than upholding the rights of citizens, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission has once again acquiesced in the face of military abuses and retaliation against rights defenders.”
In addition to Fortify Rights and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, the signatories of the open letter include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights and the International Commission of Jurists.
Earlier this month, 10 Kachin community organizations under the name Ja Seng Ing Truth Finding Committee issued a 42-page report demanding an investigation into the killing. Drawing on eyewitness testimony and an “investigation of the alleged crime scene,” the report cites witnesses as saying there was "indiscriminate gunfire" in the village at the time of the girl’s death.
Government troops have been fighting the Kachin Independence Army in the mountainous state since a 17-year cease-fire broke down in 2011.
Military impunity has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks after Harvard Law School academics accused three senior military officers of war crimes.
In 2011, Myanmar began a series of democratic reforms after the military junta stepped aside for a regime staffed by retired generals. The military itself, though, has remained largely untouched by the reform process.
The fighting in Kachin has led to widespread accusations of human rights abuses by government soldiers, including the shelling of civilians and torture.