Around 300 people have already sought legal advice at the National League for Democracy (NLD) office in Naypyidaw since the party began a lawyers network group on Aug. 15.
Burma’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi chairs the parliamentary Rule of Law Committee and offered lawyers in the capital a room at her party office to conduct weekend consultations.
The NLD leader attended the opening ceremony of the scheme which aims to educate Burmese citizens regarding their rights and responsibilities as the country emerges from half-a-century of military dictatorship.
“Around 30 to 40 people came to our office on the first day. Then more people kept coming on other days and almost 300 people have now been consulted and received legal advice since then,” said Khin Maung Zaw, a leading member of the lawyers network group.
“Many of the cases were concerning land confiscations and we advised them to propose their case to the land confiscation investigation committee at Parliament. We showed the people how to write complaint letters and how to submit these to Parliament and the President’s Office.”
The complaint letters are generally submitted to the relevant government department through the Judiciary and Legal Affairs Committee chaired by Thura Aung Ko, the Unity Solidarity and Development Party MP for Kanpetlet constituency in Mindat, Chin State. However, some complaints are addressed directly to NLD MP Min Thu and then forwarded to Suu Kyi.
Since the NLD participated in the by-elections on April 1, the party has strived to enshrine the rule of law in Burma, according to MP Phyo Zay Yar Thaw. “This legal advice team may offer a lot of hope for people where they can come and have the opportunity to seek advice,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Those who have used the service did not only come from Naypyidaw but all different parts of Burma including the Wa Special Region in northern Shan State and the Mon State capital Moulmein, according to the lawyers network group.
The scheme’s Naypyidaw office is open from 10 am to 4 pm each Saturday and Sunday and is staffed by five senior lawyers and another 15 trainees. “We offer people advice based on what they need and it does not have to only be about the land confiscation issue,” said Khin Maung Zaw.
Some complaint cases have already been brought to court and received a verdict which the plaintiff then wants to challenge. Sometimes the victims are forced to immediately vacate their houses by the authorities who claim their land is illegally occupied, but the lawyers network group provides advice on how to appeal at court in order to allow residents to stay longer.
“One company confiscated around 200 acres of farmland for a project,” said Khin Maung Zaw. “But they only actually needed 90 acres for the project and the company officials were just sharing the rest of the property between themselves for personal gain.
“We have a duty to do this work as we are lawyers. We charge money at other times, but this work we do for free. I feel very happy as I can work for the people directly. I found many people put a lot of hope in us and feel reassured after they talk with us.”