Guest Column

Myanmar Law Students Provide Free Legal Information to Local Communities

By The Denmark-Myanmar Program on Rule of Law and Human Rights 14 September 2020

Since 2016, law students in Myanmar have been studying human rights law at East Yangon and Dagon universities with the assistance of the Denmark-Myanmar Program on Rule of Law and Human Rights. They are the first group of students in Myanmar to receive a human rights education in over 50 years; during the country’s military rule, this was strictly prohibited.

With the help of the program, human rights education in 2019 became available for students at all law faculties in Myanmar. Human rights considerations are now gaining prominence as new generations of legal professionals graduate from university and bring their knowledge to the wider legal community—and society—in Myanmar. Already, students are passing their knowledge on to others. At Dagon and East Yangon universities, many are volunteering at the student-led Legal Information Centers, where people can receive legal information, support in negotiations with disputing parties, and referral of cases to pro-bono lawyers and other service providers—such as health clinics and psychosocial services—as needed.

“In the Legal Information Centers, we provide information on how to go to court and how the litigation process works and much more. We come to the university not only to learn, but also to give something back to the community,” said Phone Thit Min, a law student at Dagon University and a volunteer at the Legal Information Center (LIC).

Supporting the community

The LICs are open to all people in need of help in solving a dispute or legal problem, including the poor and vulnerable. While the spectrum of human rights challenges in Myanmar is broad, people who come to the LICs typically seek help with issues such as domestic violence or labor rights; many are unaware of their rights or national laws, while others are afraid to go to court. While most clients live close to the universities and can easily access the LICs, those further away can also receive support through the LICs’ social media channels.

“Most of the people who come to the Legal Information Centers are women who experience domestic violence or sexual harassment in the labor market. But we also have other types of cases concerning land rights, as some of our clients come from rural areas outside Yangon,” said Kyaw Lwin, a law student volunteer at the East Yangon University LIC.

Another student explained that their work at the LICs is about ensuring access to justice for those people in the community who have nowhere else to turn.

“Many clients are facing poverty and they need help with a debt case. They come to us because it’s free of charge, and this is the only place they can go. But sometimes people just come for guidance before hiring a lawyer,” explained Thin Shwe Shin Min, a law student volunteer at the Dagon University LIC.

Change from within

The LICs aim to teach students the practical relevance and application of the law in people’s everyday lives, melding legal theory with practical knowledge to better prepare them for entering the legal profession and facilitating access to justice for their clients. In doing so, LIC students are also supporting their surrounding communities in meeting their articulated justice needs. This includes community outreach and awareness-raising sessions and developing working relations with local justice actors.

“Reaching out to the community and raising awareness of human rights amongst the people of Myanmar is key to the democratic transition. Especially in a multiethnic society as Myanmar it is important to understand that all people have the same rights,” said Danish Ambassador to Myanmar John Nielsen.

Eva Grambye, head of the International Division at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, emphasized that human rights education and the LICs are part of the strategy of promoting human rights abroad.

“We work with partners around the world and support them in their work to promote human rights, and therefore we are supporting human rights education in Myanmar. We are very pleased to see how the young people take it upon themselves to pass on knowledge of human rights to one another and help their fellow citizens with advice on how to fulfil their human rights. Hopefully this is the first step towards a future with greater respect for human rights in Myanmar,” Grambye said.

The Embassy of Denmark in Myanmar has contracted the International Commission of Jurists and the Danish Institute for Human Rights in a joint venture to provide technical assistance and capacity building to all partners within the Denmark-Myanmar Program on Rule of Law and Human Rights.

The Legal Information Centers were established with the support of the Danish Institute for Human Rights working under the Denmark-Myanmar Program on Rule of Law and Human Rights.

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