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News, 8/10/2017

Learning the principles of law enthusiastically in Myanmar

"Aren’t you done yet!", the police officer reprimands the lawyer visiting his client who is in jail on suspicion of using child labour. A brief role play is under way in Yangon Rule of Law Centre. The replies are being closely followed by a group of 20 active course participants comprising lawyers, civil society representatives and a Catholic nun.

After the performance, the suspect, lawyer and police officer join the others and, under the teacher’s guidance, a lively discussion ensues about the rights of the police and the lawyer. The class is split into small groups to think about why the confidential relationship between the client and the lawyer is important.

A course participant in the role of a lawyer asks a “police officer” for permission to see his client, who is expecting him in his role as a detainee. Training courses at a Rule of Law Centre take a pragmatic approach to teaching the Myanmarese the principles of law. Photo: Hanna Päivärinta/MFA
A course participant in the role of a lawyer asks a “police officer” for permission to see his client, who is expecting him in his role as a detainee. Training courses at a Rule of Law Centre take a pragmatic approach to teaching the Myanmarese the principles of law. Photo: Hanna Päivärinta/MFA

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is striving for peace, stability and democracy after more than 50 years of military rule. Peace is fundamental to the country’s development; armed conflicts still occur between ethnic minorities and government forces.

Finland’s development cooperation in Myanmar aims to advance peaceful and democratic development. To this end, Finland supports the activities of Rule of Law Centres, which provide training in rule of law principles and human rights. Support is channelled through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Rule of Law Centres operate in four cities: Yangon, Mandalay, Myitkyina and Taunggyi. They provide ten-day courses intended in particular for lawyers and civil society representatives. Recently also government employees and even a few police officers have participated in the courses.

The Centres were established came into being at the initiative of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Tailored training course content

"It’s good that the participants come from different backgrounds. This brings a variety of perspectives and everyone can learn from each other,” explains UNDP’s Paul Doila, who helps to organise the training courses.

"The course has taught me a lot about legal proceedings and how to apply this information”, said Win Pa Pa Thein, a lawyer.

Some participants who have completed the training course have been inspired to organise learning circles in their own communities. The Centres then support these circles by providing material. A printed guide with distinct modules and lesson instructions is available to support learning.

Course participants get together in different groups to think about answers to the teacher’s questions. Photo: Hanna Päivärinta/MFA
Course participants get together in different groups to think about answers to the teacher’s questions. Photo: Hanna Päivärinta/MFA

The Centres also reach out and provide a couple of days training to local communities and their leaders. Course content is tailored depending on the burning issues in the respective area.

Training gives special attention to emphasising the rights of women and to ensuring that the majority of persons trained are women. The courses deal on a practical basis with legal issues relating among other things to land ownership, family violence and narcotics offences.

Finland supports democratic development in many ways

Finland’s support to develop democracy and rule of law in Myanmar is closely linked to work in the peace process. Good forest management, like improvements in education, also contribute to democratic development.

Finland is contributing EUR 4 million from development cooperation funds to support the development of democracy and rule of law in Myanmar in 2016-2017 through the UNDP’s Country Programme. In addition to Rule of Law Centre activities, the programme includes a project that seeks to reform the functions of Myanmar’s parliament and the skills of civil servants.

Finland’s support to the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) programme is an important part of the development of democracy and rule of law. This is a question of improving the position and rights of women and girls, and access to services in conflict-affected areas. These services include the provision of sexual and reproductive health services and violence response services.

Members of political parties at the state and regional level are also being trained out of development cooperation funds. An important part of training involves getting members of different parties to engage in dialogue with each other. Political Parties of Finland for Democracy, Demo Finland, is responsible for the project.

In addition, Finland is supporting the activities of Yangon Film School. Among other things, students at the school make short documentaries about social problems. Support for the school’s activities is channelled through the Finnish Foundation for Media and Development, Vikes.

Hanna Päivärinta

The writer is a communications officer in the Unit for Development Communications at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. She visited Myanmar earlier this year at the turn of March-April.

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