Myanmar’s legal culture under the spotlight

The development of democracy in Myanmar had for years captured attention of the world. With Myanmar on the path of democratisation and economic liberalisation since the reforms in 2011, Myanmar’s foundation of democratic stability and economic development will depend on the country’s legal environment.

Drawing its roots from the Buddhist law tradition of Dhammathats, the modern Burmese legal system is shaped by English common law, but has diverged significantly as a result of decades of military rule and socialist transformation. Whereas scholars have demystified the legal system and tradition of this once hermit kingdom, very inadequate interest has been shown towards the legal culture of the people of Myanmar, which is unique in the world with influence from its social environment and cultural orientations.

With a rapidly expanding industrial sector, the implication of the tremendous influx of foreign capital and personnel into Myanmar is significant. According to research from labour rights groups and NGOs, the health, safety, and other fundamental labour rights of Myanmar’s workers are consistently under threat, and adverse environmental impacts generated by foreign-invested factories are on the rise. Amid tense relations between foreign investment and the Burmese people, there have been a number of large-scale strikes and even violent confrontations launched against factory management .

To provide a concrete support and regulatory framework for foreign investors, Myanmar’s legal environment in relation to foreign investment has evolved rapidly. But to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the legal order in Myanmar, it is necessary to reach beyond the current knowledge of the structural and substantive components of Myanmar’s legal system to unveil the cultural and social elements of it, which is the legal culture of the Burmese people, especially the legally-oriented attitudes and behaviours that are manifested when interacting with foreign investors.

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