Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission has just published a website. The site is quite sophisticated and contains a lot of information. Well worth checking out.
Category Archives: human rights
Sadly, I’m starting to wonder if I should start a new section called “blame the victim” on Rule by Hukum. This week, two more Muslims have been arrested in connection to the communal riots in Okkan, near Yangon. One of the Muslim women allegedly accidentally bumped into a Buddhist monk, while another woman yelled at the monk for lying about the incident. The incident then caused a riot in which Muslim property was burned.
Of course, what happened to the monk is unfortunate. But the rioting against Muslims has gotten out of hand. Even more worrying has been the ineffective government response. According to The Irrawaddy, “Burma has seen clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in several states this year, but so far only Muslims have been imprisoned.” This year, the government has convicted more than 10 Muslims but no Buddhists.
I have published a short review of John T. Dale’s Free Burma in the Journal of World-Systems Research. Dale’s book explores the implications of transnational human rights litigation, focusing on the case that Burmese rights groups filed against UNOCAL under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA).
One of my questions about the book is whether ATCA suits represent a viable tool for human rights advocates. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, probably not. In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., the majority, led by Chief Justice Roberts, declared that there should be a “presumption against extraterritoriality” in the application of the law. While this doesn’t bar future ATCA suits – and EarthRights notes the decision does not bar all ATCA suits against corporations – it certainly will discourage lower court judges from admitting them.
As I’ve noted several times, aside from the Constitutional Tribunal, Myanmar’s judicial system hasn’t become notably more progressive or activist under President Thein Sein’s government. However, the Mayangone Township Court recently issued a decision questioning police brutality. According to a summary from Irrawaddy:
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has hailed a Nov. 9 ruling by the Mayangone Township Court that found that the death of a man in police custody had not been natural. AHRC said the ruling, which it recently obtained, could be “a landmark case” as the post-mortem inquest would logically be followed by an investigation into which police officer was responsible for the death. “Very rarely [in Burma] have police officers been held to account for their crimes, and least of all, those committed on persons in custody,” it said. Myo Myint Swe, 19, was arrested for the murder of a woman in June and died in custody in July.
Stay tuned for more about this potentially landmark case.
Aquino’s legacy on the rule of law is still being determined. On the one hand, judges complain that the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona is becoming essentially trial by publicity. On the other hand, some human rights activists credit the president for going after former general Jovito Palparan, one of the masterminds behind extrajudicial killings against suspected leftists (although Palparan remains at large). Ironically, under the Puno Supreme Court had pushed for bringing human rights violators to justice while the Arroyo administration stalled.
According to DVB, Burma’s new Human Rights Commission is now accepting complaints. It’s perhaps somewhat surprising that the commission will hear and decide actual cases, however it is in line with President Thein Sein’s mini-glasnost. Cases already filed in the regular courts will not be transferred, but from this point on the commission should be the primary point institution for human rights cases. Some critics worry that the commission will essentially act as a Trojan horse, turning on complainants once they reveal themselves to the commission. Indeed, Burma’s courts have often “blamed the victim” by allowing government officials to countersue complainants for defamation (the Su Su Nwe case was a particularly blatant example of this). However, the commission could also represent the new government’s attempt to bypass the corrupted judiciary completely.
In other interesting news, the Pyithu Hluttaw passed a law that would allow peaceful protests. Interestingly, according to Myanmar Times, the Hluttaw Bill Committee struck down one amendment for not conforming to the 2008 Constitution. This might be a sign that this committee will begin exercising legislative constitutional review even before cases reach the Constitutional Tribunal.
Since his disappearance in 2007, Jonas Burgos has been the poster child for the problem of enforced disappearances in the Philippines. While the Philippine Supreme Court under Chief Justice Reynato Puno had expressed its support for resolving these cases, and even promulgated new writs to help, thus far it hasn’t been able to bring the perpetrators to justice, much less find Burgos. Now, the Supreme Court has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to produce Burgos… or else. Given the power of the AFP, it’s not clear whether the Supreme Court can enforce its order. Indeed, the Court also suggested that the AFP should be should be held in contempt for not complying with earlier orders to produce documents related to other disappearances. Still, the decision is perhaps a good sign that the Supreme Court under the new chief justice, Renato Corona, hasn’t abandoned his predecessor’s mission. Read more at PhilStar.