YANGON, Myanmar — People in a remote Myanmar community where soldiers killed at least five unarmed civilians said Tuesday they are disappointed by the punishment, even though convictions of military personnel for human rights violations are virtually unprecedented.
A regional military tribunal last Thursday sentenced seven soldiers to five years imprisonment for killing villagers in Lashio district of Shan state.
“We don’t think it is fair for the families of the victims: no compensation to the families and light punishment for the murderers,” said Nan Kham Yone, a Shan human rights activist.
The victims’ buried bodies were found in shallow graves close to the army camp where they had been detained in late June during a period of fighting with armed ethnic rebels. Civilians have frequently been detained for interrogations about suspected ties with ethnic rebels.
During decades of counterinsurgency warfare against ethnic minority guerrillas, Myanmar’s army has been accused of countless human rights violations.
An elected civilian government under Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi took power this year from an army-backed regime and is seeking a comprehensive peace agreement with the ethnic minority groups, which want greater autonomy, but fighting continues in several regions.
“I assume that the tribunal gave sentences of just five years’ imprisonment to the soldiers because they are the military. It could have been higher,” said villager Sai Han, referring to the army’s reputation for impunity.
Military tribunals in Myanmar are normally not public but activists said villagers, families of the victims and village chiefs were allowed to attend the recent trial. However, said Sai Han, they were not allowed to speak at the proceedings.
Some rights activists acknowledged that the tribunal represented an improvement over past practices.
“Yes, the punishment is too light for the criminal act of this mass killing, but we have to welcome the military’s revealing it, which rarely happens; usually cases have not revealed in the past,” said Robert Sann Aung, a lawyer and prominent human rights defender.