According to The Irrawaddy, the Hluttaw’s Judicial Affairs Committee Chairman Thura Aung Ko has revealed that the committee has received over 10,000 letters of complaints, 90% of which made allegations of corruption. Much of the corruption seems to have involved defendants bringing judges or court staff in order to win favorable outcomes. This is not too surprising given reports of corruption in the judiciary. What is not yet clear is the content of the cases, i.e. if they involve business or human rights disputes. In other words, who is affected most by judicial corruption in Myanmar? Does it have a disproportionate impact in certain types of cases? Hopefully, the committee will release a detailed report containing its full findings.
Category Archives: Myanmar
On Monday, Myanmar’s governing Union Solidarity and Development Party announced that it would support amending § 59(f) of the 2008 Constitution to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president. I share my thoughts on this development in the International Journal of Constitutional Law‘s I-CONnect blog.
On another note, hope everybody reading this has a happy and productive New Year!
The International Commission of Jurists has released a new report about the state of the legal profession in Myanmar. The Irrawaddy provides a nice summary of the report and its key findings. I won’t bother resummarizing the report here, but I do think it worth commenting on a few aspects.
Most of the challenges mentioned in the report are quite similar to those faced by lawyers under military rule (as discussed in Nic Cheesman’s dissertation). In other words, recent political reforms have not necessarily changed the type of problems lawyers face, but has affected the degree to which those problems hinder the work of lawyers. For example, while ICJ still reports instances of government agents harassing human rights lawyers, lawyers do seem to agree that the room for them to operate has expanded considerably.
It is also interesting that reform of the Bar Council has emerged as a key demand. During the era of military rule, the Bar Council seemed to play a relatively minor role and evinced few complaints. Of course, this partly reflects the fact that lawyers can now openly advocate for institutional reform. However, even in private interviews, lawyers often expressed disappointment with the Bar Council or dismissed it as a tool of the government, but seldom pointed to it as one of the most important barriers the legal profession faced.
In a sense, I suspect the focus on the Bar Council reflects the legal profession’s increased interest in mobilizing on behalf of causes. Aside from lawyers associated with the National League for Democracy and other political parties, the legal profession remained relatively unpoliticized before 2011. Few lawyers mobilized on behalf of cause lawyering. Since 2011, more lawyers have participated in legal aid clinics and have protested government legal aid policies. It seems lawyers view Bar Council reform as the next logical step in ensuring that they can mobilize without undue government influence.
I served my time in law school and have no desire to return, yet the news that Yangon University will accept 50 new undergraduate law students – the first cohort since 1996 – on December 2* is perhaps the best news I have heard from the country in many months. Previously, the university only offered law degrees through distance learning programs at satellite campuses (see Myint Zan’s 2008 article for a more detailed discussion of the problems with the legal education system). According to The Irrawaddy, Johns Hopkins University, Australian National University, and Dulles University are involved in assisting Yangon University as it revises its curriculum.
The last law curriculum I saw had a heavy emphasis on theory rather than practical skills. It was particularly puzzling to see international and comparative law on the syllabus (presumably because the military viewed those courses as politically innocuous). With the renewal of on-campus classes and continuing legal education (CLE) programs established by BABSEA, Myanmar’s legal education system might finally be starting the long road towards providing law students with the skills the need to thrive in an increasingly dynamic legal system.
* Coincidence that this is also my birthday? I think not.
On Friday, according to The Irrawaddy, local authorities in Naypyitaw refused to give the National League for Democracy permission to conduct a poll of local support for amending the 2008 Constitution. The government reversed itself soon after and allowed the poll.
Not surprisingly, the NLD found overwhelming support for constitutional amendment. Out of the approximately 25,000 people who participated, 88% supported amendment, 8% favored rewriting the entire constitution, and the rest were neutral.
As The Irrawaddy notes, the poll’s methodology is questionable; it certainly would not merit publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal. Asking people to attend a polling station creates a self-selection bias in which residents who are more likely to agree with the NLD are also more likely to participate. There was no attempt at random sampling.
Naypyitaw itself is hardly representative of the entire country. However, that fact might bias against the NLD’s results; one would imagine that, as the seat of government and the military, Naypyitaw is less likely to be a stronghold of the NLD (although in the April 2012 by-elections the NLD did win several seats).
More important is which constitutional amendments people would support. The NLD has prioritized reducing the role of the military in politics and allowing Burmese with non-citizen dependents (specifically, Aung San Suu Kyi) to run for president. It’s far from clear if and to what extent this platform represents the preferences of the 88% who voted in favor of amendment, much less the rest of the country. In fact, there are many other parts of the constitution that would benefit from amendment, including the overly vague provisions on the powers of legislative committees.