Study – Myanmar: Legal aid service providers and the communities they serve

Tackling gender based violence in Myanmar: a pro bono lawyer’s perspective

Myanmar, 28 March 2018 – Gender based violence (GBV) is a social and economic problem in Myanmar, for which the national criminal justice system requires new measures to respond effectively.  In collaboration with ActionAid International, ASF provides technical expertise and guidance to improve access to justice for persons who are at risk and/or have suffered GBV. Lionel Blackman, member of ASF’s International Legal Network (ILN), volunteered his pro bono services to the project. He shared his experience with us.Many may still refer to ‘domestic violence’, but GBV is wider in its scope, not being confined to abuse in the home but also, for example, harassment in the workplace and sexual attacks by strangers in public places,” asserts Lionel Blackman (see picture). Over the course of his three-week mission in Myanmar, he noted the inefficiency of the local justice system to provide legal assistance to survivors of GBV: “In Myanmar, the emergency number to call the police service is not fit for purpose in many areas and in many ways. There is not in existence a clearly defined and integrated State service to provide support for survivors of GBV. The criminal justice system does not have adequate mechanisms to respond to complaints at the lower end of seriousness (and some would say at any level).” Against this background and prevailing cultural norms putting men in the ascendant over women, many non-governmental organisations have been striving to provide support for survivors of GBV. “In an effort to better co-ordinate the services being offered by NGOs and other service providers, including lawyers and health workers, a project to establish advice referral networks has been initiated by ASF in collaboration with ActionAid International for the township of Hlaingtharyar in Yangon and in Mon State”, explains Lionel Blackman. As a leading solicitor advocate and Director of the Solicitors International Human Rights Group, his legal expertise in criminal law and international human rights were greatly beneficial to the project. His skills in designing databases were also very valuable: “This may have proved of the most practical use in advancing the mechanics of a referral network.” Lionel observed that this assignment is clearly a success for ASF and raises hopes for fruitful cooperation in future: “Our Myanmar partners were always a delight to work with. They were responsive to advice and willing to question, learn and share. There is still more to do to move the establishment of advice referral networks forward in our target areas – but forward we did move them. In Myanmar, after generations living devoid of initiative under controlling and repressive rule, foreign interveners must try to avoid assuming control. Rather they must strive to enable that essential initiative to be taken unaided.” Also Lionel found the whole experience very rewarding: “It is satisfying to act pro bono, especially in a country such as Myanmar, where justice systems leave a lot to be desired.”
Launched in 2010, the ILN today brings together over one thousand legal professionals from all over the world who are committed to support ASF’s international programs and its missions in the field.
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Myanmar: The “Pro Bonos” in action

Myanmar, 27 April 2015 – The Rule of Law Centres Pilot Project supported by UNDP has come to an end. The project aimed at providing training on local justice issues to legal professionals and civil society and at encouraging them to use rule of law principles into their work. Seven legal experts, members of ASF’s International Legal Network (ILN), volunteered pro bono services to the project.

Seven ILN members – the “Pro Bonos” as they were fondly referred to by the project team – had the opportunity to share the experience of implementing the Rule of Law Centres Pilot Project in Myanmar. Hailing from different jurisdictions such as the United-States, the United Kingdom, Australia and France, the ILN members shared their expertise in different fields such as Criminal, Family, Administrative and International Law and Human Rights. They all brought their knowledge and goodwill to help the Project Team, composed of international and national trainers, in designing curriculum and developing training modules and assisting in community outreach activities.

On my first day, I was tasked with working with a national trainer, Nway Nway, to review the curriculum she had drafted” tells Larissa Dinsmoor, US Attorney of the California Bar Association (cover picture). “We sat across from each other discussing how the information would be taught to others. Even though we had just met, there was an ease and mutual respect between us. I learned from her and she learned from me and finally, our product was solid”. Larissa was based in Lashio, a multi-ethnic city in Northeastern Myanmar. As it was a pilot project and the duration was short, there was immense pressure to draft curriculum and produce high quality training materials. As Larissa recalls, “We all worked together appreciating each other’s individual experience, knowledge and vision. In the end, the Myanmar and international lawyers merged into one indistinguishable force that made a difference” remarks Larisa. But she confides in us with a wink: “What I remember most is the laughter. Despite the tireless hours of work spent designing, editing and implementing curriculum, the Rule of Law team always managed to crack a joke or flash a smile. In this atmosphere, it was easy to make relationships.”

Claire Fenton-Glynn, membre de l'ILN © ASF
ILN member Claire Fenton-Glynn © ASF

An important aspect of the project was to ensure that the Myanmar team and the participants would engage critically in the process. For that reason, the content and the activities were discussed each week, by the international trainers together with the national trainers. Claire Fenton-Glynn (picture) is Lecturer in Law at King’s College, London. She spent one month in Mandalay, the second-largest city of the country. She particularly appreciated this methodology. “In this way, the national trainers, as well as the participants themselves, could take ownership of the process, and we could act as facilitators for their learning, rather than dictating it”, Claire explains.

Claire Fenton-Glynn concludes: “To see the progress made through the development of analytical skills, and know the difference it will make to the way people engage with law, and life, in the future, was particularly significant and crucial in a country that is only just starting to emerge from years of military dictatorship”.

Launched in 2010, the ILN today brings together over one thousand legal professionals from all over the world who are committed to support ASF’s international programs and its missions in the field.

See also the previous story on the Myanmar Rule of Law Project.

Cover picture: Larissa Dinsmoor, US Attorney of the California Bar Association, was one of the seven ILN members involved in the project © ASF

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Rule of Law Education Leading to Social Justice in Myanmar

Lashio, Shan State, Myanmar, 17 February 2015 – The need for justice education in a country just emerging from more than 50 years of military dictatorship is undoubted. “Rule of law” is a prevalent but rarely understood term here. ASF trainers and other partners provide training in the framework of a UNDP-funded Rule of Law Centre Pilot Project.

“How is this going to be sustainable?” asked Ji Mai (picture) at the first team meeting of the Project in Lashio, a multi-ethnic city in Northeastern Myanmar, not far from the Chinese border. As a Kachin ethnic group community activist and now the Project Administrator, she appreciated the work that ASF trainers Jake Stevens and Helen Yandell, volunteering law professionals from all over the world and other international and Myanmar national partners had put into the three-month long curriculum that integrated rule of law principles, Myanmar law, and skills development. But she wanted to make sure that the curriculum, and the related community forums aimed at identifying relevant legal issues, would lead to substantive change.

 Ji Mai (Community activist) and Soe Moe Kyaw (a former HIV educator) both attended the project's workshops as project staff © Jake Stevens
Ji Mai (Community activist) and Soe Moe Kyaw (a former HIV educator) both attended the project’s workshops as project staff © Jake Stevens

Since then the approximately 80 lawyers and civil society representatives, in Lashio and in the much larger city of Mandalay, have grappled with this and other questions. The interactive methodologies of the workshop are designed to engage the participants in the content, but also to develop their analytical abilities. This was initially challenging for all concerned, due to the poor quality of the Myanmar education system and the legacy of 50 years of military rule. Project Manager Soe Moe Kyaw (picture), a former HIV educator, remarked that, “We are only used to listening to lectures. Asking and answering questions can seem very aggressive to us.” But many participants report an interest in incorporating the methodologies in their own work, be it civil society trainings or mentoring new lawyers. They also expressed great appreciation for the content, such as Alternative Dispute Resolution, Equality Before the Law, and Mock Trial.

In the workshops, the public forums and during project outreach meetings, many express a wish to move beyond internal community organizing and to engage governmental actors. Sai Kyaw Tun, from Meikswe Myanmar (a health and education civil society organization), remarked, “we must have more workshops like these in other communities so that people understand their rights. But we must also have joint forums with police, judges and governmental officials so that we understand each other better.” Similarly leaders of local LGBT organizations requested help designing strategies that would inform the public and the government of their concerns without triggering another police crack-down on their members. As initially planned the workshops were to include those governmental actors in the pilot, and there is hope that they will join in future iterations.

The current Rule of Law Project is actually two related and complementary activities: the 3-month long 42 session workshop series and open-ended community forums. In Lashio the forum topics  include combatting discrimination, expanding community legal education, and addressing drug addiction. The synergy between the two pillars of the project has been obvious. Participants are taking their new-found skill and knowledge into their communities and workplaces to apply Rule of Law Principles in everyday life at this crucial time in the development of Myanmar.

Coverpicture: ASF consultants and other partners provide training in the framework of a UNDP-funded Rule of Law Workshop Project © Jake Stevens

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