U Ko Ni: One man's legacy

Whatever the intent, the circumstances surrounding the death of U Ko Ni will inevitably contribute to a new climate of fear.

LAWYER. ADVISER. Colleague. Father. Grandfather. U Ko Ni was many things to many people. His death is a massive loss for the National League for Democracy, the Muslim community, the legal fraternity, and, of course, his friends and family. The country has been robbed of one of its sharpest and most principled minds.

Almost immediately, speculation began as to the motive behind his killing. For now, we simply don’t know and Frontier does not believe it is helpful to speculate at such a sensitive time, when so many people are upset at this barbaric act.

What we will do, though, is join many others in calling for a credible, speedy and transparent criminal investigation by the authorities. The gunman may have been acting alone, or on behalf of others. It’s essential that we get to the root of the crime and all parties responsible are brought to justice.

We also pay tribute to those who stopped the alleged attacker from fleeing Yangon International Airport. Their bravery is truly inspirational.

We should not forget that there were two deaths on January 29. National League for Democracy member and taxi driver U Nay Win, 42, was killed while trying to apprehend the suspect and leaves behind a wife and three children.

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For Myanmar, Ko Ni’s death is a double blow. His legal knowledge and commitment to the cause of democracy and human rights cannot be replaced. We can only hope that his example will inspire more to take up the cause.

But the actions of a single gunman have also shattered whatever innocence was left of the country’s political transition.

One of the greatest achievements of U Thein Sein’s government was lifting the climate of fear that had enveloped Myanmar for decades. Politics was taboo. Criticising the government or military was dangerous. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. Hope and optimism replaced fear and despondency.

For some, the dream has soured long ago. You only have to ask the disenfranchised and persecuted Muslims of northern Rakhine State, the tens of thousands in Kachin State forced from their homes for more than five years, or the Shan and Palaung communities whose members have disappeared amid a fierce, renewed conflict.

But for the majority of people in Myanmar, the transition has brought unprecedented new freedoms – not least, the much-vaunted freedom from fear. The peaceful transition to the NLD-backed government in late March 2016 offered further hope that Myanmar was beginning to leave its long history of violence behind it.

That equation has changed. The cold-blooded murder of a political figure in a public place – as he held his grandson, no less – represents a dangerous new development, one that could spur further acts of political violence.

The effect of this horrific killing is amplified by the fact that so many people have been exposed to it through social media. Few who have seen the photo of the alleged gunman, standing behind Ko Ni with his weapon raised, will be able to forget it.

Whatever the intent, the circumstances surrounding his death will inevitably contribute to a new climate of fear.

But we can’t let this act of hate slow or halt progress towards much-needed reform of the constitution or repressive, antiquated and discriminatory laws. As much as anyone, Ko Ni dedicated his life to creating a legal framework that guaranteed the fundamental human rights of all people in Myanmar.

It is now up to the rest of us to continue the struggle and deliver on the noble goals for which Ko Ni fought so hard.

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