Myanmar: Ruling under militarized police

Min Lwin Oo, associate, AHRC Burma Desk

After the coup d’etat by Myanmar’s army in September 1988, the People’s Police Force became the Myanmar Police Force. The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) of the military regime established the Myanmar Police Force. The military regime’s idea of a police force is that it should be under military command. The police are considered as a co-partner of the Armed Forces; during the annual Armed Forces Day parade on March 27, the police march side by side with the military.

The British-era Police Manual, notably from volumes 1 to 4, was replaced by a Myanmar translation that is “up to date” with the country’s current situation. However, before amending the police manual, the Myanmar Police Force’s Maintenance of Discipline Law was enacted on 26 April 1995.

The current Police Manual was published in 2000; however, the government prohibits public disclosure of this document. This non disclosure and prohibition is totally against democratic principles. The police manual is kept confidential, and the printing or distribution of it is prohibited. One of the reasons for this could be that the government would not want to disclose to the public that the structure of the Myanmar Police Force, as written in the manual, is almost the same as that of the military.

To modernize the Myanmar Police Force, the government formed the Myanmar Police Force Management Committee in line with Order 14/94 issued on 28 January 1994 by Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, former chairperson of the Myanmar Police Force Reforming Management Committee. Under this Management Committee, there are five sub-committees: judicial affairs, legal affairs, military intelligence, management, and practice and actual performance. The police manual and the function of the Myanmar Police Force Management Committee is designed to support the military regime.

The first and fourth volumes of the Police Manual were originally written in English. On 15 October 1999, the Police Manual Revision Committee was formed with the head of the Myanmar Police Force as the chairman, the Director General of the Central Institute of Civil Services as secretary, and officials from the Military Advocate General’s Office, the Supreme Court, the Bureau of Special Investigation and the Myanmar Police Force as members.

The police officers under the Myanmar Police Force are aware of the content of the police manual because it is kept in all district police offices, and they are expected to follow what is written in the manual.

Myanmar Police Force Reform Management Committee:

Lt-General Khin Nyunt Secretary(1) Chairman
Colonel Tin Hlaing Minister for Home Affairs Vice-Chairman
U Aung Toe Chief Justice member
U Thar Tun Attorney General member
Dr. Than Nyunt Director General, Central Institute of Civil Services member
Major General Thein Soe Military Advocate General Office member
Major General Kyaw Win Director General, Deputy Military Intelligent member
Brigadier-General Thura Myint Maung Deputy Minister, Ministry of Home Affairs member
Lieutenant Colonel Phay Nyein Director General, State Peace and Development Council member
U Soe Tint Director General, Government Office member
U Tin Aye Director General (Supreme Court) member
Dr. Tun Shin Director General (Attorney General’s Office) member
U Aung Thein Director General, General Administrative Department member
Professor U Tin Tun President, Central Cooperative College member
Colonel Soe Win Chief of the Police member
U Kyaw Tun Director General, Myanmar Correctional Department member

Myanmar Police Force Reform Management Sub-Committee members:

Major General Thein Soe Military Advocate General Chairman
Colonel Soe Win Chief of the Police Member
U Than Myint Director General, Bureau of Special Investigation Member
Dr Tun Shin Director General ( Attorney General’s Offcie) Member
Police Brigadier General Nyo Thien Chief of General Administration Department of the Myanmar Police Force Member
Colonel Thar Han Deputy Military Advocate General Vice-Chairman

Myanmar is a country ruled in fact by the military regime, not the civilian government. Law is said to be successful if many people can understand it and make use of it appropriately, on their own. In such an environment, with support for the rule of law, there will be few wrong deeds. Laws are publicized and people are made aware of them in various ways the world over. In Myanmar however, people’s knowledge of law is not good enough to discuss the current 2008 Constitution. Nearly every citizen is unaware of how basic or constitutional law concerns them due to a lack of knowledge. In fact, it is suspected that there was a plan to confuse the population regarding the Constitution.

Under the 2008 Constitution, the Minister for Home Affairs is to be appointed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services. And, the Minister for Home Affairs and the Lieutenant General of the Myanmar Army become members of the Defence and Security Council. The Home Minister appoints other chiefs of staff, such as the Head of the Myanmar Correctional Department, the General Administration Department, the Union Civil Service Board, and the Myanmar Police Force to their respective posts.

A major general from the military would become the Director General of the Police because the police major general is also appointed by the Minister of Home Affairs. The chief of police does not know or understand legal procedures in theory or in practice; nor do the subordinate officers that he appointed. The former leading officers of the police were transferred to the training school, only to handle record keeping. Experienced police officers were thus automatically removed from their posts and the police institution. The chiefs of jails from the districts, regions and states were also replaced by former army officers. It is also similar to the appointments of the ministers for the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Htun Htun Oo, current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Union, is himself a former military captain of the Southwestern Regional Command of the Myanmar Army. Tun Tun Oo, Deputy Attorney General, is also from the Military Advocate General’s Office.

Section 301 (d) of the 2008 Constitution says:

The Chief Justice of the Union and Judges of the Supreme Court of the Union shall be a person of following qualifications,

(i) who has served as a Judge of the High Court of the Region or State for

at least five years; or

(ii) who has served as a Judicial Officer or a Law Officer at least 10 years

not lower than that of the Region or State level; or

(iii) who has practiced as an Advocate for at least 20 years;

The Deputy Attorney General is working with Toe Naing Mann, businessman and son of the Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house of the Parliament). Toe Naing Mann is the key advisor to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw‘s Commission for the Assessment of Legal Affairs and Special Issues. They collude to ensure that any draft law protects the interests of the businesses operated by the military and their cronies. In many ways judicial power is influenced by executive power.

Although the military claims they are no longer involved in politics, most of the members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party are former military personnel. They already have support from the military for the upcoming election. Twenty-five percent of the upper and lower houses of parliament consist of military representatives appointed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services.

Section 436 of the Constitution says:

If it is necessary to amend the provisions of Sections……of this constitution it shall be amended with the prior approval of more than seventy-five percent of all the representatives of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, after which in a nation-wide referendum only with the votes of more than half of those who are eligible to vote.

Any changes to the constitution thus require votes from the military representatives.

According to the 2008 Constitution:

The three branches of sovereign power namely, legislative power, executive power and judicial power are separated, to the extent possible, and exert reciprocal control, check and balance among themselves.

Clearly, the supposedly transformed military personnel still rule the important political infrastructures of the country. The military is still a key political player. The government claims that Burma is reforming towards democratic ideals; the factual situation on the ground however, begs to differ. Are the three branches of government in fact separate? Are there checks and balances among the three branches? The answers to these questions will reveal what kind of democracy Myanmar is moving towards.

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