Kyaw Ye Lynn | Anadolu Agency
Yangon: An international human rights group called on Myanmar’s parliament Wednesday to reject a proposed law that would shield former presidents from prosecution for crimes committed during their, as the country prepares for its newly elected government to take power.
The five-chapter bill, which stipulates that no legal action or penalty can be carried out against a former head of state for his or her actions in the line of duty, was submitted to parliament in early December for approval.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called Wednesday for the immunity provision to be “stripped from the proposed law so that President Thein Sein and future Burmese presidents remain accountable for any crimes they commit.”
“The proposed provision on presidential immunity suggests that the military and USDP [ruling party] want to ensure that their leaders cannot be prosecuted for past criminal offenses,” the New York-based organization cautioned.
“The Former Presidents Security Bill is a brazen attempt to shoehorn immunity from prosecution into the president’s retirement package,” said Robertson.
Impunity for Myanmar’s longstanding military government is already enshrined in article 445 of the 2008 constitution. It prohibits prosecution of officials of former military juntas, including those from the State Law and Order Restoration Council (1988-1997) and the State Peace and Development Council (1997-2011), in which Thein Sein served as prime minister until 2010.
Article 445 blocks justice for the victims of decades of human rights violations carried out under military rule, according to Human Rights Watch.
Local rights groups and politicians have also criticized the measure in the bill.
Aye Tha Aung of the Rakhine National Party, which won the majority of seats in the western Rakine state during last month’s election, said, “any citizen including a retired president must take responsibility for his or her wrongdoing.”
He told Anadolu Agency by phone that lawmakers should not approve the legislation as the president “should not be above the law anyway.”
The bill was drafted by the Ministry of Home Affairs before being submitted to parliament on Dec. 21.
The ministry said it had drafted the bill to provide security for former presidents in terms of risks to their lives or physical safety, to ensure their right to live peacefully with their families, and to protect them from disturbance and danger, according to media reports.
The proposal comes a month after the Nov. 8 general election saw the opposition National League for Democracy, led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, win a majority in parliament.
The new administration is set to take power in March next year.