Advising Burmese MPs on legislative reform


Building on our four-year track record of working with human rights lawyers in Burma, the CEELI Institute has now expanded our efforts in Burma to include support for members of the Burmese Parliament who are working to reform a range of outdated or repressive legislation. Many of these MPs are former dissidents and political prisoners who are now adjusting to new roles as legislators and drafters. Progress in changing these laws and paving the way for a genuine democracy is critical to securing democratic changes in Burma.  The MPs are also increasingly aware that the results of the next general election in 2020 will be partly dependent on success in reforming repressive laws.

This project has been a logical outgrowth of our work with the human rights legal community in Burma, and our long term partnership with the Burma Center Prague (BCP).  It was through our well-established contacts with senior human rights lawyers, that the CEELI Institute and BCP were requested to initiate this effort, as lawyers we have worked with now have moved from a position of outsiders and political prisoners into positions within the legislature.  The transition is an important, but challenging one for them. The latest series of roundtables, organized by CEELI and BCP this month (December 2017) in Burma, covers strategies for a successful and efficient drafting of new laws, including cooperation with independent lawyers associations as a source of expertise and legal drafts.

This project has been possible through the ongoing support of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and more recently through additional support provided by the British Embassy in Yangon.

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.

Promoting Legal Skills Training for Independent Burmese Lawyers


The CEEBurma 044LI Institute, in partnership with Czech NGO Burma Center Prague, is again preparing to deliver another series of legal skills training sessions for independent Burmese lawyers, to be held this month in two regional Burmese cities. The trainings are delivered as part of a long-term cooperation agreement with the Myanmar Lawyers Network (MLN), an organization of independent Burmese lawyers active in pro bono defense of politically prosecuted citizens and vulnerable populations. U.S. Judge Christopher Whitten and Polish law professor Marta Skrodzka will lead the training, which is focused on building practical advocacy skills.  The program will also address the role and experience of lawyers in a society transitioning from a totalitarian regime to democracy.

The training sessions predominantly target the younger members of the network, especially in the regions outside of the two main cities of Yangon and Mandalay. Their main focus is on advocacy skills in a very practical hands-on setting. The program, funded by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also focuses on experience from the transformation of the legal environment in Central Europe. In addition, the CEELI Institute also uses this project as a mechanism to provide traini-the-trainer support to selected network lawyers who will assume more responsibility in delivering training projects for their organization. Not least, the CEELI Institute and Burma Center Prague also continues its long-term institutional support and cooperation with the MLN leadership, a group of veteran Burmese lawyers who have fought for human rights in their country for the last four decades.

With the recent landslide election victory for Aung San Sui Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, the Burmese transition to genuine democracy continues; the process is far from done, but there is new hope that the investment of time and energy in the support and development of a cadre of principled lawyers providing willing to provide pro bono defense will be more important than ever.