(7th March, 2018)
Myanmar International Convention Centre (MICC – II), Nay Pyi Taw
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Mingalar Bar, a warm welcome to you all.
Today’s conference is the first of its kind because it aims to create a discussion around effective processes and procedures for better justice sector coordinating and the role of the Coordinating Bodies for Rule of Law Centres and Justice Sector Affairs in Myanmar.
On behalf of the government, I congratulate all the Coordinating Bodies, as well as the Advisory Group and the Working Group which have and continue to support them. I know that the members of each of these Bodies have worked incredibly hard to make this conference a reality. I also give my thanks to each of the donors and development partners responsible for supporting this event.
Setting the Scene
Myanmar is going through a critical period of transition. The government is dealing with social, economic, rule of law and justice challenges.
Looking back at Myanmar’s recent legal history, our country had formidable legal credentials just after our independence. The Burma Law Reports of the 1950s were on a par with the Hong Kong and Singapore law reports of that era, and with those of other respected Common Law jurisdictions. It is essential that all relevant stakeholders work together to grow upon our Common Law roots and return to the good practices that made our legal history so notable.
To that end, there has been significant progress in the justice sector this year, including the Union Supreme Court and the Union Attorney General’s Office adoption of modern Codes of Ethics that meet international standards to be followed by all judges and law officers. That said, while adopting them has been an important step, it is crucial to implement and enforce them fully so that citizens benefit and the public is aware of them.
Rebuilding Rule of Law
Rebuilding and reforming the rule of law and justice sector is a top priority for Myanmar. It is also vital for our efforts towards sustaining Peace and Development.
Therefore, I would like to encourage everyone who is working at the Coordinating Bodies for Rule of Law Centre and Justice Sector Affairs: Hluttaw representatives from Regions and States, the Supreme Court of the Union, the Union Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the General Administration Department and Myanmar Police Force, and responsible persons from the National Human Rights Commission, lawyers, representatives from civil society organizations, UNDP, IDLO, USAID, Denmark, JICA, MyJustice and Development Partners to cooperate and coordinate in a balanced manner. Furthermore, to achieve Rule of Law, those responsible, especially in the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary must work together among themselves with diligence and in unison.
Benefits of Rule of Law
The benefits, if there is genuine rule of law, are many. By way of example:
1. When each individual can legally challenge injustices, and do so with confidence that they will receive a fair and impartial hearing at court, rather than resorting to non-legal means, this delivers long-term social and democratic stability. There is no need and there is no excuse for people to resort to vigilante conduct or to take the law into their own hands.
2. Rule of law also supports economic development. If there is genuine rule of law, both foreign and domestic businesses can compete fairly. If they feel that the law is transparent and predictable, that there is a level playing-field and that disputes will be resolved pursuant to established laws and procedures under a strong business legal framework, this will encourage investment and drive our country’s development.
Myanmar’s Rule of Law Centres
During my tenure as Chair of the Parliamentary Committee for Rule of Law and Tranquility, we developed the concept for Rule of Law Centres to be established across this country. The idea grew out of the need to deliver large scale, practical legal skills training to a future generation of legal professionals who were not yet knowledgeable about the law, but wanted to serve for the benefit of others. The concept evolved and expanded to include a focus on connecting lawyers with communities they serve and on providing community leaders with basic knowledge of legal principles and with advocacy and other practical skills.
In 2013, we discussed with UNDP for rule of law. In 2014, two pilot rule of law centres in Mandalay and Lashio were developed by UNDP and IDLO, proved to be a great achievement for rule of law. Following the success of these pilot centres, Rule of Law Centres have been established in Myitkyina, Yangon and Taunggyi.
Strengthening our Legal Profession
The role of the legal profession in our country has changed in the last few years. Lawyers are now practicing more effectively on behalf of the aggrieved. The legal profession as a whole must be subject to standardized admission practices, codes of ethics and disciplinary procedures, and continuing legal education so they can better help the public.
Strengthening our Judiciary
The Judicial system and the courts must be strong and reliable for justice to prevail. The public trust in people who are working in the Justice Sector has eroded. It is because of corruption, exercising the law for their own interests, failing the principle of upholding justice without favour, and not performing their work efficiently and lacking expertise. Thus, these main challenges in the Justice Sector of our country must be prioritized.
Relating to our criminal legal system, when a complaint is made by an aggrieved person, it must be responded to immediately. After the detention of an accused person, arrangements must be made to give them access to a lawyer promptly so they can discuss the case. We must also bring cases before the court quickly, avoid delayed processes, and respect the full the rights of the accused. On the other hand, aggrieved persons and complainants should have redress under the Law. We must give due regard to the adage “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.”
We are pleased to hear that the Union Attorney General’s Office is preparing to publish the Fair Trial Guidance Manual. I believe that if it is observed in the prosecution of criminal cases, public confidence in the judicial system will improve and these standards can highly support the Rule of Law and the Justice.
Developing Alternative Dispute Resolution
Myanmar has a long tradition of settling disputes through their village and ethnic leaders according to long-held customs in each region of Myanmar; they do not resolve their problems in courts. We should consider improving these practices of traditional dispute resolution in the future. The courts are not the only forum in which to solve disputes.
It is my observation that at the community level, the majority of people continue to use long-standing local methods for solving disputes and are reluctant to take cases to the formal or official justice system of the State. The costs, time and distance required to travel to the courts can also be too challenging. We must ensure that those people do not face additional burdens when they are in court or at the police station. We should treat them fairly and offer appropriate legal protections.
Therefore, in formulating our national justice strategy, we should take into consideration the use of mediation in resolving disputes systematically and the development of various modes of alternative dispute resolution to settle disputes.
Police and Rule of Law
A professional, reliable and trusted police force that can better serve the public is essential for implementing the rule of law. A great many of the complaints sent to higher authorities are concerned with the police. If the public is afraid to seek help from the police or do not wish to come forward about a criminal matter, the relationship and cooperation between the public and the police will deteriorate. Consequently, the Rule of Law will stumble.
I realize that there are inadequate resources for the police force to do their job effectively. They need better training on how to respond to modern forms of crime to carry out investigations of crimes, make inquiry of the accused, collecting evidence, money laundering, and cyber-crimes, how to cooperate with the public, and how to make sure that anyone suspected or accused of a crime is treated fairly according to the law.
The General Administration Department, the courts, law offices, and police forces are responsible under the law to protect the public. They play a crucial role in implementing Rule of Law effectively in Myanmar.
I have noticed that public trust and confidence in police force and administration department improves as these institutions provide their services in a matter that is fair and that people feel satisfied with.
In respect of Legal Aid, we have seen that not every aggrieved party can acquire their legal rights. Especially, the poor, the children, women, and people with disabilities still find it difficult to obtain the assistance of courts for access to justice.
At present, the Union Attorney General’s Office hires a lawyer with State funds to appear for an indigent person accused of a criminal offence punishable by death. Recently the Union Legal Aid Body was established to provide legal aid services effectively and to ensure that the public has access to justice. The Legal Aid Body will be formed in the various regions, districts, and township levels and they will support the rule of law and justice affairs.
Developing Good Governance and Administrative Justice
As you all know, each and every one of us is concerned with the daily administrative actions and decisions of government departments and civil service personnel.
Administrative measures and decisions have as much impact on people’s lives as judicial decisions. The public ultimately suffers from poor or illegal decisions made by government officials that are not made in compliance with the law.
The aggrieved person can seek a remedy by way of a writ petition if he finds that any order, directive or decision of government organizations is not in conformity with the law or the person was not treated fair. On the other hand, the civil service personnel need to perform their duties carefully not to negatively affect the people.
When administrative measures and decisions are made without reference to the relevant laws and regulations, it leads to poor use of due discretion and can result in biased decision making. As a result, failing to reference the legal basis for decisions by civil servants will negatively impact the rule of law and make people less confident in government. I would like to say the civil service personnel in relevant areas should not forget that they are serving the public and to carry out their duties selflessly and with good intentions.
In addition, we should not do our jobs only when there is a complaint; we must instead provide our functions dutifully and responsibly. To improve the broader governance practices of the public sector, accountability and transparency in decision making and complaints handling is necessary.
As I continue to state, corruption is the major obstacle for the rule of law and needs to be addressed. Addressing corruption is essential to delivering good governance. It relies on the “tone from the top” and each of you here today must consider yourselves responsible for setting the appropriate tone in a clear and forceful manner and remove opportunities for corruption.
Government organizations not only need to cooperate with the Anti-Corruption Commission but also implement E-government functions with great effort.
Cleaning up corruption is not a program but a culture. It is a culture that needs collective effort by the government and the public for sustainable development of the country.
The Role of Individuals
The rule of law, peace and the stability of our country are inter-connected and are the concern and responsibility of every single one of our people. We must put greater emphasis on sharing and disseminating information so that our people not only know their legal rights but also the provisions that exist to combat violations of these rights. I would like to add that our people are entitled to their rights but also to perform their public obligations dutifully. For the coordinating bodies to function effectively, I wish to urge cooperation and harmony with the responsible persons from Hluttaw, the Supreme Court of the Union and respective government departments and organizations, legal experts, lawyers, persons from civil society organizations, and national and international organizations and to coordinate more among the relevant departments and organizations.
If the government organizations of respective Region and State provide necessary assistance, work by the Regional and State Coordinating bodies will be more effective. The respective governments need to support the sub-coordinating bodies.
Similarly, because department officers who are assigned to the sub-coordinating bodies are the key responsible personnel from the government agencies mainly concerned with the rule of law, they need to perform efficiently in their work with the sub-coordinating bodies in accordance with the laws, rules and regulations. They should not give favour to one particular department or person.
In conclusion, I am aware that rule of law and justice affairs are essential for a peaceful coexistence and development of Myanmar and our people.
The reform activities taking place in Myanmar are done with the intent to provide genuine peace in people’s lives, and that the stability of the country leads to development. This is why all government institutions must work honestly and correctly.
I would like to encourage as well that all relevant government institutions and departments work seriously and diligently, not because of a complaint or suggestions submitted by the people but because it is your duty and responsibility. Furthermore, when implementing activities on behalf of the coordinating bodies, your duty of loyalty is with the coordinating body, not your department or government agency.
All the frank advice and suggestions given from all the participants today will hugely benefit in strengthening the rule of law and in formulating programs and procedures for justice sector coordination.
Therefore, I would like to conclude my speech by urging all of you attending this workshop:
– to openly discuss, propose and advise on ways to strengthen the rule of law and have enduring justice;
– to create a new strategy for the future through the outcome of this conference; and
– to share your experiences, ideas and opinions for the rule of law in Myanmar.