Building Justice in MyanmarJul 21, 2017
About 500 judges, law officers and court staff across Myanmar have deepened their knowledge of rule of law, human rights, fair trial rights and gender, thanks to training by UNDP as part of its support to the justice sector’s capacity development.
The training programme started in 2016 and continues until the end of this year.
Training activities were held in Yangon, Taunggyi, Mandalay and Myitkyina, all locations having Rule of Law Centres. January 2017 saw the first ever justice sector workshops in Rakhine. These were supported by UNFPA and included a particular focus on gender issues, such as appropriate responses to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and the specific needs of vulnerable court users in these types of cases.
Following the initial three workshops for judges, law officers and court staff in January, additional workshops were held in April and May where the same 78 participants returned to the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe to discuss the practical implications of rule of law and human rights and how these topics are relevant for their work. They were eager to find out how these important concepts related to their work and to broader justice sector developments currently underway in Myanmar.
One senior law officer based in Sittwe explained that although participants had heard of terms such as ‘rule of law’ and ‘human rights’, they had not previously had the opportunity to learn about what they really mean.
“Although we are familiar with these terms, we haven’t before had the chance to look in detail at what the essence of rule of law is,” he stated.
Another law officer said, “The training is very relevant for our jobs; this is the first time we have had such an opportunity in Rakhine State”.
The workshops are interactive and include group discussions, role plays and mock trial scenarios through which topics such as non-discrimination, gender stereotypes and access to justice are easier to explore.
During various activities, court staff talked about the important role they have in increasing public trust and confidence in the legal system.
“Often we are the first person someone will speak to when they go to court to report a case; SGBV survivors might feel afraid or embarrassed, so it is essential for us to listen with sympathy and respect and make them feel comfortable so that they can trust us to tell us their complaint,” said a court staff member.
Activities for judges centered around legal analysis and criminal sentencing activities, and generated lively discussions about the right to remain silent and the presumption of innocence.
Judges described the workshops as valuable opportunities to “share knowledge and experience and to discuss their work with colleagues of different levels”.
Judges also welcomed the opportunity to learn about international legal principles and to look at comparative examples from other jurisdictions.
In the follow-up workshop, a judge explained how, since the first workshop, he had applied rule of law and fair trial principles to his work, emphasizing how he takes extra care to consider applications for bail and always ensures that the defendants, especially unrepresented defendants, are aware of their rights and of relevant court procedures.
The Advocate General of Rakhine State, U Kyaw Hla Tun, who was present at a number of the training events, stressed the importance of rule of law, stating that the trainings were beneficial, particularly to law officers who are responsible for criminal prosecutions.
U Kyawk, Chief Justice of Rakhine State, also expressed his support for the activities, highlighting the importance of enhancing professional development for the justice sector.
The training activities in Rakhine, along with those in other states and regions, form part of UNDP’s wider justice sector work in Myanmar and are designed to support the strategic goals of the Union Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Supreme Court of the Union.