Myanmar lawyer U Khin Maung Zaw shortlisted for L4L Award | Article

This article, written by Julia Smakman of Lawyer for Lawyers, was first published in Dutch in Amsterdams Balie Bulletin, published by the Amsterdam Bar Association, on 25 August 2021. The English language translation is below.

Myanmar lawyer U Khin Maung Zaw has been selected as one of three shortlisted candidates for the Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021. He continues to carry out his work steadfastly despite the high risks he faces.

Lawyers for Lawyers has followed developments in Myanmar with concern. Since the military coup on 1 February 2021 more than 2,100 people have been arrested, including many lawyers. Lawyers who assist the protesters also fear arrests. The few lawyers who are still active are experiencing increasing pressure and have to make more and more effort to stay out of the hands of the military. One of these lawyers is U Khin Maung Zaw.

U Khin Maung Zaw has been active as a human rights defender for more than 50 years and has often encountered difficulties because of his work. From 1965 to 1980, he spent a total of 9 years in arbitrary detention as a result of activism in politically sensitive cases. In 1982, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw qualified himself as a lawyer and ever since he has also been committed to the protection of human rights through the court system.

In a recent 2017 case, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw managed to obtain a pardon for two journalists who were persecuted after investigating the murder of 10 men and boys belonging to the ethnic Rohingya minority. He also started a groundbreaking case in 2020 to claim damages for a victim of a false accusation. However, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw has also lost many cases in his career as a lawyer; such is the fate of the human rights lawyer in Myanmar who defends the very clients with sensitive cases who are unlikely to receive a fair trial. Mr. Khin Maung Zaw’s motto is therefore: “The case is lost, but the cause is won.”

Since last February’s coup, U Khin Maung Zaw, now 73, has been assisting several people facing politically motivated criminal charges, including members of the deposed government and journalists. Through his involvement in these matters, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw is under severe threat and spends each night in a different location to ensure his safety. Despite these dangerous circumstances, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw remains committed to his clients.

U Khin Maung Zaw is one of three shortlisted candidates for the Lawyers for Lawyers Award. This award was created to honor lawyers who have made an outstanding contribution to the protection of the rule of law and human rights in challenging circumstances. Catherine Morris of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, who nominated Mr. Khin Maung Zaw, says he was chosen for the nomination because “U Khin Maung Zaw is an example of courageaous advocacy for lawyers all around the world. He has modeled courageous and non-discriminatory representation of persons criminally charged in high-profile, politically sensitive cases for many years”.

The other finalists are a lawyer’s collective from Algeria and two lawyers from Belarus. The Lawyers for Lawyers Award will be presented on 18 November 2021 during a seminar in Amsterdam that is organized together with the Amsterdam Bar Association.