International Development Law Organization

Rule of Law Centres: Training justice actors in Myanmar

19 Oct 2017

“I used to pay 'pocket money' to authorities when I went to court before, now I stop paying money because I had realized that it’s a kind of corruption.”

Ms. Chaw Kalayar is one of more than 1,300 lawyers, law teachers, civil society representatives, and government officials who benefited from legal training provided by the Rule of Law Centres in Myanmar, established by IDLO together with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Rule of Law Centres

During a period of historic democratic transition within Myanmar, the rule of law has emerged as a priority issue. 

Overall, there is a lack of confidence in the justice system, a lack of public awareness of the law, and little understanding about how to access justice and seek remedies for legal problems in Myanmar.

The Rule of Law Centres aim to increase understanding and cooperation between justice providers and the communities they serve in Myanmar. Activities increase communities’ knowledge of the law and their rights, assist justice institutions and service providers to apply international rule of law principles in their work, including fairness, equality and human rights, as a means of enhancing access to justice at the community level. The Centres seek build dialogue and cooperation between communities and government actors to address local justice problems.

I used to pay 'pocket money' to authorities when I went to court before, now I stop paying money because I had realized that it’s a kind of corruption. --Ms. Chaw Kalayar, course participant”

Training

Based in four locations around Myanmar - Mandalay, Myitkyina, Taunggyi and Yangon - the Centres provide substantive training with a focus on local justice issues linked to international rule of law principles, including fairness, equality and human rights. The first phase, from July 2015 to June 2016, saw the training of lawyers, law teachers, and civil society representatives and the development of outreach programming. The second phase began in July 2016 and is set to end in December 2017.

Course modules in the Foundations of Rule of Law Training

The core training course, called Foundations in Rule of Law, is based on a unique curriculum covering ethics, alternative dispute resolution, legal processes, administrative law, civil law and other areas to build practical legal skills and introduce rule of law principles. The Centres also conducted training of trainers courses to strengthen the capacity of outstanding course graduates so they are able to replicate the trainings and apply their knowledge in their workplaces and communities.

The Centres provide a rare space for diverse stakeholders who do not typically have opportunities to interact to come together, as lawyers, civil society representatives and government officials, attend joint trainings together. Over half of training participants between July 2015 and December 2016 were lawyers, 29 per cent were members of civil society organizations, and the remaining participants were law teachers or government representatives, including police officers, local administrative officials and law officers.

Breakdown of participants

To measure the impact of the training in supporting access to justice at the community level, the Centres conducted a national survey of all training graduates in June 2017 with 196 respondents out of a total 600 graduates.

In the survey, graduates reported that the training bolstered their abilities, with 95 per cent reporting an increased knowledge of the law and their rights and 94.5 per cent indicating an increased ability to access - or to help others to access - judicial and administrative remedies. Ninety-one per cent reported that the training courses changed their attitude towards and practice of law, and 95 per cent of graduates confirmed that they use what they learned in their professions.

This is the first time I’ve ever attended rule of law training in my life. This training is very useful for me because all the lessons are based on international standards and relevant to our 2008 Constitution,” commented graduate Daw May Thu Aung from the Yangon Centre. “The lessons I learned have allowed me, in my daily work, to determine what behavior meets the standards of rule of law principles.” 

The lessons I learned have allowed me, in my daily work, to determine what behavior meets the standards of rule of law principles. --Ms. Daw May Thu Aung, graduate” 

Graduates of legal skills training at the Yangon Centre

Graduates often go on to use their skills to help resolve legal issues at the local level and improve access to legal and government services. Former trainees have been able to apply new knowledge by conducting replicated trainings based on the curriculum materials. Since January 2017, 15 trainings have taken place reaching more than 1000 people. 

Sewing the seeds for local organizations

Drawing inspiration from the courses, some former trainees have established justice organizations of their own or become Rule of Law Centre staff members. As of June 2017, 14 networks and organizations providing legal awareness activities and pro bono legal services have been founded by graduates who wish to transfer knowledge to their communities. For example, Myanmar Justice Association, formed by both lawyer and civil society representative Centre graduates in Mandalay in 2015, provides legal aid assistance to those who cannot afford it.

As a trainee, Ms. Khing Sabail Phyo became interested in rule of law principles and the interactive training techniques. Now, as a staff member at the Taunggyi Centre and empowered by her experience, she has adopted these methodologies to build the capacity of those around her. “I am proud to work at the Centre because I have the opportunity to train members of the public who previously had no understanding or awareness of rule of law concepts.”

I am proud to work at the Centre because I have the opportunity to train members of the public who previously had no understanding or awareness of rule of law concepts.” --Ms. Khing Sabail Phyo, former trainee

Staff at the Taunggyi Centre

Mainstreaming gender

Given that 64 per cent of training participants are female, mainstreaming gender throughout the Rule of Law Centres is especially relevant. The curriculum includes specific sessions and activities focusing on women’s equality issues such as inheritance rights, divorce law and gender-based violence through the use of references, scenarios, and roleplays that highlight gender and women’s issues.

U Pyae Phyo Oo, a local government official from the General Administration Department (GAD) who is involved with day to day dispute resolution, participated in gender training in Yangon and commented, “Domestic violence is a problem always happening in our community. In the training, I learned about Myanmar laws that relate to women’s issues. Following this training, I can share this knowledge with my community, including household administrators, and [other organizations] that work closely with the community. In addition, through the training, I learned about the root causes of domestic violence, how to prevent domestic violence and how to provide counselling to victims.”

Phase II

Building on the success and momentum of Phase I, the second phase of the Rule of Law Centres initiative expands the range of activities and, importantly, extends training participation to law officers (prosecutors) and government officials. The existing curriculum was expanded to include more specialized legal courses for targeted beneficiary groups with a particular emphasis on gender issues, based on the needs expressed at the Centre level.

The Centres have developed a range of new training courses including: gender equality and sexual and gender based violence, legal ethics and client-centred lawyering, access to government documents (in partnership with UNHCR), and land law (in development). To build on the Foundations of Rule of Law Course, there is a five-day advanced course for more senior lawyers and course graduates.

In May and June 2017, pilot training sessions for 44 law officers of the Union Attorney-General's Office and 25 township administrators of the GAD were successfully delivered with overall 86 per cent satisfaction rates, indicating substantial knowledge gain in Phase II. These specialized courses are designed to build the capacity of justice actors to apply rule of law principles in their work, and are tailored to the specific duties and responsibilities of their roles.

The training results demonstrate an important first step in ensuring justice service providers are able to apply rule of law principles in their daily work, and enhance access to justice, maintain peace, and advance sustainable development in Myanmar.

Visit the Rule of Law Centres' website

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