Thursday, December 11, 2014

Civil v. military justice in Myanmar

Aileen Thomson, Myanmar office director for the International Center for Transitional Justice, has written this worthwhile summary of the state of play as between civilian and military justice in Myanmar. Among her observations:
A primary challenge is Article 445 of the 2008 Constitution, which forbids legal action against members of past governments for actions undertaken by those governments. Although it is unspecific about who may be charged, and in what kinds of proceedings, it is widely interpreted as an amnesty provision guaranteeing impunity to members of the military and government for past and future violations. Yet, it has not completely barred judicial and non-judicial bodies from considering some violations.
Another challenge is that military courts have jurisdiction over all Defense Services personnel, and the decision of the Commander in Chief on issues of military justice is final and conclusive. Myanmar’s military justice system is not open to the public, and civil society activists find it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain reliable information about pending or completed cases. Civilians, including victims and their advocates, have no right to be present at the trial or to obtain any information about the charges, findings, or sentence. A recent report by the Women’s League of Burma details the challenges in pursuing military justice, including the transfer of the accused to new jurisdictions, lack of transparency, and intimidation.
Even when civilian courts gain jurisdiction over military personnel, victims’ rights are impeded by institutions that should support them. Police often cooperate with the military to pressure victims to stay silent, sometimes offering compensation in exchange for agreements not to press charges or inform the media. Human rights defenders face threats of retaliation and experience difficulty gaining access to victims.

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