by Kate Conyers.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article appeared in the Bar and Bench. See Kate Conyers, My Unusual' Attorney Experience: The Time I Trained Public Defenders in Myanmar, Bar and Bench, Fall 2018, at 11-16, available at http://slcba.net/wp-content/ uploads/2018/10/Bar-Bench-Fall-2018.pdf (last visited Dec. 14, 2018). Ms. Conyers has expanded upon her experience in Myanmar for publication in the Utah Bar Journal.
From March to July 2018,1 had a unique experience that has forever changed my perception of our American criminal justice system. During that time, I volunteered as a Fellow for the International Legal Foundation (ILF) and was tasked with training new public defenders in Myanmar. ILF is an international nongovernmental organization that assists post-conflict and transitional countries in establishing public defender systems that provide effective, quality criminal defense services for the poor. During my time, ILF had two offices in Myanmar: the first in the country's largest city, Yangon, and the second in a smaller city, Mandalay It has since opened three more offices around the country, including in the Rakhine State, where the atrocities involving the Rohingya Muslims took place. I spent most of my time in Mandalay.
I learned about the opportunity to serve as an International Fellow through a weekly listserv sent from the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense. My interest in the fellowship stemmed from my practice as a public defender for eight years at Salt Lake Legal Defenders and my undergraduate education in International Relations, Asian Studies, and Human Rights Law. I chose to apply because I needed a new challenge and I sought a greater appreciation of our criminal justice system by comparing it to others.
Myanmar is a large country formerly known as Burma in Southeast Asia, bordered by India and Bangladesh to its west, Thailand and Laos to its east, and China to its north. Roughly, it is pronounced as "ME-an-mar." People who live there are also referred to as Myanmar people, and the language they speak is Myanmar. While the people in Myanmar do speak some English (it is taught in public schools), it is not commonly utilized by professionals outside of international business.
Without knowing the language, I was still able to train public defenders with the resources ILF provided to me. Thankfully, the four main sources of law applicable to its criminal justice system – Myanmar’s Constitution, the Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Evidence Act, and the Penal Code – are all published in both Myanmar and English with English on the left side of the page and Myanmar on the right side of the page so they easily track each other. ILF also provided me with an interpreter/translator that doubled as the office paralegal so that I could communicate with the two lawyers in each of the offices. To further assist its Fellows, ILF also compiles a working draft of its “Myanmar Practice Manual” (the Manual or Practice Manual) that identifies common practices in the criminal justice system. ILF staff and Fellows regularly update the Manual with suggestions, wins and losses, and practical tips to improve our understanding and practice of the law. Armed with these resources and my own knowledge and experiences in the American criminal justice system, I was able to successfully train and improve the skills of the four lawyers and two paralegals (and ideally others in the legal system) as well as update the Practice Manual to the benefit of future Fellows and lawyers.
After a few days of reviewing the laws and the Practice Manual and watching the attorneys in court, I came to realize that for the most part, Myanmar is missing the “big five” rights (as I have been calling them) that our American Constitution guarantees criminal defendants. In Myanmar, there is: • no presumption of innocence
• no right to counsel
• no right to remain silent
• no right to a jury trial
• no right to appeal
In addition to this, there is no designated method to bring pre-trial motions and judges rarely acquit because they believe doing so indicates that...