Legal research and Documentation
Legal research and documentation are BLC's daily core activities. They are the instruments and basic to all BLC's work within a variety of contexts. Such daily activities include the provision of training on particular issues, input into the formulation of public education campaigns, the provision of advice to a particular group, or the representation of an individual whose rights are being violated by governmental authorities.
A recognised forum for legal issues pertaining to Burma
As the only Burmese Law organization, the BLC is committed to fulfilling its responsibilities to the movement for the restoration of democracy in Burma. Its long-term strategy is being realized by assuming a co-ordinating and leadership role in providing a forum for everyone both within and without Burma who are involved and interested in the legal and human rights aspects, of the struggle for democracy in Burma. The tri-annual journal on "Legal Issues on Burma" remains the primary strategic weapon in informing the international community on a variety of legal issues specifically relating to Burma, such as conflict resolution, transition justice, constitutionalism, rule of law, human rights abuses. Articles for the journals are invited and received from a wide variety of sources including academics, politicians, practising lawyers, and NGO workers.
The Burmese military regime seeks to include unelected members of its military in a system of government, through a constitution it has prepared in a sham National Convention, whereby such unelected military personnel will have a permanent and dominant position in the legislature, executive and judiciary of a future "democratic" government. A second draft of the constitution is now being prepared, based on the consultations and the comments on the first draft. The majority of the members of the constitutional drafting committee of the NCUB, consists of the executive of the BLC. The BLC devotes considerable time and resources to public awareness and education on the constitution-drafting process, to help the people of Burma gain basic constitutional knowledge. The BLC is currently the only organization with a consistent program of education on constitutional knowledge. The constitution is a major topic and is regularly addressed in BLC publications in English, and entirely in the "Journal of Constitutional Affairs" in Burmese, which is also published three times in a year.
Legal Assistance Programs
In the past year BLC has begun to undertake the provision of direct legal assistance to particular individuals and groups, and we have begun planning for systematic analysis of Burma's legal system, its strengths and weaknesses.
Study and Analysis of the Judicial System in Burma
Most commentators on Burma agree that the judicial system is not independent of the regime and is a basic tool used for political oppression, and is corrupt. However, it is rare to see a detailed analysis of particular aspects of the judicial system, that is being used as a tool for oppression or corrupt. This lack of specific information, also unfortunately results in the inability to make specific and concrete challenges to the independence and the state of the judicial system in Burma. The closed environment and resistance to reforms, leaves little understanding of the standard universal norms, procedures, and administrative requirements for a fair, impartial, and effective judicial system. It is hoped that a thorough analysis (based on information on hand) of Burma's judicial system - undertaken with academic rigor, will enable both outside interests and the people themselves to apply pressure on the regime, to reform the specific failings and the weaknesses in the judicial system.
Assisting with Improvements to Ethnic Judicial Systems
In Burma's border region, there are numerous ethnic areas where control is exercised effectively by the ethnic groups' own organizations. The military regime's laws and procedures are not applicable or relevant to the people, who live in these remote areas that are traditionally governed by local laws, that are applied by their own organizations. This is said to be a fairer system, as the military's court system is plagued by corruption administering justice, the local organizations have attempted to resolve many of the legal issues arising within these communities, by applying local laws through their own legal systems.
Advocacy and Strategic Planning
The BLC continues to promote human rights and democracy, as they go hand and hand. Without democracy and the application of democratic practices, the BLC believes that human rights protection can never become a reality. Where authoritarian regimes have been in total control for a long period of time, it will not be easy to immediately change the whole system of a country. In such as situation, the oppressed people should be encouraged to seek ways and means to alleviate their sufferings, in relation to particular issues. This will allow them to move towards democracy step by step, by promoting human rights through the resolving of one issue after another. By sharing knowledge on advocacy and strategic planning amongst the people and the grassroots leaders, the participation of the grassroots people can then be systematically secured.
BLC has been actively participating in drafting the future constitution of Burma. Regarding constitutional matters, we have in recent times observed the increasing awareness by all sectors of Burmese society and the ethnic minorities in particular, resulting in their consciousness of the absolute need for a proper constitution that guarantees their survival and growth. The task of BLC is increasingly becoming challenging due to such awareness, and in the coming months we will be provided with opportunities to play a pivotal role in constitutional matters.
The National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) is an umbrella organization of pro-democracy and ethnic organizations. It has spent several years working towards the development of a draft Constitution for a future federal union of Burma. To date a first draft has been completed and circulated, and the NCUB is now preparing to revise and improve this draft in order to facilitate further research and suggestions. A drafting committee has been formed. In the Drafting Committee (under the aegis of the NCUB) the Secretary of the BLC has been appointed as coordinator, and seven other BLC members are included in the Committee. A draft proposal has been prepared on behalf of the Drafting Committee, and it is being circulated in revised forms along with revised comments.
The drafting process will be preceded by various study trips to learn from the particular situations and constitutional development of other countries. A detailed project proposal was needed, to explain the four main constitutional topics selected for further research and for explanation of the steps intended to be followed by the committee in preparing the second draft. BLC undertook the preparation of this proposal, which is now being circulated among committee members for discussion.
The BLC continues to remain active in preparing the second draft of a future constitution of Burma. A funding proposal has been finalized, and it is now being submitted to potential sponsors on behalf of the NCUB. Copies of the draft proposals will be circulating among foreign embassies in Bangkok, including those of Norway and Sweden.
In 2000, many ethnic organizations, including the Karenni National Progressive Party and the Karen National Union, requested BLC to help them in developing their state constitution. BLC representatives have agreed to assist ethnic groups with drafting a model state constitution. The model which is now being drafted will serve as a starting point or framework for those ethnic communities who are committed to drafting their own State constitution, but have met technical or process difficulties.
BLC is currently the only organization with a consistent program and aim for education on constitutional knowledge. The topic has been addressed regularly in BLC’s publications and training courses. BLC intends to continue its emphasis on constitutional education, dealing not only with the national constitution but also the state constitutions for each of the provinces.
For this purpose, the BLC has played and will play a significant role with the following agendas:
(1) With further knowledge on constitution and federalism, already learnt from the United States, Australia, and India, and gained from an observation trip to Germany from 3 to 17 December 2001, the awareness-raising program on Federal Constitution among the local-level activists and political organizations will be effectively promoted. The BLC will implement this program with the assistance of over 500 former participants of the BLC trainings and the BLC- initiated training teams that have already been formed in some ethnic areas as well as along the border areas of Burma;
(2) The BLC’s Executive Committee (EC) members have already participated in Federal Constitution Drafting Committee of the NCUB. This drafting process will be expanded and promoted;
(3) With the assistance of the National Reconciliation Program (NRP), the State Constitution Drafting Committees of Shan, Chin, Karen, Karenni and Mon have already been formed. The BLC will provide legal assistance to those committees upon their request so that all the draft constitutions will be within the framework of the Federal Union;
(4) The demand of the activists and organizations for previous publications in the Journal of Constitutional Affairs has obviously increased. Once funding is available, the BLC intends to compile all previous publications into one and print it for wider distribution among the people;
(5) The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma has already requested the BLC to assign BLC General Secretary as the Secretary of the Federal Affairs Committee of the NCGUB. BLC’s EC has already agreed on this request. In 2002, in terms of academics, the BLC will fully cooperate with the Federal Affairs Committee of the NCGUB in its attempt to resolve the issues among ethnic nationalities by all means, including one which is to produce a Federal Constitution for future Burma, aiming to establish a democratic and civilized society through a genuine national reconciliation and good governance.
The Mon, Karen, Karenni, Wa, Palaung, Pa-O, Lahu, Chin and Arakanese, as well as Kachin youth, have requested BLC to provide more training in their areas and to assist in workshops on constitutional issues as resource persons. Regarding constitutional matters, there continues to be an increasing awareness by all sectors of Burmese society and the ethnic nationalities of the absolute need for a proper constitution, that guarantees their survival and growth and their relationships with each other in a federal union.
Activities on Federal Affairs Committee (NCGUB)
U Aung Htoo continued taking responsibility as the Secretary of the Federal Affairs Committee (NCGUB). A meeting attended by full members of Committee was held in Maesod NCGUB office on 24-25, January. The participants were as follows:
One of BLC's main aims, as part of its effort to improve the situation in Burma, is to promote and assist in educating, implementing, restoring and improving basic human rights, democratic rights, and the rule of law in Burma. An important activity in fulfilling this aim is BLC's human rights and legal training for Burmese opposition/democracy and activist groups.
The Legal Aid Section of the Burma Lawyers' Council provides legal counseling and services for migrant workers and refugees along the Thai-Burma border. We offer the following services:
If you could benefit from our services, if you would like copies of our publications, or if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.
The principal goals of the Peace Law Academy (PLA) curriculum are to provide students with a legal education and advocacy skills so that they can:
KNOWLEDGE AND SKILL SETS
The PLA curriculum focuses on developing and strengthening the following knowledge and skill sets:
As English is the primary language in the international community and most of the international law classes at PLA are taught in English by foreign legal professionals, English language skills are an essential foundation for PLA students. Therefore, the first month of the PLA curriculum focuses on intensively building and strengthening English language skills including grammar, vocabulary, legal terminology, speaking, reading, and writing. Following this intensive course, English courses take place everyday throughout the PLA curriculum.
At the beginning of the school year, students are given a diagnostic test to gauge English language skills. The results of this test serves as a means of dividing students into two English classes. Re-testing of students may take place at the discretion of the English professor.
Students gain a thorough knowledge of Burmese domestic law so that they can effectively navigate the domestic legal system and effect democratic change inside Burma. Domestic law courses focus on core components of Burmese law and actual judicial practices. Students are expected not only to be well versed in domestic law but also to critically analyze laws and the conformity of government actions with those laws.
Through a range of international law courses, students gain a strong understanding of international legal standards and mechanisms. Students can then apply this knowledge to advocate for democratic change in Burma through both international mechanisms and domestic reforms that bring Burmese laws and practices in accordance with international law. International law courses focus on a theoretical background of international law, international legal institutions, relevant case studies, and the available points of access to international legal institutions for human rights lawyers. Students are expected to critically analyze the strengths and weakness of international law and international legal mechanisms and are also asked to identify ways in which international law can be used to effect change inside Burma.
Government and Politics
In order to prepare students to navigate the changing political landscape inside Burma and in the international community, students learn the basics of political science with an emphasis on government structure, constitutionalism, and political ideologies and philosophies that have shaped various forms of government. Students are also expected to conduct a critical analysis of government and politics in Burma and a comparative analysis of government and politics in different countries.
Civil Society and Networking Skills
As a means of ensuring that students can effectively participate in civil society, students learn about the structure and function of democratic political organizations including civil society organizations and institutions. Students also learn networking skills with a focus on establishing and maintaining collaborative relationships between NGOs, civil society institutions, international organizations, government bodies, and donors. In addition, civil society and networking courses focus on building strong NGO administration and advocacy skills including grant writing and report writing.
In order to cultivate effective advocacy skills, students participate in trial skills competitions that focus on both written and oral advocacy. Students compete in mock trial and moot court competitions in both English and Burmese so that they can successfully advocate inside Burma and on the international level.
Legal Research and Writing
Legal research and writing skills are fundamental to effective advocacy for lawyers, NGO workers, and activists. Thus, a course on Legal Research and Writing focuses on building various skills including conducting research, using proper citations, using reliable sources, writing coherently and logically, tailoring writing styles to a specific audience, and disseminating findings to target audiences. Beyond this course, many other core courses incorporate legal research and writing assignments in order to solidify these skills.
The following list of courses comprises the core curriculum of PLA. Further courses, seminars, and trainings will be added to the PLA curriculum in accordance with student interest and the academic focus of available volunteer legal professionals and visiting scholars.
Courses Taught by International Professors
Courses Taught by National Professors
Governance and Administration of Peace Law Academy
The Board Members of the Peace Law Academy are responsible for enforcing school policies, developing a curriculum, teaching courses, and collaborating on the administration of the school.
Academic Board Members of the Peace Law Academy
Dr. Venkat Iyer, Associate Professor, University of Ulster, Ireland
Dr. David Fisher, Professor of Law, Stolkholm University, Sweden
Dr. David Williams, Professor of Law, Indiana University, USA
Dr. Susan Williams, Professor of Law, Indiana University, USA
U Thein Oo, B.A., LL.B., M.A., Chairperson of BLC
U Aung Htoo, R.L., M.A., General Secretary of BLC
B. K. Sen, Senior Advocate, India
Management Committee Members of the Peace Law Academy
U Myint Thein, Chairperson
U Aung Myint, Member of BLC
Nai Lawe Ong, Member of BLC
Ma Myat Myat Aung, Member of BLC
Financial Committee Members of the Peace Law Academy
U Nyunt Lwin, Chairperson
U Aung Myint, Member
U Than Nai Htwe, Member
Daw Moe Moe Aung, Cashier
Ma Ei Phyu, Accountant
Maung Naing, Auditor
The Chairman of BLC is the Headmaster of PLA and serves multiple key roles. First, the Headmaster is a professor of law and teaches courses to students in addition to developing academic curriculum. Second, the Headmaster is the lead administrator and ensures that administrative staff at the school has adequate direction and guidance. Third, the Headmaster manages all staff including the Student Supervisors, Professors, and supporting staff.
The Student Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that student needs are met, implementing PLA school policies and serving as a liaison between PLA and BLC. Students with academic, administrative, or other concerns should discuss their issue with Student Supervisors who will then work with students, teachers, and the Headmaster of PLA to develop an appropriate resolution.