Four quit Myanmar rights panel amid outcry over handling of child abuse case

YANGON: Four members of Myanmar's National Human Rights Commission have stepped down after a public outcry over the panel's handling of a child abuse case, the office of President Htin Kyaw said on Thursday.

The commission is tasked with tackling the abuses that continue to be reported in Myanmar despite a transition to a democratically elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this year.

It has been under scrutiny since it emerged last month that commissioners had brokered a compensation deal in a case where two girls were allegedly held against their will and abused over a period of five years by the owners of a tailor shop in Yangon, the commercial capital.

Photographs showed that the girls, aged 16 and 17, had suffered burns and their arms were lined with scars from knife wounds.

A journalist who discovered the abuse reported it to the Human Rights Commission after police had not taken action for some three months, according to a statement from the commission.

Critics said the panel failed in its duty by allowing the shop owners to resolve the problem outside the courts by negotiating a cash settlement of about $4,000 paid to the girls' families.

After a public outcry, police have announced the arrests of six members of the family that owned the shop, who are facing trial on charges including human trafficking.

The president's office had earlier said it was reviewing the actions of the 11-member commission, which was established in 2012 and included some former officials who served in the previous military government that was frequently accused of rights abuses.

On Thursday, his office said Htin Kyaw had accepted the voluntary resignations of four commissioners closely involved in the tailor shop case - Zaw Win, Nyan Zaw, Than Nwe and Mya Mya.

The announcement did not give further details, but lawyers and activists closely following the case said they hoped criminal action would still be taken against the four.

"I don't think stepping down is enough. The grievances of the victims are too severe to be compensated merely with the commissioners' resignations," said prominent lawyer Robert San Aung.

"Effective action should be taken to make an example of them."