A Tragic Betrayal- Assassination of U Ko Ni and Suu Kyi’s Trivial Response 

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Parvedge Haider

Prominent Burmese lawyer U Ko Ni’s tragic assassination on 29 January 2017 in Yangon airport, Myanmar reminds a tragic example of betrayal. He was an expert on constitutional law. As a legal advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi for many years he had commendable contribution for determining the loopholes of Constitution of Myanmar that really worked as a prime mover for creating the office of state counselor. Though Aung San Suu Kyi’s party National League for Democracy (NLD) won the election in 2015, she was unable to take over as a president due to some imposed restriction in the constitution. After ruling five decades, the Myanmar military generals could foresee a strong presence of Aung San Suu Kyi that influenced them to bring some major changes in the constitution. As per the clause 59f of the constitution, someone cannot become a president if his/her father or mother is a foreigner, his/her husband/wife is a foreigner and if his/her sons/daughters are the successor of any foreign father/mother. After graduating from the University of Delhi in 1964 and the University of Oxford in 1968, Aung San Suu Kyi worked at the United Nations for three years. She married a British historian, Michael Aris in 1972, with whom she had two children, Alekjander and Kim Aris.

Photo-1: Aung San Suu Kyi with her husband

Suu Kyi got involved in politics since 1988 and she could not leave Myanmar due to multi-dimensional political reasons. In the meantime, Suu Kyi’s husband Aris was diagnosed with prostate cancer and died in 1999. Military government supported by the Buddhist communities projected her foreign relations adversely. Taking this advantage, the constitution was amended considering the personal life of Aung San Suu Kyi.

In 2015, after winning the election, Suu Kyi desired to get an amendment of those controversial clauses but the Military generals were not agreed with that proposal. Despite her position as NLD party chief, she was unable to become a president, even after winning the election. Then Suu Kyi’s legal advisor U Ko Ni came up with some ideas by which a possibility was created for Suu Kyi for becoming the most powerful person of the country, may not be in the appointment of a ‘President’ but in a different capacity. There is an opportunity of creating an executive appointment as per the clause 217 of the constitution. NLD party generated a discussion in the parliament for creating a new executive appointment ‘State Counsellor’ and the bill was passed on 01 April 2016. The president signed that bill on 06 April 2016. Aung San Suu Kyi became the most authoritative person of Myanmar, even more powerful than a president. Now she is answerable to the parliament only. But how much Suu Kyi remembered the contribution of her legal advisor U Ko Ni? Probably without his unique legal plan it would not be possible for Suu Kyi to become a ‘State Counsellor’.

U Ko Ni was born in Sagaing Division, Myanmar. A Burmese Muslim, his father was Sultan, a Muslim from India and his mother was Khin Hla, a Burmese Buddhist. His father came to Burma in the early 1900s through his work with the British Indian Army. His mother herself had a Muslim father and a Buddhist mother. He moved to Rangoon to study Bachelors of Arts in Law at Rangoon Art and Science University. He graduated in 1975 and a year later received his Bachelors of Law degree. He served as vice chairman of Rangoon University’s Law Association in 1975-76. During his career, he oversaw more than 900 criminal cases and 1,400 civil cases. He was also influential in bringing through the next generation of lawyers. From 1983 he trained an average of three new law students a year and regularly conducted reading lectures for the junior lawyers. He was a founder of Laurel Law Firm and a member of the International Bar Association, the Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar and the Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association. He wrote several articles on subjects including the constitution, rule of law and civil rights in Myanmar. There are as many as six of his books have been published; Whose fingerprint is this? (2010), How shall we vote in the upcoming election? (2012), Article collections on Rule of Law (2012), How shall we amend the 2008 Constitution (2013), What is PR; Quintana, Myanmar and 1982 Citizenship Law (2013) and Democratic Elections, Fraud and Public Rights (2015). After joining the party he was appointed as a member of the Legal Advisory Committee and the Central Legal Aid Committee. He was also appointed as a Central Committee Member for Constitutional Amendments.

Photo-2: U Ko Ni (right) speaks at a Centre for Journalism Development seminar in Yangon

U Ko Ni spoke out against the Myanmar nationality law that exposed the Muslim minority Rohingya about their Burmese citizenship issue. Ko Ni was often the target of criticism from the nationalist groups because of his religion. In February 2014, radical monks targeted a public talk by Ko Ni and three others in North Okkalapa, saying that Muslims should not be allowed to speak publicly because they are not the Myanmar nationals.

Senior NLD leader Tin Oo described Ko Ni’s death as a “great loss for the country, for democratic forces and for us (the party)”. Amnesty International said the killing had “all the hallmarks of an assassination”. It called for a thorough investigation into the death of a man who has been described as a “tireless human rights campaigner”. Speaking hours after his death, his daughter Ma Yin Nwe Khine called her father a “hero” and expressed pride in the work he had done for his country. “He always said that we have to do what we need to do and that a man only has one life and cannot die twice,”

After the tragic assassination of U Ko Ni, thousands of mourners attended his funeral regardless of religious affiliation. Surprisingly Aung San Suu Kyi was absent during that program. U Ko Ni officially joined the NLD party on October 8, 2013, but was a key adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi for many years before that. Although well respected within the party, he was not nominated as a candidate for the 2015 general election. The NLD party did not nominate any Muslims as candidates. Ko Ni was assassinated on 29 January 2017 at Yangon International Airport on his way back from attending a senior leadership program in Indonesia, ‘studying democracy and conflict resolution’, with a delegation led by Pe Myint, the Union Minister for Information. Police arrested Kyi Lin, the gunman, shortly after the shooting. The gunman had also shot a taxi driver who attempted to intervene. Allegations emerged in social media that Kyaw Swe, the Minister of Home Affairs and former Commander of South-west Command in Pathein, Ayeyarwady Region had arranged the killing.

Photo-3: Lt Gen Kyaw Swe, the Minister of Home Affairs

The assistant secretary of the Home Affairs Ministry, Maung Maung Myint, issued a statement on 1 February 2017, denying the allegations as “rumors.” In this situation also Aung San Suu Kyi did not continue the investigation process of this case seriously. The assassination planners of U Ko Ni got relaxed due to a trivial response of Suu Kyi in this aspect. Suu Kyi’s stand on U Ko Ni’s assassination is a sign of betrayal. Despite getting a major support of U Ko Ni in her political carrier, Suu Kyi remained strict to her basic understanding; her ambition superseded the humanity.



Parvedge Haider-Researcher CHT and Regional Politics                                                                                    Email:parvedgehaider5235@gmail.com   

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