On the second anniversary of the killing of prominent lawyer U Ko Ni, in public view at Yangon International Airport, the ICJ repeats its calls for a thorough and impartial investigation with a view to establish the facts, to deliver justice and to deter the repetition of similar crimes.
“This brazen killing of a prominent democracy advocate demands a rigorous State response to show this type of crime will be fully punished,” said Frederick Rawski, the ICJ’s Director for Asia and the Pacific.
Despite an official investigation and reports of more than 100 court hearings, nobody has been held accountable for U Ko Ni’s death – criminally or otherwise – and the circumstances have not yet been satisfactorily explained.
“Myanmar simply cannot satisfy its international law obligations without conducting an impartial and independent investigation that is free of military influence. Such an investigation is a pre-requisite for conducting an effective prosecution in a fair trial setting,” added Rawski.
U Ko Ni was well known as a vocal advocate for human rights and democratic reform in Myanmar. As an adviser to the National Legal of Democracy party, he was involved in creating the position of State Counselor, which formalized a leadership role for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, despite a constitutional provision barring her from the Presidency.
At the time of his death, it is understood that U Ko Ni was working on proposals to replace Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution, the source of law underpinning military power.
“A credible justice process is required not only for U Ko Ni and his family, but to demonstrate the State will protect the right to life of all people including democracy advocates,” said Sean Bain, legal adviser for the ICJ.
“A crime of this nature stifles participation in the democratic process and so an effective justice process is imperative to deter its repetition,” Bain added.
Myanmar has a particular obligation to ensure that lawyers and others acting as human rights defenders are protected in carrying out their work.
Any justice process must be timely, effective and shed light on the facts.
The investigation into U Ko Ni’s killing has been beset by obstacles, including the unknown whereabouts of a primary suspect, the incorrect identification of a deceased individual as a suspect and the arrest of a person with the same name, and reported military involvement in the police investigation. Lines of inquiry related to the political motivations for the killing, particularly considering the military links of many suspects, do not appear to have been pursued satisfactorily, nor impartially, given military involvement in the investigation.
Criminal proceedings in Yangon’s Northern District Court, and related proceedings in the Yangon High Court, have been sluggish. Observing lawyers and individuals including from the ICJ have noted multiple instances of admission into evidence of testimony that appears to be irrelevant, failures of key witnesses to appear, and the long drawn out process of court proceedings whereby weeklong delays are common while continuances over successive days are rare.
These issues are emblematic of challenges in Myanmar’s justice system previously identified by the ICJ in which police, prosecutors and courts generally lack the independence and or will to effectively administer justice, particularly in politically sensitive cases.
“Two years is an incredibly long time to get to the position we are in now, and in our experience this highlights broader problems with the administration of justice in Myanmar,” added Bain.
Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia Pacific Region Director, e: frederick.rawski(a)icj.org
Sean Bain, ICJ Legal Adviser, e: sean.bain(a)icj.org
Myanmar-Ko Ni Statement-News-web stories-2019-ENG (full story with background information, PDF)
Myanmar-Ko Ni Statement-News-web stories-2019-BUR (full text in Burmese, PDF)
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