YLIP in Myanmar: Human rights, rule of law and bare-knuckle boxing

Kathryn Fox

By Kathryn Fox

As a participant in the Young Lawyers International Program with the Canadian Bar Association, I am now half way through my placement with the International Development Law Organization in Yangon, Myanmar. YLIP places lawyers aged 30 years and under with various organizations around the world from Guyana to Kyrgyzstan to South Africa. While in Myanmar I am working under the guidance and supervision of the Field Program Manager for the Rule of Law Centre Initiative, which is one of the programs the IDLO oversees in Myanmar.

The opportunity to come to Myanmar piqued my interest because of its current spotlight in the world of international human rights. Since being here I have learned more about the lack of trust in the justice system and the lack of public awareness around the law. The ROLC Initiative aims to increase the trust and cooperation between justice service providers and communities through capacity-building and facilitating dialogue. To achieve this there are four centres located throughout Myanmar that hold training sessions and workshops on various topics including rule of law principles, land rights, and sexual and gender-based violence. The centres also hold regular community forums which bring together government actors, civil society organizations and the members of the legal profession to discuss specific local justice issues. As previous experience in Uganda and Canada has taught me, education is one of the most important ways to address systemic issues. That is why I am honored to contribute, in whatever small way I can, to public legal education in Myanmar and the ROLC Initiative.

Upon my arrival, the Field Program Manager asked for my assistance in running the first-ever social media campaign for the ROLCs based on their 13 rule-of-law principles. Each week we featured a short description and cartoon illustration of a principle and encouraged our Facebook followers to participate in discussions. Facebook is very popular in Myanmar so this campaign is a great way to teach people about the rule of law using a familiar platform. We’ve now started our second campaign, which will focus on international human rights law and Myanmar. You can check out it out by visiting our Facebook page.

I drew on my experience as a labour lawyer in Canada to contribute to the development and implementation of a workshop on sexual harassment in the workplace for the ROLC Initiative staff. Unsurprisingly, employees here face similar issues to those I represented back in Canada, and we had good discussions on where to draw the line when interacting with colleagues. Delivering this course also provided me the opportunity to travel to all four ROLC locations, allowing me to see and experience so much more of this country.

In my time so far, I have learned a lot from my colleagues about the history and culture of Myanmar. While my knowledge of the language is quite limited, my colleagues have been very patient, kind and welcoming. It has taken no time at all for them to introduce me to different aspects of local culture – especially the food. At lunchtime they are quite eager to have me try their different dishes and are always asking me why I don’t eat more rice. Outside of work, an American colleague introduced me and another YLIP intern to Lethwei, a form of bare-knuckle boxing specific to Myanmar, and a big part of their culture. To the surprise of many locals we meet, we joined a Lethwei gym and now train at least once a week!

Looking back on the last three months, I must say I have really enjoyed my time with the ROLC Initiative and in Myanmar more generally. I cannot wait to see what the remainder of my time in Myanmar will bring.

Kathryn Fox was called to the bar in Ontario in 2015