Saturday, 25 January 2020

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Time to enforce rule of law in Myanmar

May Ng
This week saw the 68th anniversary of the founding of the modern Myanmar military. It was a very sad day for Myanmar. As challenges to the military power guaranteed in the 2008 army constitution gather momentum, the ruling military escalates violent conflicts in the ethnic territories, and stirs up race riots against Muslims once again to reassert its political control. The presence of uniformed soldiers as privileged members in Naypyitaw political chambers is also a vivid reminder that the military has no intention of relinquishing its power soon.

In Myanmar, while it is reasonable for the military generals to change into silk longyi, theatrical headdresses, and ask the citizens to vote for them; it is unacceptable to let the army generals in uniforms to continue calling all the shots from behind the military constitution. Smokes, deaths and fires are a wakeup call that says the military generals still rule Myanmar. During recent riots, they ordered the police to standby while angry mobs crushed their perceived enemies to pieces. Only after it was over, the army showed up ostensibly to save Myanmar once more.

At the beginning of Myanmar's independence, the army accused Karen, Kachin, and Chin who were Christians, of being foreign stooges. The soldiers burned, looted and confiscated ethnic lands for army use. Next the military accused the Shans and others of being separatists, and began attacking, raping, burning and clearing the lands of those indigenous people, to build an even larger army.

Now after 50 years of army induced misery, rampaging thugs were quietly brought in by the authority to slaughter Muslims in previously peaceful towns, and Myanmar finally received the attention of the Special UN Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and the United Nations Special Envoy Vijay Nambiar. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch also said that the Myanmar government is putting the Muslims who have escaped slaughters in concentration camps instead of returning them to their homes.

While conventional wisdom states that a regime which maintains the cohesion, capacity, and disposition to apply repression cannot be simply removed, Myanmar now begs serious investigations by world bodies to help protect its citizens from raging fires of hatred and crimes against humanity. And this time the UN, the International Criminal Court, and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights must not fail Myanmar.

Myanmar has reached its watershed moment and the world authorities must play a critical role in protecting the weak from cruelty and hold the government accountable to its citizens. And to help Myanmar continue down a peaceful path, the world must continue to pressure the military in Myanmar to completely transform itself into a political party and prepare to compete for power or else return to their barracks and leave politics to the politicians. At present, international organizations can use rewards as well as punishment as incentives for a lasting change in Myanmar.

To forge a permanent peace and transform Myanmar into an orderly society it is crucial that all political and armed organizations form competitive political parties and participate in credible electoral processes. Aung San Suu Kyi has already provided a good example on how to proceed with such a path of transformation. In order to be successful in this manner the moral authority in Myanmar must leave no one behind—even the military. At the same time, the military must not be allowed to revert back to violence just because the army generals lack political skills to win over voters peacefully.

By allowing violence the military is trying to reassert its authority or usefulness; but it fails to see that the out-of-control thugs only prove that the military knows so little about how to govern—keeping citizens safe from violence is the ultimate goal of a liberal state built on the rule of law. The rule of law Aung San Suu Kyi has often mentioned is not so much about law, but about rule. Rule of law helps frame the relationship between the state and society. In addition, rule of law limits and defines the power of government, and treats all people equally, so that minorities are protected from the majority, and the vicious cannot prey on the innocent.

But the rule of law does not work without a high degree of legitimacy, which explains why the illegitimate military government has to constantly use violence to enforce its rule. Simply, the rule of law is the foundation on which the state and society hold each other accountable. And because building the rule of law is about limiting the power of the state, having a well-crafted and legitimate constitution is essential for the rule of law. Constitution perceived as illegitimate is less likely to be accepted and upheld.

According to Rachel Kleinfeld, an expert on the rule of law, “Only when the powerful accept limits on their power and submit to equality under the law will the rule of law emerge.” And until that power can be checked with other power centers, all the new commercial laws, judicial restructuring, and computerization in the world will not fix the failure of the government to govern lawfully.

In addition, Kleinfeld also observes that a culture of vigilante justice may have its roots in a government that does not adequately enforce laws, rather than an inherently violent populace. She said that vigilantism and unlawful violence has diminished in places law and order prevails.

Finally, as the people of Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi, instead of the military junta, are being tried before the international press, it is time for the world bodies to look beyond the smoke and fires, and find the real culprit responsible for the crimes against humanity in Myanmar.

may-ng-2013-s1May Ng was born in the southern Shan State. She left Myanmar in 1976 as a college student and now lives in New York. She has written poems for Aung San Suu Kyi's website and Myanmar Digest. She researches and writes about democracy and governance in Burma.

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  2. Rule of Law committee receiving complaints
  3. UN Security Council must address war crimes in Burma
The Kachin’s last stand
Since October this year, Burma has been in a state of civil war, with fighting between Burmese military and armed ethnic rebels. The ruling junta started a crackdown on these armed groups.

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