During nearly 50 years of military rule, Myanmar’s government and economic institutions were under the tight grip of the armed forces. Since 2010, moderate steps have been taken towards democratic control of Myanmar’s security and justice sectors, yet they remain largely in service of the military’s ideological and private interests.
Despite ongoing unrest and violence in many parts of the country that have rightly grabbed international attention, as of 2019, positive trends towards a more accountable security and justice sector in Myanmar can be seen. The current cabinet has more civilians than any government in Myanmar in over 50 years, and restrictions placed on civil society, media and universities preventing them from criticising security and justice institutions have mostly been lifted. But military resistance, capacity and resource constraints, a lack of political will, and state and society distrust are still significantly inhibiting improvements in civilian-military relations.
Drawing on extensive research and interviews, our new report identifies three areas where steps can be taken to democratise the security sector in Myanmar: giving more power to elected civilians as representatives of the people; transforming the security culture; and protecting and building civic space. The work ahead is best viewed as a multi-decade challenge, and sustained action from a wide range of organisations and individuals is needed to bring about generational change.