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Rule of Law: its two rivers of origin

Dr. Nyo Tun
RB Opinion
May 19, 2015

A virtuous person respects others without condescension, arrogance, humility, and fear. He or she does not insult others with lies and cruelty. These two destroy one’s morals as much as he imposes infliction on his victims"

– Doctrine of Virtue, Immanuel Kant 

Either in the case of sentencing Naw Ohn Hla, Nay Myo Zin and other activists with imprisonment and hard labor or calling boat refugees the unworthy to be dealt, it is obvious that the main characteristic of Burmese Government’s power institutions is cruelty. A very important question flashes upon us. Is free society possible with the construction of cruelty? If society is dominated by brutal measures, can we say people of that society are able to determine their own destiny? At the same time Burmese society has recognized brutal behavior as legal actions, is this still possible to say we are marching toward democratic goals.

Let us consider another quest. Almost every one can sense global society today is much more civilized than the ancient world. There is only one answer to explain why we can proclaim it. Our modern societies are said to be more polite because we modern men unite together to promote the liberty of others. How can we determine whether one’s behavior or the government’s actions are civilized? The criterion of observation is if they are bringing freedom for others and not restrict it.

When can we say someone's life is not free? If a person has to fear punishment for what he will do or something he believes, or in his life “special people” are favored with unjust privileges while undervaluing him, he or she is no longer able to be free.

At this point, if the government builds institutions to systematically impose cruelty on their unwanted people or favor some particular groups they like with exorbitant privileges, this type of government is not working for freedom of the people. It is a barbarian government and its society is built upon barbarian motives regardless of whether society is catching up to date with modern equipment or techniques.

Also from this point, we can see a misleading way for the policy formation process. The Western governments who think their democratic culture excels, or our self-proclaimed Burmese government who think they are leading the road to democracy or even the opposition who fights for the emergence of democratic culture can be confused to accept modernity as more freedom for Burma. Despite EU’s training Burmese police force to become a modernized institution, or international community assisting the Burmese judicial system to become a modernized independent institution, the radical ground is completely untouched. The badly needed challenge they need to take on is to face the fact that the whole governance system of Burmese society is centered on cruelty.

Throughout the history of Burma the Irrawaddy River starts from Myintsone (junction of origin rivers) and flows all over our nation. Daughter Irrawaddy is born by the conjugation of Father Maykha River and and Mother Malika River.

In free and civilized society, rule of law is like the great Irrawaddy River; it is the first and foremost institution and most important – its strength must be delivered to the entire society.

However, as if the Irrawaddy originates from Maykha and Malikha, rule of law, the most important attribute of human civilization, originates from our intentions to stop cruelty of the government and their unjust favor. Without confluence of two rivers of origin, never emerges the Irrawaddy. In the same way, without the crucial meeting point of these two most radical purposes, (1) to remove cruel brutality [Maykha] and (2) to prohibit unfair favoritism [Malikha], our Burmese society will never be able to achieve freedom and virtuous civilization.

Dr Nyo Tun has worked as an international consultant for EU, USAID and Gates Foundation-funded study projects which analyse strategies for national and global health issues. Prior to his international consultant work, he led public health initiatives for providing health care to marginalised populations in various regions of Burma.

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