THE ADVOCATE 389
VOL. 79 PART 3 MAY 2021
By Catherine Morris*
MANIPULATING THE “RULE OF LAW”: HOW POWERFUL ACTORS
UNDERMINE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ATROCITY CRIMES IN MYANMAR
Accusations of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Myanmar
have made headlines since 2017. Less attention has been paid to states
and corporate actors that have abetted the perpetrators’ atrocity crimes1
through silence, propaganda, manipulation of laws, duplicitous diplomacy
or outright collusion. Lots of words have appealed to the “rule of law” or
“human rights”, but the people of Myanmar have needed more than words
as they have pleaded for international help.
On February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military (known as the Tatmadaw)
began a military coup to overthrow the government duly elected in November
2020. Millions of people throughout Myanmar have risen up in nonviolent
protest against the junta.2 There is mounting evidence of atrocity
crimes during the severe military crackdown against all resistance.
The Tatmadaw is known for its decades of committing, with impunity,
ruthless human rights violations against political opponents, journalists,
human rights advocates and Myanmar’s ethnic minorities and Indigenous
peoples.3 There are well-grounded allegations of genocide committed
against Rohingya people and crimes against humanity committed against
At the time of writing, the situation in Myanmar remains dangerously
dynamic. Thousands4 have been arbitrarily detained, including elected
members of parliament, nonviolent protestors, journalists, human rights
defenders, lawyers5 and children.6 Incommunicado detention is common.
Reports of torture are widespread. Systematic and brutal violence and
* Catherine Morris is the pro bono executive director of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (“LRWC’). She has been a volunteer
with LRWC for two decades and serves as its main representative to the UN Human Rights Council.