Australia Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Project

In 2013, the Australia-Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Project was established by Sydney University, in cooperation with UNSW, ANU and NUS. This was done at the request of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, of the National League for Democracy, and her concerns to enhance constitutional literary and promote legal reform in Myanmar. The Project aims to directly increase the capacity of local actors to participate positively in the process of constitutional reform in Myanmar. It will do this by expanding the constitutional vocabulary of different groups within society (ethnic communities, grassroots organisations, political leaders, members of the media) so that they can contribute to political discourse. It also aims to provide a forum for debate and discussion between groups and actors who may not previously have had opportunities to come together to participate in constitutional conversations. In the long term, the Project’s objective is to expand the democratic political space during a critical time in Myanmar’s transition towards constitutional democracy. The Project aims to support increased constitutional stability, leading to an environment where there is greater prospect for peaceful and equitable development. The Project also strengthens linkages and networks between scholars and members of civil society in Myanmar and Australia.

The first workshop was held in May 2013 in Yangon, and this was the first major international workshop on constitutional reform of its kind in Myanmar. It was attended by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself, as well as a wide range of civil society organisations, lawyers, judges, and politicians. Academics from UNSW included Professor Martin Krygier and Professor Adam Czarnota, and Dr Melissa Crouch. The workshop was sponsored by the Australian embassy, Rotary International, and Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and well as the partner universities concerned. See report on proceedings here, and media release here and here.

In 2014, UNSW Law School took over leadership of the Australia Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Project. Core project members include Professor Martin Krygier, Professor Theunis Roux and Dr Melissa Crouch. In November 2014, major workshops were again held in Yangon and Naypyidaw covering topics from constitutional amendment to federalism, separation of powers, bills of rights and the role of courts. The workshop was again sponsored by the Australian embassy, Rotary International, and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, as well as the universities involved. See a report on proceedings here.

From 2015-2018, the project is funded by the Community of Democracies and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) to undertake further workshops to enhance democratic participation and constitutional literacy in Myanmar. In July 2015, two major workshops were held, one in Mandalay with a wide range of civil society actors, members of parliament and lawyers; the other on ‘Constitutional Courts in Comparative Perspective’ in Naypyidaw with the Constitutional Tribunal members and court staff. A further workshop was also held on 23 November 2015 that explored the relationship between justice and constitutional democracy during periods of transition. This workshop was attended by over 90 people including members of state and federal Parliaments, political party representatives, members of ethnic minorities, lawyers, members of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, academics, representatives of civil society organisations) and international experts from Asia, Australia and Myanmar. Since 2013, nine major workshops have been held in Myanmar and have been attended by over 600 people in Yangon, Naypyidaw, Mandalay, Myitkyina and Taunggyi. The most recent included workshops in Yangon and Taunggyi in February 2018.

In February 2021, scholars from AMCDP condemned the military coup in Myanmar. In June 2021, they sent an open letter to the Association of Asian Constitutional Courts requesting that it suspend the Constitutional Tribunal of Myanmar from its membership due to the coup. In February 2022, they issued a joint statement after one year of the coup.