“We’re shocked and deeply saddened by this heinous act,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of Fortify Rights. “The authorities should do everything in their power to ensure accountability and bring those responsible to justice.”
U Ko Ni, 65, died on the spot after a gunman shot him point blank outside Yangon International Airport at approximately 4:30 pm on January 29. As U Nay Win, 42, attempted to apprehend the assailant, the assailant fatally shot him.
The Myanmar police arrested the gunman at the scene. According to the police, he is a 53-year-old Myanmar national. The motive of the murder remains unknown.
U Ko Ni was one of Myanmar’s most prominent Muslim lawyers and a distinguished legal advocate for human rights. His work in recent years focused on improving Myanmar’s justice system and bringing laws in line with human rights standards. For example, U Ko Ni was instrumental in facilitating the repeal the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act and amendments to provisions of the 2012 Ward or Village Tract Administration Law—two laws long used by the authorities to target human rights defenders and minorities. In March 2015, U Ko Ni joined Fortify Rights to launch a report in Yangon documenting how the guest-registration requirement under the 2012 Ward or Village Tract Administration Law impinged on human rights to privacy and freedoms of movement, residency, and association.
Having receiving his Bachelor of Laws degree from Yangon University of Arts and Sciences in 1976, U Ko Ni became a lecturer in the university’s Department of Law and later founded the Laurel Law Firm in 1995. Following by-elections in 2012, he began working as a legal advisor to Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the now ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party. He was also a founder of the newly established Myanmar Muslim Lawyers Association. His expertise in constitutional law and commitment to promoting human rights in Myanmar won him the esteem of lawyers, activists, and politicians alike.
Despite widespread respect for his work, U Ko Ni faced harassment and intimidation from political and religious hardliners in Myanmar.
“I am a targeted person,” U Ko Ni told Fortify Rights in 2015. “It is because I am a legal advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi and to the NLD. And I am a central committee member of the Constitutional Reform Committee.”
Enormous crowds assembled today for U Ko Ni’s funeral at Yay Way Cemetery in Yangon, including Buddhists, Muslims, politicians, civil society, loved ones, and family. Fortify Rights expresses its deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of U Ko Ni and U Nay Win.
“U Ko Ni was a brilliant and courageous man who dedicated his life to making Myanmar a more rights-respecting country,” said Matthew Smith. “This is an enormous loss for all the people of Myanmar and to the entire human rights movement.”
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