Presidential Protection, Immunity Bill Put Forward

By Nyein Nyein 21 December 2015

A proposed piece of legislation published in Monday’s state-run newspapers seeks to protect the former president after he or she steps down, including a provision granting blanket immunity to the head of state for actions taken while in office.

The 14 clauses of the “Former President’s Security Bill” are aimed at ensuring the chief executive’s safety in retirement and would allow him or her “to be immune from any prosecution for his actions during his term,” which is covered in Article 10 of the proposed law.

Printed in state media for public scrutiny, the legislation would appear to complement Article 445 of Burma’s military-drafted Constitution, which effectively shields the country’s former junta from legal prosecution in connection with its actions during its term of government.

“No proceeding shall be instituted against the said Councils or any member thereof or any member of the Government, in respect of any act done in the execution of their respective duties,” that clause reads. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and its predecessor, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), ruled Burma from 1988 to 2011, a period that saw Western sanctions imposed on the military regime over its abysmal human rights record.

Outgoing President Thein was prime minister under the SPDC.

In the proposed legislation, either the Defense Ministry or Home Affairs Ministry would be charged with approving a presidential bodyguard for life, who is to be put forward by the president.

That same ministry would pay the bodyguard’s salary and any other costs associated with protecting the ex-president and his or her residence after leaving office.

Aung Thein, leader of the Myanmar Lawyer’s Network, told The Irrawaddy that although Parliament had the power to enact such legislation, the broad immunity granted in Article 10 should be stripped from the text or narrowed to apply only to actions carried out “in the public interest.”

“The president’s actions must be for the public interest. If it is against the public benefit and done for his own benefit, he should not be immune from prosecution,” Aung Thein said.

The 2008 Constitution also affords the president and vice presidents, with the exception of their impeachment, with “pensions and suitable allowances on retirement in accord with the law after the expiry of the term of office,” under Article 70 of the charter.

Information Minister Ye Htut, who is also the presidential spokesman, told The Irrawaddy: “The bill is proposed by the executive [Thein Sein administration], but I wasn’t [involved] in the drafting. I understand that the bill is based on a US Former Presidents Act.”

A law passed by the US Congress in 1958 does contain provisions granting former American presidents health insurance, a pension and other benefits for life, but contains nothing resembling the immunity enshrined in Article 10 of the bill published Monday.

Responding to criticism of the bill and whether it was needed, Ye Htut said it was ultimately in the hands of Parliament.

“The lawmakers will debate this when it is in Parliament, as it is the job of the legislative sector. It is Parliament’s decision. I have no comment to make [on the criticism].”

He added that the bill was put forward to fill a legislative hole.

“There was no mention or guarantee for the security in the current law, which allows for pension and allowance. This bill guarantees his security. It is the same as that of the US system, where the law protects the retired president as well as his wife as long as they are alive. We only have [these protections proposed] for the president.”