A senior delegation from Myanmar, comprised of Constitutional Tribunal judges and members of Parliament have just ended a study tour to South Africa learning about its Constitution and the transition to democracy. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance appointed the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law (SAIFAC), a Centre of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), to function as the local organiser and collaborator on the tour.
“Myanmar is currently involved in a lengthy and difficult transition from a military dictatorship to a constitutional democracy. South Africa successfully transitioned from the system of apartheid to a constitutional democracy and, as such, has much to share with Myanmar – both about the process of transition as well as the substance of our constitutional settlement,” says UJ’s Prof David Bilchitz, Professor of Fundamental Rights and Constitutional Law and Director of SAIFAC.
The tour comprised both informational presentations as well as experiential learning. Every day, in the morning, there were presentations on various aspects of the South African Constitution by experts including the negotiations, the bill of rights, the relationship between national, provincial and local government and national unity and reconciliation.
Whilst in Johannesburg, the delegation visited Constitution Hill, and the Apartheid Museum. In Cape Town, the delegation met with the Financial and Fiscal Commission and were taken on a tour of parliament. They also had the wonderful opportunity to meet with present and former Constitutional Court Justices Edwin Cameron and Albie Sachs respectively. Other meetings also included Prof Firoz Cachalia and Mohammed Bhabha both prominent individuals involved in the negotiation of the Constitution, as well as former Commissioner on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission Yasmin Sooka and several senior academics.
The head of International IDEA’s Myanmar Country Programme Mark Mcdowell commented: “The members of the Myanmar delegation were constantly struck by how the challenges faced by South Africa mirrored those in Myanmar. They were particularly impressed by the contribution of the Judiciary to the founding of the new South Africa, and its role in deepening that democratic transition, and taking principled, decisive action in times when the transition seemed under threat. They have returned to Myanmar with renewed energy and ideas to contribute to their own complex democratic transition.”
Prof David Bilchitz concluded: ‘We were delighted to be able to host this high profile delegation from Myanmar in South Africa. Myanmar has recently embarked on a new constitutional reform process and it is hoped that the learnings gleaned on the study tour may help inform the process.”