Since 2015, the Rule of Law Centres (ROLCs) in Myanmar, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and IDLO have been conducting training across the country to increase understanding and cooperation between justice providers and the communities they serve.
Established in four locations across Myanmar - Mandalay, Myitkyina, Taunggyi and Yangon – the Centres aim to increase knowledge on international rule of law among of justice sector providers, legal professionals and communities, with the purpose of providing a platform for them to further engage in dialogue as a means to address local justice issues and inform justice sector reform.
A persistent challenge for both the government and civil society is the limited availability of research and analysis to inform policy development. There is also little understanding by the public about how government decisions are made.
In addition to substantive training, the Centres host community forums and legal discussions, convening local representatives, civil society organizations, lawyers and government officials to share knowledge, discuss solutions, and provide recommendations for policymaking.
Dialogues facilitated by the Rule of Law Centres present a rare opportunity for diverse actors to come together to openly discuss community justice issues in a trusted space. The ROLCs environment ultimately seeks to build trust between communities and their government counterparts by bridging the gap between local realities and official policy.
A participant at the Myitkyina Rule of Law Centre noted, “As a member of civil society, I have never attended the forum together with the Government officials and police officers. This forum is different from others as there is participation from the Government side. I am very much encouraged by their participation. Just by seeing their participation, I could say that this is a good change. I would like you to hold this kind of forum often.”
"As a member of civil society, I have never attended the forum together with the Government officials and police officers. I am very much encouraged by their participation. Just by seeing their participation, I could say that this is a good change."
A community forum takes place in a bamboo hut
To capture the knowledge exchange and key findings emerging from these discussions, the Rule of Law Centres have released two Issue Briefs as part of a larger series to address priority justice concerns identified by participants.
Launched at a national conference in November, the first two Briefs cover leading community justice issues and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and provide concrete recommendations drawing on local insight. The Brief on community issues addresses a range of topics identified by participants as those of greatest concern in their communities, including land tenure, gender issues, human trafficking, labor laws, child protection, drug trafficking and human rights matters.
As part of a pilot initiative, ROLCs in Yangon worked with civil society, lawyers’ groups and government officials around effective responses to human trafficking. As a result, a working group was formed comprising police and civil society representatives who are now developing support methods for survivors of human trafficking, facilitated by the Centres.
“If the police can participate in these kinds of discussions and trainings, their skills will improve and they can more easily and smoothly work for the public,” says U Khin Maung Htwe, the Police Mayor of Pabaedan Township and a participant in the legal discussions.
Sexual and gender-based violence
One of the most predominant themes in community forums and discussions is the prevalence of SGBV in communities across Myanmar, reflected in the fact that one-third of community dialogues focused on issues related to violence against women and children, including domestic violence, human trafficking and child protection.
The Brief states that, “Forum participants interviewed spoke of a silent crisis of violence for women and children, with very few psychosocial, medical or legal remedies available to victims.” It includes recommendations pertaining to strengthening the legal framework and formal justice sector interaction, as well as the need to address cultural norms and access to support services, such as shelters, for survivors.
“In our village, due to the culture and the rules in our minds, we just accepted that only men should be the head of the families and villages. Now, we learned all are equal without discrimination based on sex and gender. After this training, we understand that we should take these mindsets away and substitute with ‘all should be the same in our community,’” says a participant in Akye Village in Kachin State.
To inform broader policy development and justice sector priorities, the Briefs will be presented to the National Coordinating Body for Rule of Law Centres and Justice Sector Affairs, and State and Regional Rule of Law Coordination Bodies, comprising key government officials and representatives of civil society and the legal profession in Myanmar. The Briefs also include recommendations for local governments, development partners, civil society organizations, and future programming at the Rule of Law Centres.
Future Briefs in the series will overview other key local justice issues as identified by communities, and will continue to fill gaps in the evidence base at the local level.
The Issue Briefs materialize the unique role of the ROLCS and their objectives of using dialogue to amplify grassroots-level community voices to reach the heights of national justice sector reform, and improve access to justice in Myanmar.