Mid­night inspections axed

Both houses of par­lia­ment have voted in favour of abol­ish­ing a much-feared clause of the Ward and Vil­lage Tract Ad­min­is­tra­tion Law that had al­lowed the mil­i­tary regime to jus­tify unan­nounced house­hold inspections.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - – Trans­la­tion by Thiri Min Htun thanhtoo@mm­times.com HTOO THANT

THE law be­hind au­thor­i­ties’ muchre­viled “mid­night inspections” was fi­nally scrapped yes­ter­day by a par­lia­ment dom­i­nated by for­mer po­lit­i­cal prison­ers.

The con­tro­ver­sial clause in the Ward and Vil­lage Tract Ad­min­is­tra­tion Law prompted a pro­tracted armwres­tle be­tween mil­i­tary MPs and hu­man rights ad­vo­cates, with amend­ments to the leg­is­la­tion ping­ing back and forth be­tween the two houses of par­lia­ment.

The feud ended yes­ter­day when the Pyithu Hlut­taw nar­rowly voted in favour of sus­tain­ing the up­per house’s ver­sion of the leg­is­la­tion. That third and fi­nal it­er­a­tion of the draft had re­moved the of­fend­ing clause – a stip­u­la­tion that house­holds must submit overnight guest lists to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

“We re­moved the clause re­quir­ing the sub­mis­sion of guest lists to the rel­e­vant ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fice. We de­bated re-adopt­ing the clause based on the ar­gu­ment that such in­for­ma­tion is nec­es­sary for the se­cu­rity of wards and vil­lages,” said U Kyaw Soe Linn (NLD; Pyi­gy­ita­gun), an MP and mem­ber of the Pyithu Hlut­taw Bill Com­mit­tee. “But most rep­re­sen­ta­tives agreed that this guest list process should not be in use any­more so we ap­proved the bill the same as the Amyotha Hlut­taw did.”

The rat­i­fied form of the bill does con­tain a caveat: Guests re­main­ing in a ward or vil­lage for more than one month will still need to in­form the rel­e­vant ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fice. U Kyaw Soe Linn ar­gued that the stip­u­la­tion is “in the in­ter­ests of the peo­ple” since if a guest does not in­form au­thor­i­ties, he or she could be in dan­ger should there be a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter or other emer­gency re­quir­ing the as­sis­tance of of­fi­cials.

How­ever, no ac­tion will be taken against those who fail to in­form au­thor­i­ties of their guests, a far cry from the dra­co­nian leg­is­la­tion the draft re­places, which out­lines im­pris­on­ment as a po­ten­tial penalty.

The long-stand­ing guest list pro­vi­sion was used by the mil­i­tary regime as a way of con­trol­ling the move­ments of its op­po­nents and their sup­port­ers, as well as to jus­tify unan­nounced house­hold inspections that in­fringed on pri­vacy and cre­ated a cli­mate of fear and in­tim­i­da­tion.

The pro­vi­sion was mainly used to tar­get so­cial and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists. No­to­ri­ously, the mil­i­tary au­thor­i­ties even de­ployed the law against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when an un­in­vited Amer­i­can stayed overnight il­le­gally in her lake­side Yan­gon com­pound in 2009. For many, the reg­is­tra­tion re­quire­ment also proved in­con­ve­nient and costly, as it en­sured that mi­grants and renters had to regis­ter weekly with ward or vil­lage-tract of­fi­cials, typ­i­cally pay­ing an un­der-the-ta­ble fee for per­mis­sion.

Mil­i­tary MPs in both houses of par­lia­ment had ob­jected to re­moval of the overnight guest clause us­ing the ra­tio­nale that it was needed for na­tional se­cu­rity pur­poses.

“It is nec­es­sary to pre­vent a pos­si­ble threat to the se­cu­rity of a re­gion. If some­thing hap­pens, we can­not en­sure the se­cu­rity of a ward or vil­lage if strangers are free to roam,” said Colonel Tun Myat Shwe.

He told par­lia­men­tar­i­ans that the con­tentious clause sup­ports the rule of law, ad­min­is­tra­tion, se­cu­rity, and peace and sta­bil­ity of a vil­lage tract or ward.

But MP U Myint Tun (NLD; Ta-sei) strongly ob­jected to the no­tion that the law had any place in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety.

“I don’t quite be­lieve that re­quir­ing the reg­is­tra­tion of guests trans­lates into the safety of the peo­ple,” he said. “I have hardly ever heard of bad guys, crim­i­nals and ab­scon­ders be­ing caught be­cause they hap­pened to be reg­is­tered on the overnight guest list of a house­hold. Such ill-in­ten­tioned peo­ple would not likely in­form the au­thor­i­ties of their visit to a re­gion. Only good peo­ple un­der­take the due dili­gence re­quired to go to the of­fice and in­form ad­min­is­tra­tors of a guest at their home.”

Hu­man rights groups had called on the govern­ment to re­peal or amend the law, which was last up­dated in 2012 when it re­placed two ear­lier bills dat­ing back to the colo­nial era.

In the hlut­taw’s se­cret bal­lot yes­ter­day, there were 235 votes in favour and 155 against the amended leg­is­la­tion.

Photo: Zarni Phyo

Po­lice per­form a ve­hi­cle in­spec­tion at night-time in Yan­gon.

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