Building Trust into the Peace Process

On 27 November, 2017, the government, military and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) agreed to delay the third 21st Century Panglong Conference until the final week of January 2018. This agreement was the latest in a series of procedural delays and substantively-unproductive meetings amidst growing concerns about the future of Myanmar’s[1] peace process. Meanwhile, continual clashes between the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed organizations, abuses and restrictions by the Myanmar Army officials, and silence from the government combine to reduce already-low levels of trust between ethnic minority populations in the peace process and the government. Thousands of civilians continue to flee conflict and become displaced in ethnic areas, and humanitarian aid does not reach those populations. Aid is being reduced for people who have been displaced for longer periods but still cannot return home. Given the increasing likelihood that the peace process will take many more years, it is imperative that the displaced, who are among the most vulnerable in Myanmar, receive adequate humanitarian aid throughout this lengthy process until truly sustainable return is possible.

“Thousands of civilians continue to flee conflict and become displaced in ethnic areas, and humanitarian aid does not reach those populations. Aid is being reduced for people who have been displaced for longer periods but still cannot return home.”

Negotiations between the Myanmar Government and all major factions of the EAOs have stalled, raising fears about the future of the peace process. Friction remains between the signatories of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement(NCA) and the government, including over permission to hold state-level dialogues leading up to the next 21st Century Panglong Conference meeting. UNFC members, particularly the New Mon State Party (NMSP), report pressure from the Myanmar Army to sign the NCA, including restrictions on activities in NMSP-controlled areas. NMSP leaders have expressed concerns about the impact of these restrictions on already-low levels of trust between the EAOs and the Myanmar Army.

Meanwhile, the Myanmar Army continues active operations against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in the north and Arakan Army (AA) in the west, causing destruction of villages and property and forcing thousands of civilians to flee. In November 2017, fighting again increased in Tanai Township, Kachin State where in June 2017 the military dropped pamphlets calling on all civilians to leave the area within 10 days and warned that anyone remaining in the village would be assumed to be a KIO soldier. Clashes between the Myanmar Army and the AA picked up in Chin and Rakhine States in November as well, with hundreds of civilians displaced including to India, with insufficient access to humanitarian aid.

Humanitarian support to those displaced by recent and protracted fighting, including internally displaced people (IDPs) in Shan and Kachin States and refugees along the Thailand-Myanmar border, is being reduced. The main cause of these reductions within the country is the fact that the Myanmar Army blocks aid intended for IDPs in the north, and imposes restrictions on humanitarian groups in the southeast. The Myanmar Government has not taken concrete steps to stop the Myanmar Army’s restrictions and ensure that international and local organizations are able to provide humanitarian support.

“Humanitarian support to those displaced by recent and protracted fighting, including internally displaced people (IDPs) in Shan and Kachin States and refugees along the Thailand-Myanmar border, is being reduced. The main cause of these reductions within the country is the fact that the Myanmar Army blocks aid intended for IDPs in the north, and imposes restrictions on humanitarian groups in the southeast.”

Reductions in rations in the refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border, in conjunction with international organizations’ preparations to support voluntary return, have caused fear among refugee populations that they will be pushed to return with little alternative options, even as active fighting, land confiscation, and other security and livelihood concerns prevent displaced people from returning. In October 2017, Spokesperson for the State Counsellor’s Office, U Zaw Htay offered government support through the media to Shan IDP camps that were on the verge of losing all their funding if they request support from the NPRC, but community organizations in the camps rejected the offer as a “publicity stunt” and said they had not been contacted by anyone in government to offer assistance. This is yet another manifestation of the lack of trust that ethnic minorities have in the government, as well as inadequately transparent and consultative approaches from the government to these communities.

As the peace process appears stuck, the government and military have done little to build trust with ethnic nationality groups. Lack of flexibility on who and where to meet, pressure and restrictions on ethnic armed organizations’ activity, clashes with non-signatories and lack of effective support, restrictions on ethnic civil society organizations’ activities and apparent lack of concern about the fates of thousands of displaced all combine to create the impression that the Myanmar Government and military do not respect ethnic nationalities’ equal rights or equal citizenship.

Both the government and the military need to demonstrate goodwill and offer compromises instead of pressure, intimidation and threats to move the peace process forward. Compromises on political issues can demonstrate that the government recognizes the historical foundation of ethnic nations coming together in this union of Burma and that these ethnic nationalities should have an equal share of power and rights in the union. In addition, recognizing displaced peoples’ concerns, the government should work with EAOs and ethnic community-based organizations, including refugees and their community representatives, in transparent planning processes around return. This would be an important way for the government to build trust with ethnic nationalities, and demonstrate commitment to equal protection for all the people.

In this context, international donors should continue to provide aid to displaced populations as an integral part of their support to Myanmar’s peace process, particularly focusing on support towards ethnic community-based and cross-border organizations. Myanmar Government should be encouraged to allow unfettered access to all displaced people, which could lead to increased trust-building with ethnic communities in addition to meeting humanitarian need. Cross-border humanitarian aid is of particular importance now given the Myanmar Army’s blocking of humanitarian aid delivery within the country. More needs to be done to ensure that those who are newly displaced and those who have endured decades of protracted displacement are not left behind or forgotten in the peace process and the Myanmar Government, EAOs and peace donors must do more to address their needs as an integral part of the reconciliation process.
__________

[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

Rohingya Crisis: UK Says Those Committing Human Rights Violations Must Be Held To Account – Time To Back ICC Referral
By Burma Campaign UK

Pope Francis First Visit to Burma is a Historic Opportunity to Challenge Crime Against Humanity and the Violation of Freedom of Religion in Burma
By Burma Human Rights Network

Bilateral Agreement On Rohingya Repatriation Deeply Flawed
By Burma Human Rights Network

The Rohingya People of Rakhine State: UK Government Actions Update, 28 November 2017

By Foreign Office Minister Mark Field MP

New Satellite Imagery Partnership
By Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Council to hold a Special Session on the situation of human rights of the Rohingya and other minorities in Rakhine State in Myanmar on 5 December 2017
By Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Urgent Appeal for Charges to be Dropped Against Nine Ho Pong Farmers unjustly Arrested Four Months Ago

By  Shan Human Rights Foundation

လြန္ခဲ့သည့္ ၄ လတြင္ တရားမ၀င္ဖမ္းဆီးအေရးယူထားေသာ ဟုိပုံးလယ္သမား ၉ ဦးကုိ ျပည္လည္အမႈရုပ္သိမ္းေပးရန္ ေတာင္းဆုိျခင္း
By Shan Human Rights Foundation

Myanmar: UN Experts Request Exceptional Report on Situation of Women and Girls from northern Rakhine State
By UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against

reports

Reports

Suspicious Minds: The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission’s Trust Deficit
By Action Committee for Democracy Development, Progressive Voice and Smile Education and Development Foundation

သံသယစိတ္မ်ား။ ။ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံအမ်ိဳးသားလူ႔အခြင့္အေရးေကာ္မရွင္၏ ယံုၾကည္မႈ ကပ္ဆိုက္ပံု
By Action Committee for Democracy Development, Progressive Voice and Smile Education and Development Foundation


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.

Related Posts:

Send this to a friend