DVB Multimedia Group

Burmese lawyers tie a yellow ribbon around judiciary

Online campaign poster

Burmese lawyers in Naypyidaw on Wednesday launched what they are calling a “Yellow Ribbon Campaign” to oppose military officials taking over senior positions within the judicial sector.

The attorneys say their protest was inspired by the Black Ribbon Campaign launched by doctors last month against what was similarly referred to as “militarisation” of the health sector. The doctors ultimately prevailed when the minister of health scrapped plans to fill 300 vacancies at the ministry with military personnel, after thousands of people joined a rare online protest against eight initial appointments.

The lawyers say their call to action came after 20 military officers were appointed to positions in the Supreme Court at the end of August.

“The situation has been unbecoming for some time, but we tolerated it in the past out of fear. We did not want to be seen opposing the Tatmadaw [Burma’s armed forces] or as behaving radically,” said Yellow Ribbon wearer Kyi Myint of the Myanmar Lawyers Network (MLN). “But now, things are different – we have a more open political environment and a parliament in place.

“The appointment of personnel from the executive sector – especially military officials with no experience in the judicial sector – can have negative influences, and also denies [lawyers and judges] the opportunity for career advancement.”

Fellow lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, who is leading the campaign in Naypyidaw, said attorneys in other major cities, such as Rangoon and Prome (Pyay), are also joining the campaign.

High Court lawyer Kyaw Myo Thu said, “The appointment of military personnel [to the judiciary] casts doubt among the public as to the impartiality and freedom of our judicial sector.

“We, the lawyers, are also acutely aware that having military superiors influencing from above can disrupt the ability of a civilian judiciary to make decisions freely.”

He added: “In the beginning, the [military servicemen] only took positions outside the courthouse, but now they are taking up positions such as chief justice.”

Read further DVB coverage of Burmese law and the legal sector