Global Justice Center Blog

Intern Reflection

A team of less than ten members has the potential to save thousands of lives. That effect is something truly spectacular.

- Maeve Dwyer, Program Intern, Fall 2010

I spent the majority of my time at the Global Justice Center this fall poking around with social networking, trying to find a place for the Global Justice Center in the virtual world. Components of this newly expanded online presence include a twitter account and furthering the “listening” projects started by an earlier intern. Through these two mediums, I spent my days actively engaged with the international online community, connected to people and places far away from the desk where I sat. Constantly, I was tuned into the developments of remote parts of the world and the evolving tragedies that engulf the daily lives of the people in states such as Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo. With the rest of the online community, I waited with uncertainty to see how the Burmese elections would play out, read the reactions to the event and tried to decipher what the release of Aung San Suu Kyi meant for Burma.

Over the course of this semester, I grew an appreciation for the size of these online networks and their commitment to fighting various injustices. While Burma’s future seems bleak, and the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is like something out of a nightmare with no end in sight, there exists an internet full of concerned people, trying to do what they can to influence the situation. Despite the minimal impact these tragedies in remote parts of the world have on the lives of many people, especially in the United States, concerned individuals and groups are eager to devote time and money to address them.

However, while blogs and twitter accounts are readily dedicated to dispersing information on critical world issues, there is a sense that many people lack the knowledge of where to go from there. News stories make their way around the cyber sphere rapidly, creating the sensation of a world constantly connected. Certainly, an informed populace is good and the first steps toward addressing a problem lay in knowledge, understanding, and recognition, but some sort of plan is needed to take progressive action. In this respect, the Global Justice Center has a significant role to play, arguing for a legal foundation from which significant, lasting change can emerge.

During a staff meeting earlier this semester, we were asked to come up with the unique role the Global Justice Center played in the human rights field. My feelings were, and are, that the Global Justice Center develops innovative strategies to prevent future, large scale offenses. We work to develop the legal foundations that will manifest themselves in real world scenarios to prevent further devastation and significantly decrease the likelihood of the occurrence of this devastation.

Over the course of my time with the GJC, the legal team has been swamped with the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) process, arguing that the USAID foreign assistance abortion speech restrictions are in breech of the nondiscriminatory medical care that is guaranteed for conflict victims under the Geneva Conventions. These restrictions effectively deny abortions to women raped in conflict, and a legal victory could save the lives of thousands of women and girls around the world. A team of less than ten members has the potential to save thousands of lives. That effect is something truly spectacular. Working with the Global Justice Center, even in my small way, was an honor.

Fundamental Constitutional Review Needed in Burma

On Sunday, 29 January 2012, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for reforms to the military drafted 2008 Burmese Constitution. The Nobel Laureate’s call highlights the fundamental and systemic obstacle that the constitution represents to democracy in Burma. The Global Justice Center has long noted that the 2008 Constitution not only undermines the prospects of any true democracy but also leads to the perpetuation of some of the world’s most heinous war crimes and human rights violations.

Unlike any other constitution in the world, the Burmese Constitution creates a bifurcated sovereignty. It ensures that the military is constitutionally autonomous from and supreme over the civilian government. Even if he is willing, the President, Thein Sein, cannot enforce any laws against the military. Furthermore; the constitution guarantees the military amnesty for all crimes – including the most heinous such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It also ensures the perpetual dominance of the military by guaranteeing that 25% of the seats in Parliament are reserved solely for the military, while parading itself as a multi-party “democracy”.

This flawed constitution has dire and detrimental consequences. The bifurcation of sovereign power means that Burma cannot enforce or comply with international obligations including the Geneva Conventions, UN Security Council Resolutions and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). To have a military, which is not legally accountable by any standards, obtain nuclear capabilities is a threat to global peace and security. Additionally, the clear lack of accountability, transparency, and legal autonomy of the military perpetuates genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity – all of which are punishable under international law. This means that the military’s targeted attacks against the ethnic minority civilians in regions such as the Kachin go un-checked, gross human rights violations are perpetuated and more fundamentally, justice is denied to victims of the armed conflict.

While the recent “democratization efforts” may be welcome, what Burma needs is not just change but radical change. At the most basic level, the 2008 Constitution serves to enshrine the military’s impunity for the worst crimes. If Burma is to achieve democracy, the rule of law and justice, fundamental constitutional review is certainly most needed.

For More Information:

Putting Democracy Out of Reach: How Burma’s New Government Violates the Law of Nations and Threatens Global Peace and Security

Burma’s Nuclear Strategy: How Burma’s Military Has Successfully Hijacked Democracy and Made Control over Burma’s Nuclear Future a Constitutional Right of the Military

The Legal Obligation to Prevent Genocide in Burma

The GJC publishes this fact sheet explaining the legal obligation of states to prevent (not just punish) genocide. Burma is now the number one state in the world at risk of genocide; it is therefore the obligation of all states to act against genocide in Burma.

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