By Roland Watson
Dictator Watch
September 13, 2017

Aung San Suu Kyi says that Burma needs the rule of law. She goes on an on and on about it. She never in fact fails to mention it. Let's have a look at what it actually means.


In concept, a nation's rule of law is simple. It is the set of prescriptions - laws - about how individuals and institutions can and cannot deal with one another. In practice, though, it is extremely complicated. Countless books have been written on the subject. I'll try to keep this short.

For laws regarding people, interactions between individuals including individuals who are acting as representatives of institutions, what is most important, obviously, is what you can't do. We have the ability to harm each other in many different ways, from actual physical damage to cheating someone to making an unwelcome imposition of ourselves. These "injuries" in turn fall under different types or classes of laws, including criminal, torts (lesser acts that create only a "civil" liability), and contracts. The worst injuries are criminal.

It is not only behavior that should be illegal which is crucial. A well-functioning rule of law also guarantees that people can do what in a fair and civil society they have the right to do. People should not be charged for actions that fall within their human rights.

Laws of course are then enforced. The rule of law also encompasses police and related security agencies which investigate and bring charges over suspect behavior, including what they can and cannot do during such investigations. These charges are then tried in courts, which have their own procedures and regulations. And finally, in cases where wrongdoing is proven, punishment is rendered, up to and including prison and even the death penalty.

Again, people should not be charged, much less convicted and punished, for behavior that is within their rights.

The goal to minimize crime

A nation has a paramount objective to have as few crimes as possible. This actually begins outside the scope of the rule of law, with the overall social system, since this is what conditions the population to be law-abiding or lawless. The overall structure comprises many different things, including the country's collection of distinct ethnic and/or religious-based groups; the existence and severity of bias and bigotry between them; the existence and inflexibility of economic classes; and differences in educational and economic opportunities. An egalitarian and bias-free society will have the best overall balance and therefore the least crime.

It is essential to realize that crimes add up. For example, consider two men who break into a house. One has a gun. They find the occupants at home, beat one brutally, shoot another dead, and then steal the valuables. Through this single act, a home invasion, the men have committed many distinct crimes. These include breaking and entering; armed robbery; aggravated assault for the beating (it's "aggravated" because one of the perpetrators had a weapon); murder, likely in the first degree; and conspiracy.

The rule of law in Burma

Burma fails the rule of law test in every possible way. (It is therefore not a surprise that Suu Kyi says she wants it so bad!)

The real government of the country, its military rulers, are lawless, as are their friends and relatives and also the soldiers, police, bureaucrats, businesspeople and journalists who serve them. This entire class, if you count the soldiers, totals as many as 500,000 people, but this grows many times if you include their families. This group constitutes nothing less that a massive mafia, and which commits crimes with impunity.

The legal system, of police, the courts and prisons, is also entirely corrupt - criminal.

The society is comprised of many different ethnic nationalities, with the dominant one, the Buddhist Burmans, having lorded over all of the others (periodically at least) for centuries. There is ethnic, religious, economic and educational discrimination (and also discrimination against women, including within the Burmans). The overall leaders, the generals, and now Suu Kyi, act as absolute monarchs, as if they have divine authority to do anything they want and to anyone and at any time, no matter how unjust or arbitrary it might be.

It is no shock therefore that in such a society there is an enormous amount of crime.

Crime against the Rohingya people

The Burman lords have always discriminated against the nation's other groups, in the first instance by conquering their ancestral homelands. In these invasions they perpetrated hundreds of thousands of distinct crimes, of murder, rape, torture, assault, robbery, arson, other forms of property destruction and theft, false arrest, and, let's not forget, conspiracy. Guilt extends from the top generals all the way down to the individual police and soldiers who acted as their agents.

In the last three weeks, though, there has been an orgy of crime against the small Rohingya group, of a degree unprecedented since the 18th century. It is true that the actions of the dictatorship against the Shan, Karenni, Karen, Kachin and others fell within the requirements for the international rule of law designation, "crimes against humanity." But these acts were mainly perpetrated during a series of distinct military offensives, spread over years if not decades. The persecution of the Rohingya is unparalleled since the 1757 genocide of the Mon.

Over 370,000 Rohingya have just fled to Bangladesh. It's over half a million since 2012. There are also many more still in hiding inside Burma. Every single one is a victim of a crime - as we have seen, many crimes. If Burma actually had a functioning rule of law, there is no doubt that literally millions of distinct chargeable and punishable crimes have just been committed. And, there is the open question of how many more have been perpetrated this month, or year, or since 2012 (when Suu Kyi became an MP), against other people elsewhere in the country.

For the goal of limiting crime, Burma is an international failure almost without peer.

How to establish a real rule of law

Suu Kyi seems to believe that you can get the rule of law by wishing for it, like a child after seeing a shooting star. She's dreaming: a child herself. For a real rule of law, you have to have a society that is peaceful and in balance. And this in turn requires democracy, but not a fake democracy with a fake Parliament that meets and does nothing. (It's like the previous fake Constitutional Convention.) Only genuine democracy will do.

The blockade of course is the dictatorship, but not only the generals and their soldiers and police. The entrenched social structure encompasses the entire mafia, and is as much as 5% of the population. This is nothing less that an extraordinary, nation-wide conspiracy. It seems insurmountable, all the more so since Suu Kyi, who should be the opposition leader, has joined.

Nonetheless, this still leaves 95% of the people of Burma, and here is where the real power lies. But, the public is fractured, and not only through natural divisions like terrain barriers and ethnic/language differences. More importantly, the people lack unity because of dictatorship-created divisions. This is the famous "divide and conquer." Currently, the regime is trying to turn the Buddhists, ideally everyone, against the Rohingya and more generally the Muslims. The generals want to turn the Burmans against everyone else as well.

These are profound obstacles, which is why the country is not yet free. However, the people of Burma are not cowards! They are not ideological pacifists, or crushed by fear. They have the courage of tigers. But, they have been betrayed by the false prophet, Suu Kyi. An older generation of real leaders is also now passing, or already gone.

Burma needs a new generation, or generations, of leaders. It is always this way. In any tyranny, rebellion begins with a few people stepping up, one act at a time. They then find ways to unite, and to lead everyone, at long last, to freedom.

Suu Kyi is wrong. She has the order reversed. She is either too stupid to realize it, or she is trying to deceive everyone. You don't get the rule of law by dreaming, including being busy doing useless things in a useless Parliament week after week. You marshall your courage, organize your friends and families, and fight back. When you win, the next steps, while complicated, are actually much easier. You establish real democracy, and - finally - the rule of law.