A Burmese human rights lawyer whose right to practice was removed by the former military government for political reasons can now practice law again in his country.
The Supreme Court informed Robert San Aung by letter on June 9 that it had decided to allow him to practice again, after almost 20 years of disbarment, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), which posted a notice on its website.
The AHRC Hong Kong-based director, Wong Kai Shing, said that the return of the lawyer's license was a good sign, but he should never have lost his license because he was only defending his client or expressing his political beliefs, which was his right.
Wong called for further unilateral revocations of licenses by the newly elected government to end, and for no more lawyers to be investigated simply for representing the interests of their clients according to law.
Robert San Aung had his license revoked in 1993 after defending clients in political cases. He said a military intelligence officer conveyed the letter revoking his license. Since 1974, he has also been imprisoned a total of six times for political reasons.
Despite the revocation of his license, Robert San Aung has in the interim continued to work on a wide range of human rights cases, including those concerning child soldiers, forced labour, illegal detention and unlawful confiscation of land, said the AHRC.
In March, the AHRC published an article on the state of law in Burma, saying half a century of one form of direct or indirect military rule has resulted “in a massively dysfunctional justice system.”
“Despite this situation, many lawyers in Burma take a strong interest in social causes, and some in political ones,” it said. “Many undertake their day-to-day professional tasks with eyes towards larger goals for societal change. However, because the legal system through which they must work has deteriorated dramatically over the last half century, it no longer has power to intervene in major events or affairs. It has lost significance in the public imagination and has become profoundly dysfunctional.”
The AHRC said the prospect of government reprisals against lawyers for undertaking their ordinary professional activities is one that acutely affects the legal profession in the country.
The very first item on the code of conduct for lawyers appearing before court is a warning not to engage in any behaviour that may constitute contempt, it said. Once a lawyer has been convicted for contempt, or for practically any other purported infraction, a lawyer can be disbarred.