Workshop for Myanmar lawyers: promoting accountability through strategic litigation

The workshop, held from 11-12 February in Sittwe, brought lawyers and civil society together to discuss of experiences of strategic litigation elsewhere in Myanmar and the region, and consider potential public purpose litigation cases in Rakhine State.

Dr Daniel Aguirre, the ICJ’s International Legal Adviser in Myanmar, provided an introduction to strategic litigation as a method for promoting accountability in a time of transition in governance.

He noted the critical role of independent lawyers in protecting human rights, by representing clients from all communities in Rakhine State.

And he emphasized the importance of strategic litigation as a means to prevent violations and abuses of human rights, or to seek reparations where violations and abuses have occurred.

Kingsley Abbot and Jintana Sakulborirak, from the ICJ’s Asia Regional Office in Thailand, discussed strategic litigation cases from the region, including in northern Thailand where community members have launched an action to appeal the legality of land acquisition for a planned SEZ in Tak Province.

The cases highlighted how media engagement is a critical part of strategic litigation, to raise public attention on human rights issues and demands for accountability in the implementation of investment projects.

Daw Aye Mon Thu, advocate from Dawei Pro Bono Lawyers Network presented the experiences of Heinda Mine cases from Dawei Region, Southern Myanmar, emphasizing the importance of trust-building and cooperation with local community as stake-holder. Such a strategic litigation cases are extremely rare in Myanmar.

Discussions followed about potential cases for strategic litigation from Kyauk Phyu and Sittwe, including issues related to land acquisition for railways construction and an SEZ appear to have been carried out unlawfully in violation of human rights.

Participants discussed the principle of undertaking litigation for broader advocacy objectives rather than solely focusing on actually winning the case in the court.

They also reflected on the challenges and limitations for Myanmar lawyers to undertake strategic litigation.

Highlighting the vital role of lawyers, speakers encouraged participants to consider strategic litigation as a means to challenge unlawful acts that violate or abuse human rights, particularly accompanying business enterprises.

Rakhine State is among Myanmar’s poorest and most isolated provinces, where lawyers and CSOs have had limited exposure to concepts of human rights and international laws.

This workshop, the first of its kind to be held in Rakhine State, is part of efforts to address this gap by building legal literacy on international human rights law and lawyers to consider litigation as a strategy to protect human rights.

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