The Jurist: Myanmar dispatches: ‘even in this critical time, legal education in Myanmar should go on’

JURIST EXCLUSIVE – A Myanmar law professor recently dismissed from her university post and now in hiding from the Myanmar military junta discusses the impact of the Myanmar military coup on law professors, law students and general legal education in Myanmar as the military takeover in that country enters its fifth month, with human rights, the rule of law, and lawyers themselves all repressed by the regime. This piece, written in English, has been minimally edited to respect the author’s meaning and voice.

It has been over 5 months since the coup. Law professors and other faculty members have joined the CDM [Civil Disobedience Movement]. Even before the coup, universities were closed due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. All faculty members were working from home to prepare video lectures for online programme and doing other research works.

At first, almost all of the members of my Law faculty joined the CDM and protested on the streets. The State Administration Council (SAC) [junta] not only escalated the violent crackdown the protests and arbitrary arrested the protestors but also issued the warrant to arrest the teachers who join the CDM. One of the Law professors from University of Yangon was the first person that the SAC issued the warrant to arrest for committing section 505 (a) of the Penal Code. As a consequence, that Law professor and others who were in the list of warrant had to be in hiding. Subsequently, members of Law faculties from all other Universities were threatened with orders to go back to work at their the respective Universities.

The SAC appointed a new Minister of Education and new Rectors and Pro-Rectors for the universities where the vacancy of those position available because the Rectors and Pro-Rectors from some Universities had joined the CDM. Those new Rectors and Pro- rector used all means –  including persuasion and threats – to make sure that all CDM teachers went back to work when SAC tried to reopen the University in June. As a result, some CDM teachers decided to go back. But many students decided to join the CDM and refused to go to university. Many teachers are still joining the CDM and they have been suspended and removed by the SAC.

Currently, CDM teachers are living in fear and insecurity, facing financial difficulty because of lack of income and get very little financial support. Students who refused to go to university lose the opportunity to continue education and job opportunity. But even in this critical time, legal education in Myanmar should go on. Regarding implementation of a  interim education programme, Law Departments of different universities in Myanmar have come together to discuss with NUG [the shadow National University Government], Students Union, Teachers Union and other members of academic departments and administrative departments of the universities, especially to offer Law courses and to form a University Council parallel to the University authority formed under the SAC. The purpose of this interim education programme is to create and support a continuous learning opportunity for students. For a long term formal education programme, there are many challenges to overcome, especially, the financial and technical support including access to library to implement an effective teaching and learning platform, the security of academic environment and the credential of the degree offered by the University.

I would like law professors around the world to know that Myanmar people will continue to resist the coup until the end and we will never give up. Meanwhile, as many law professors are in hiding and working at risk, we need help from law professors around the world in teaching our students by sharing their precious time to share their knowledge and experiences.