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.
First of all, I apologize for the sparseness of posts over the last week or so. I have finals coming up, so I’m afraid I won’t be able to write much for a while. However, here’s one piece of news I found interesting:
I’ve already written several times about the bickering between the Aquino administration and the Philippine judiciary. Now, in response to allegations that not enough has been done to punish those accused of murdering journalists, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda recently stated:
Those cases already in the court, I think the pressure from the journalists should be exerted towards the judiciary and not the executive branch.
I always worry when a government official calls for “pressure” to be exerted on the judiciary, even in human rights cases. I understand Lacierda’s basic point that the cases are out of the executive’s hands now, but the phrasing of his response suggests some animosity remains. As political scientists, we rarely get to listen in on politicians’ private conversations, so offhand comments like this are particularly noteworthy.
A few years ago, I wrote an op-ed discussing the African Union’s advances in protecting human rights on a regional level, and suggested ASEAN could learn from them. Did Aung San Suu Kyi read it? Probably not, but I found it interesting that she recently told a Philippine senator that ASEAN’s human rights involvement in Myanmar should be modeled on that of the A.U. She cited the A.U. in Cote d’Ivoire, which I hadn’t emphasized in my op-ed (at the time, SAARC and Zimbabwe seemed more relevant). Either way, I think she’s onto something in drawing the comparison to Africa rather than the E.U.
According to Democratic Voice of Burma, three men from Mon State who claim to have been tortured and arrested are petitioning the Supreme Court for their release. Of course, Burma’s Supreme Court doesn’t have a great track record on these types of cases. Still, the plaintiffs’ family members are taking an interesting approach. According to one:
“We are not looking to put the blame on anyone or to get compensation. As Buddhists, we just blame it on karma. We just want our loved one released from prison and the family of [San Shwe] be informed about his death so they can hold a funeral.
Basically, they seem to hope that they can at least get their loved ones released from prison if they promise not to threaten elite interests. It will be interesting to see if this approach works.
Unfortunately, the approach of several farmers in Kachin State seeking takings compensation did not work. Yuzana construction company initially offered the farmers approximately $100 per acre of land. The farmers sued, obviously hoping to obtain more compensation. Instead, the court awarded less – just $8 per acre. This is a valuable and tragic lesson in the unpredictable nature of law and legal institutions in Burma.
In other news, according to Irrawaddy, Rangoon’s government bookstore started selling books containing the new parliamentary laws and bylaws yesterday, but almost immediately ran out. Despite disillusionment with the November 7 elections, it seems people want to understand the political process.
While many hoped Aquino’s inauguration would lead to an end to EJKs and other human rights abuses, FIlipino NGO Bayan claims that they have continued at a rate of one per week. This is disturbing in and of itself. During the Arroyo administration, many critics alleged that EJKs were part of her strategy against Leftists. However, now with Arroyo out, it’s perhaps even more worrisome now because it indicates that Aquino might not have full control over the army. Thus far, I have year to hear Aquino make a strong statement on the issue. (For background on this issue, see my blog article for the Asia Foundation).