Burma: Skills Training Programs for Independent Lawyers
The CEELI Institute continues its ongoing efforts to assist Burmese lawyers as their society begins its transition towards implementation of the rule of law. Since 2013, we have been working closely with the Myanmar Lawyers Network (MLN), a national grassroots association that was organized to provide pro bono legal services, as well as provide professional development and support services for its own membership.
The MLN fills important gaps, both in helping otherwise disenfranchized parts of society access needed legal services, and in training and mentoring young lawyers in a country where there is little access to professional support. Cases that the MLN members take on include some of the most prominent recent human rights cases, including groups of students jailed for participating in peaceful protests, and journalists jailed for their reporting. The MLN is also active in the representation of poor village communities trying to assert legal claims to the lands they have farmed for centuries – which also typically involves fighting off attempted “land grabbing“ by officials and their cronies. Other cases involve human rights and human trafficking.
The need for trainings and education and the lawyers’ enthusiasm are vast. With support from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in close partnership with Burma Center Prague, the CEELI Institute is assisting the MLN through a series of training and program development efforts.
In 2016, we continued to take special efforts to provide more direct support to grassroots lawyers in the regions outside of the main cities, with the result that the trainings were held in the regional cities of Pyay, Pyapon, Myiktyina, and Dawei for the first time. The training curriculum is primarily designed to provide practical skills development on matters such as case development and organization, the use of relevant legal materials in support of legal arguments, and basic advocacy skills. The program also addresses the changing political and legislative environment in Burma, the parallels with similar experiences in Central and Eastern Europe, and what these changes mean for the legal profession. The CEELI Institute is also engaged in mentoring a small cadre of dedicated MLN trainers, helping to prepare talented young lawyers to act as trainers in their own communities. Special efforts are made to include participants from the ethnic and rural regions of Burma, where lawyers traditionally have little opportunity for training or peer development, despite having to bravely persevere under the most challenging conditions.
Supporting Defense Lawyers
The legal profession itself remains under distress in many countries of the region. Our programs continued to bring leading criminal defense lawyers together to discuss current challenges to the independence of their profession, mechanisms for maintaining the rule of law, strategies for providing access to counsel and for questioning repressive laws, and tools for using international law as a check on repressive domestic actions. The CEELI Institute work is also designed to bolster technical legal skills and assist in developing effective litigation strategies.