Recent reforms have meant a renewed focus on building capacity to better secure the rule of law in Myanmar. Much attention has been rightly focused on high-level institutional development in the courts, government administrations and law-enforcement agencies.
Yet achieving rule of law demands also a bottom-up approach which enables the wider citizenry to participate and create an environment in which rule of law can be achieved. However, the individuals and organisations who can lead such a process at grassroots level currently lack the necessary knowledge, skills and networks.
Launched in 2012 with funding from the European Union, the project aims to contribute to rule of law efforts by linking 24 legal professionals with around 30 civil society organisations, with the aim of enabling these groups to inform each other’s work.
Together with Loka Ahlinn Social Development Organization, we work to strengthen the ability of civil society networks in six provincial locations – Bogalay, Mawlemyine, Sittwe, Taunggyi, Kalay and Dawei – to better use the legal system and policy advocacy opportunities to promote and advance a just resolution of selected rights issues.
Through lawyer-led trainings, dissemination of legal and local administrative information and advice, regular meetings with local stakeholders and small-grant projects, the project seeks to generate a breadth of participation in legal issues in each location, generating locally-owned initiatives and empowered participation by grassroots.
Physical space to meet and discuss local issues is important, and the project uses the British Council’s network of Millennium Centres. The spaces and networks of legal professionals and civil society select their own local priorities – for groups in the Ayeyarwady Delta this has meant securing the right to hold fishing permits, whilst in Taungyi land registration has been the main concern.
The project has generated substantial links between legal and rights-promoting networks and organisations across Myanmar and, through the participation of lawyers from Hong Kong and India, internationally.