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Impunity Prevails after Two Youths Killed in Pegu

By Burma Partnership  •  September 13, 2010

On 4 September, two youths were shot execution style in Pegu, north-east of Rangoon. The incident took place shortly after midnight when the youths were involved in a minor traffic accident with a motorbike carrying two military officers. One eye-witness reported, “After arguing with local youngsters, about 10 soldiers, including officers, came back to the town with arms, looking for the young men they had had problems with. The soldiers found them near a local teashop and shot them after more arguing.” The youths were identified as Aung Thu Hein, 22, and Soe Paing Zaw, 18.

Authorities appear to be attempting to minimize the repercussions from the incident, which led to hundreds of angry residents gathering at the hospital. The families of the victims have reportedly been offered 1 million kyat (US $1,000) compensation each in exchange for their silence. The youths’ families were not allowed to see the bodies, and security was extremely tight at the funeral. Some activists and students were even blocked from attending the service.

However, the families have expressed that they have to hope for justice. “How can we rely on the legal system? We can’t even file this case at the police station,” said Aung Thu Hein’s aunt.

The killings are a sad and shocking example of the regime’s general disregard for human rights and the culture of impunity that exists in Burma. Sporadic inhumane acts carried out by individual officers, such as this one, and widespread crimes against humanity committed by the regime as a systematic policy, continue unchecked. With a flawed and corrupt legal system, there are no official mechanisms for the people of Burma to seek justice. Furthermore, this system of impunity will be legalized when the 2008 Constitution comes into effect after the elections.

In response to the brutal killings, state-run media claimed the incident was merely a “drunken brawl” that was being exploited to spark riots in the country. The paper continued by stating, “the government is now gearing up hand in hand with the people… [to take] action against those elements deceiving the people into taking to the streets with the intention of destroying State stability and peace”.

The regime is well aware that this is a situation that may not blow over without consequences. As Burma observers may recall, the countrywide protests of 8.8.88 initially grew from student protests over the death of a fellow student at the hands of the authorities. That one incident, coupled with the deteriorating economy and repressive socio-political climate, led to one of the most significant uprisings in the history of Burma.

The regime’s concern highlights that they themselves recognize that they do not have the support of the people of Burma. Fraudulent elections will entrench this culture of impunity and will not help to protect human rights – even the right to life, liberty and security of person. The international community must take a strong stance against impunity in Burma by joining the growing call for a UN commission of inquiry.

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