Myanmar Lawyers’ Group Says Ruling NLD Has ‘Failed’ on Rule of Law

Myanmar Lawyers’ Group Says Ruling NLD Has ‘Failed’ on Rule of Law The entrance to the Supreme Court of Myanmar is shown in the capital Naypyidaw in a file photo.

An association of lawyers’ groups in Myanmar has called on the ruling National League for Democracy to strengthen rule of law in the country, saying the NLD has largely failed in the first five years of its rule to protect legal rights.

Released on Dec. 6, the report by the Peace Law Academy, comprising 11 groups promoting ethics and professionalism in the country’s legal sector, analyzed more than 100 criminal cases from 2017 to 2019 whose handling the group said showed a deteriorating regard for the rule of law.

Though the Attorney General’s Office of the Union of Myanmar issued procedures for fair trials in 2018 that referenced international standards, those procedures have been only weakly complied with, Peace Law Academy spokesperson Aye Mon Thu told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Monday.

“Police officers deal with citizens at the ground level and all the way up to the courts, and prosecutors at all levels are obliged to do their jobs without violating the rights of citizens,” she said. “But citizens’ rights are still being violated.”

“Myanmar ranks very low in international indexes with regard to justice and the rule of law. We want to know if these rankings will improve under the [ruling party’s] current tenure,” she said.

Myanmar national leader Aung San Suu Kyi—the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner and for decades among the world’s most admired prisoners of conscience—won a fresh, five-year mandate in a landslide victory last month by her NLD.

The Peace Law Academy report points out, however, that although Aung San Suu Kyi called improvements in the rule of law a priority concern for her first term in office, reforms were never made. Myanmar now ranks 112 out of 128 countries in the World Justice Project’s rule of law index for 2020.

The report by the Myanmar lawyers’ groups points out eight areas where they say authorities violated citizens’ rights, including not informing suspects of the reasons for their arrest, denying them the right to hire an attorney, and refusing to allow them to meet with an attorney “in a safe place.”

Cases of citizens being wrongly accused and arrested without legal protections are also highlighted in the report.

'Lives shattered beyond repair'

Mya Thein, father of a man wrongly accused and detained last year in a highly controversial child rape case, called on police to handle cases with more care, saying that when a suspect is falsely accused, “it shatters his life and that of his family members.”

“The indignity caused to his life and his family is beyond repair,” he said.

Aung Gyi—the suspect in the well-known “Victoria” case and a driver for the rape victim’s school—filed a lawsuit on Dec. 8 against Myanmar police for 500 million kyat (U.S. $364,165) for physical and mental harm caused by his prosecution and over six months of detention.

“We still need to improve a lot in the rule of law in our country,” Aung Myo Kyaw, an executive committee of the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) told RFA’s Myanmar Service in an interview.

“We have heard reports of people being mistakenly accused and arrested, and it is common knowledge that most people are deprived of their rights once they are detained.”

Requests to Presidential Office spokesman Zaw Htay for comment on the lawyers’ report were not answered, but NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said that under current political conditions in Myanmar, and after decades of military rule, there are still limits to what the ruling party can achieve.

“The judicial bodies in Myanmar were used to taking orders for so many years that they’re not well adapted to democratic systems. We will try to repair the situation as soon as we can,” he said.

Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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