Rule of Law Probe Inspects Rangoon Courts

A Buddhist monk walks past the High Court in Rangoon. (Photo: Reuters)

Burma’s parliamentary Rule of Law Committee, headed by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ended a three-day fact-finding trip to investigate the country’s warped judicial system on Thursday.

Win Myint, the secretary of the committee and the National League for Democracy (NLD) Lower House MP for Pathein (Bassein) Constituency, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the committee visited Rangoon’s divisional, district and township courts.

“We went there just to study the situation,” he said. “This is our first study trip and will finish today. We mainly focused on talking to judges and determining how we can reform the system.”

During the trip, committee members met those on trial and candidly asked about their cases and if they thought justice was being done. “There are people who spoke openly, but there were people who are afraid to speak out,” said Win Myint, who is also a lawyer.

The committee said that they are going to give training to people in the future to encourage them to speak out if they have suffered an injustice. Thein Nyunt, a Lower House MP for the New Democracy Party, said, “Our intention is to have real justice and courts that make good decisions.”

Also a prominent lawyer, Thein Nyunt said that he found a family at the court in Tarmway Township on Wednesday where the wife of an accused man was also being detained, and she was not granted bail despite suffering from a serious illness.

“When people are unwell in jail during a trial, the court must allow for medical treatment,” said Thein Nyunt. “I told the court officers to give her bail or help her.”

Burma was ruled by a military dictatorship for more than half-a-century where the justice system did not provide people with any protection under the rule of law, according to members of the committee.

Burma has long been known as one of the world’s most repressive regimes where people suffer a catalogue of human rights abuses—such as arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, torture, rape, murder and forced labor.

Committee members joined Suu Kyi in insisting that the rule of law must be made strong in order to ensure that President Thein Sein’s new political reform program can achieve stability, democracy and development.

“In order to have a good justice system in our country, there must be strong rule of law,” said Win Myint. “Without the rule of law, there will no more peace. If there is no peace, there will not be stable democracy and development. After we make strong rule of law, our country will have a better justice system.”

He explained that Burma has experienced a broken court system for decades which cannot be fixed overnight. “It might take another 50 years in order to have a good system,” said Win Myint. “All the people have a responsibility to cooperate with the committee in order to achieve success.

“We need to know the disease in order to prescribe the correct medicine,” he added.

Members of the committee said that they will hold a meeting with Suu Kyi after she returns from her current trip in the United States to discuss what they have seen before proposing solutions to Parliament.

The Rule of Law Committee was formed only six weeks ago and will also study courts from other townships outside Rangoon in the future, according to members.

Thein Nyut said the committee has already received over 1,000 complaint letters from within Rangoon Division and has read around half which have been forwarded on to the relevant courts.

“The people put a lot of hope in our committee when they send letters,” said Thein Nyut. “We must consider how to most effectively deal with these complaints.”

He said the committee will produce a draft bill at the end of October, which will then be proposed at Parliament and debated before new legislation can be enacted to reform the judicial system.


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