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Myanmar strengthens capacities to engage in international legal cooperation

Nay Pyi Taw (Myanmar), 8 August 2017
- A national workshop with representatives from Myanmar's Central Authority and related government departments was organised in Nay Pyi Taw last week to assist the country to more effectively address transnational crime and security challenges within the framework of the ASEAN Vision 2025. The aim of the workshop was to strengthen the capacity of Myanmar and its officials to engage in cross-border criminal justice cooperation, in particular mutual legal assistance (MLA) and extradition.

Throughout Southeast Asia, transnational organised crime groups and their networks profit from illicit activities that range from drug and precursor trafficking, to human trafficking and migrant smuggling, to the trade of illegal timber and endangered species. Along with the launch of the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 has helped bring about freer flows of goods, services, labour and money. If recent evidence is correct, legitimate economic flows will continue to increase. While this is positive for the region as a whole, it also provides increased opportunities for transnational crime groups to engage in criminal activities.

Illicit flows and movements mirror and travel alongside legal flows and movements, and as these illegal flows expand, criminal and terrorist networks will continue to benefit. This will only serve to further challenge governance, law enforcement and criminal justice systems of countries in the region.

During the workshop, representatives of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the National Police, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Union Attorney General's Office, the Ministry of Border Affairs (Na Ta La), the Ministry of Finance and Planning and the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population and the General Administrative Department worked through a series of exercises designed to increase their understanding and ability to utilise MLA and extradition. As a result, they were provided the opportunity to not only learn more about the legal traditions and systems regarding MLA and extradition in other countries, but also to strengthen relationships and understanding between the various Government departments within Myanmar that form part of its Central Authority and work on these issues.

The workshop is part of a broader strategy to aid in harmonising MLA for joint investigations of transnational crime, extradition and asset recovery across ASEAN, which is currently understood and applied in different ways across the region, due in part to the varying legal systems and capacities.

At the same time, all countries of the region have signed the ASEAN Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Treaty, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the UN Convention against Corruption, and they are working to comply with UN Security Council resolutions requiring mutual legal assistance. Unfortunately, despite commitments to regional and international treaties and resolutions, justice cooperation in the ASEAN region has largely taken place on an ad-hoc and sometimes informal basis, leading to mixed results. Engagement with justice authorities from outside Southeast Asia is also often inconsistent - and in some cases minimal or not happening - leaving the region open to possible exploitation and criticism.

Numerous participants at the workshop noted that it is important Myanmar has the opportunity to understand how to better engage in international legal cooperation. They understand that as the country continues to open up, it will face more transnational challenges, which will force it to cooperate with its neighbours and partners elsewhere if it is to effectively deal with them. As evidenced by its new national law on extradition, which was passed in July 2017, Myanmar understands the need to update its legislative and operational frameworks related to cross-border criminal justice cooperation. Alongside these frameworks, the officials expressed the need to continue to strengthen their knowledge and capacity in this area, if these frameworks are to be utilised effectively now and in the future.