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Home > Main Library > Law and Constitution > Civil and political issues > Association and Assembly > Laws, decrees, bills and regulations relating to association and assembly (commentaries)

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Laws, decrees, bills and regulations relating to association and assembly (commentaries)

Individual Documents

Title: Union legislature to tackle protest law differences
Date of publication: 19 September 2016
Description/subject: "With the upper and lower houses unable to reconcile differences over draft amendments to the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, the Amyotha Hluttaw Speaker announced last week that lawmakers would hash out their disagreements in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. Eight points of disagreement between the two chambers remain, under sections 4(f), 12, 14(a) and 25, as well as four sub-clauses of Section 10. The upper house Speaker said the move to debate the contended articles in the Union parliament, announced on September 15, was at the suggestion of lawmaker U Aung Kyi Nyunt (NLD; Magwe 4), a member of the Amyotha Hluttaw Bill Committee. The MP said the main point of contention was over a clause supported by the Amyotha Hluttaw, which parliamentarians in the lower chamber stripped out, that would make it illegal to incentivise individuals to join a protest. “The Amyotha Hluttaw approved the clause that [prohibits] any powerful organisations or people from ordering people to protest by giving them money and [prohibiting] people from accepting that money also. The Pyithu Hluttaw abrogated that clause,” he said..."
Author/creator: Swan Ye Htut
Language: English
Source/publisher: "Myanmar Times"
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 20 September 2016

Title: "They Can Arrest You at Any Time" - The Criminalization of Peaceful Expression in Burma
Date of publication: 29 June 2016
Description/subject: Summary: "While the country is more open than before, the people’s rights are being neglected. They can arrest you at any time under these laws. There is no guarantee. –Pang Long, attorney, Rangoon, January 2016 The past five years have been a time of liberalization and change in Burma. The abolition of prior censorship and a loosening of licensing requirements has led to a vibrant press, and the shift from formal military rule has emboldened civil society. The change has not been without conflict, however, and, under President Thein Sein, those who embraced the new freedoms to vocally criticize the government or military too often found themselves arrested and in prison. The backlash against critics was facilitated by a range of overly broad and vaguely worded laws that violate internationally protected rights to expression and peaceful assembly, some dating from the British colonial era, some enacted under successive military juntas, and others the products of reform efforts, or ostensible reform efforts, by the Thein Sein government. This report examines how Burmese governments have used and abused these laws and the ways in which the laws themselves fall far short of international standards. It sets forth a series of concrete recommendations to the new Burmese government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), aimed at dismantling the inherited legal infrastructure of repression..."
Language: English, Burmese (ျမန္မာဘာသာ)
Source/publisher: Human Rights Watch
Format/size: pdf (863K-full report, reduced version; 1MB-full report, original)
Alternate URLs: https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/burma0616_chartsweb.pdf (tables)
https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/burma0616burm_summandrecsweb.pdf (summary, recommendations, and legal standards in Burmese)
Date of entry/update: 29 June 2016

Title: Burma: Proposed Assembly Law Falls Short - Remove Criminal Punishment, Overbroad Speech Restrictions
Date of publication: 27 May 2016
Description/subject: " Burma’s parliament should amend a proposed law on public protest to better protect rights to peaceful assembly and free expression, Human Rights Watch said today. The Peaceful Processions and Peaceful Assembly Act improves upon existing Burmese law, but retains criminal penalties and contains overly broad and vague restrictions on speech contrary to international standards..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Human Rights Watch
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 28 May 2016

Title: Myanmar: Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Bill - Legal analysis
Date of publication: 16 May 2016
Description/subject: Executive Summary: "ARTICLE 19 welcomes the newly elected National League for Democracy’s (NLD) initiative to reform protest laws in Myanmar. The speed with which the proposed Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Bill (the Bill) was put before the Parliament is a welcome sign of the government’s intention to reform laws that have demonstrably been used to restrict the right to freedom of expression and the right to assembly. At the same time, we encourage the government to pause and consult widely with civil society on the Bill before proceeding further in the Parliament. In particular, the consultation should assess whether and how provisions in the Bill could be used intentionally or otherwise to continue past repression of protesters. ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned that the current Bill: • Includes provisions that are not necessary in a democracy; • Includes provisions that are vaguely written and could be used arbitrarily to restrict freedom of expression; and • Includes criminalisation and prison sentences for peaceful protest. The Bill will be a step forward from the current Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, as amended in 2014. However, it continues to include criminalisation and vague provisions that ARTICLE 19 raised concerns about in 2014. and which have been used to criminalise and imprison hundreds of peaceful protesters over the past two years. ARTICLE 19 recommends that the Government: • Pause the parliamentary process and consult with civil society broadly, with the aim of returning a revised bill. This consultation should in particular consider the potential ramifications of the Bill’s provisions, testing their need in a democracy and identifying whether they can be used arbitrarily. Consultations should be guided by the “joint practical recommendations for the management of assembles”, issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions;1 • Consider how criminal actions potentially committed during protests, such as destruction of property or violence, could be better dealt with by using criminal laws of general application, rather than specific laws for protesters only. Based on this considerations, return a revised bill; • Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Myanmar Government agreed in recommendations accepted during the November 2015 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council. While ratifying, begin to engage more thoroughly with the international human rights system, for example by inviting the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to Myanmar to support in the development of this Bill. In the following analysis, ARTICLE 19 highlights the priority concerns regarding the Bill, with recommendations based upon international human rights law and standards."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Article 19
Format/size: pdf (194K, 1.47MB-reduced versions; 2.9MB-original)
Alternate URLs: https://www.article19.org/data/files/medialibrary/38410/16th-May-2016-LA-myn-FOA.pdf
Date of entry/update: 29 June 2016

Title: BURMA/MYANMAR: Law being misused to prosecute peaceful protestors
Date of publication: 21 April 2015
Description/subject: "The Asian Human Rights Commission has documented that an increasing number of peaceful protesters are being arrested and jailed under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act. Citing the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the country, and ensuring the upcoming 2015 election remain peaceful, authorities, especially Administrative Officers, have filed cases against numerous peaceful protesters under this Act. The Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act was enacted in December 2011 and the regulations relating to the law passed in July 2012. In a statement issued on 24 September 2013, the AHRC had noted: “… contrary to its title and as proven in practices over the last two years, far from enabling the exercise of rights to assemble and demonstrate the law does precisely the opposite by requiring people to request permission for events from local police stations, who can arbitrarily approve or decline such assemblies as they see fit. The section is quickly becoming notorious as more and more people who are declined permits to rally-without rhyme or reason-and then do so nonetheless are prosecuted.” In June 2014 the law was amended; however, no regulations to the amended law have been passed to date. This has led to another layer of difficulty for peaceful protesters seeking to exercise their constitutional rights, and given the authorities greater possibilities for misuse..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Asian Human Rights Commission
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 24 April 2015

Title: BURMA/MYANMAR: Government does not recognise detained students from UDE as students
Date of publication: 08 April 2015
Description/subject: "...It is the right of the students who are now under detention to seek and obtain bail. Even if the government may claim that those under detention are not students, these individuals were only participating in peaceful protest, which is the right of every Burmese citizen. So, whether those in detention now are students or not, it is the responsibly of the court to recognise their constitutional rights and, at the very least, release them on bail. Any further detention of the students will curtail their prospect of further education, for which they have worked hard; it will destroy their future. Perhaps, this is what the government wishes for those that it has kept under detention. The AHRC strongly condemns the government actions and calls upon the government of Burma to release the students unconditionally. The AHRC also calls upon the international community to work closely with the government of Burma and ensure that the students are released. The AHRC further urges the governments to withdraw sections of the National Education Law against which the students have been protesting."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Asia Human Rights Commission
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 24 April 2015

Title: BURMA/MYANMAR: Student protesters and their supporters denied legal and medical assistance in Tharawaddy Prison
Date of publication: 24 March 2015
Description/subject: "Students and their supporters detained in Tharawaddy Prison continue to be denied access to lawyers. In addition, the authorities have refused medical assistance for the detainees that are injured. Thus, the government continues its persecution of the Burmese students who have taken a stand against the government’s plan with respect to education. The background to this is that students from all over Burma have denounced and demanded amendment to the National Education Law, which was passed last year on 30 September 2014. Burmese students boycotted the law and protested for four days in Yangon on 14 November 2014. They gave 60 days to the government to reconsider the law and respond to their request. However, when the government provided no response, students commenced a protest march from Mandalay to Yangon, a distance of 359 miles. This student protest march was stopped in Letpadan Township on 3 March 2015, and it is here that the police brutally cracked down on the students. On 10 March, students and their supporters were subjected to police violence; the police used unjustified force; students and their supporters were beaten with batons and arrested. Officially, 127 individuals were arrested the same day and placed in Tharawaddy Prison; of these, 27 were released from the Prison without charge on 12 and 13 March. Two days later, some of the detainees were brought before the court to get remand, but none were allowed to meet family or lawyers..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Amyotha Hluttaw via "The Global New Light of Myanmar"
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 24 April 2015

Title: Midnight Intrusions - Summary & Recommendations ညဥ္႕နက္သန္းေခါင္ခ်င္းနင္း၀င္ေရာက္ျခင္းမ်ား-ဧည့္စာရင္းအဆုံးသတ္ေရး
Date of publication: 19 March 2015
Description/subject: á€¡á€€á€ºá€¥á€¹á€¸á€á€ºá€³á€•á€¹ ၂၀၁၁ ခုႏွစ္တြင္ ဦးသိန္းစိန္ သမၼတျဖစ္လာၿပီးေနာက္၊ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံ၏ ႏိုင္ငံေရးႏွင့္ စီးပြားေရး ျပဳျပင္ေျပာင္းလဲမႈမ်ားသည္ ႏိုင္ငံ၏အနာဂတ္အတြက္ ႀကီးမားေသာလြတ္လပ္မႈမ်ား မႀကံဳစဖူးေသာ အေကာင္းျမင္မႈမ်ားသို႔ ဦးတည္ခဲ့ပါသည္။ သို႔ရာတြင္ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံတစ္၀န္းရွိ လူ႔အသိုုက္အ၀န္းမ်ားတြင္၊ အာဏာပိုင္မ်ားသည္ ဖိႏွိပ္ေသာဥပေဒမ်ားကို ဆက္လက္က်င္႔သံုးေနၿပီး၊ ယခင္စစ္အစိုးရမ်ား လက္ထက္တြင္ က်င့္သံုးေနက်ကိုသာ ဆက္လက္အသံုးခ်လ်က္ ရွိပါသည္။ ၿမိဳ႕ျပႏွင့္ ေက်းလက္ေတာနယ္၊ ျမန္မာဗုဒၶဘာသာႏွင့္ လူနည္းစုမ်ား၊ ခ်မ္းသာသူႏွင့္ ဆင္းရဲသူ အပါအ၀င္ ျဖစ္ေသာ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံတြင္ ေနထိုင္သူအားလံုးသည္ ၂၀၁၂ ခုႏွစ္ ရပ္ကြက္ သို႔မဟုတ္ ေက်းရြာအုပ္စု အုပ္ ခ်ဳပ္ေရးဥပေဒ အရ ညဥ္႕အိပ္ညဥ္႕ေန အိမ္တြင္တည္းခိုသူမ်ားကို ရပ္ကြက္ သို႔မဟုတ္ ေက်းရြာအုပ္စု အုပ္ ခ်ဳပ္ေရးမွဴးအျဖစ္ တာ၀န္ထမ္းေဆာင္ေနေသာ အစိုးရအရာရွိမ်ားထံ တိုင္ၾကားရန္လိုအပ္ပါသည္။ စင္စစ္ အားျဖင့္ ေဒသခံမ်ားသည္ ညဥ္႕အိပ္ညဥ္႕ေနတည္းခိုမည္႕သူမ်ားကို လက္ခံႏိုင္ရန္ ႏိုင္ငံေတာ္မွ ခြင့္ျပဳခ်က္ ရယူရန္လိုအပ္ပါသည္၊ အာဏာပိုင္မ်ားကလည္း အေၾကာင္းမ်ိဳးစံုျပၿပီး ျငင္းပယ္ႏိုင္ေၾကာင္းသိရွိရပါသည္။ ျမန္မာအာဏာပိုင္မ်ားသည္ မၾကာခဏႏွင့္ ပံုမွန္ဆိုသလို အိမ္ေထာင္စုမ်ားကိုစစ္ေဆးျခင္းျဖင္႔ တည္း ခိုသူမ်ားကိုတိုင္ၾကားရန္လိုအပ္ခ်က္ကို လိုက္နာေၾကာင္း ေသခ်ာေစပါသည္။ ရပ္ကြက္ သို႔မဟုတ္ ေက်းရြာအုပ္စု အုပ္ခ်ဳပ္ေရးဥပေဒသည္ အရာရွိမ်ားအား ပုဂၢလိကေနအိမ္မ်ားကို ၀င္ေရာက္ရန္ႏွင့္ “တရား ဥပေဒစိုးမိုးေရးႏွင့္ စည္းကမ္းထိန္းသိမ္းေရးအတြက္ စစ္ေဆးရန္လိုအပ္ေသာေနရာမ်ားကို အခါအား ေလ်ာ္စြာစစ္ေဆးရန္” အကန္႔အသတ္မရွိ အခြင့္အာဏာေပးထားပါသည္။ ဤျပဌာန္းခ်က္က ခြင့္ျပဳထား ေသာ အခြင့္အာဏာအရ ရပ္ကြက္ႏွင့္ ေက်းရြာအုပ္စု အုပ္ခ်ဳပ္ေရးမွဴးမ်ားသည္ ထံုးစံအတိုင္း ဤစစ္ေဆးမႈ မ်ားကို ညဥ္႕နက္ေသာ အခါက်မွ ရဲ သို႔မဟုတ္ ေထာက္လွမ္းေရးအရာရွိမ်ား၊ အျခားသူမ်ားႏွင့္အတူ ဧည္႔စာရင္းတိုင္ၾကားျခင္းမရွိေသာ ဧည္႔သည္မ်ားရွိ မရွိကို စစ္ေဆးရန္အေၾကာင္းျပ၍ ျပဳလုပ္ၾကပါသည္။ ဤခ်င္းနင္း၀င္ေရာက္ျခင္းမ်ားျပဳလုပ္သည္႔ အခ်ိန္ကိုေထာက္ရႈ၍ ေဒသခံမ်ားသည္ ထိုအေလ့အက်င့္ကို “ညဥ္႕နက္ သန္းေခါင္စစ္ေဆးမႈမ်ား” ဟုရည္ညႊန္းေျပာဆိုၾကပါသည္
Language: Burmese (ျမန္မာဘာသာ)
Source/publisher: Fortify Rights
Format/size: pdf (962K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/FR-2015-03-Midnight_Intrusions-summary-bu.pdf
Date of entry/update: 19 March 2015

Title: MIDNIGHT INTRUSIONS - Ending Guest Registration and Household Inspections in Myanmar (English)
Date of publication: 19 March 2014
Description/subject: SUMMARY: "Since President Thein Sein came to power in 2011, political and economic reforms in Myanmar have led to greater freedoms and unprecedented optimism for the country’s future. However, in communities throughout Myanmar, authorities continue to apply repressive laws and employ practices common under previous military regimes. The Ward or Village Tract Administration Law requires all residents of Myanmar—urban and rural, Burman Buddhists and minorities, rich and poor—to report the identity of overnight houseguests to government officials serving as ward or village tract administrators. In effect, residents need permission from the state to host overnight guests—and authorities are known to deny guest registration for a variety of reasons. Myanmar authorities ensure compliance with the guest registration requirement by conducting periodic household inspections. The Ward or Village Tract Administration Law empowers officials to inspect “the places needed to examine for prevalence of law and order and upholding the discipline [sic] ,” effectively giving them unfettered authority to enter private residences. Under the authority granted by this provision, ward or village tract administrators typically carry out household inspections late at night with police or intelligence officers and others, ostensibly to determine if unregistered guests are present. Given the timing of these intrusions, many residents refer to the practice as “midnight inspections”. Additionally, individuals who lack adequate documentation or citizenship status in Myanmar face challenges hosting or staying as overnight guests. For example, individuals who are unable to obtain household registration documents are typically required to regularly report themselves to the state as guests in their own homes, often on a weekly basis. The provisions of the Ward or Village Tract Administration Law related to the guest registration requirement and its enforcement impinge on various human rights, including the right to privacy and rights to freedom of movement, residency, and association. The guest registration requirement represents a systematic and nationwide breach of privacy, giving the government access to troves of personal data from communities across the country. Evidence collected by Fortify Rights also suggests that the law is particularly enforced against low-income communities, individuals working with civil society organizations, and political activists..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Fortify Rights
Format/size: pdf (1.1MB-reduced version; 1.24MB-original)
Alternate URLs: http://www.fortifyrights.org/downloads/FR_Midnight_Intrusions_March_2015.pdf
Date of entry/update: 19 March 2015

Title: BURMA: Police torture of gay and transgendered people
Date of publication: 22 July 2013
Description/subject: "The Asian Human Rights Commission has been following with concern news of the police targeting of gay and transgendered people in Burma, or Myanmar, and has recently obtained detailed information on a number of cases of alleged arbitrary arrest, detention and torture of persons on the grounds of sexual orientation. The AHRC is troubled both by the manner in which this minority group appears to have been deliberately targeted by the police, and by the implications of these police abuses not only for the rights of minorities in democratizing Burma, but also for the rights of all people living there. According to recent news reports, police in Mandalay have been conducting an operation against gay and transgendered people who have been congregating in certain public places in the city. Although the police claim that they are simply removing from certain areas anyone found to be causing a disturbance to the public, from all accounts it is clear that they have been specifically targeting gay and transgendered people..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 22 July 2013

Date of publication: 21 January 2013
Description/subject: "This special dossier of 36 cases brought under the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act against people accused of contact with the Kachin Independence Army was researched and compiled in 2012 by independent human rights defenders in Burma who have requested that the Asian Human Rights Commission disseminate the material...At a time that the conflict in Kachin State between the Kachin Independence Army and Burma armed forces is only getting worse, this dossier marks an important contribution to documentation on human rights abuses in the region, because it signals very sharply the intersection between war and law, between violence in armed combat and violence in interrogation, in the use of torture and other techniques against persons who have been branded enemies of the state...the human rights defenders who gathered and translated this material have two stated objectives: to document and inform people about the use of the Unlawful Associations Act; and, to secure the release of the accused. Both of these objectives are laudable, and strongly supported by the AHRC. Clearly, not enough has been done to document cases of this sort in a way that makes explicit the connection between strategic practices of the military and those of other parts of the state apparatus for the targeting of internal enemies. We firmly hope that by taking these steps, not only will the connections be better understood but also those whose cases are documented will obtain relief through some publicity and attention to their specific plights..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) & Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
Format/size: pdf (2.7MB-OBL version; 3.46-original)
Alternate URLs: http://www.humanrights.asia/countries/burma/reports/Unlawful_Association_Dossier.pdf/view
Date of entry/update: 21 January 2013

Title: Thein Sein Repeals Repressive Law on Public Speeches
Date of publication: 16 January 2013
Description/subject: "Burmese President Thein has repealed a draconian law that was used to stifle public speeches and sentence dissidents to lengthy spells in prison under the previous military regime, according to an announcement in a state-owned newspaper on Wednesday. The Burmese-language version of The New Light of Myanmar carried an announcement signed by President Thein Sein, which stated he had revoked Law 5/96, or the Law Protecting the Peaceful and Systematic Transfer of State Responsibility and the Successful Performance of the Functions of the National Convention against Disturbances and Oppositions. It provided for up to 20 years imprisonment for anyone who criticizes the government in speeches or written statements that “belittle the National Convention” and make people misunderstand its proceedings..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy"
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 19 January 2013

Title: Myanmar: The Decree on the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession 2012 - Legal Analysis (English/ Burmese ျမန္မာဘာသာ)
Date of publication: 20 September 2012
Description/subject: Executive Summary and Recommendations: In July 2012, "ARTICLE 19 analysed the Decree on the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession of Myanmar, adopted by the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar on 5 July 2012. The provisions of the Decree were examined for their compliance with international standards on human rights. Myanmar has neither signed nor ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or other principal human rights treaties. Nevertheless, ARTICLE 19 suggests that guarantees to the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as provided by Article 364 of the Constitution of Myanmar, allow a wide scope for interpretation and that international standards regarding these rights should provide guidance to such an interpretation. In the analysis, ARTICLE 19 appreciates the Decree’s recognition of the state duty to protect assembly participants. However, the requirement for permission to hold an assembly, the grounds for denying permission, the lack of a court appeal and the absence of guarantees for media access to assemblies are problematic and must be urgently revised. ARTICLE 19 also calls on the Government of Myanmar – in consultation with civil society - to review other legislative measures in light of international standards and to make them compliant with these standards. Recommendations ARTICLE 19 calls on the Government of Myanmar: • To sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; • To invite the UN special rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression to visit Myanmar; • To ensure that the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of expression are safeguarded in line with international standards; • To revise the Decree on the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession in accordance with international standards on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as recommended by ARTICLE 19; • To initiate public discussion about the current legal framework on peaceful assemblies and engage in consultation with civil society representatives on how to improve the relevant legislation. ARTICLE 19 calls on civil society in Myanmar: • To engage in public debates and consultation with the government on how to improve the domestic legislation on peaceful assembly; • To form coalitions between civil society organisations and launch public education campaigns on the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of expression; • To draft legislative proposals and advocate for specific changes in domestic legislation aiming at the improvement of the protection of the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of expression; • To seek partnerships with international organisations in a specific mandate on the right to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly."
Language: English, Burmese (ျမန္မာဘာသာ)
Source/publisher: Article 19
Format/size: pdf (346K-English; 6.54MB-Burmese))
Alternate URLs: http://www.article19.org/data/files/medialibrary/3440/12-09-19-LA-Myanmar-BU.pdf
Date of entry/update: 24 September 2012

Title: Burma: New Law on Demonstrations Falls Short
Date of publication: 15 March 2012
Description/subject: "...Legal Reforms Should Meet International Human Rights Standards ...Burma’s new law on assembly rejects the previous ban on demonstrations, but still allows the government to trump the Burmese people’s basic rights. There is a lot of excitement about changes in Burma these days, but the government shouldn’t be given credit for allowing some freedom just because none existed before. Instead, it should be pressed to make sure its laws meet international standards..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 17 March 2012

Title: Reading between the lines of criminalized assembly in Myanmar
Date of publication: 10 December 2011
Description/subject: "All public assemblies that power holders have not themselves organized or endorsed pose them some kind of political challenge. In a democratic system, unauthorized public assemblies are part of the political process. The ruling group is obliged to accommodate such assemblies and not resort to needlessly coercive methods in dealing with them. The political symbolism of an authoritarian system, by contrast, carries with it, as James Scott has written, an implicit assumption that subordinates gather only when they are authorized to do so from above.1 Where subordinates defy this assumption, they threaten the political order, and risk juridical sanction. The British authoritarian regime in its Asian colonies assigned public assembly an inherently criminal quality. A full chapter of the Indian Penal Code, which it brought with it to Burma, sets out offences against public tranquillity and their punishments. The terms used in the code evoke the innate criminality of unauthorized gatherings: “criminal force”, “rioting”, “affray”. The colonial-era police and courts read between these lines so as to enable liberal use of violence. Police and magistrates responded to unauthorized assembly under cover of the empire’s criminal codes with lathi charges and rifle fire. When they failed to keep things under control, behind them came the army. And so, a template was set for what historian Mary Callahan has described as the “coercion-intensive” state in Burma.2 1 James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1990) 61. 2 Mary P. Callahan, "State Formation in the Shadow of the Raj: Violence, Warfare and Politics in Colonial Burma," Southeast Asian Studies 39.4 (2002): 521. 2 But the colonial template has, as the years have passed, become less and less familiar. Whereas the coercive parts of the criminal juridical apparatus in Burma, now officially Myanmar, have expanded in size and strength under successive military or military-established governments, the authority of the courts has greatly diminished. Whereas the criminal codes have remained in force, the manner of their application has changed markedly. And meanwhile, other ill-defined elements that were not part of the original template have also entered the mix. In this paper, I briefly explore the shifting character of the containment and criminalizing of unauthorized assembly in Myanmar through a case study of the juridical and extrajuridical response to large-scale protests in 2007. I argue that the criminalizing of unauthorized assembly and its participants was, compared to earlier periods, highly ambiguous, because the juridical and extrajuridical elements of the response were throughout purposefully intervowen. The ambiguity was, I think, paradigmatic of how power has in recent years been exercised through the criminal juridical system of Myanmar, such that today we can only talk of the juridical and extrajudicial in the singular, as a composite of practices rather than two contrasting sets of practices..."
Author/creator: Nick Cheesman
Language: English
Source/publisher: “Southeast Asia: Between the Lines”, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 9-10 December 2011
Format/size: pdf (616K)
Date of entry/update: 18 August 2014