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