Trial Skills and Legal Transformation Trainings in Burma


2016-05-28 at 11-06-59The CEELI Institute, together with Burma Center Prague (BCP), continues its effort to train young lawyers in Burma, under the auspices of the Myanmar Lawyers Network.  The most recent sessions were delivered in May 2016.  The most recent programs took place among a dramatically changing political landscape following the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy in November 2015, which in turn began paving the way for democracy and the return to power of iconic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

In addition to the continuing focus on building practical trial skills, the trainings focused on aspects of political and legal transformation (an issue that is at last possible to address entirely openly in the country) as well as the role of lawyers in drafting new legislation. The legislative process will be an important topic in the coming years as the country begins to grapple with its outdated and repressive laws inherited from its years of colonial and military rule.

The May 2016 trainings were carried out in the regional cities of Pyay and Pyapon, in line with our objective of providing training opportunities to lawyers outside of the main cities, and to targeting the younger, less-experienced members of the network. The trainings were led by Tomáš Vachuda, a veteran Czech lawyer and the Vice-Dean of the Anglo-American University in Prague, who was himself active during the years of substantial legislative changes in Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s. The hands-on practical training on trial skills was led by Allen Snyder, Professor at the University of San Diego, a long-time trainer and board member of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA). The practical exercises were based on a mock case and focused on providing young lawyers with skills necessary for preparing and arguing their cases in court. The program provided basic advocacy skills for organizing and preparing a case file, collecting and presenting evidence, and effectively presenting the case to the judge in a courtroom setting.

Training for Pro-Bono Lawyers in Burmese Regions



In May 2015, the CEELI Institute, in partnership with Burma Center Prague, concluded another round of training for the Myanmar Lawyers Network (MLN), a group of Burmese lawyers focusing on pro-bono work. We took another step toward providing more direct support to grassroots lawyers in the region, organizing training in the cities of Pathein and Taunggyi for the first time.

The training, led by veteran lawyers and professors Tomáš Vachuda (Anglo-American University in Prague) and Allen Snyder (University of San Diego), focused on practical trial skills, as well as on the changing political and legislative environment in Burma, parallels with similar experience in Central and Eastern Europe, and the what these changes mean for the legal profession.

Rule of Law in Burma?: Discussion with Burmese Activists and Journalists


On Monday, March 16, CEELI Institute and the Burma Center Prague held a roundtable with representatives of several key Burmese non-governmental organizations and independent media.Among the speakers were Tate Naing and Bo Kyi of the Assistant Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPPB), Aye Nai of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Han Min Soe of the Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma (ND-Burma) and Kyaw Kyaw of the Network for Democracy and Development (NDD).

During the last four years, Burma/Myanmar has undergone a managed transition resulting in the gradual relaxation of what had formerly been one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes. Recently, however, it seems that progress has slowed down or even stopped in some aspects. We have seen some worrying developments, including an increase in ethnic tensions, and activists and journalists being sent to prison once again.  Panelists noted that reforms to date have been largely “superficial“ changes, with the military remaining firmly in control.  They particularly singled out frutstrations and continuing challenges to establishing the Rule of Law in that country.  The upcoming Parliamentary election, planned for this year—but not yet scheduled, or even assured—was also given short shrift.  Panelists were skeptical that elections really offered a way forward to true political change, noting that the existing constitution basically ensured continuing control of the government by the military despite the results of any popular vote.  They also cited concerns as to whether there could even be a fair election, and whether international observers would be allowed.

Panelists nevertheless called on the outside world to continue to support efforts at political and legal change in Burma, noting that training and engagement was critical to their efforts.  The CEELI Institute and Burma Center Prague are set to continue our training programs for Burmese Lawyers this year, in ongoing partnership with the Myanmar Lawyers Network.

The debate was organized by Burma Center Prague and the CEELI Institute – jointly providing assistance to Burmese lawyers and activists within a project funded by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


CEELI Institute Completes Series of Trainings in Burma

Supporting the Myanmar Lawyers Network

In August and October, the CEELI Institute continued it efforts to provide organizational assistance and practical advocacy skills training to the Myanmar Lawyers Network (MLN), an independent group of Burmese lawyers who are committed to providing pro bono legal assistance to those in need, and who have championed causes of political freedoms, human rights, freedom of expression and land rights for marginalized communities. Multiple programs were held by the Institute in both Yangon and Mandalay. This project is implemented together with the Burma Center Prague, and with support from the Czech Foreign Ministry.

The MLN is led by some of Burma’s most experienced defense lawyers, including many of whom are former political prisoners. Cases that the MLN takes on often include representation of poor village communities trying to assert legal claims to land —which also typically involves fighting off attempted “land grabbing. Other cases involve protecting the right of freedom to assemble.

2014-08-23 at 12-16-54In addition to their pro bono efforts, the leaders of the MLN are also committed to providing professional development and support services for its own membership—now numbering in the hundreds, and including the newest generation of young Burmese lawyers. The MLN fills important gaps in training and mentoring young lawyers in a country where legal education skills (especially for the younger generation) are low and where there is little access to professional support. The need for trainings and education and the lawyers’ enthusiasm are vast. The Institute is supporting the MLN with programs providing technical skills training designed to improve courtroom skills, case preparation abilities and legal research skills of the next generation of young lawyers.  The Institute is also working closely with MLN members to develop a cadre of talented young lawyers who will act as trainers in their own communities. Much of our August and October efforts focused on bringing along this core group of trainers. Institute programs are also focused on the practical steps necessary to improve the organizational capacity of the MLN, and assist it in achieving its own goals of delivering an expanded program of in-service trainings and public outreach.

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CEELI Institute Reports:  “Emerging Faces: Lawyers in Myanmar“

Working closely with the International Legal Assistance Network (ILAC), the CEELI Institute recently co-authored a report entitled “Emerging Faces: Lawyers in Burma,“ published in October 2014.  The report was principally authored by William D. Meyer, Chair of the Institute’s International Advisory Board and is based on ILAC/CEELI assessments, interviews, surveys and experiences from our training and assistance projects in Burma. The report provides in-depth background on the current state of the legal profession in Myanmar, and details the challenges facing the legal community there as it emerges from decades of repression. Ultimately, the report makes a strong case for continued engagement with Myanmar’s legal community, which will be a key element for the defense of human rights, and the establishment of the rule of law in that country.

Emerging Faces: Lawyers in Myanmar

CEELI Institute and Burma Center Prague Training

On October 6-12, CEELI Executive Director Christopher Lehmann will visit Burma for trainings conducted in partnership with the Burma Center Prague for the Myanmar Lawyers Network. The workshop will focus on the theme of “Lawyering in a Democratic Country.” Discussions and trainings will focus on basic skills for case organization, leadership, and professional development. We look forward to updating you on the outcomes of the trainings later this month.