Using a community based approach, IDEA legal watch groups provide advocacy and legal advice that protects farmers from prosecution.
Land disputes can be one of the most dangerous and costly issues for the public. In Myanmar, there are significant disputes about land ownership and cultivation of land by rural farmers. Particularly in Shan State, farmers have faced difficulties raising crops -- including corn, sugarcane and beans -- on land the government claims is confiscated.
With grant support from Tetra Tech’s Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP), the Integrated Development Executive Association (IDEA) has been implementing community-based legal service initiatives in Nawnghkio and Taunggyi in Northern and Southern Shan State since May 2017. Using a community based approach, IDEA is improving legal literacy, providing legal consultation, and offering victim assistance. IDEA utilizes local legal watch groups to develop and sustain their support.
IDEA is engaging with officials from the Agriculture Department to protect vulnerable farmers from prosecution for cultivation on confiscated land in Nant Linn Kham village of Nawnghkio. Farmers were cultivating crops in deserted areas confiscated by the Department in 1993-1994. A previous government crop project had ended unsuccessfully on land that belonged to the farmers’ ancestors. The farmers believed they had indigenous rights to cultivate the land, but the Agriculture Department issued an order for farmers to vacate these areas.
Ten farmers from the village were given 16-month jail sentences for farming on confiscated property. IDEA supported the farmers by submitting an appeal to the Shan State Supreme Court to reduce the jail terms. With help from IDEA, three of them had their sentences reduced by 7 months.
The IDEA legal watch group is working to raise awareness among farmers to ensure that they understand land ownership rights and to prevent them from inadvertently farming on government property. IDEA raises awareness among the farmers about how to seek requisitions from the government that allow them to farm the land without risking prosecution.
With a better understanding of the process, the farmers are now seeking support from the IDEA legal staff to submit requests and gain permission to legally farm this land. This valuable assistance is protecting farmers from incarceration and lawsuits, while also allowing them to have sufficient income to provide for their families. Support from PRLP is building the capacity of civil society organizations, such as IDEA, to improve public advocacy and promote access to justice. This support is particularly critical when dealing with land disputes and the welfare of farmers.
GPI assisted more than 2,500 people from 460 farming households to obtain the legal right to farm village land and enhance their livelihoods.
Farmers in Magyizin village in Pathein have often lost their indigenous rights to cultivate land due to urbanization, government projects, and confiscation by the military and entrepreneurs. Access to justice for these farmers is limited by their lack of legal knowledge and sufficient resources to enforce their rights. With grant support from Tetra Tech’s Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP), the Green Peasant Institute (GPI) has trained 14 paralegals in Pathein, who were selected from the local population. Once trained, the paralegals shared their legal knowledge and led discussions about land issues with 69 farmers as part of their awareness raising activities.
GPI is coordinating with partners such as Land Core Group and Namati to further expand their technical expertise. Namati organized a National Paralegal Network in Myanmar last year using a grassroots approach. GPI is also conducting advocacy activities with governmental units such as the Village Group Administration, Forestry, Land Registration and Agriculture Departments. To be more effective, GPI engaged union and regional members of parliament (MPs) for their support.
GPI helped the farmers submit proposals to the relevant regional ministries requesting permission to farm the village land. As a result, more than 2,500 people from 460 farming households in 8 villages were granted legal rights to approximately 25 acres (10 hectares) of land. The rights were granted based on laws that allow access to vacant, fallow, and virgin land.
GPI continues to train paralegals who will offer legal consultation and advice to an estimated 120 cases through their new legal aid center in Pathein. The experience gathered from these cases will also inform advocacy efforts to reform laws and procedures. GPI is also conducting coordination meetings and legal awareness workshops between paralegals, clients, and land management committees to enhance access to justice services.
Through their grants program, PRLP is providing technical assistance and capacity development to help local communities promote more effective, accountable, and accessible justice sector institutions. This will increase legal literacy and access to justice, and support marginalized populations in target states and regions. With this support, PRLP is helping local civil society organizations to develop their capacity to engage in public policy development and advocacy.
Arwa Ruwashid is one of several JSAP interns recently hired by project counterparts
As a testament to the success of the INL-funded Justice Sector Assistance Project (JSAP) internship program, former project intern, Arwa Ruwashid, is one of several JSAP interns that was recently offered a position at a counterpart justice sector institution after serving with the project.
Arwa notes that she landed her “dream job” after serving as a project intern at the Dura Public Prosecution Office for one year. “My work as an intern prepared me for this position as it provided me with the proper training and background, which in the end, saved the Public Prosecution Office the time and effort of training a completely new employee to the system,” stated Arwa. She now fills a long-term permanent position as a Warrant Execution Officer at the Hebron Public Prosecution Office. As a Warrant Execution Officer, she follows-up on execution of criminal case verdicts issued by the courts and addresses issues and challenges faced by Execution Officers.
Arwa thanked the JSAP program for helping launch her career, noting, “My professional start and the introduction provided to me by the JSAP program helped prepare me for this position which I consider to be an ideal job since securing a full-time job in this day and age is almost a dream.” She added, “The period that I served as an intern truly contributed to both my personal and professional development. I gained successful working relationships with my Public Prosecution colleagues and I learned valuable team building skills.”
Nash’at Ayoush, the Dura Chief Prosecutor praised the former intern’s skills and qualifications. “Since the beginning of her appointment in the Public Prosecution Office, Arwa demonstrated her legal ability and commitment to her work. She exercised efficient administrative and legal skills which allowed her to carry out the mandated work quickly, competently and in accordance with legal procedures. The primary reason Arwa was selected for this position is her knowledge of the laws and her high ability to conduct proper legal classification and preparation of legal briefs in accordance with the law,” said the Chief Prosecutor.
“I am proud to have been a part of the JSAP internship team which helped plant the seeds for my success,” said Arwa.
JSAP interns Dana Bei’rat and Fida’ Abu Ali have also been offered one-year contracts at the Security Forces Justice Commission. Other justice sector leaders have also noted their interest in hiring JSAP interns for long-term positions upon openings.
Legal Advisor from IDEA Helps Rural Family Gain Access to Justice
A thankful mother and sister-in-law rejoice at having their family member released from custody and home again in the Shan State village of Yay Pu.
Thanks to the grant awarded to the Integrated Development Executive Association (IDEA) by USAID and managed by Tetra Tech’s Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP), families in rural communities like Yay Pu are able to receive legal counsel and representation. Formed in 2012 to focus on rural development, social cohesion, and human rights, IDEA is working to improve access to justice for marginalized people in Nawnghkio and Taunggyi by providing legal literacy training, monitoring formal and informal justice sector processes, and offering legal representation.
A young legal aid lawyer working with IDEA showed great enthusiasm for her work and legal prowess in settling the case for the family in Yay Pu. Before the legal aid lawyer got involved, the family had made at least 12 long and costly trips to the court, but with her representation the case was resolved in less than 2 months. Initially, the family members and villagers were reluctant to work with the lawyer because of her age. However, after they saw her encourage her clients by saying, “You should not be worried too much; I will try my best to help," they realized she was capable and dedicated to her work.
The family members had first learned about the lawyer through village awareness meetings conducted by IDEA. Before attending these awareness sessions, they knew very little about their legal rights and court procedures. Since receiving legal support through IDEA, the family has expressed how these sessions improved the overall life in their village. They have noticed that people are more aware of their rights and responsibilities and some illegal behavior has stopped.
Although a nationwide legal aid law has been recently enacted, it will take time to implement. The lack of legal assistance disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people, especially in remote regions. Thanks to the USAID grant program, many people in rural areas are now being supported and the justice sector is more accessible.
Snapshot on Tetra Tech’s support of Jamaican Drug Rehabilitation Program
Under Jamaica’s Drug Court (Treatment and Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act, the Drug Treatment Court (DTC) has sought to reduce the number of crimes linked to drug abuse by providing treatment and regular monitoring for drug-dependent offenders and supporting them to function as law-abiding citizens.
In June 2016, Tetra Tech’s Community Empowerment and Transformation Project Phase II (COMET II) partnered with the DTC Rehabilitation Program to support a workforce development program to enroll participants in skills training courses such as digital animation, auto mechanics, or remedial courses in secondary matriculation exams.
One participant, 36-year old Probean Champaignie, proves it is never too late to turn around , no matter how far down the ‘wrong’ path one may be.
Even after attending his first courses, Champaignie says he resisted the opportunity to succeed. “At first, I was telling myself, ‘this is not for me, I don’t need any help. I’m bigger than this.”
Champaignie was referring to his participation in the DTC Rehabilitation program. In 2015, Champaignie ended up in the Resident Magistrate’s Court after being involved in a serious fight; an incident he now deeply regrets; “I didn’t think I needed any help, but looking back now, I see that I was wrong. The program helped me to quit drinking, and I learned how to manage conflict.”
Champaignie enrolled in the program’s auto mechanics course, certified by Jamaica’s HEART Trust National Training Agency, which was implemented by Cornerstone Ministries, a vocational and technical training school. He completed Levels 1 and 2 and will be advancing to Level 3 in an on-the-job-certification course. The father of three and valedictorian at his graduation from the DTC program in December 2016, Champaignie made such a strong impression, that he was offered the position of a Level 1 Auto Mechanics instructor at Cornerstone Ministries.
“We were so impressed that when one of our instructors resigned, we decided to offer him the position. He did not even know how to turn on a computer when he first came here. But since then, he has not failed a single assessment. Now that he is working with high risk students, his character stands out in how he manages the guys and they respect him”, says the Executive Director at Cornerstone Ministries, Marjorie Gowdy.
Champaignie admits that he enjoys being able to pass on knowledge to and earn the respect of his students. “By me becoming their teacher, it has encouraged them. Some of them tell me, ‘sir, I want to walk in your shoes, I want to be like you ’.”
In the future, Champaignie intends to complete more advanced levels in auto mechanics and possibly expand into other sectors. “My goal is to go into aviation. I also want to open a garage. I envision it as a multi-purpose complex where we have a car wash, auto-body work, and a parts shop as well”.
Snapshot on How Tetra Tech is Building Civil Society Capacity to Engage in Public Policy
Through a grant to the Integrated Development Executive Association (IDEA), Tetra Tech’s Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP) is building the capacity of civil society to engage in public policy development and advocacy. On October 21, 2017, IDEA conducted an advocacy consultation meeting with State-level Members of Parliament (MPs). Fifteen MPs and IDEA members discussed findings of civil society organizations (CSOs) and technical stakeholders to develop solutions for current community challenges. Media representatives from Thanlwin Thwee Chin Journal, Shwe Maung Journal, the People’s Voice Journal, and MRTV/NRC also attended the event.
During the event, the director of IDEA presented findings from their project, entitled Community Based Legal Service Initiatives (CBLSI), which illustrated the impact of language barriers on access to justice, the lack of legal knowledge, and the need for legal aid, especially in land and environmental cases. Recommendations from CSOs and technical stakeholders included conducting awareness training, enhancing communication and collaboration between Government and local communities, incorporating basic legal knowledge in High School curriculum, and conducting public consultations and engaging legal experts when drafting laws. U Khin Maung Myint, a state level MP, noted that “It is not easy to sustain the rule of law, and everyone should collaborate to find solutions.”
IDEA also discussed the need for both technical and legal experts in the legal drafting process, especially for specialized topics, such as land law. During a group discussion, the participants agreed on the need for MPs to facilitate more community awareness, as well as to participate in legal training sessions. The group also discussed the importance of using plain language to help farmers understand existing land tenure laws. To address ethnic language issues, they suggested using cartoons to explain laws and procedures.
As a result of this advocacy consultation, MPs committed to present the legal issues and needs of these communities to Union level representatives. MPs also agreed to participate in future IDEA events to learn more about community challenges and legal findings from the project. This type of collaborative advocacy is helping Myanmar be more inclusive, accountable, and responsive to the public and develop the rule of law, especially in rural communities.
Snapshot on young entrepreneur, Nicholas McKenzie
Gregory Park, ST. CATHERINE - “I see myself as an individual creator, and I have been inspired by and create with other creators, so naturally I call my business I Am Creations”.
25-year old Nicholas McKenzie’s compelling story demonstrates how the willingness to reach his goals combined with encouragement from his community brought him to launch his own jewelry business.
USAID-funded Community Empowerment and Transformation Project II (COMET II) partner, Forward Step Foundation, is the organization responsible, in part, for McKenzie’s success. In 2015, McKenzie wanted to pursue a career in music. After high school, however, McKenzie was fixing cell phones and other gadgets to support himself. He decided to try something different, and joined the first cohort of student trainees in a six-month skills training program dubbed “Lively Up Yuhself” at the Forward Step Foundation. The Foundation’s Sustainable Livelihood Project, supported by COMET II, targeted unattached youth from the community and equipped them with a range of skills including furniture building, jewelry making, and studio engineering.
McKenzie recalls, “I started out doing studio engineering at the Foundation, but then, I became interested in making Shamballa bracelets taught by Bobo Julius, the craft jewelry trainer.” As he progressed, Julius noticed McKenzie’s progress; “He told me he was proud of how good I was at coming up with new designs,” stated McKenzie.
Since that pilot program, the Foundation has been operating as a social enterprise in jewelry design. Using the skills of its training graduates, McKenzie being a shining example, they sell jewelry to support their training programs for at-risk youth. This experience was instrumental in equipping McKenzie with the skills to launch his own business. However, even with the support of the program, his path to I am Creations was not without its own challenges. “After I completed the training, we would go around to different locations displaying our pieces, but eventually, I had to join my father on a construction site because this was a good opportunity at the time.”
After completing the short gig with his dad, McKenzie returned to the Foundation, continuing his involvement there as a craft jeweler. Shortly after, Latoya Fry, Operations Manager at the Foundation and a craft jewelry entrepreneur herself, told him about an advanced training workshop in craft jewelry offered by the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC). “The name of the workshop was ‘Perfect Finish’, [and there,] I learned how to forge metal and refine my pieces,” notes McKenzie. It was here that McKenzie formulated the concept for his business, incorporating metal with beads and other materials that he used in his designs at the Foundation. He, along with his classmates, displayed their first pieces in his I Am Creations line at their graduation ceremony.
McKenzie says he intends to widen his already growing local clientele to the international markets. However, to do this, he says he will need a few extra hands. “The Foundation was very crucial in helping me to reach this point and I want to give back in whatever way I can. So, I have started training other youth in my community on Saturdays as a way to recruit other craft jewelry makers on my team, and already I am seeing some great talents”.
The Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP) is funding the Thwee Community Development Network (TCDN) to address trafficking in persons (TIP) efforts along the Myanmar-Thailand border in Kautkayeik and Myawaddy. On September 16th, TCDN commemorated the annual Myanmar TIP Day with an event that included 239 participants, including representatives of the Department of Social Welfare, General Administrative Office, Anti-Trafficking Task Force, Myanmar Women’s Affair Federation, Ministry of Human Development and Security and Immigration Departments from Thailand, civil society organizations, high school students, and local community members.
Myawaddy is a border area known for TIP where TCDN is working to improve awareness and stakeholder participation using a community focused approach. TCDN is engaging with both Myanmar and Thailand to build cross-border collaboration that can improve enforcement of the anti-trafficking law and provide awareness training in Kyautkayiek and Myawaddy.
The main feature of the event was a panel discussion on Human Trafficking and personal security. Reported cases have declined significantly, but there are concerns that this is because of a lack in reported cases. Therefore, TCDN is teaching communities to understand the law, recognize the crime, and report it to the correct authorities. Experts in the field discussed root causes, types of migration, and responses based on the Myanmar National Strategy. The high school students raised numerous questions about trafficking of children and suggested the development of a pamphlet focused on child trafficking.
A unique part of the program was a Quiz Show where the students and community participants demonstrated their knowledge of TIP to win prizes (pictured here). The event provided concrete tactics on how communities can address this human rights violation and prevent future trafficking of vulnerable populations. Having a diverse group of leaders, organizations, and community members together for this event provided an opportunity to expand collaboration, develop prevention efforts, and ensure an effective response to TIP.
Kengtung, in Eastern Shan State, is a trafficking in persons (TIP) gateway to China and Thailand. With grant funding from the Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP), a local civil society organization, Mawkon, is working to combat this human rights violation and protect vulnerable citizens. On September 13th, more than 500 people including the Deputy State General Administrator, State Deputy People’s Police Force, State Anti-Trafficking Task Force (ATTF) commander, political parties, Members of Parliament, state and district level officers, and CSOs participated in the 5th annual anti-trafficking day, commemorating the passage of the Myanmar TIP law.
The Deputy State General Administrator noted that, “Myanmar has been undertaking many efforts to combat TIP for years. Because of lack of employment opportunities, development conditions, and armed conflicts, our people are vulnerable to trafficking.” One hundred and eight cases of human trafficking were handled by Myanmar courts between September 2016 and August 2017. Many more cases are suspected, but they often go unreported due to the sensitive nature of this crime. The government is working to improve their response and compliance with international standards, including the ASEAN Convention for Trafficking in Persons. Due to improved anti-TIP efforts, Myanmar was recently upgraded from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 watch list on the U.S. State Department TIP list. Myanmar continues to implement a 5-year strategic plan (2017-2021) designed to combat this insidious practice. The Deputy General Administrator highlighted in his remarks that “peace building is a big factor to prevent TIP.”
For this year’s celebration, Mawkon hosted a mobilization and public awareness event. The event included regional cooperation with the Executive Director of the Foundation of Child Understanding based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and 5 other participating foundations based in Chiang Rai. Events included essay, cartoon, poster, and painting competitions for middle and high school students. These items were displayed in an exhibition at the event (see photo), which also included a video in local dialect to raise awareness.
Daw Mi Mi Ko, a State ATTF commander, expressed her support by saying, “We work together in Kengtung to combat TIP and to overcome issues in the Triangle area.” Mawkon has become a key player in this fight against TIP in both Kengtung and Tachileik, conducting prevention and awareness efforts to protect children, youth, and women in marginalized communities.
If it is indeed true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the USAID-funded Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP) has cause to be flattered. After providing customer service training at the Office of the Supreme Court of the Union (OSCU) and in pilot courts in the first half of 2017, the training has spread to numerous other courts of their own volition. The focus of the training was to initiate positive and productive interactions with all court users and improve the level of service being provided. Ultimately, the results benefit not only the general public but also attorneys, police, and litigants who interact with the court on a daily basis.
The third day of the original program was dedicated to training court personnel on the delivery of the training module. This approach provides a sustainable model, which allows the courts themselves to replicate and deliver the training for other personnel. Participants quickly realized the benefit, not only for the public, but for improving their skills and the perception of the courts.
The training provided new techniques and communication skills to create a culture of customer service at the courts (see photo). Sessions included effective listening skills, the importance of initial intake, the physical environment, and assessing improvement using the Q10 method. The Q10 methodology utilizes a brief 10 question survey of court users to measure customer perception. The initial training included 34 participants from the OSCU but has expanded to include 865 beneficiaries, including 448 women and 417 men. After seeing the benefits this program offered to the courts, the OSCU chose to replicate the program throughout Myanmar for High Courts, District Courts, and Pilot Courts in 6 Regions and 2 States.
PRLP is providing technical assistance to selected pilot courts in Myanmar and their support was the original impetus for this activity. However, the concept quickly spread evidencing the value of pilot activities to motivate system wide reform. Thanks to this valuable program, citizens can now enjoy better service and the reputation of the courts continue to improve. Quality justice services are an important component of ensuring the rule of law for all citizens.