After many years of military rule and internal conflict, Myanmar is undergoing a significant political transition including a peace process that seeks to end decades of conflict between the Myanmar army and eight ethnic armed organisations. Yet, despite various ceasefire agreements and a national dialogue process, insecurity continues at the community level in much of the country.
Saferworld has been engaging in Myanmar since 2012, and established an office in Yangon in 2015.
Strengthening local capacities to promote conflict sensitivity
In 2013, Saferworld began a process to support local civil society organisations (CSOs) to promote more conflict-sensitive approaches by international actors. Funded by the EU, this is part of a global programme to support local capacities for peace in 32 countries, in partnership with Conciliation Resources. Saferworld first carried out an assessment of local conflict and security dynamics in Kachin, Shan, Mon and Kayin States. We have since focused on Kayin state, working with local CSOs to analyse how development interventions impact on their vision of peace, and strengthening their capacities to engage in constructive dialogue with international actors in order to promote more conflict-sensitive approaches. Saferworld facilitated dialogue between Karen CSO leaders and a range of international actors, including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, UN agencies, the EU, and various development organisations. We are now undertaking a similar process with local CSOs in Kachin State, focusing on natural resources.
Community safety and security sector governance
Following field research and consultations in 2014-15, Saferworld has developed a multi-faceted programme to respond to the continuing prevalence of day-to-day insecurity at the community level in many ethnic minority areas. The aim of the programme, which will focus initially on Karen areas, is to help build safer lives for local communities while supporting the development of a more legitimate, responsive and accountable security sector in Myanmar.
This work is supported by the Peace Support Fund. The Peace Support Fund receives funding from the UK Department for International Development, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Government of Sweden.
Since 2011 there has been a range of social, economic and political reforms in Myanmar. Hundreds of political prisoners have been released, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition, after nearly two decades of house arrest. In 2012, privately owned newspapers were allowed for the first time in 50 years, and in 2013 the government lifted a 25-year ban on public gatherings of more than five people. Myanmar’s economy is also opening up, with a special economic zone law, new mining regulations and the revamping of the foreign investment law. In return the EU and the US have lifted economic, trade and individual sanctions, and the Asian Development Bank has resumed loans. This transition process is characterised by movements away from authoritarian rule and towards a form of ‘disciplined democracy’ and economic liberalisation. However, as set out in the 2008 constitution, this will still entrench the power and control of the military in politics and the administration of the country.
In November 2015 Myanmar held its first openly contested national elections since 1990 – a major step in the country’s transition. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide 87 seats, or 77.1% of electable seats, giving her a majority in both houses of parliament. Yet despite the victory due to a constitution clause inserted by the military, Suu Kyi herself cannot be President. The new President will be announced in March 2016, and the new Parliament will take power in April.
Alongside the reforms, since 2012 there has been an ongoing peace process to address the multitude of prolonged internal conflicts in the border regions. In these areas, conflict-affected communities have faced severe threats to their security and wellbeing for generations. These threats have led to displacement, civilian-targeted counter-insurgency, as well as widespread human rights abuses and exploitation at the hands of armed forces, including the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw), its Border Guard Forces (BGFs), and EAOs.
On 15 October 2015, the Myanmar government signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA) with eight out of 15 EAOs. In January 2016, the eight EAO signatories then entered a political dialogue process with a range of stakeholders, including the Tatmadaw, political parties and government. The omission of seven ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) and several other non-ceasefire groups from the NCA serves to underline the challenges of bringing an inclusive end to hostilities and substantially addressing the underlying grievances and aspirations of ethnic minority communities.
This map is intended for illustrative purposes only. Saferworld takes no position on whether this representation is legally or politically valid.
This joint Saferworld-ODI report documents the lowest, and most used, levels of dispute resolution in communities in two parts of Myanmar – Mon State and Yangon Region.
This briefing argues that the perceptions and priorities of communities directly affected by conflict should be at the heart of what it means to be conflict sensitive.
Saferworld Associate Kim Jolliffe reflects on the implications of the Sustainable Development Goals for Myanmar.