Keynote Address at the seminar on "Towards Sustainable Development of Myanmar: Opportunities and Challenges for the Rule of Law"

Apr 17, 2014

Keynote Address by Toily Kurbanov, UNDP Country Director in Myanmar at public seminar on "Towards Sustainable Development of Myanmar: Opportunities and Challenges for the Rule of Law" organized in Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo on 17 April by UNDP, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Minga laa ba! Konnichiwa!

It is a pleasure to join you today to share reflections on development of Myanmar through the prism of opportunities and challenges for the rule of law. At the outset, I would like to acknowledge the strong partnership between UNDP and the Japanese Government and JICA in Myanmar. We are united in a common objective of helping the Government of Myanmar to strengthen the rule of law for the country’s development.

Let me also commend Japan’s active role in the area of rule of law in Myanmar through its support to the legal profession. The Japanese Government, JICA and the Japanese universities have a special place in the hearts of legal professionals and justice sector officials in Myanmar, many of whose brightest stars have studied in Japan. Even now, the Union Attorney General’s Office, the Office of the Supreme Court of the Union and several universities in Myanmar continue to benefit from technical support provided by JICA.

Before I go into details of our work, I would like to talk about the importance of rule of law: in general and in relation to Myanmar’s context.

It is now well recognized that rule of law is crucial for peaceful and sustainable development. Existence of efficient, effective and fair police and judicial systems, of competent public and private lawyers is necessary not only to secure foreign and domestic investment, but also for small farmers seeking to establish their right of ownership over their land, or women seeking redress against violence. The 2012 Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on the Rule of Law at the National and International levels emphasized that:

“The advancement of the rule of law […] is essential for sustained and inclusive economic growth, sustainable development, the eradication of poverty and hunger and the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, all of which in turn reinforce the rule of law.”

As Myanmar transitions to democracy it is taking initial steps away from rule by law towards rule of law. This means doing away with the legacy of the past when law was used often as an instrument of control. Recent surveys and analyses, including by UNDP, indicate that people still do not trust the legal system and justice officials, which are often perceived as corrupt and prone to political interference. For example, where possible most people avoid using the formal system to resolve their disputes and thus 90% of the caseload of the courts is for criminal cases only.

Lack of public trust and awareness is not the only challenge that rule of law faces in Myanmar. The justice institutions themselves have been weakened by policies adopted by previous regimes. The legislative framework, judicial independence, the legal education, the regulation of the legal profession, and public administration in accordance with law were all undermined.

Of course, the rule of law situation in Myanmar has to be placed in the broader country context. Myanmar has faced protracted internal conflicts between the Bamar-dominated central Government and various ethnic armed groups since its independence in 1948.  The key disputes are around power-sharing, resource-sharing and the protection of political, economic, social and cultural rights of the minorities. There are also conflicts between groups (for example, Kachins and Shans) and within groups (for example, between Buddhist Karens and Christian Karens). Rakhine state experienced two serious bouts of inter-communal violence in 2012 and localized outbreaks and human rights abuses continue to-date. The ethnic minorities hold strong perceptions of injustice, exclusion and discrimination at the hands of the state, including justice sector institutions.

Yet, this should not be taken to mean that things cannot change or are not changing even as we speak. Over the past 15 months Myanmar’s leaders have publicly stated their commitment to the rule of law. The democratic space for people to engage with each other and with government, and for the press to report more freely on politics, has expanded immensely. Important progress in bringing ethnic conflict to an end is evidenced by a number of ceasefire agreements that have been signed since 2012. The country is making progress on justice sector reform with some important initiatives already underway including on strategic planning as well as piloting local rule of law centres.

Within the current system there are some leaders and individuals in the justice sector institutions who have shown a deep commitment to move rapidly to make the necessary changes, and catch up on opportunities to learn from other countries’ experiences.

UNDP is committed to support the Government and people of Myanmar in their efforts to ensure rule of law and sustainable development. Our programme on rule of law and access to justice seeks to work both with the supply side of justice, the government institutions, to improve their ability to serve the people as well as the demand side, the people themselves, to enable them to demand and seek justice.

Although the programme has just started in 2013, it has been successful in building relations of trust with justice sector institutions and university law departments. UNDP encouraged cooperation on reform planning between Union Attorney General’s Offcice and the Supreme Court. We trained over 300 judges and law officers from the Union Attorney General’s Office on legislative drafting, constitutionalism, fair trials, judicial independence and integrity. We also trained more than 200 lawyers, representatives of NGOs and law professors on legal aid and clinical legal education. And, through support for clinical legal education in 18 university law departments across the country we also reaching out to and training the country’s future lawyers and judges. Thanks to the funding from the Government of Japan, we helped to equip concerned government departments with much needed computer equipment. Only last week this resulted in internet access becoming available to all departments of the Union Attorney General’s Office in Nay Pyi Taw.

Our capacity building efforts are strongly focused on sustainability. With our initial support UAGO has now independently launched a programme of replicating the fair trial course at state/regional level, using the same trainers, methodology and materials. This will multiply the effect of our assistance to training far beyond initial expectations.

By now UNDP has become recognised as a leading and trusted partner by all the three organs of the State – parliament, judiciary and the executive. At the request of a national Coordinating Committee chaired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and comprising representatives from all the three branches, UNDP prepared feasibility study for local Rule of Law Centres. Based on the study, Myanmar will establish two pilot centres in Lashio and Mandalay, initially supported by UNDP, which will train local officials and community leaders on local justice issues.

Of course, UNDP’s work in rule of law and access to justice is part of a broader framework of UNDP’s development cooperation in Myanmar. Without going into details of our other programmes, let me highlight a few strands of work that are also receiving support of the Government of Japan such as local governance mapping of all states and regions in Myanmar and livelihood support in 260 villages in the border states of Rakhine, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Shan and Chin. In doing this work we are focusing on livelihood support as enabling condition of strengthening social cohesion, inter-ethnic peace and harmony at the local level. This work is not without its challenges but we are committed to persevere and take risks. Or, to use a Japanese proverb, ‘Nana korobi, ya oki’; fall seven times, get up eight times.

Let me conclude by reiterating key steps required for comprehensive justice sector reform and the rule of law in Myanmar. They are: improved coordination between the justice sector institutions; institutional modernization and strengthening of judicial independence; a thorough overhaul of outdated legislation; and a greater investment of human and material resources into the system. The justice institutions must be helped to improve their ability to deliver justice to the people, and people must be helped to understand their rights and remedies and be provided with the necessary resources to access justice.

As the leading multilateral organization with global expertise in the area of democratic governance, UNDP will continue to collaborate with the Government of Myanmar in its endeavors to improve the rule of law in the country. We are committed to do our best in supporting Myanmar to find its own path, based on a broad range of experiences within the region and beyond, as well as its own historical traditions. We must realize that establishing the rule of law and ensuring justice sector reform as part of it, is a long-term process, which will require our sustained support in the years to come. We consider privileged that UNDP, the Japanese Government and JICA are seen as key partners of the Government and the people of Myanmar in their quest for rule of law.

Thank you for your attention. Arigato Gozaimashita! Kye Zu Ti Ba De!

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Myanmar 
Go to UNDP Global