RANGOON — Legal advisor to Burma’s ruling party and one of the most prominent lawyers U Ko Ni was gunned down at Rangoon International Airport on Sunday as he returned from an official visit to Indonesia. The assassin’s agenda and purpose remain unknown and authorities are still searching for the full story behind U Ko Ni’s assassination.
The 65-year-old Muslim lawyer was consistently outspoken concerning the country’s Constitution enacted by the then-military government in 2008, and frequently described as undemocratic. U Ko Ni lobbied to re-draft or amend the charter. He was also believed to have advised the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party to create the position of State Counselor for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is barred from the Presidency by the Constitution.
As a constitutional expert and a legal commentator who frequently appeared in the media, U Ko Ni was also involved in public campaigns urging law reforms—such as to the ward and village tract administration law which required citizens to report overnight visitors to the authorities.
The assassination of such a prominent person, in a public area, no less, has unveiled vulnerabilities regarding the rule of law in Burma. The Irrawaddy spoke to NLD lawmakers and human rights advocates about the impact of U Ko Ni’s murder on the country’s political activism and the ruling civilian government.
Daw Zin Mar Aung
NLD Lawmaker, Lower House of Parliament
“The fact that the incident happened in plain sight makes me wonder if anyone can easily possess a gun. It makes people feel insecure. On the other hand, our society has proven that we don’t accept such a violent act. I don’t think political activists will become silent because of this act. The attitude and courage of the activists to voice out the truth and what should be said will not be stopped by this kind of violence. The loss of such a legal expert during a period of reforms in the country is a great loss, especially in Burma where the rule of law was and is still in a state of collapse. It’s a message to democratic activists that [we] haven’t achieved the goal and [we] have to continue fighting.”
Daw May Sabe Phyu
Human Rights Advocate, Gender Equality Network
“The incident threatens the security of us all. Assassinating someone who is close to [the party of] Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and who is respected by the public shows that [perpetrators] can do whatever they want to those who are bravely outspoken about human rights, politics and legal affairs. But if we stop speaking out because we are afraid of that, there will be no change in our country. We must continue doing what should be done for our country and people. In the past, innocent people have been raped and killed in conflict areas, and now such violent acts have arrived on our doorstep in the cities. If we all are going to continue neglecting such incidents, the truth and justice will move further away.”
Daw Nyo Nyo Thin
Former Rangoon Regional Lawmaker
“By having a controversial Article like 66(d) [of the Telecommunications Law] to prosecute with…such a violent incident will have an impact on outspoken political critics who had no hesitation to voice out. It’s shocking because it challenged the state’s rule of law to carry out such an unlawful violence against a legal advisor of the country’s ruling party. The act of killing him in that area, in plain sight, reflects the situation of the rule of law in this country.”
Naw Suzanna Hla Hla Soe
NLD Lawmaker, Upper House of Parliament
“Political activism must continue even though the incident has an impact on activists. The public is watching how the rule of law will deliver justice [for U Ko Ni].”