Seminar: A Stocktake on Law Reform in Myanmar

This talk is being held on Thursday 2 April 2015, from 1-2pm. Venue: Moot Court, Room 317, Building 5 (ANU College of Law) on Fellows Road

Speaker: Dr Melissa Crouch

Myanmar is the latest site for law and development and rule of law reform. In this talk I want to step back and reflect on the past five years of law reform in Myanmar (2011-2015), situate these developments in social and historical context, and identify future challenges in this area. First, there has been an increase in legislative reform, in areas as diverse as foreign investment; farmland, labour rights; media reforms; civil society organisations, and the Central Bank, while highly controversial reforms such as the national education bill or the four draft bills restricting various religious practises continue to generate debate. Several key patterns in law reform can be identified, and this points to the need for a more selective, substantive and meaningful law reform process in the future. Second, constitutional reform has been a critical demand over the past few years. While a Constitutional Tribunal has been established, it has been mired in controversy and effectively stalled any meaningful attempts at constitutional review given a lack of transparency and independence. The effort towards constitutional amendment has been an inherently uncertain process, and at this stage it is unclear whether a referendum will be held before May, and if so on what issues. Third, the pervasive and unrestricted exercise of executive power remains a dominant feature in the legal landscape, exemplified in the use of emergency powers. This is illustrated in executive decisions made under the Criminal Procedure Code in response to a range of demonstrations, protests and violence, which I characterise as legitimating a sense of the ‘everyday emergency’. Three constitutional states of emergency have been also declared by the President, and this should be a cause for concern. To conclude, any stocktake on the process of law reform in Myanmar needs come with a deep appreciation and awareness of past legal and political developments, as well as the current distorting effect of the highly politicised environment leading up to the 2015 elections.  

National parliament, 2014