Over the past few years, a political transition has been under way in Myanmar. Throughout this transition, and as recently as last week at the Young Global Leaders (YGLs) annual summit in that country, both President Thein Sein and the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have spoken of the rule of law, inclusion and reconciliation. What, then, is the place of justice in Myanmar’s transition?
This question is difficult to answer even among local civil society leaders because justice can take different forms. No doubt, the answer will emerge over time, through examination and debate at all levels of society. Nonetheless, at this early stage of reform, we can examine other countries’ experiences in transitional justice. During the YGL summit in Myanmar, a group of YGLs and civil society leaders met at the Local Resource Centre (LRC) to do just that. Together, we discovered that countries’ experiences are diverse. But we also discovered that there are common forms or mechanisms of transitional justice throughout the world: special rapporteurs; truth and reconciliation commissions; and court proceedings.
These diverse global experiences, for which the term “transitional justice” has gained broad acceptance in the international community, but only over the past decade, have, in fact, been occurring for many years. Nevertheless, there remains as yet no widely accepted mechanism for delivering transitional justice. Instead, mechanisms have been limited to specific countries or regions and to the transitions that were taking place in them. In other words, each country has adopted the form of transitional justice that it deemed appropriate to its own context. The people of Myanmar must also adopt a form suited to their country and, in so doing, must decide whether the mechanism they choose needs to be transitional. But whether transitional or otherwise, justice is always about time and place, and, more importantly still, about people. Our LRC journey reminded us all of this.
Because transitional justice is amorphous, it presents opportunities for action at all levels: national, regional and local. It may take time to develop national programmes, given the greater will and co-ordination required, but it may be possible in less time for civil society to develop local or regional programmes in advocacy, investigation and other assistance. For example, civil society could advocate for the establishment of a transitional justice mechanism and, if one is established, monitor it; investigate, document and archive any human rights abuses or issues; and provide legal or other assistance to victims, as well as counselling. This list of programmes or tasks is not exhaustive: transitional justice mechanisms are diverse, but so are the important tasks for civil society.
Whatever tasks civil society assumes, its role is indeed important, as is the international community’s role of supporting Myanmar’s people. The YGLs hope that we have done so during our LRC journey, and we remain committed to continuing our support for civil society in the months and years ahead. As Myanmar’s transition continues, so will our journey together.
Author: Renée Maria Tremblay, recent Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court, and Legal Counsel to the Supreme Court of Canada; 2013 Young Global Leader
Image: A man sits in a window in Yangon REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun