Sunday, August 20, 2017

Yangon lawyers defer judgement on ribbons

The newly launched yellow ribbon campaign against the militarisation of the judicial system has already hit a snag, just one day in: Yangon lawyers are not particularly supportive.

“I think there is no problem if the military appointees have experience in judiciary regulations,” said U Win Zaw Nyont, the judge from the Kyauktada Township Court.

The campaign started at Dekkhina District Court on September 9, responding to the alleged appointment of 20 former military officials to the Supreme Court at the end of August.

The campaign draws from a similar black ribbon movement in the public health sector, where medical personnel countrywide rallied against military appointments that supposedly blocked civilians from career advancement. The yellow ribbon campaign does not appear to be enjoying the same success as its predecessor, however.

Lawyers working in the private sector in Yangon said they were unperturbed by the recent military appointments, and don’t see how it infringes on the impendence of the legal system.

“The military persons are well-versed in the military judicial system so they are already familiar with the regulations,” said a Yangon lawyer, who asked not to be named.

Despite the lukewarm response in Yangon, U Khin Maung Zaw, an advocate from the Nay Pyi Taw Legal Supporting Group who started the campaign, said he will continue rolling out the ribbons township by township.

“The military is planning for its future under the democratic government post-2015,” he said. “If there are changes to government departments that make them less militarised by donning yellow ribbons, it will be a success.”

He added that legal staffers in Pobbathiri, Zabuthiri and Ottarathiri townships were expected to join the yellow ribbon campaign today.

A military official who became a judge yesterday disputed the rationale behind the campaign, and suggested on the advocate’s Facebook page that the military appointments were necessary to stem rampant graft and judgement-buying in the courts.

“This post defames judges,” U Khin Maung Zaw said.

A High Court lawyer from Mandalay, U Thein Than Oo, said he was not so much against the campaign as the colour choice for the ribbon. He said the switch from the black ribbons was confusing, but agreed that any judges, military or otherwise, who are not properly qualified would lower standards in the judicial sector.

During the military regime, the courts were infamous for envelope rulings, where military generals would pass down the desired outcome for the cases. According to a report on the independence of lawyers by the International Commission of Jurists, the nominally civilian courts are still rife with the influence of the military elite.