willing minions? International NGOs in
Australian Council for Overseas Aid
of how International Non Governmental
organisations (INGOs) should approach
heat of the debate in 1993, some fifteen INGOs have entered
The aim of this
paper is to stimulate discussion, raise issues and flag some ways forward on
the role of INGOs inside
Generations of NGO strategies
The development theorist David Kortens distinguishes between four different “generations” of NGO strategies. [iii] I would like readers to see this as a tool rather than a hierarchy, and the point has been made elsewhere that most development agencies attempt to span the first three generations in the scope of their work.[iv] Thus there is a fair degree of overlap in this typology. Kortens traces an evolutionary pattern from traditional relief activities towards greater involvement in catalysing larger institutional and policy changes for social development.
generation INGOs strategies involve the direct delivery of services to meet an
immediate deficiency or shortage experienced by the beneficiary population,
such as food, health care and shelter. The focus is welfare based with a strong
emphasis on logistical management. Many of the agencies on the Thai-Burma
Border: BBC, MSF- France originally had this focus of providing food and health
assistance and were constrained from education and infrastructure work by their
agreements with the Thai Government. In
Second generation strategies attempt to develop the capacities of communities to better meet their own needs through self-reliant local action. INGOs working in this field commonly identify themselves as development INGOs. Activities might involve initiating village self-help actions with the development of health committees to carry out preventative health, digging wells or improving agricultural practices. The concepts of sustainability and community development are crucial to their modus operandi and there are different emphasis placed on empowerment of people. It is important to note that second generation approaches often grow out of first generation NGO responses to humanitarian need. The projects are often micro focused on villages or sub-groups such as women and limited to short funding cycles tied to government donors. The role of the development NGO is to be a mobiliser and to assist in dissolving social inertia. Some critics argue that such a developmental approach inherently creates a dependent community. Further, such an approach requires countless repetitions to bring about broad social change.
Many of the
agencies that have entered
generation strategies can actively target Government and institutional
oppression - but none of the agencies currently in
Third generation NGO strategies are focused on sustainable systems development. They look beyond the individual community and seek changes in specific policies and institutions at local, national and global levels. The strategies aim to produce a supportive national or international development system and aim at working with national agencies “to help them orientate their polices and work modes in ways that strengthen broadly based local control over resources.”[vi] These initiatives arose out of frustration with second generation strategies where the benefit to a community may be dependent on a continued NGO presence and availability of donor subsidies. Moreover the limited coverage of NGO programs to clusters of villages and hostility of national institutions to sustainable community development meant that broad social development seemed very distant. Kortens elaborates:
“The underlying theory of third generation strategies is grounded in the assumption that local inertia is sustained by structures that centralise control of resources, keep essential services from reaching the poor, and maintain systems of corruption and exploitation. Creating the necessary changes often depends on working simultaneously to build the capacity of the people to male demands on the system and working to build alliances with enlightened power holders in support of action that makes the system more responsive to people.”[vii]
There has been a concerted push by some INGOs to develop this form of macro level change on the issue of HIV/AIDS, and they work closely with the willing staff of the Department of Health to develop national strategies. However, those working on the HIV/AIDS epidemic have realised the limitations of a national approach as any potential action is subordinated to the imperatives of the political system and also the personal vagaries of the (recently removed) Minister of Health who refused to acknowledge that Burma had a HIV/AIDS crisis. To be truly effective, a macro approach needs to go further and tackle the dysfunctional nature of military government. Such a broad strategy accords with the position advocated by the NLD and the many critics in the Burmese community of INGOs in Burma, which urges that NGO programs reach all of the people - not just those in favour with the government, that development must tackle the systemic nature of oppression in Burma if it is to be meaningful and that co-operation with an oppressive government and its agencies can fatally compromise meaningful development.
The fourth generation strategy, according to Kortens, is an outcome of dissatisfaction with institutional resistance or hostility to third generation NGO initiatives. Forth generation theorists argue that INGOs must look beyond “repair work” and adopt a decentralised action towards development and become "facilitators of a global people’s development movement.” How does this high sounding rhetoric align with reality? How do INGOs move towards fourth generation strategies? Korten specifies that INGOs must seek to facilitate “social movements” which mobilise people for social change. He describes them thus:
“Social movements have a special quality. They are driven not by budgets or organisational structures, but rather by ideas, by a vision of a better world. They move more on social energy rather than money. The vision mobilises independent action by countless individuals across national boundaries, all supporting a shared ideal. Participants in successful movements collaborate in continuously shifting networks and coalitions. They may quarrel over ideological issue and tactics. But where they have been successful, their efforts have generated a reinforcing synergy.”[viii]
Examples of social movements are women’s, peace, environment, and consumer affairs and human rights movements. Korten believes that “development”, as such, has not generally been viewed as a social movement and development INGOs are not attuned to fully working as facilitators of social movements, although clearly efforts have been made in the areas of women and the environment in recent years.
In the case of
If we accept
that the struggle for democracy in and around
generation approach has yet to be fully explored by INGOs inside Burma and many
outside Burma, and it would necessitate a rethink of the roles and limited foci
many INGOs have in their work. At the end of this paper, I will make some
general comments about models for INGOs wanting to facilitate a fourth
generation approach to development in
Prior to 1988,
as a result of the autarkic nature of the Ne Win junta, the lack of civil
society, and the restricted visas of twenty four hours, INGOs had little
relationship with the Burmese Government, but there were funding relationships
between INGOs such as World Vision, OXFAM etc, churches and Burmese church partners
and some other organisations such as hospitals. Many of these relationships
lapsed in the wake of the 1988 uprising. INGOs effectively boycotted
The impetus for
the debate as to whether INGOs should re-enter
controversy, two INGOs originally working with refugees in
In response to
these events, the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), an
association of INGOs, decided to send a mission to
to assess the humanitarian
· to meet local Burmese INGOs;
to discuss with the Government
and agencies mechanisms for INGOs operating in
to assess the situation of
Burmese refugees in
Amongst other things, the ICVA mission sought and was denied an
interview with (the then imprisoned) Aung San Suu Kyi, but did meet with
opposition groups in
The report portrayed a humanitarian crisis in all social and economic
made twelve recommendations focused mainly on multilateral responses to the
political situation and the refugees in
ACFOA brought to Australia Saw Ba Thin, the General Secretary of the
Karen National Union and Jack Dunford, the Chairperson of the Committee to
Co-ordinate Services to the Displaced Persons in Thailand (CCSDPT). They argued
strongly that it was not the right time for INGOs to enter
In addition to this perspective, the peak body for Burmese pro-democracy community groups, the Australia Burma Council (ABC), produced a response critiquing the ICVA report.[xix] The ABC argued that aid should be targeted to the border, that aid inside Burma could not be accurately monitored, that a resumption of aid would give the SLORC international credibility and that there was evidence that increasing international pressure from the UN was beginning to affect the regime (the latter was a correct assumption as Aung San Suu Kyi was released eighteen months later).
In response to these arguments,
Roger Walker, the Policy Adviser of World Vision Australia (WVA), made the core argument for INGOs entering
“I do not intend to convey an impression that World Vision regards human rights or democratic reform as unimportant; they are important; but they should not be a cause for the poor to be punished for the acts of others.
The growing child cannot wait until the right government comes along or until the war has ended. There is a principle that the suffering child has a right to development - to health, to education. They cannot wait until tomorrow.”[xxi]
Russell Rollason of ICVA also
argued against INGOs ignoring the humanitarian needs inside
“Is the time right for NGOs to consider involvement in
The choice is “now or wait”. It is three years since
Aung San Suu Kyi won the free and fair election in
However, not all INGOs were
persuaded by the “ human need” or “now is the time” arguments. The result of this debate in may
countries was that, with a few exceptions, most agencies were persuaded to
assist the refugees on the Thai-Burma border and some facilitated small
advocacy INGOs and initiatives to promote the democracy and ethnic groups.[xxiv] Opposition to
INGOs operating in
Despite this NGO focus on refugees and the civil and political human
rights situation inside
The UN agencies in
· water supply and sanitation
· primary education
· refugee repatriation
· health and nutrition
The issue of
how UN agencies operate in
focuses of INGOs are varied but often originate in a response to the health
situation and a snapshot of a few of the activities of just five INGOS gives a
sense of the health needs in
identification of the satellite town communities was also made by MSF Holland
who run their own health clinics outside the government system in
CARE Australia established a presence in 1993 and
has a small staff overseen by an expatriate manager. CARE’s focus has been on
HIV/AIDS in conjunction with the UNDP, the National Aids Program and local
NGOs. Additional projects have been research on the sexual behaviour of street
children and youths in
Francois Xavier Bagnoud (AFXB) was working on HIV/AIDS awareness with Burmese sex workers in
Problems and Practicalities
wishing to operate in
Understanding (MOUs) allow INGOs to operate inside
The top leaders in Government are constantly reassessing the roles of NGOs in Myanmar and any organisation operating in country must therefore be adaptive and have a high tolerance for ambiguity.[xxxiv]
One agency noted that there appeared to be a de-facto, two stage process developing:
1. being permitted to register a presence in Burma, establishing an office, fax license, hiring local staff and then a delay, sometimes between 12 - 24 months, before projects or MOUs could be undertaken, while SLORC observes the agency;
2. finally the MOU process of negotiation takes place with the relevant ministries and approval by the Foreign Affairs Committee. Some INGOs now believe that the MOU is not the outcome, but rather a letter of understanding which gives permission to operate.
Another agency noted that there seems to be a freeze on western INGOs; two had been rejected from obtaining MOUs in 1996 and the Government had a preference for Asian INGOs which were considered more politically quiescent. The Ministry of Health has now five years experience in dealing with INGOs and is generally on side with project proposals. However, the Ministry of Health is relatively low in the SLORC’s pecking order, as are other non-income generating ministries, such as Basic Education, and Social Welfare that INGOs commonly want to work with.
MOUs are relatively standard umbrella documents, which generally state the following:
These MOUs allow more latitude to the INGOs to branch out and undertake its own activities than in similar MOUS in countries like Vietnam. The last stipulation on political activity is obeyed by INGOs. In response to it, they generally instruct all staff to avoid attending NLD activities, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s historic weekend talks. Such unofficial discouragement has extended, until recently, to communication with Suu Kyi. The separation between public/work roles and private life does not exist in Burma and INGOs have fallen in with this culture by self monitoring all their actions so they will not be judged harshly by the SLORC. INGOS believed in 1996 that the SLORC viewed INGOs as having too much autonomy and was moving to control their independence. One agency wrote,
The government is highly concerned with control and internal security and is often extremely cautious about the purpose and presence of international NGOs. Therefor international NGOs.... who have chosen to work inside Myanmar have needed patience, perseverance and great care in order to operate in a way that does not compromise the necessary ethical standards, and quality of project implementation, in such a politically constrained context.[xxxv]
Another NGO felt that INGOs had to work under a “cloak of caution”. INGOs were:
...reluctant to meet with opposition parties and certain ethnic leaders because such meetings might jeopardise approval of projects, signing of MOUs, or permission to work in certain parts of the country (i.e.) the border areas...staff are cautious of what is said because it could be reported back to the SLORC.[xxxvi]
There was increasing surveillance and most INGOs have had all their mail opened. In 1997 two established INGOs were ordered to leave on the whim of the Minister of Health, but one was able to effectively lobby Khin Nyunt to have the order rescinded and the other continues to operate by having local staff ,and an expatriate enter on a tourist visa. The effect of this SLORC warning, will be to increase the sense of vulnerability for all INGOs and make them keep their heads down.
regularly on technical issues such as HIV/AIDS and have held monthly general
information meetings. There are only a small number of INGOs in Burma compared
to other countries in the region and the disparate sizes of INGOs and the
varied areas and approaches to programming, on the surface level at least,
haven’t leant themselves to inter-agency co-operation. Moreover, there is an
apparent lack of solidarity amongst the INGO community. They did not (openly at
least) rally to defend those INGOs who recently had their MOUs cancelled. Nor
have they, as a group, advocated on the part of those INGOs who have been
waiting for over two years to have their MOUs approved. Until recently, INGOs
were reluctant to present the work that they were doing in
It is important
to note that Burma-focused relief and development INGOs in Thailand do not
criticise the Thai Government openly either, lest it jeopardise their ongoing
presence and work with refugees, however they do have other discreet means of
raising their concerns not available to their colleagues inside Burma. INGOs in
INGOs claim that the SLORC has not made use of the INGOs’ presence for propaganda purposes. Nevertheless, the risks are there, one NGO worker commented:
“I was asked to accompany a team for the first training (in HIV/AIDS prevention) at Dawei, a coastal town in the south where foreigners rarely go. The opening ceremony was dominated by the regional SLORC commander and appeared State television that night. Subsequently I quietly avoided being seen or photographed in the company of high SLORC officials, though had to meet man officials in the course of the project work over the next year and a half. The training session went well.”
Moreover, the issue of aid being taken by the SLORC and sold on the black-market has not occurred to the extent feared because INGO’s concentrated their services in the area of training. Nevertheless, as one aid worker revealed small percentage of aid does go astray (in the order of 5%). When Myanmar Red Cross entered a period of re-negotiation with Australian Red Cross, the head of the MRC requested, and received, the hand over of vehicles owned by ARC. Other allegations about misappropriation of funds by the Myanmar Red Cross have been made. Some parts of the government have taken advantage of the highly over-valued exchange rate (officially US$1: 6 Kyat, unofficially US$1:300 Kyat) to try and suck dollars out of INGOs. Those INGOs who have signed with the Ministry of Health operate on a local currency (Kyat) basis in all areas. But when it comes to paying for internal airfares and other transport, the Ministry of Transport has recently decided not recognise the Ministry of Health MOU and insists in payment in $US or the vastly overvalued Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs). INGOs have not been successful negotiating around this lack of respect for their MOUs.
A related issue is that some INGOs consider themselves being treated rapaciously by Burmese who rent properties for offices and dwellings; exorbitant rents are the norm. Several INGO workers raised the issue of value for money: did the ratio of expenditure on running costs (particularly the long setting up time required) outweigh the relatively small expenditure on programs and the actual success of those programs? Another question raised by an INGO worker was about the depth of relationship and understanding that INGO personnel have with the Burmese communities when INGO offices and homes are located in the most expensive part of cities surrounded by senior military and government officials (and the homes of the NLD leaders).
Some INGOs state that the local Law and Order Restoration Councils initially watch their activities closely, but as time goes by this scrutiny is reduced. They can implement their programs as they wish and reach their targeted communities. Other INGO workers differ and maintain that the SLORC will allow nothing outside their control and want only INGO money and not their presence. Sometimes the local representatives of government departments such as the District Medical Officer work closely with INGOs and assist with programming. In other cases, INGO training courses aimed at raising the awareness of the leadership of the Government controlled NGOs such as the Myanmar Maternal & Child Welfare Association (MMCWA) have been felt not to have produced a change in thinking or organisational culture. Initially such training entailed that INGOs were working with the better off in society. Membership of GONGOs requires a certain position and status in the community and some Burmese view those leading the GONGOS, eevn at a village level, as opportunists. Now, however, INGOs are more confident that they can target people genuinely interested in receiving training whether GONGO members or not.
GONGOs are often led by senior officials with military backgrounds or associations and their effectiveness seems to vary according to the personally of the individual in charge - they can be obstructionist, wind back programs, fail to start new ones, monopolise resources for their purposes, or deny the extent of social or health problems. Some Burmese informants believe that Myanmar Red Cross (MRC) is the most recalcitrant GONGO; MRC’s president (recently removed in the fallout from the creation the SPDC) halted meaningful programming on HIV/AIDS and insisted that staff participate in pro-SLORC Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA) rallies. For this reason, Australian Red Cross withdrew from its relationship with MRC in February 1997.
Some INGOs argue however, that at village and district level of GONGOs, ordinary members of MMWCA and Myanmar Red Cross have a high degree of enthusiasm and welcomed the training, resources and presence of INGO programs. Another INGO noted that the Myanmar Medical Association, Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association and Myanmar Red Cross, while being criticised as being too close to the SLORC, were in the opinion of UN agencies and some other foreign INGOs worthwhile bodies to work with. They were, “...playing an increasingly important and innovative role in humanitarian assistance in Myanmar...(and)...As there are so few national NGOs in Myanmar, capacity building of these and if possible other NGOs would benefit INGO operations in country.”[xxxvii]
During 1994-95, UNICEF, World Vision and SCF-UK co-ordinated and organised a number of workshops for MMCWA to try and assist this process of understanding the nature of INGOs and strategic planning. One INGO noted:
The character of these GONGOs is often very different at the township or ward level from the central level. They can also vary greatly from one area to another, depending upon the individual members in each place.[xxxviii]
Another INGO concluded:
Like many future uncertainties in
INGO relationships with the government would urge that all programs target only
the community. While it may be possible to operate in
Importantly, INGOs create a protective umbrella for a few Burmese professionals, particularly in the field of health, to work with foreign staff to develop creative programs. INGOs see value in working with government bodies and suggest that the level of interaction with the Ministry of Health is slowly bringing about a change in culture where it becomes permissible for government health professionals to discuss issues such as HIV/AIDS and negotiate how the government can respond to public health issues. INGOs bring in valuable information to doctors, health workers and teachers, whose training can be very outmoded.
circumvent having much contact with the government and GONGOs by operating
effectively through church communities. The evangelical nature of the churches
is a reality as is the tremendous body of qualified and experienced people
amongst their members who are working with communities and desperately want
training and resources. It is common for funding arrangements to exist between
local churches through international church networks. A possible drawback of
funding church partners is that INGOs may lack a presence in the country,
unless they negotiate a MOU, and do not have the capacity to fully initiate,
monitor and evaluate programs and oversee the allocation of money. In relief
situations, a proportion of INGO aid channelled through the churches, will be
monopolised by the army for their own
“relief distribution” works. Church programs while sometimes bringing benefits
to the whole community, may be focused on particular Christian groups and not
The changing context
From 1993, a
number of changes have occurred inside
Aung San Suu Kyi was released in June 1995 and
has made it known, unofficially, that she wants INGOs to talk with the NLD
about their programs in
· between 1989 and 1996, a majority of ethnic insurgent groups have made cease-fires with the SLORC and some have called for aid and development assistance;
I would like to examine the implications of these two changes.
The Democracy Movement:
In early 1996, the NLD position on UN development programs was put to the UNDP in a letter from Aung San Suu Kyi , in which she argued that the UNDP, as an agency of the UN which had passed successive resolutions calling for the SLORC to implement democratic reforms, should not be co-operating with the SLORC. Aung San Suu Kyi was critical of the way the implementation of UNDP projects were influenced by the local level military authorities, which excluded NLD supporters from local community bodies such as parent teacher associations. Similarly, she argued that training programs are filled with representative of Township and Village level LORCs, MMCWA, UDSA, the civil services and other government related organisations. Where was the community (and NLD members) in these processes?
Aung San Suu Kyi made two recommendations to UNDP:
1. humanitarian aid should reach the right people in the right way, it should not be reserved for those who stand in favour with the authorities - a process which runs contrary to the promotion of justice;
2. It is absolutely necessary for those providing humanitarian aid to work closely with the NLD - the duly elected representatives of the Burmese people.
As a result, UNDP are making more effort to be grass-roots in their development approach - they want INGOs to be implementing partners.
After Aung San
Suu Kyi’s release, the National League for Democracy (NLD) revived and began
calling for dialogue with the SLORC. Earlier statements that there should be
“no trade, aid or investment” with the SLORC remained, but there was an
ambiguity on the issue of an INGO presence. Aung San Suu Kyi has subsequently
made it clear that she wants INGOs to consult with the NLD. Indeed in 1996, the
debate facing INGOs had become not so much one of whether they should be in
western embassies (but not the
In the wake of
the September and December 1996 crackdowns and blockading of
there are important questions of ethical principle at stake. If INGOs claim to
be impartial and have a MOU with a military dictatorship to work, to some
extent, through its structures, then it is absolutely clear that they have made
a political choice. Impartiality, if it is to be realised in these conditions,
requires that INGOs should consult with all concerned stakeholders: the SLORC,
the target community, and the elected leaders of the Burmese people. Secondly,
INGOs must consider how their work facilitates what is the only real macro
INGO contact with the NLD can be explored creatively in the future through:
· correspondence and discussion via third parties: embassies (some of whom have expressed their willingness to assist), Burmese close to the NLD, outside INGO envoys from peak bodies such as ICVA, NGO envoys from international agency branches who could enter Burma on tourist visas and visit the NLD discreetly;
· discreet meetings with NLD Central Committee members or the NLD Social Welfare Committee, perhaps under the protective umbrella of embassy staff's homes;
· meet directly with Aung San Suu Kyi when conditions permit (as was possible between June '95 and September '96);
INGOs inside and outside of
The second issue of change in
Groups. [xl]This needs to be
considered, not just by those agencies inside
The most significant shift was the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) taking its 8000 troops into cease-fire in early 1994, causing considerable angst in the opposition ethnic/democracy grouping, the Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB). As a result, the priorities for the KIO have changed. The Central Committee of the KIO issued a statement in August 1994:
The current cease-fire agreement between the KIO and
SLORC provides for an accelerated rate of infrastructure and economic
It is clear that the KIO is calling for INGO assistance and that they expect to have to develop their region themselves, not with aid from SLORC, but with SLORC facilitating outside assistance.
With the Mon cease-fire made in early 1996, the NMSP echoed the call of
the Kachin for assistance. Similarly, Karenni community leaders have called for
development assistance lest their people resort to opium growing in the
The time for working with refugees, in conventional camp settings is
running out in
In the past three years approximately 262 000 refugees have been repatriated back into Burma - 240 000 Rohingya from Bangladesh under UNHCR auspices in 1994-7, 10 000 Kachin from China, in an un-monitored process by the KIO in 1994-5 and 12 000 Mon in 1996, in an un-monitored arrangement between the insurgent leadership of the New Mon State Party, the SLORC and the Thai National Security Council.
Officially, around 115 000 Karen, Karenni and Shan refugees remain in
There are immense problems facing those who will be repatriated - their
safety is particularly jeopardised by the high degree of militarisation in the
border regions and the sustainability of communities is further threatened by a
lack of resources for rebuilding their communities in the short term. In the
future, INGOs seeking to establish work with Burmese will need to consider more
carefully which side of the border they are to establish themselves on.
Currently INGOs can access those refugees in the sliver of territory held by
the New Mon State Party with food and some medical and education assistance. However is this sustainable for the long
term? Secondly it would not be safe to assume that because the SLORC allowed
the NMSP some territory which INGOs can access (with the knowledge of the
Thais), that the same situation will eventuate for the 95 000 Karen on the
border. The SLORC may be particularly resistant to Thai Border INGOs having a
cross border role servicing repatriated Karen. In addition there is no KNU
territory that the Karen will be able to return to, it is all under SLORC control.
The new reality is that the Burmese army controls more of the territory along
the border with
Another question for INGOs is whether they can they ameliorate, by their
presence, the oppressive condition for repatriated communities on the Burmese
side of the borders. Some have argued that some moderation of SLORC persecution
of the Rohingya has occurred in
But this is not the whole picture. Opportunities are yet to be fully
explored in providing cross border training and resources for ethnic community
and health workers currently in
Education and health development work is possible with the refugees in
· INGO support for embryonic civil society groups
· INGO exploration of human rights
INGOs could adopt an overarching
model for social change and development in
An essential problem facing INGOs
Since 1962, the military has destroyed civil society
On this basis, I strongly suggest that INGOs do not formally work with GONGOS – USDA, MMCWA, MMA, and MRC. INGOs have also found the extensive network provided by these GONGOS attractive as a means of disseminating information; extensive networks are one of the few features of the Burmese military state that do work well. I concede that some people in these organisations are good people who are members because they are already recognised community leaders. However, by formally working with these bodies, particularly USDA, INGOs tacitly support and strengthen the control of state structures over the community and at the expense of weaker local INGOs and church and Buddhist sangha networks. This is particularly dangerous in the case of USDA which is a toll of the army and the future political party for the military. No INGO, that cares about human rights, should be endorsing this body. While practicality requires that INGOs may and will have to draw upon GONGOs personnel for training's in the future, this should always be on an individual basis and never at the institutional level. INGOs should focus their energies on assisting the already well trained personnel in weaker bodies such as the YMCA, Myanmar Council of Churches and others. While INGOs will lose some opportunities in terms of the reach of GONGOs, it is afar better outcome that INGOs attention and resources be focused on grassroots level of communities where they are not organised by parastatal structures where they can experiment with processes that favour civil society.
The struggle to achieve comprehensive development and respect for human
Participation, in my view, has always been a euphemism for civil and political rights and it has troubled me because it has never been given any precise content by those who use it with reckless abandon in the development debate. Very often it is only applied to the micro level. It is quite unrealistic to pretend that in a country which is fundamentally authoritarian, an agency is going to come in and be able to run a project in a totally participatory manner. This would guarantee a draconian response from the government. Additionally, the communities with which we are often concerned in these contexts are the very ones which have a limited capacity to participate.[xliv]
Alston argues that the only viable path is support for human rights advocacy:
This leads us back to the need to undertake traditional human rights activities if anything is to be done in order to support those groups, which are seeking to promote development at the local and national levels. It gets us back to the need to support and perhaps protect those groups which begin to acquire the power and influence to, not oppose, but rather act as counterweights to the otherwise unchecked power of government.[xlv]
In this context of having a more
explicit human rights focus, there are opportunities for INGOS operating in
Conduct regional training and
workshops for their staff (not just in
INGOs based in
conduct information work on
there is scope for improved
communications between development INGOs and
advocacy based INGOs outside
· In country staff could read advocacy information services e.g. Burmanet, on PGP encrypted network;
As development INGOs possess a humanitarian
mandate, they may be able to develop a reporting system which records needs and
violations of social and economic human rights and raise concerns about needs
and violations in areas such as children’s rights, where children are often
used as forced labour, or compelled to be child soldiers (in ethnic armies too)
or denied education because of ethnic origin. They could supply this
information through their international arms or third party agencies to UN
bodies - UNHCR, ILO, UN Committee on Human Rights, Special Rapporteur for
· They could discreetly visit and participate, consult and share information with forums which are attended by advocacy based NGO networks such as the Burma Donor’s Secretariat and the BBC meetings or form a new forum combining all of them.
If civil society is to be nurtured in Burma it is crucial for INGOs to initiate development strategies which foster independent thinking and democratic structures and management in the communities that they target, including their INGO local staff. Notions of heirachy need to be broken down and alternative models based on equality explored. An essential role that INGOs can and have played in other countries is breaking through community lethargy engendered by institutional oppression. INGOs can foster confidence in communities to tackle their issues and problems themselves. Undertaking education activities with communities is the key for INGOs to making the transition from humanitarian relief to community development. It is possible (and INGOs are increasingly looking at doing so now) to work more at a village level, with less input from the state, with loose knit community networks based around special interests e.g. building a well, foresters, fishermen, and women's health. INGOs are exploring how these groups can be brought together (e.g. for Participatory Action Research) and maintained and worked with.
In working with these communities INGOs need to adopt a broad body of principles on what community development should mean in the Burmese context. While the term "empowerment" cannot be openly, this must be the outcome of the processes of development .At the grassroots level it is worth bearing in mind the framework of M.D. Anisur Rahman, the developer of Participatory Action Research:
Empowerment: There is, indeed, no escape from this question...A qualitative element of empowerment is control over economic resources; but progress in this matter is by itself no indication of enhanced social power of the underprivileged to assert their developmental aspirations and their freedom to take initiatives for their self development.[xlvi]
More broadly, Rahman argues that development should seek to empower at a societal level and must embody the following principles:[xlvii]
· It must promote human dignity and ameliorate abuses of the powerful against others on the basis of economic status, ethnic origin, colour caste etc.
· social development must progress towards genuine popular democracy - “a system whereby the broad masses of the people have an effective voice in there shaping of macro policy and the conduct of public affairs”;
· Cultural diversity requires that a developing society encourages the authentic development of peoples cultures: “...to interact with each other for mutual enrichment rather than for domination” Rahaman argues that social development, “...necessarily implies people’s development at the grass roots, for otherwise only an abstract concept, e.g. the nation state, may be promoted.”
Again, if development INGOs see this model as a desirable long-term outcome of their work, it should be an argument for development INGOs to consider during their evaluation of their projects whether there is any progress towards these goals. If there is a clear increase in SLORC restrictions on INGOs promoting these values for the long term, then perhaps the INGOs should be reconsider their presence in Burma or they should withdraw to providing purely humanitarian relief services.
I suggest that
this holistic approach to human rights and development in
[i] SLORC was renamed the State Peace and Development Council in ovemebr 1997. Because of the historical perspetive of this paper, I will refer to SLORC throughout.
[ii] Action Contre la Faim (ACF); Australian Red Cross (withdrew feb ’97); The Association of Medical Doctors of Asia for Better Quality Life for a Better Future (AMDA); Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA); Association Francois Xavier Bagnoud (AFXB); Bridge Asia (Japan) (BAJ); CARE Myanmar; Groups de Recherche et Dechanges Technologiques (GRET); Marie Stopes International; Medicines du Monde (MdM); Mediciens Sans Frontieres (MSF-Holland; OISCA International; Population Services International (PSI); Save the Children Fund UK; Save the Children USA; PACT; World Concern; World Vision Myanmar.
[iii] David C. Kortens, Getting to the 21st Century: Voluntary Action
and the Global Agenda,
[iv] Mike Crooke, “Development Dilemmas: Understanding the difficulties of practical altruism" ACFOA development issues 1, August 1997, p.9.
[v]Confidential NGO report #1
[viii] Ibid. P.124.
[ix]Moreover the struggle of Burma’s democrats has Burma’s strengthened the nascent democracy movement which has been emerging in SE Asia in the past two decades in Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines and most recently Indonesia.
[x]Evidence of the democracy movements evolving status as comparing it
with civilian protest in
[xi] Reported under the title “
[xii] Also the Executive Director of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA),
[xiii] ICVA, op cit, pp.7-8.
[xiv] Bid, pp.22-28.
[xvi] Ibid. Pp.53-4.
[xviii] Ibid, for their respective speeches see, pp.4-8, and pp.9-16.
[xix] Maise Warburton, Response to the International Council of
Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) Report “
[xx] ACFOA, Silent Emergency, op cit, pp.23-26.
[xxi] Ibid. P.24.
[xxii] Ibid. Pp.27-30.
[xxiii] Ibid. p.30.
[xxiv] In 1995, ACFOA established a
of Burmese Refugees from
(b) Daw Aung
San Suu Kyi, the SLORC and initiatives for
(c) Slave Labour in Burma: an Examination of the SLORC’s Forced Labour Polices , May 1996;
(e) Human Rights Abuse in Burmese Prisons by Win Naing Oo, December 1996.
[xxv] Similarly, ACFOA and the Australia Burma Council held a symposium
[xxvi] National Coalition Government of the
[xxviii] WVA funded a HIV/AIDS Project Co-ordinator under the broader work
of World Vision
[xxix] Francis McConville, Final Report: A Rapid Participatory
Assessment of the health needs of women and their children in an Urban Poor
[xxx] World Vision
[xxxi] Interview with World Concern, September 1996.
[xxxii] UNICEF, “National and International NGOs in
[xxxiv] Confidential, Australian NGO report #2.
[xxxv]Confidential NGO report # 2.
[xxxvi] Confidential Australian NGO report.
[xxxvii] Confidential, Australian NGO report #1.
[xl] Martin Smith, “Humanitarian and Development Aid to
[xli] KIO Central Committee, Standing Commitment,
[xlii] ACFOA, Repatriation, op cit.
[xliii] David Steinberg, “The Union Solidarity Development Association:
Mobilisation and orthodoxy in
[xliv] Philip Alston, “The rights framework and development assistance,” in Development Bulletin 34, August 1995, pp.9-12.
[xlvi] M.D. Anisur Rahman, Peoples Self-Development: perspectives on
Participatory Action Research,
This paper is one of four presented at the conference
'Strengthening Civil Society in