Category Archives: other countries

Unwanted news, Rangoon electricity & irrationality

rangoon electricity

Burma’s government claims to welcome complaints about malpractice, inefficiency and corruption against those in public service. But a recent case of a man imprisoned for repeatedly complaining about electricity problems speaks to how easy it is in an irrational system for the complainant, not the government officials, to wind up in trouble.

In early August, U Khin Maung Kyi called the electric supply corporation in his suburb of Rangoon a number of times to complain about a surge in power at his house. It was not the first time that he had called to make a complaint, and the township supply director had already lodged a criminal case with a local court, alleging that the 45-year-old’s repeated calls were obstructing his staff from performing their duties.

This time, Khin Maung Kyi argued with the duty officer, who refused to give his name or let him speak with his superior. Khin Maung Kyi then threatened to make a complaint to higher levels. Later, when asked about this in court, the official admitted that the caller had not used offensive language or made unlawful threats, but testified that his manner was impolite and that his calls were an inconvenience.

The director might have thought that, by lodging a case in court, he would put Khin Maung Kyi off making more calls. In any event, after this latest incident, he put the local state apparatus into movement against the annoying resident. Continue reading

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Pinning hope on a hopeless constitution

constitution

Last year, amid the death and debris in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, Burma got a new Constitution. Now people inside and outside the country are readying themselves for a general election of some sort, followed by the opening of a new Parliament, which is when the charter will take effect.

The ballot is expected in 2010, although so far no details have emerged of how it will be run. The regime could yet give any number of excuses to postpone it if Senior General Than Shwe or his astrologers decide the time is not right.

Some analysts – including former diplomats and others who move in their circles – see hope for change in the 2008 Constitution and the anticipated elections. Their argument is that even though the parliamentary system will be under military control, it will still provide space for people that have not had a chance to participate in government for the last few decades.

One way or another, they say, power will be more diffused and that will create opportunities. And like it or not, they figure, the junta’s electoral circus is the only one in town.

But, in a statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council this month, the Asian Legal Resource Center has given a starkly different opinion. The Hong Kong-based group has argued that in its current form the 2008 charter cannot be called a constitution at all, let alone one that will permit people in Burma to shape their future. Continue reading

Politics, not law, will determine Suu Kyi’s fate

Yettaw

At a meeting of lawyers in Hong Kong this April, Aitzaz Ahsan described how as counsel for the Chief Justice of Pakistan in the petition against his unconstitutional removal from office during 2007, neither the president nor any other senior official had even read the charges brought against the judge, which they had signed. Had they done so, they would have noticed that the charge sheet was full of blank paragraphs with the word “deleted” alongside. And anybody looking more closely should also have found that the petitioner had not even presided over an appeal in which he was accused of having struck a deal with one of the parties; yet a number of the judges trying him had.

Although the charges against the Chief Justice of Pakistan were framed in legal terms, neither their factual accuracy nor formal correctness was supposed to have mattered. Politics and military power, not laws and civilian authority, were meant to have determined the judge’s fate. Yet to his credit, as well as to that of his advocate, the Supreme Court bench and the legal community of Pakistan, the court reinstated the judge despite the wishes of a dictator.

The case now running against Burma’s democracy icon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is of the same type. Continue reading

Whatever happened to Mayateh Maranoh?

mayateh-maranoh

Next Thursday a court in Yala will decide on a very important case for victims of arbitrary detention and forced disappearance in Thailand. The court is due to give its view on what happened to Mayateh Maranoh (shown above with his son), who has not been seen since he was taken away by a paramilitary group in mid-2007.

According to his family, a group of rangers from Unit 4111 surrounded their house on June 24 and put Mayateh in a vehicle. They also took his car, mobile phone and licensed gun.

Mayateh’s wife and two children watched as he was driven away. It was the last time they saw him. After some days of searching, his wife, Suma-idoh, learned that the unit of poorly-trained local recruits had that evening held him at a school some five kilometers away.

Her constant efforts to interest state officials in her husband’s disappearance failed. The police did not investigate. The Department of Special Investigation under the Justice Ministry also declined to take up the case.

It fell to Suma-idoh to lodge a complaint herself. Continue reading

A 15-year trial is not a fair trial

This week the criminal court in Southern Bangkok sentenced four men to lengthy jail terms for their alleged roles in a plot to kill the former president of Thailand’s Supreme Court. The judges convicted the two organizers of the purported crime to 25 years each; the gunmen, from whom the police obtained confessions, to more than 16.

The court’s verdict is wrong. It is wrong not because the facts of the case favor the defendants, but because it took over 90 judges more than 15 years to reach this point. Continue reading

Asia needs a new rule-of-law debate

(Der Rechtsstaat in Thailand)

The rule of law has been getting talked up in Thailand a lot since the former prime minister’s wife, Pojaman Shinawatra, lost a criminal case before a special bench of the Supreme Court, and her husband skipped both town and bail prior to a hearing against him too.

Amid the many editorials and headlines (Krungthep Turakit above: Thaksin, Pojaman flee), academic Michael Connors suggested that the verdict against Pojaman could bode well for a more robust rule of law. Newspaper columnist Chang Noi was effusive, declaring the verdict “a manifesto on behalf of the law.”

Thaksin even got in on the act himself, describing those pursuing his family through the courts as having “no concern for the legal system … or the universal rule of law” and claiming that he and his family are victims of “continuous injustice.”

While the former policeman’s complaints jar with his track record of getting things done any which way, the cases against him and his family do raise issues about how the rule of law needs to be understood and debated in Asia.

One of the main problems besetting talk about rule of law in the region is that it continues to be dominated by writers and thinkers living elsewhere in the world, where courts, police and administrative offices work more or less as expected.

These persons usually take separated powers, constitutionalism and representative government for granted. Some publish commentaries on high-profile cases that are in fact relevant to the society as a whole, because their law and bureaucracy are relatively coherent and systematic.

Others go into the finer points of whether or not it is possible for judges to consistently and impartially apply law, and whether the rule of law should be governed by morals or procedures.

But little if any of this is relevant to people in most parts of Asia. Continue reading

Saneh must now resign

(ให้ประธานคณะกรรมการสิทธิมนุษยชนไทยลาออก)

The chairman of Thailand’s official human rights body, Saneh Chamarik (above), on July 29 sent an open letter to the head of the United Nations expressing his agency’s most serious concern and dismay at a “blatant violation of human rights.”

As the writing of an open letter to the U.N. secretary-general is an unusual step for a statutory rights bureau, and given its strident tone, readers might expect that its topic would be one of utmost importance to the defense of human dignity in Thailand.

This would be mistaken. The purpose of the National Human Rights Commission’s letter was in actuality to lay blame for a puerile spat over an historic temple between the governments of Thailand and Cambodia with a U.N. committee.

According to Saneh, it is the World Heritage Committee, rather than politicking and self-interested nationalist leaders, that has somehow “endangered the lives of those who live along the Thai-Cambodian border.”

But Saneh does not stop there. He goes beyond any pretence of concern for the integrity of people residing nearby the contested site to lobby unashamedly for his own country’s claims.

“It seems that the views of the Thai side have been consistently overlooked,” he shrills, before concluding with a demand for an inquiry of some sort or another.

Official politeness will oblige a response, but it is hard to imagine the letter being received in New York with anything other than incredulity.

Although the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand has had its share of ups and downs and is certainly not alone among its peers in Asia in having missed the point of its work from time to time, other blunders pale in comparison to the disgrace caused with this outburst. Continue reading