Htet Aung, a journalist for The Irrawaddy, has written a fascinating account of a recent case in Burma’s judicial system. Unlike most news articles about courts in Burma, the litigants in this case aren’t high-profile political dissidents but rather farmers and workers. Their only crime was to resist attack from workers whose boss had close connections with Burma’s economic and military elite. The article is striking in that it shows how corruption and cronyism in Burma have filtered down throughout the judicial system. Unfortunately, this is the type of judicial corruption that is particularly problematic to uproot.
Aung Thein, a public interest lawyer associated with the National League for Democracy, was particularly critical of the courts. Htet Aung writes:
President Thein Sein pledged in his first presidential speech that the new government must carry out “clean and good governance.” Asked whether a reform of the judiciary should be one of the first priorities of the new administration, Aung Thein said, “Handing out the maximum sentence is such an easy job. Even a court clerk can do that.”
That highlights a crucial difference between the “rule of law” and “law and order.” The latter simply concerns controling crime, whereas the former requires elites and government officials to subject themselves to the law.
I encourage you to read the entire article here. I hope Htet Aung and his colleagues at The Irrawaddy continue to publish articles like this one about the courts.