Myanmar’s recent history has not been kind to lawyers. Viewed as a potential threat, the legal profession was weakened by military-backed governments that deliberately depleted resources at university law faculties, consolidated lawyer associations under government control, and targeted lawyers unjustly. The results were as intended: the legal curriculum in Myanmar’s universities and the critical analysis typically associated with it were erased, as were independent lawyer associations capable of sustaining continuing legal education programs. Lawyers were also regularly harassed or, worse, arrested without cause. (Photo, left: Lawyers evaluate a fact pattern during the Advanced Case Analysis training in Taungoo, Bago Region).
Although the effects are still quite present, there is evidence that the legal profession is starting to regain some of the stature it once held. An independent lawyers’ association was formed in 2016, which now, with Tetra Tech support, is launching its own organizational development and continuing legal education plans. Parliament is considering a scheme for a national legal aid program, which will afford numerous vulnerable groups access to legal representation. Even while the bill is still under debate, legal aid providers have expressed keen interest in developing their capacity to better meet client needs.
Tetra Tech’s USAID Promoting the Rule of Law Project has been a primary supporter of Myanmar’s legal aid providers, issuing grants to legal aid organizations and helping develop a legal skills curriculum to strengthen the capacity of lawyers serving the country’s poor and other vulnerable groups. The project has now launched its dual-language publication, Legal Aid Toolkit for Myanmar, a self-education resource designed to strengthen the case analysis and organizational skills of Myanmar’s legal aid providers.
The Toolkit is based on a series of Tetra Tech trainings delivered to Myanmar’s legal professionals, and includes skills-based courses, such as case analysis and witness interviewing. To guide and standardize case development, the Toolkit contains numerous templates and model forms for case intake, closing, and analysis, which address 40 of the most common issues arising under the Civil, Criminal, and Procedure Codes. The Toolkit also aims to support the establishment of new legal aid offices, and to that end provides sample forms and policies for a legal aid start up.
Over 200 Myanmar lawyers, paralegals, law students, and civil society representatives attended the recent launch of the Toolkit. The project is now working with other international organizations, including the European Union and UN Development Programme, to introduce the Toolkit through their rule of law programs. With the distribution of the Toolkit, Tetra Tech is building the capacity of legal aid providers to provide effective representation and meet access to justice needs. One young lawyer at the launch, Thet Nyein Maw, summed up the opportunities the Toolkit provides: “I always believed I could be a lawyer, but it is only now I understand how I can think like one.”
El Salvador’s Access to Information Law (AIL) launched a new era in governmental institutional life, ushering in new societal rules about transparency and public information. The AIL created Public Information Access Units (PIAUs), entities responsible for implementing the AIL in all government institutions. PIAUs, which have been established in more than 90 national public institutions and 262 municipalities, have responded to thousands of information requests from citizens through Public Information Officers. This has made information about various government institutions publicly available in an unprecedented way. The law also launched the Institute for Access to Public Information, which has been instrumental to the law's success by acting as an enforcer in what remains, in some circles, an atmosphere of resistance to greater transparency.
This new system has created a cultural shift. It has prompted Information Officers to develop best practices within their institutions, pushing them to go above and beyond what the law requires to guarantee citizens’ access to public information. To recognize those “going the extra mile,” Tetra Tech’s USAID-funded Government Integrity Project (Pro-Integridad) helped the PIAUs institutionalize a formal system in 2016 to recognize best transparency practices in government institutions. In its first year, the system showcased nine innovative best practices being implemented by officials across the Salvadoran government.
One of those recognized was Ena Violeta Mirón, an Information Officer with the Salvadoran Social Security Institute (SSSI), who helped the SSSI significantly improve its information delivery to users. The SSSI achieved this by continually updating its new transparency portal, making information immediately available to users who no longer have to submit a formal request to the PIAU. The result has been a more open culture of access to public information among SSSI staff and citizens alike.
Tetra Tech’s USAID project has been assisting in these efforts through a variety of activities, including training and institutional support. The result has been greater access to information, more public confidence in national institutions, and a stronger commitment to a culture of transparency.
Tetra Tech has been working in El Salvador since 2016, implementing the USAID Government Integrity Project (Proyecto Pro-Integridad Pública) to improve transparency and accountability in key government institutions. USAID recently signed memoranda of understanding with 11 municipalities that have demonstrated the political will to implement institutional changes to promote transparency, accountability, and citizen participation in their communities. As part of this effort, Tetra Tech’s USAID Government Integrity Project has helped develop a Municipal Integrity Model (MIM) to transform the culture of municipal institutions.
The MIM, which is initially being adopted in five municipalities, seeks to create a new organizational culture based on consistent ethical standards and institutional procedures to reduce the risk of corruption. The methodology aims to establish an atmosphere of trust, ownership, and accountability through the institution itself conducting an internal analysis of its ethical conditions and by involving the entire work force of the institution in detailed plans to increase transparency.
Tetra Tech initially developed the award-winning institutional integrity methodology for national-level institutions, and has assisted with its successful implementation in a number of countries in Central and South America. Under the leadership of Tetra Tech’s Chief of Party (COP) Paola Barragán in El Salvador, the USAID Government Integrity Project team has adapted this methodology to the municipal context. Each participating municipality establishes a Municipal Integrity Commission, which typically consists of two members of the municipal council, an information officer, an ethics commission representative, an accountability officer, and a community leader. “The commissions are made up of the right people who know the issues and who can make decisions,” explained Daysi Valle, Public Information Officer from Cojutepeque.
Each commission conducts a structured self-evaluation that collects information on institutional conditions in five categories: transparency, accountability, citizen participation, ethics , and public efficiency. Although in some municipalities the results have shown that there is substantial work to be done, municipal participants have received the findings with great enthusiasm. “Working within this framework allows for greater openness and social control in public affairs, and has allowed us to have a comprehensive … approach to [improving transparency] in the municipality,” explained Daniel Escobar, Public Information Officer from Santo Tomás. “I have observed a real energy among municipal officials to become change agents in their communities, which is really heartening,” adds COP Barragán.
Working with the USAID Government Integrity Project, the municipalities are using the results of the self-evaluations to develop specific improvement plans to improve transparency and integrity. This process will build local capacity with the expectation that after one year each municipality will be able to institutionalize the MIM and carry out its own periodic self-assessments. “We are explaining how to apply the methodology to improve … accountability,” said Juan Flamenco, Land Use Registry Chief for the Zaragoza municipality. “Transparency is a big challenge, but our will is greater,” added Daniel Escobar.
With the recent leadership transition in Myanmar, civil society and government leaders must learn to work together to foster a culture of democratic governance. To advance this objective, Tetra Tech’s USAID-funded Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP) has been supporting the Access to Justice Initiative (A2JI), a coalition of civil society leaders committed to advocating for structural and policy reforms to improve access to justice in Myanmar.
A2JI, which is composed of more than 40 leading civil society organizations (CSOs), was launched in 2015 with support from USAID. A2JI’s mission is to form a unified civil society platform to identify and engage in constructive advocacy efforts with the new government. A2JI consists of three clusters: Research, Advocacy, and Monitoring & Oversight. Through these clusters, A2JI pursues the following objectives:
Research: Conduct research and analysis to inform policy and advocacy programs, including review of existing laws, collection and analysis of baseline data, and development of an online resource library.
Advocacy: Identify effective, relevant, evidence-based strategies for collective or individual member advocacy.
Monitoring & Oversight: Monitor the performance and reform efforts of the Hluttaw (House of Representatives), executive branch, and judiciary to adhere to international standards.
Over a six-month period in 2016, with technical and other support from USAID’s PRLP, each of these clusters undertook substantive work including research into the inclusion of access-to-justice systems in key laws, an evaluation of recent CSO-led advocacy efforts, and a trial monitoring program. Some of the results demonstrate how much work remains to be done: in only one criminal case, out of more than 100 observed cases, did the defendant have counsel at the time of the remand hearing. Moreover, only 70% of respondents believed they could not challenge a wrongful dismissal from employment, even though there are legal mechanisms to do just that.
These and other findings formed the basis for A2JI’s first set of justice sector and CSO advocacy recommendations, which were presented to members of Parliament. Through support to initiatives like A2JI, USAID’s PRLP is fostering civil society engagement and advocacy and promoting greater access to justice. All of these are in the service of a peaceful transition to an inclusive and transparent democracy for Myanmar.
In December 2016, Tetra Tech’s USAID-funded Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP) culminated many months of work with the formal introduction of its Legal Aid Toolkit, a technical manual designed as a self-education resource for lawyers and legal professionals providing legal aid to Myanmar citizens. Some sections of the Toolkit cover skills that legal aid providers need to perform their job well, including case analysis, witness interviewing, alternative dispute resolution, and trial advocacy, while other sections address what it means to be a legal aid provider, including how to operate a legal aid organization and manage legal aid cases.
The Toolkit launch event was a major public success, attended by over 200 senior legal aid lawyers, law students, paralegals, PRLP staff, civil society organization members, and USAID representatives and publicized on the US Embassy website and in the Myanmar Times. Speaking at the launch event, USAID Myanmar Mission Director Teresa McGhie praised the Toolkit as an important resource that, “will strengthen the quality of legal aid services and improve access to justice in Myanmar." PRLP has prepared both Myanmar and English language versions of the Toolkit, including templates for commonly used forms, which will be distributed to legal aid providers in conjunction with planned Toolkit trainings in the coming year.
Legal aid in Myanmar is at an important stage of development, with the Government of Myanmar having recently enacted a Legal Aid Law, communities and individuals learning about the availability of legal aid, and legal aid providers perfecting the skills they need to serve their clients. PRLP’s Legal Aid Toolkit is an important contribution prepared with the goal of educating and assisting Myanmar's legal aid providers during this exciting period.
Building on our presence in Jordan since 2004, Tetra Tech’s current USAID-funded Rule of Law Program (ROLP) is working to strengthen democratic accountability and effective rule of law through improved institutions, systems, and processes and increased civic and private sector participation in oversight activities. ROLP has been supporting the Ministry of Public Sector Development’s Government Leadership Program, which aims to build capacity of potential leaders in a variety of areas including strategic planning, project management, human resources, economics and finance, communication, negotiation, change management, and ethics.
In May 2016, ROLP and the Ministry jointly conducted a two-week training for 40 future government leaders serving in the country’s southern region. In addition to attending sessions on strategic planning, priority setting, and budgeting, the participants also learned how to engage effectively with civil society to improve service delivery. At the conclusion of the training program in Aqaba, the Minister of Public Sector Development, Dr. Khalif Alkhawaldeh, stressed the importance of equipping public sector middle managers to serve in leadership positions and generally be more accountable to the public at large.
Improving cooperation between the Public Prosecution and Courts and other justice sector stakeholders has been a long-time Justice Sector Assistance Project (JSAP) priority. JSAP has regularly focused on facilitating meetings on the district level between Chief Prosecutors, Chief Judges and their respective staffs in order to improve investigative teamwork and the processing of cases. During the period of August 1-2, 2016 JSAP helped elevate this cooperation, taking it to the national leadership level as JSAP hosted a joint workshop with the participation of institutional leaders including Attorney General, Ahmed Barrak and High Judicial Council (HJC) Secretary General, Judge Raed Assaf as well as Chief Judges and Prosecutors from across all West Bank governorates.
The workshop was conducted in coordination with the HJC and the Attorney General's Office (AGO) and was led by a JSAP consultant, Jordanian Judge Mustafa Al-Assaf. The event focused on having an open and honest dialogue on the key challenges presented in joint Public Prosecution-Judiciary work and proposing solutions to these challenges.
Speaking at the workshop Attorney General Barrak stressed the significance of this workshop and emphasized the need to focus on solutions to the many challenges facing prosecutors and judges in their joint work in order to facilitate litigation and ensuring justice and rule of law for Palestinian citizens. Judge Assaf noted that despite a successful relationship between the Judiciary and Public Prosecution it is necessary to identify current challenges in order to provide solutions so as to better serve the public interest.
Over the two days judges and prosecutors addressed many procedural, legal, and administrative issues that impact the adjudication of criminal cases. “This workshop was effective in addressing and finding solutions to some of the most prominent challenges encountered in cases between the Judiciary and Prosecutors. Due to the lack of clarity in certain legal provisions in the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Law, there is an absence in some procedures to govern the relationship between the courts and prosecution,” stated Judge Assaf.
At the conclusion of the workshop, the prosecutors and judges developed concrete recommendations to deal with their most common challenges in order to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of work between the two critical justice sector parties. Some recommedations call for formalizing regular coordination meetings between the Chief Judges and Chief Prosecutors in the districts as well other concrete actions to improve the flow of information and processing of cases between the two institutions.
Improving cooperation among the courts, public prosecution, and other justice sector stakeholders has been a long-standing priority of the Tetra Tech’s Justice Sector Assistance Project (JSAP) IV, funded by the US State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The project has facilitated regular meetings among district-level chief prosecutors, chief judges, and their staffs to improve investigative teamwork and case processing.
On August 1-2, 2016, JSAP helped elevate this cooperation to the national level by hosting a workshop to address key challenges to cooperation between the public prosecution and the judiciary. Organized in coordination with the High Judicial Council (HJC) and the attorney general's office, the workshop was led by Jordanian judge and JSAP expert Mustafa Al-Assaf. Participants included the Attorney General and HJC Secretary General as well as chief judges and prosecutors from all of the West Bank governorates.
Speaking at the workshop, Attorney General Ahmed Barrak underlined the importance of strengthening cooperation to improve delivery of justice and the rule of law for Palestinian citizens. Over the course of the workshop, judges and prosecutors addressed many procedural, legal, and administrative issues that affect the adjudication of criminal cases. During the workshop, the prosecutors and judges developed concrete recommendations, including the formalization of regular coordination meetings between district-level chief judges and chief prosecutors and other specific actions to improve the flow of information and speed case processing between the two institutions. In the words of Judge Assaf, “[The] workshop was effective in addressing and finding solutions to some of the most prominent challenges encountered … between the judiciary and prosecutors.”
Tetra Tech’s Justice Sector Assistance Project (JSAP) IV, funded by the US State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), has completed customization of the Mizan electronic case management system to improve case processing and help automate workflow at the Military Justice Commission (MJC) in the West Bank. The MJC is responsible for prosecuting crimes committed by security personnel and overseeing the military’s judges, prisons, prosecutions, and administration. JSAP previously implemented the Mizan case automation system at the public prosecution offices and courts.
As a direct result of JSAP efforts, all MJC offices across the West Bank – including MJC headquarters, prosecution offices, and courts – are using the Mizan case automation system to manage and track casework for the first time. MJC staff and administrators are also using the system to record court hearings and decisions, while the MJC attorney general’s office is using it to electronically transfer cases to the courts. Prior to JSAP assistance, all cases were manually managed using handwritten registries and there was no way to generate data or statistics./p>
MJC Information Technology (IT) Supervisor Maj. Ibrahim Hajjaj expressed his satisfaction with the system: “Mizan helped standardize MJC work operations and set a technological framework that make[s] our work easier and improve[s] staff productivity. Mizan also help[s] in making case files available at all military justice facilities in addition to providing a sound environment to ensure integrity and transparency in work.”
With a keen eye on sustainability, JSAP has extensively trained the entire MJC IT team of nine IT specialists on data center management and on Mizan implementation, use, and development.
To improve the forensic capacity of the Palestinian Civil Police (PCP), Tetra Tech’s INL-funded Justice Sector Assistance Project (JSAP IV) recently procured 15 advanced crime scene investigation (CSI) kits for the 11 PCP district offices, the Fingerprints Department at PCP Headquarters, and the Jericho Police Training Academy. With JSAP support, crime scene and forensic evidence teams in various districts are also receiving training and mentoring on use of the kits, which consist of chemicals, cameras, and advanced CSI tools and equipment. The proper use of these kits is expected to vastly improve the PCP’s capacity to conduct investigations and collect evidence, which will in turn reduce the number of confession-based prosecutions.
Assistant Police Chief Brig. Gen. Abdel Jabbar Burqan of the Criminal Investigation Division stressed the importance of the kits in combating crime and in helping to build more solid criminal investigation files in accordance with international standards. He stated, “We are constantly seeking to develop the skills and capabilities of our personnel in handling the crime scene and forensic evidence and we look for the best training and most advanced tools to carry out this work. It is important not only to have possession of this equipment but to also have professional technical teams in place that can properly collect forensic evidence at the crime scene to protect it from damage or loss.” The ultimate goal of JSAP’s efforts in this area is to serve Palestinian citizens and promote justice by helping to ensure that criminal prosecutions are grounded in solid forensic evidence.