YANGON—Home Affairs Ministry spokesman Police Colonel Kyaw Thiha confirmed the ministry has received a complaint against Police Brigadier-General Zaw Moe Than, who oversees appointments in the Myanmar Police Force, for alleged sexual exploitation of one of his subordinates.
Reports that around 18 female police officers were forced to sleep with their supervisors in exchange for promotions spread on social media last week.
At the press conference at the Home Affairs Ministry on Monday, Police Major-General Myo Swe Win said the case was under investigation, but did not identify the police officers who were the subjects of the complaints.
“We are still investigating the complaint. And if it is found to be true, action will be taken through the police court. We will provide updates on the latest situation,” said Police Maj-Gen Myo Swe Win.
Police Colonel Kyaw Thiha, when asked by The Irrawaddy on Thursday, confirmed that a complaint was filed against Police Brig-Gen Zaw Moe Than, but declined to provide further details.
“It is still under investigation. I can’t reveal the details,” he said.
According to police sources close to The Irrawaddy, Police Brig-Gen Zaw Moe Than is being detained in a police cell in Naypyitaw.
Demanding sex in exchange for a promotion is quite rare, though the practice of buying promotions and transfers to cities and money-making positions is common in the police force, said a retired officer who asked not to be named.
Some want the alleged sexual exploitation to be handled as an act of corruption. The Anti-Corruption Law defines corruption as occurring when those in a position of power abuse their position to gain something or avoid something.
When asked by The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Anti-Corruption Commission member U Kyaw Soe said the commission does not divulge information on the receipt of complaints. The commission always issues press releases about its activities, it said.
Lawyer U Thein Than Oo from Mandalay called for reforms to the police force. “Unless and until the 2008 Constitution is amended, such cases will remain. And they are not the real police, but transferred from the military. So, it is impossible for ordinary police [who joined the police force from lower ranks] to get promotions. They are blocked by ex-military personnel transferred from the military. As they can’t get promotions by honest means, they try dishonest means,” he said.
Police Brig-Gen Zaw Moe Than was a graduate of Intake 26 of the Defence Services Academy.
The most appropriate law under which to punish him would be the Myanmar Police Force Maintenance of Discipline Law, said U Thein Than Oo.
However, the police manual and police laws do not include provisions about sexual assaults by police, and only contain general provisions about morals, pointed out lawyer Daw Hla Hla Yi, the director of Legal Clinic Myanmar. Therefore, a lot needs to be done for women who face sexual harassment and exploitation in the workplace in Myanmar, she added.
Myanmar lacks laws and policies that can effectively protect women against sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace, the lawyer said.
“There is no specific law regarding the abuse of power and sexual exploitation and harassment in the workplace. And there are no policies. And it is difficult for subordinates to file lawsuits against their superiors under the Penal Code. In some cases, the lawsuits have to be filed by the victims themselves, and can’t be filed by police on their behalf. So, by filing the lawsuits, they risk losing their jobs and their safety,” Daw Hla Hla Yi said.
“It is quite a shame for our department. How will other government departments view female police officers?” said a police officer who asked for anonymity.
Former police captain Moe Yan Naing, who was sacked from the police force after testifying in court that two Reuters reporters were set up by the police while investigating extrajudicial killings in the sectarian conflict in Rakhine State, shared that view.
“This has seriously ruined the reputation of the police force. The fact that a top-level leader has committed a crime will undermine public trust in the police force. And this will make it difficult for lower level police members to engage with members of the public on the ground,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Women who are single, at least 5 feet, 3 inches tall and aged between 18 and 25 who have passed the second year of a university degree course are eligible to take the test to become a police constable.
They are entitled to a basic monthly salary of 144,000 kyats (US$104) and 54,000 kyats for food allowance per month plus two police uniforms and a month of leave per year, according to the Home Affairs Ministry.
The ministry stepped up its recruitment of policewomen in 2012, boosting its recruitment rate by over 20 percent compared to the past. They are assigned to office work, as well as to various departments. The highest rank a female police officer can achieve in the Myanmar Police Force is police major.