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Civil Society

Websites/Multiple Documents

Title: Burmafund
Description/subject: Source of reports and links but no recent material.
Language: English
Source/publisher: Burmafund
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Individual Documents

Title: A Briefing Paper on the Shrinking Space for Civil Society in Burma/Myanmar
Date of publication: 01 October 2014
Description/subject: "This briefing paper written by Burma Partnership and Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) analyses and exposes the shrinking space for civil society in Burma. It shows how the Burma authorities have been arresting, detaining, charging, sentencing and imprisoning activists, farmers, human rights defenders, journalists and peaceful protestors throughout 2014, enacting legislation that is not in line with international human rights law, refusing to repeal draconian colonial- and junta-era legislation, and failing to protect people's fundamental rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Burma Partnership & the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
Format/size: pdf (287K)
Date of entry/update: 07 October 2014


Title: Increasing insecurity in Myanmar
Date of publication: 21 October 2013
Description/subject: "The recent bombings in Myanmar have increased insecurity. People fear an unknown perpetrator with an unknown agenda. There is a lot of speculation. Are the perpetrators frustrated ethnic minorities, radical Buddhists, Muslim extremists or are elements from the government behind the attacks? One thing is certain, the bombings pose yet another threat to peace in Myanmar..."
Author/creator: Yola Verbruggen
Language: English
Source/publisher: "New Mandala"
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 15 July 2014


Title: On Myanmar’s plural society
Date of publication: 02 April 2013
Description/subject: "A recent article in The Economist on the violence between Buddhist chauvinists and Muslims in Myanmar (“When the lid blows off”) lamented, “so much for a plural society”. The suggestion seems to have been that the current ethnic and religious violence was an aberration for such diverse societies. But perhaps this view confuses a “pluralistic” society with a “plural society”. In fact, the great scholar of colonial society in Southeast Asia, John S. Furnivall, knew that this was the risk of plural societies everywhere. Furnivall’s concept of the “plural society” (see Colonial Policy and Practice: a Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India [1948]) refers not simply to a diversity of races, but the problematic nature of such societies that emerged under European colonial regimes. In a plural society people “mix but do not combine”. There is no common “social will”; they are a “crowd”, rather than a “community”. Members of the plural society are bound not by “custom”, but by “law” imposed by outsiders. Furnivall argued that plural societies were unnatural and fragile precisely because they were held together only by economic self-interest, mediated by the market, and the coercive apparatus of European colonial power. Take away one of those factors and little is left to hold such societies together. If one looks at the fate of Southeast Asian societies post-independence, when economic crisis coincided with a political vacuum following the departure of the colonial powers, this was precisely the predicament many countries found themselves in. Ethnic violence was especially the fate of the commercially dominant ethnic Chinese, who often found themselves persecuted by impoverished, politically powerless indigenous majority populations and their governments. If we view the Burmese military regime as analogous to the colonial regimes, which similarly imposed order through coercion without rooting that order in “social will”, then following Furnivall’s logic the weakening of central power as a result of Myanmar’s recent “democratization” risks upsetting the delicate balance of Myanmar’s military-era plural society. So far, much of the media commentary on the violence in Myanmar has attributed the cause to Buddhist chauvinism, the conniving of the central military-dominated government – including the silence of the formerly respected figure, (ethnic Burman) Aung San Suu Kyi – or the mutual hatred of “primordial” religious identities. Viewing the current violence through the lens of Furnivall’s concept of the “plural society” may be a more helpful way of understanding what is going on in Myanmar today."
Author/creator: Patrick Jory
Language: English
Source/publisher: "New Mandala"
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 16 July 2014


Title: Mapping of Myanmar Peacebuilding Civil Society
Date of publication: 07 March 2013
Description/subject: This paper was prepared in the framework of the Civil Society Dialogue Network (CSDN) http://www.eplo.org/civil-society-dialogue-network.html The paper was produced as background for the CSDN meeting entitled ‘Supporting Myanmar’s Evolving Peace Processes: What Roles for Civil Society and the EU?’ which took place in Brussels on 7 March 2013...."The peace process currently underway in Myanmar represents the best opportunity in half a century to resolve ethnic and state-society conflicts. The most significant challenges facing the peace process are: to initiate substantial political dialogue between the government and NSAGs (broaden the peace process); to include participation of civil society and affected communities (deepen the peace process); to demonstrate the Myanmar Army’s willingness to support the peace agenda. Communities in many parts of the country are already experiencing benefits, particularly in terms of freedom of movement and reduction in more serious human rights abuses. Nevertheless, communities have serious concerns regarding the peace process, including in the incursion of business interests (e.g. natural resource extraction projects) into previously inaccessible, conflict-affected areas. Concerns also relate to the exclusion thus far of most local actors from meaningful participation in the peace process. Indeed, many civil society actors and political parties express growing resentment at being excluded from the peace process..."
Author/creator: Charles Petrie, Ashley South
Language: English
Source/publisher: Civil Society Dialogue Network
Format/size: pdf (266K)
Alternate URLs: http://eplo.org/geographic-meetings.html (This EPLO page has links to related studies and papers)
Date of entry/update: 16 April 2013


Title: How Civil Society Can Engage with Policy Making in Myanmar’s Transitional Context
Date of publication: 29 July 2012
Description/subject: "Civil society can be defined as the space between the state and the family generally excluding private sector actors, political parties, and armed groups. Cyclone Nargis, which claimed 130,000 lives in the Delta of Myanmar in May 2008, was, undoubtedly, one of the worse natural disasters in recent history of the country. At the same time, with it came an increase in the number of civil-society actors in Myanmar, following the political opening that came from a mandate to respond and the surge of aid that entered the country. This sudden increase also built on other factors: cease fires in conflict areas that motivated the growth of community-based organizations; gaps in services, particularly in remote areas; and the need for environmental protection amid contestation over natural resources. While this could be considered a watershed in the history of Myanmar, these developments came late relative to the groundswell of civil-society growth worldwide that began during the 1980’s. This worldwide growth was in response to numerous transitions from authoritarian and communist to democratic regimes, including those in neighboring countries such as Thailand and the former USSR. Since then, civil society has become the sector whose potential the international aid community and advocates of democracy have tried to unlock. In an ideological sense, it is believed that civil society will hold in check unaccountable government and rampant capitalism in order to promote well-functioning government and a healthy capitalist system that ensures its citizens economic and political freedom. The working relationships developed with civil-society actors have often strayed from their objective to build societies that are more democratic. The relationships have been weakened by poorly targeted funding, approaches that are not contextualized to local realities, and idealization of civil society that ignores its weaknesses. This article will first seek to explain the strategies that a section of civil society has used to influence the outcome of some major issues under intense debate in this country. Based on this analysis, it will provide recommendations on how international actors can better engage with civil society for advocacy. While the article will not provide guesses as to the outcomes of the debates referenced here, the article’s observations can inform how international actors can better support civil-society actors to play a more meaningful and effective role in the shaping of democratic policies and institutions in the transitional context of this country..."
Author/creator: Mark SiuSue
Language: English
Source/publisher: Journal of International Affairs (Columbia/SIPA)
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 04 June 2014


Title: Build Burma from the Ground Up
Date of publication: 22 June 2012
Description/subject: Relying only on the state to implement democratic reforms in Burma is a fool’s errand. But there’s a better way... "Burma has entered a new period of political evolution. It's a process rife with opportunity, to be sure. But perhaps this is also a good time to consider the risks. Defining a political path as "democratization" does not necessarily ensure that it will be democratic. In today's Burma there is a distinct possibility that political elites -- in league with outside experts or capitalists --- will push ahead with reforms while ignoring the interests or ideas of average people, leaving many sections of the population even worse off than under tyranny. Such an approach must be contested. The voices of average Burmese must be incorporated into the decisions that will govern their future...a remarkably robust and powerful set of citizens, self-organized into groups outside of the state, has performed the necessary heavy lifting that has enabled society's survival under a capricious and abusive military government. Many observers may have missed this because these groups have always flown under the radar. Their genius under the regime was to deliver services, subvert abusive policies, and mobilize local resources, all the while steering clear of anything that could be construed as politically threatening. Simply put, they learned to beg -- and beg quietly -- for permission to do the job the state should have been doing..."
Author/creator: Elliott Prasse-Freeman
Language: English
Source/publisher: "Foreign Policy"
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 22 June 2012


Title: Education in Transition: A Preliminary Study of Capacity Development for Civil Society Actors in Burma/Myanmar
Date of publication: 21 February 2012
Description/subject: "Burma/Myanmar is currently in a transition with important ramifications for capacity development efforts. The present preliminary study explores some of the critical issues at stake for capacity development activities in order to better understand how the field as a whole can continue to undertake effective trainings and evolve to adapt to current trends. Of particular interest to the researchers is the question of how to teach human rights and social sciences in complex settings such as in Burma/Myanmar and how this field may evolve. The preliminary research has two research interests: contemporary issues of concern in capacity development which need to be addressed by the current stakeholders; and the interaction between the stakeholders within the capacity development network (including Burma/Myanmar participants, Burma/Myanmar organizations, universities, Thai based organizations, political groups, and so on). As a preliminary study, this report seeks to give some first impressions of the current situation of the capacity development field during a period of change in Burma/Myanmar. This research does not attempt to quantify the field or undertake a mapping of it. Rather, the preliminary study intends to draw out issues and concerns expressed by stakeholders in capacity development which can guide future directions of activity, development, and research. The capacity development field is large, yet there has been limited analysis of how this field works and few studies of how stakeholders adapt to current changes. This report wishes to contribute to the understanding of capacity development in the field of human rights and social sciences in three specific ways: • Understanding how and why young Myanmar people get involved in civil society activities. • Understanding how the capacity development field is structured and how it operates. • Understanding what organizational and quality concerns capacity development organizations should be addressing..."
Author/creator: Camilla Buzzi, Mike Hayes, Matthew Mullen
Language: English
Source/publisher: Institute for Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University
Format/size: pdf (404K - OBL version; 484K - original))
Alternate URLs: http://www.humanrights-mu.org/attachments/article/92/Education%20in%20Transition-IHRP.pdf
Date of entry/update: 21 February 2012


Title: Listening to Voices from Inside: Ethnic People Speak
Date of publication: June 2010
Description/subject: Executive Summary: "Listening to Voices from Inside: Ethnic People Speak showcases the voices of people from civil society, and of different ethnic groups, who are rarely heard. Myanmar is an extremely ethnically diverse country. Regrettably, inter-ethnic conflict is a fundamental dynamic in Myanmar’s protracted civil war. Despite this, ethnic diversity and interethnic conflict seldom capture the attention of the international community who have a tendency to see inter-ethnic conflict as adjunct to the quest for peace and democracy in Myanmar. This publication, the result of a foundational study, presents the voices of eighty-seven civil society members from different ethnic groups who live in Myanmar. It documents their perceptions of opportunities and challenges in key areas of interactions with other ethnic groups, government and military relations, education, employment, health, and culture. It records their vision for the future and how external organisations can support that vision. Listening to Voices from Inside: Ethnic People Speak creates a channel for local people to be heard on inter-ethnic issues in Myanmar and is a resource to increase understanding of the issues among external and domestic actors. It brings inter-ethnic conflict back from the periphery to argue that transforming inter-ethnic conflict is central to building peace and democracy in Myanmar. The following summarises the key points under each section:..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies
Format/size: pdf (1.43MB)
Alternate URLs: http://www.centrepeaceconflictstudies.org/publications/
Date of entry/update: 23 June 2010


Title: "I Want to Help My Own People" State Control and Civil Society in Burma after Cyclone Nargis
Date of publication: 29 April 2010
Description/subject: Cyclone Nargis struck southern Burma on May 2-3, 2008, killing at least 140,000 people and bringing devastation to an estimated 2.4 million people in the Irrawaddy Delta and the former capital, Rangoon. The Burmese military government’s initial reaction to the cyclone shocked the world: instead of immediately allowing international humanitarian assistance to be delivered to survivors, as did countries affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) prevented both foreign disaster relief workers and urgently needed relief supplies from entering the delta during the crucial first weeks after the cyclone. The military government blocked large-scale international relief efforts by delaying the issuance of visas to aid workers, prohibiting foreign helicopters and boats from making deliveries to support the relief operation, obstructing travel by aid agencies to affected areas, and preventing local and international media from freely reporting from the disaster area. Rather than prioritizing the lives and well-being of the affected population, the military government’s actions were dictated by hostility to the international community, participation in the diversion of aid, and an obsession with holding a manipulated referendum on a longdelayed constitution. “I Want to Help My Own People” 8 In the face of the government’s callous response, Burmese civil society groups and individuals raised money, collected supplies and traveled to the badly affected parts of the Irrawaddy Delta and around Rangoon to help survivors in shattered villages. Many efforts were spontaneous, but as the relief and recovery efforts gained pace, dozens of communitybased organizations and civil society groups organized themselves and gained unprecedented experience in providing humanitarian relief and initiating projects. Access for United Nations agencies and international humanitarian organizations improved starting in late May 2008 after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the delta, and the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) brokered a deal with the Burmese government. They established the Tripartite Core Group (TCG), which became the central vehicle for coordinating aid, improving access for humanitarian organizations to the delta, and carrying out the ensuing recovery efforts. The two years since Cyclone Nargis have seen an unprecedented influx of humanitarian assistance to the delta, with a visible presence of local and international aid workers and improved access to provide humanitarian relief. While this opening has been rightly welcomed, it has not been the unmitigated success that many Burma analysts have portrayed it to be. Humanitarian access to the delta improved significantly by Burma standards following the establishment of the TCG mechanism, but it has remained far short of international standards. And partly because of the access restrictions imposed by the SPDC, humanitarian funding has not been sufficient to meet the needs of people in the cyclone-affected zones. As a result, two years after the cyclone, the recovery of many communities in the delta remains limited, particularly communities far from the towns where most relief efforts were organized. Such communities face continuing hardships and difficulties obtaining clean water and adequate sanitation, health resources, needed agricultural support, and recovery of livelihoods. Had the SPDC not continued to place unnecessary restrictions on the humanitarian relief effort in the delta, the cyclone-affected population would be much farther down the road to recovery. The Burmese government has failed to adequately support reconstruction efforts that benefit the population, contributing only paltry levels of aid despite having vast sums at its disposal from lucrative natural gas sales. Although the government has not announced total figures dedicated for cyclone relief and reconstruction, it allocated a mere 5 million kyat (US$50,000) for an emergency fund immediately after the storm. It is clear that its subsequent spending has also not been commensurate with available resources. Burma’s government is estimated to have more than US$5 billion in foreign reserves and receives an 9 Human Rights Watch │April 2010 estimated US$150 million in monthly gas export revenues. The Burmese government channels the limited assistance it does provide through its surrogates and contracts awarded to politically connected companies, in an effort to maintain social control. In addition, the government’s distribution of aid has been marred by serious allegations of favoritism. In most areas of Burma outside of the cyclone-affected areas, international humanitarian access is much more limited than in the delta, despite significant levels of preventable disease, malnutrition, and inadequate water and sanitation, particularly in the central dry zone and the ethnic minority areas of the border states. All of the UN staff, Burmese aid providers, and international humanitarian organization representatives Human Rights Watch spoke with in Burma in early 2010 praised the humanitarian opening in the delta, but then added that humanitarian space in the rest of Burma remains a major challenge. As one senior aid official told us: “We were all hoping that the Nargis experience would be the wedge to open a lot of things, but this hasn’t happened.” The statistics speak for themselves: approximately one-third of Burmese citizens live below the poverty line. Most live on one to three US dollars a day, and suffer from inadequate food security. Maternal mortality is the worst in the Asian region after Afghanistan. While the economies of many of its neighbors rapidly develop, the people of Burma continue to suffer. The SPDC fails to invest its own available resources to address urgent social and economic needs and blocks the humanitarian community from doing all it can to help meet those needs in other parts of the country. A number of humanitarian aid experts we spoke with were hopeful that after national elections scheduled for the end of 2010 are completed, they will then be able to build on what was achieved in cyclone-affected areas, and expand the delivery of humanitarian aid to other areas in Burma where it is desperately needed. While the record of the Burmese government to date suggests this will be an uphill battle at best, the UN, ASEAN, and other influential international actors in Burma should make it a priority to continue to press for such expanded access. Natural disasters can sometimes work as a catalyst for peace-building and reform in conflict wracked societies, as occurred in Aceh, Indonesia, following the 2004 tsunami. In Burma, the military government is stronger and more confident two years after the cyclone, but it is no more accountable or respectful of basic rights...Finally, this reports details an under-appreciated positive legacy of the cyclone response: the development of a group of new, truly independent and experienced civil society organizations in Burma, which now seek to use their skills to address other humanitarian and development challenges in the country..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Human Rights Watch
Format/size: pdf (1.7MB)
Alternate URLs: http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/04/29/i-want-help-my-own-people
Date of entry/update: 01 May 2010


Title: Listening to Voices from Inside: Myanmar Civil Society’s Response to Cyclone Nargis
Date of publication: 03 May 2009
Description/subject: Executive Summary: "Cyclone Nargis is believed to be the worst recorded natural disaster in Myanmar’s history. It swept through the South Eastern region of Myanmar in early May 2008. It caused widespread destruction and devastation. This book contains a collection of narratives obtained through interviews with key actors involved in the cyclone relief effort. We primarily interviewed members of local organisations but have also included a number of alternate perspectives from external actors who work closely with the Myanmar context. The following summary reflects the main points gained from this project: * On the one hand, Cyclone Nargis brought so much destruction. At the same time, it brought people together and provided the opportunity for people in civil society to take action and mount a response to the disaster. This is of particular significance in the Myanmar context where civil society is struggling with the impact of decades of civil war and division amongst identity groups such as clan, ethnicity, religion, or geographic/regional affiliation, or a mixture of these. * As these narratives outline, the response to Cyclone Nargis was massive, immediate and greatly increased people’s capacities in building relationships, working with communities outside traditional target areas, integrating existing programs and working with the authorities. Those providing the response comprised NGOs, business entities, religious institutions, government authorities, and community organisations both highly organised and loosely organised. * Cyclone Nargis provided a number of opportunities for collaboration amongst actors who had previously been looking to work together for some time. It created the conditions for alliances to be forged and many organisations set out strategically to build their networks and integrate existing programs such as environmental awareness, participatory community organising, peacebuilding, etc. have had a much greater destructive impact. A great deal of international assistance was prevented from reaching affected populations due to Government restrictions on entering Myanmar. This situation provided the opportunity for local and international organisations, including the UN, to build their connections and develop strong relationships for their field operations during the relief effort. * Capacity building work carried out by NGOs prior to Cyclone Nargis was able to be capitalised upon in the wake of the disaster. Networks already existed so organisations were able to quickly mobilise community organisers, trauma healers and, in some instances, disaster response teams. Despite this however, capacity building was highlighted by the organisations we interviewed as a significant need of organisations in Myanmar and an area where external organisations can greatly assist. * Through Cyclone Nargis, young people were able to gain volunteer experience and employment as a result of the expansion in NGO activities in responding to the disaster. The focus on building the younger generation is particularly important in the Myanmar context as decades of civil war has led to a decline in education standards and employment opportunities for young people. Building a sense of community by engaging young people in community work and exposing them to different contexts can inspire and encourage young people to become socially active. * External organisations in Myanmar need to understand the local context and the conflict dynamics. This understanding is critical if the assistance provided by external organisations is going to have any resonance. Moreover, without understanding the context and conflict dynamics, local organisations will be unnecessarily burdened by the expectations of outside entities and can potentially be put at risk. * Isolationist policies adopted by the international community towards Myanmar need to be reconsidered. These policies further polarise issues resulting in the Government becoming more entrenched in their position. The majority of civil society groups we interviewed for this project were balancing working with the Government with their commitment to communities. * In carrying out emergency response work for Cyclone Nargis, organisations became aware of the interdisciplinary nature of relief work and the need to work holistically in responding to the context. This necessitated being flexible and creative. * An acceptance that organisations can develop a working relationship with Government and benefit from it, was a key learning expressed by many of the organisations we interviewed. This learning reinforces the importance of networking and building relationships. * A number of organisations interviewed expressed that external organisation should trust the local people to do the work and also support and strengthen local mechanisms in program cycle management. This includes building skills in reporting, monitoring and evaluation. A strong recommendation emerged that participation in developing frameworks and co-operation between external and local organisations and community people, is required."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS)
Format/size: pdf (810K) 230 pages
Alternate URLs: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/SNAA-7RR92S?OpenDocument
http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWFiles2009.nsf/FilesByRWDocUnidFilename/SNAA-7RR92S-full_report.pdf/$File/full_report.pdf
Date of entry/update: 18 July 2010


Title: Myanmar’s Civil Society – a Patch for the National Education System? The Emergence of Civil Society in Areas of State Weakness
Date of publication: March 2007
Description/subject: Abstract Civil society groups are among the most important private actors to fill some of the gaps that exist in Myanmar’s education system. As the state-run education system deteriorates, civil society actors develop alternative approaches to teaching and the provision of basic education materials. As its subtitle suggests, this article argues that even though the military regime of Myanmar is highly authoritarian, spaces for civil society actors do exist within two areas of state weakness: firstly, within various sectors of the weak welfare state; and secondly, within some of the negotiated spaces of relative ethnic autonomy in ceasefire areas. Against this backdrop, the emergence of civil-society-based self-help groups in the education sector provides but one specific example of a larger trend that is taking place in present-day Myanmar: The military regime has started to tolerate certain civil society activities in areas of tremendous welfare needs that the government is unable or unwilling to deal with itself.1 (Manuscript received February 1, 2007; accepted for publication March 27, 2007)... Keywords: Myanmar, civil society, education system, military regime, development cooperation, state failure..........Myanmars Zivilgesellschaft – ein Lückenbüßer für das staatliche Bildungssystem? Die Entstehung von Zivilgesellschaft in Bereichen schwacher Staatlichkeit Jasmin Lorch Abstract Zivilgesellschaftliche Gruppen gehören zu den bedeutendsten nichtstaatlichen Akteuren, die einige der zahlreichen Lücken, die in Myanmars Bildungssystem existieren, notdürftig schließen. Während das staatliche Bildungssystem zusehends erodiert, entwickeln zivilgesellschaftliche Akteure alternative Ansätze der Selbsthilfe, um Grundbildung zu vermitteln und unentbehrliche Lehrmaterialen bereitzustellen.Wie der Untertitel dieses Artikels impliziert, argumentiert die Autorin, dass trotz der Repressivität des autoritären Regimes in Myanmar in mindestens zwei Bereichen, in denen der Staat schwach ist, Handlungsspielräume für zivilgesellschaftliche Akteure existieren: erstens in verschiedenen Sektoren des versagenden Wohlfahrtsstaates und zweitens in einigen der ausgehandelten Autonomiegebiete der ethnischen Minderheiten. Vor diesem Hintergrund stellt die Entstehung zivilgesellschaftlicher Selbsthilfeinitiativen im Bildungsbereich nur ein Beispiel für eine allgemeine Entwicklung dar, die gegenwärtig in Myanmar stattfindet: Das Militärregime hat begonnen, in Bereichen, in denen enorme Wohlfahrtsdefizite herrschen, welche die Regierung selbst nicht zu beheben in der Lage – oder willens – ist, zivilgesellschaftliche Selbsthilfeaktivitäten zu tolerieren. (Manuskript eingereicht am 01.02.2007; zur Veröffentlichung angenommen am 27.03.2007) Keywords: Myanmar, Bildungssystem, Entwicklungszusammenarbeit, Militärregime, Staatszerfall, Zivilgesellschaft
Author/creator: Jasmin Lorch
Language: English (German abstract)
Source/publisher: GIGA (German Institute of Global and Area Studies) Südostasien aktuell
Format/size: pdf (696K)
Date of entry/update: 10 November 2010


Title: Ceasefires and Civil Society: The Case of the Mon
Date of publication: 2007
Description/subject: Conclusion: "Changes in state structure have profoundly affected the historical formation and mobilisation of ethnic identities in Burma. Since 1962, the ‘ethnocratic state’ has suppressed non-Burman political identities and the operation of civil society, with profound consequences for the conceptualisation and expressions of ethnicity. The altered relationship between the central government (and Burmese military) and some minority groups (and ethnic insurgents), as a result of the ceasefire process, constitutes a significant realignment of state-society relations. As a result, new forms of social and political organisation have begun to emerge within the Mon and other minority communities, which have the potential to affect state structures, including those of the ‘liberated zones’. Whether the re-alignment of ethnic minority politics ultimately feeds back into the loop, and contributes towards transition at the national level, will depend on how politicians react to political opportunities - and attendant risks. Meanwhile, the NMSP is in danger of becoming marginalised, unless it can respond to the new environment with a new strategic vision. The ceasefire groups are uniquely positioned to take the lead in redefining the nature of civil-military relations in Burma. Ultimately, for both the Tatmadaw and the armed ethnic groups, the transition from insurgency to relative peace and stability - of which the present military regime is so proud - is less difficult than that from dictatorship to democracy. The first phase (peacemaking) is a prerequisite of the second phase (peace-building), but the latter addresses more fundamental issues. After decades of conflict, and amid on-going repression, opportunities exist for conflict resolution and political transition in Burma. To varying degrees, the SPDC, the NLD and ethnic minority leaders have all expressed their desire for peaceful social and political development. Although the scope and mechanics of any transition will be negotiated among elites, in order for recovery to be effective, members of the country’s diverse social and ethnic groups must enjoy participation and a sense of ‘ownership’ in the process. Post-conflict transformation thus requires the rehabilitation of Burmese civil society. This difficult and uneven process is already underway, and is worthy of support. Foreign governments, UN agencies and INGOs should work to empower those non-regime groups attempting to work inside Burma, under the most challenging circumstances. They should also continue to bring pressure on the SPDC to initiate political reform and enter into dialogue with representatives of Burma’s ethnic minority and opposition groups. Although the international community can play an important role in facilitating political transition, the success of this process will depend on the Burmese state and social groups. Based on a reading of British and French history, Skocpol suggests that “states not only conduct decision-making, coercive, and adjudicative activities in different ways, but also give rise to various conceptions of the meaning and methods of ‘politics’ itself, conceptions that influence the behaviour of all groups and classes in national societies.” The field of political culture - attitudes to and valuations of power and politics - is often stubbornly resistant to change. As Alan Smith and Khin Maung Win observe, the absence of consensus and “accumulated distrust and unwillingness to compromise between and centre- and Burman-dominated state … and non-Burman ethnic groups” is the most serious obstacle to political transition. In a recent report for the Minority Rights Group, Martin Smith concludes that “conflict resolution, demilitarization and the building of civil society will be vital bridges in achieving reconciliation in the country and supporting the creation of conditions in which democracy can take root and minority rights be enjoyed.”78 However, as he - and many ethnic minority leaders - recognise, if it is to be sustained, peace and reconciliation must be accompanied by a just settlement of state-society issues."
Author/creator: Ashley South
Language: English
Source/publisher: "Exploring Ethnic Diversity in Burma" (Nordic Institute of Asian Studies 2007), Chapter 6
Format/size: pdf (209K)
Date of entry/update: 22 January 2011


Title: Active Citizens Under Political Wraps: Experiences from Myanmar/Burma and Vietnam
Date of publication: November 2006
Description/subject: Contents:- Heike Loeschmann: Foreword...Ch 1, Intro: Joerg Wischermann: "Societal and Political Change in Vietnam. An Instructive Example for Myanmar/Burma? Introductory and Conceptual Reflections"...Gerhard Will: "Political and Societal Change in Myanmar/Burma and Vietnam. Old Limitations and New Chances for Civic Organizations"...Adam Fforde: "Economic Process and Its Role in Conservative Transition: Reflections on Vietnamese Experience and Implications for Myanmar/Burma".....Chapter 2: Societal and Political Change in Vietnam and Myanmar/Burma: The Pluralism of Societal Practices at Commune Level...David Koh: "Politics at the Ward Level in Ha Npi"...Khin Zaw Win: "Transition in a Time of Siege: The Pluralism of Societal and Political Practices at Ward/Village Level in Myanmar/Burma".....Chapter 3: Patterns of Societal and Political Change in Vietnam and Myanmar/Burma: The Diversification of Socio-Political Practices at Ward/Commune Level...Nguyen Quang Vinh: "Civic Organizations in Ho Chi Minh City: Their Activities and Aims, Room to Manoeuvre, Relationship with Governmental Organizations at Local Level"...Mai Ni Ni Aung: "Creating Space in Myanmar/Burma. Preserving the Traditions of Ethnic Minority Groups: A Catalyst for Community Building"...Jasmin Lorch: "Do Civil Society Actors Have Any Room for Manoeuvre in Myanmar/Burma? Locating Gaps in the Authoritarian System".....Chapter 4: "Building Pluralism and Institutions: Towards a Change in Governance and Governance Culture(s)?"...Thaveeporn Vasavakul: "Public Administration Reform and Practices of Co-Governance: Towards a Change in Governance and Governance Cultures in Vietnam"...Alex Mutebi: "Changing Governance and Governance Culture in Myanmar/Burma: Some Thoughts".....Chapter 5: Conclusion: Zarni "Thinking Politics Sociologically: Engaging with the State and Society in Vietnam and Myanmar/Burma"
Language: English
Source/publisher: Heinrich Boell Foundation, SE Asia
Format/size: pdf (1.3MB)
Date of entry/update: 18 July 2010


Title: Political Transition in Myanmar: A New Model for Democratisation
Date of publication: February 2005
Description/subject: ABSTRACT: "This article examines social and political transition in Myanmar (Burma). Strategies for transition in Myanmar have tended to focus on elite-level politics, rather than grass-roots democratisation and social mobilisation. However, both approaches are necessary - although neither is sufficient in itself. While change at the national/elite level is urgently required, sustained democratic transition can only be achieved if accompanied by local participation. The tentative re-emergence of civil society networks within and between ethnic nationality/ minority communities over the past decade is one of the most significant - but under-examined - aspects of the social and political situation in Myanmar. ‘Development from below’, and efforts to build local democracy from the ‘bottom-up’, using local capacities and social capital, are underway in government-controlled areas, and in some ethnic nationality-populated ceasefire and war zones (including insurgent-controlled areas), as well as in neighbouring countries. However, the sector is still under-developed, and changes coming from civil society will be gradual, and need to be supported. This article examines the strategic challenges facing ethnic nationalist leaders and communities at this key period in Myanmar’s history. It also addresses the roles that foreign aid can play in supporting the re-emergence of civil society in Myanmar, and advocates a policy of selective (or targeted) engagement’..."
Author/creator: Ashley South
Language: English
Source/publisher: Ashley South
Format/size: html (172K)
Date of entry/update: 26 February 2005


Title: Dead Set on Helping
Date of publication: December 2003
Description/subject: "Burma’s poverty means that even providing funerals for loved ones can be difficult if not impossible. But a new social welfare association is lending a helping hand... Accompanied by some poor people, a famous Burmese movie star carries a coffin in Rangoon. In the coffin is the corpse of a poor man who is unrelated to the actor. This is not a scene for a film; it’s real. And to many people it’s amazing, because it’s so unheard of. The movie star, Kyaw Thu, has participated in many funerals as a sort of gravedigger, and he is vice president of a social welfare association known as the Free Funeral Services Society (FFSS)..."
Author/creator: Htain Linn
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy" Vol. 11, No. 10, December 2003
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 14 February 2004


Title: Roadmaps and Political Transition in Burma: the Need for Two-Way Traffic
Date of publication: 08 October 2003
Description/subject: "Transition in Burma may come abruptly - perhaps as a result of a 1988-style peoples’ uprising - or more gradually, and with less bloodshed. The latter scenario may involve a power-sharing arrangement between the SPDC and the opposition, or a gradual process of ‘regime reform’, with little direct in-put from the wider society or opposition forces. Although opposition tactics will vary according to the circumstances, a number of strategic considerations remain the same. However and whenever change occurs, members of Burma’s diverse social groups must be ready to act. In general, opposition strategies have focused on elite-level politics, rather than grass-roots democratisation. However, both approaches are necessary - while neither is sufficient in itself. Change at the national level is urgently needed, but sustained democratic transition can only be achieved if accompanied by local participation and ‘development from below’. Among the three parties to any tripartite negotiations in Burma, the ethnic nationalities in particular could benefit from a combination of elite-level, blueprint-type solutions and a grass-roots, participatory approach, aimed at strengthening civil society. Although overseas-based activists and Burma-watchers have sometimes assumed that there is no civil society in the country, this far from true. The re-emergence of local networks within and between ethnic nationality communities over the past decade has been one of the most significant - but under-reported - aspects of the social and political situation in Burma. Efforts to build local democracy are already underway - in government-controlled areas, in some ethnic nationality-populated ceasefire and war zones, and in neighbouring countries. However, these 'bottom-up' initiatives will not bring about substantial change, without accompanying 'top-down', national-level reforms..." This text formed the basis of Ashley South's presentation to the ‘Burma Day 2003: Political and humanitarian options for the international community’ conference, Brussels, Wednesday 8 October 2003. A slightly abridged version appeared in two parts, in the Irrawaddy Online, October 16-17.
Author/creator: Ashley South
Language: English
Format/size: html (59K)
Date of entry/update: 04 November 2003


Title: Myanmar: The Role of Civil Society
Date of publication: 06 December 2001
Description/subject: "This report addresses two key questions: How much of a role are organisations not controlled by the state playing, and how much can they play, in restoring democracy in Myanmar? ; and How much of a role are civil society organisations playing, and how much can they play, in promoting understanding of the ethnic issues at the root of many of Myanmar's political problems?...Around the world, much hope has been placed in the prospect that civil society – the loose groupings of non-government actors in political processes – would act as a major force to change or remove undemocratic governments. This has particularly been the case in Myanmar where there has been an expectation that students or monks might force the military government from power. This has not been realised; indeed civil society is at its weakest state in decades...Civil society organisations will be important in creating the backing for any solution, and in consolidating the democratisation process once it begins, but are not likely to be crucial players in achieving a momentum for change..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: International Crisis Group
Format/size: pdf (447K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs3/Civil_Society.pdf
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Title: Building Civil Society in Indonesia, Burma and the Philippines
Date of publication: 24 October 2000
Description/subject: Challenges and Prospects for Resolving Ethnic Conflict New York, October 24, 2000 Speaker: David Tharckabaw, Karen National Union "According to the dictionary, the word “civil” means “of human society or of people living together.” Another relevant meaning is “politely helpful.” Ethnic means “of race or the races of mankind” which is a wide subject. Ethnic can mean different things to different people. For our discussion, it would be suitable to keep to the idea that by “ethnic” we mean “of a people with more or less the same language, customs, culture, tradition, historical background and living in a separate area of land for centuries.” This would apply to the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English peoples in Britain-the Romance, Italian, French and German peoples in Switzerland and the Montenegrin, Albanian, Croat and Slavic peoples of former Yugoslavia..."
Author/creator: David Tharckabaw
Language: English
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 18 July 2003


Title: Right Person, Right Place
Date of publication: August 1999
Description/subject: "...For civil society to appear in Burma, military rule and its administration must be stamped out and a civilian administration and government must be substituted. Civil society and military rule are completely incompatible, and the prevention of human rights abuses is thus inconceivable in the absence of democratic rule..."
Author/creator: Thar Nyunt Oo
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy", Vol. 7, No. 7
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Title: I have to work harder
Date of publication: July 1999
Description/subject: "...The human rights violations still continue in every area of Burma especially in the ethnic areas of Burma. Burmans are not being treated like ethnic people, but because of the civil war and the four cuts system in the ethnic areas the ethnic people suffer a lot. More than the Burman people. But Burmese people also suffer other kinds of human rights violations. In the ethnic areas there is forced portering and forced relocation on a massive scale, but at the same time inside Burma there is political detention and arrest of political activist still going on. We can not compare what is worse and which one is the better one, but the human rights situation is as bad as before like ten years ago. I would say that in some areas its getting worse and in some areas its getting better. Even after we get democracy or even after the SPDC is overthrown so people with the kind of basic knowledge can be helpful for the foundation of civil society for the future of Burma...I decided to do some kind of training to give the knowledge about human rights and give a chance for people to think about their basic rights. This is good for the future of Burma so that people know about their rights, so they know how to prevent abuses. If they know how to advocate then they can protect their human rights. Even after we get democracy or even after the SPDC is overthrown so people with the kind of basic knowledge can be helpful for the foundation of civil society for the future of Burma..."
Author/creator: Aung Myo Min
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy"
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Title: Working Underground to Plant the Seeds of Civil Society
Date of publication: June 1999
Description/subject: A student activist with eight years of experience working underground in Burma reflects on the limitations and possibilities of "UG" activism. He points to a need to re-think strategies if long-term goals are to be achieved. Democracy will only succeed if there is a strong civil society in Burma; and now is the time to sow the seeds, Min Zin writes.
Author/creator: Min Zin
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy", Vol. 7. No. 5
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Title: Spiritual Revolution
Date of publication: February 1999
Description/subject: The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." - Albert Einstein. While attending an international conference last year, I met a few people who said to me: "You guys don't have the ability to stand up to the military regime. You guys are always on the defensive." To that, I replied, "No, I don't think so." Because, though the SPDC is still in power, I know of a number of events taking place in Burma right now which are believed to make the regime particularly vulnerable and the democracy movement stronger.
Author/creator: Min Zin
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy", Vol. 7. No. 2
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Title: Team Work
Date of publication: August 1998
Description/subject: "Outmoded leadership styles and centralization are not favoured by Burma's democrats. As for the so-called leaders who cling to the old model, Thar Nyunt Oo writes, their days are numbered. Burma’s people have grown accustomed to living in a closed society for many years. After the era of feudalism, Burma fell under colonial rule. Then, Burma was given spurious independence from Japan. Later, there was a period of parliamentary governance characterized by civil unrest and an absence of democratic rights and values. The military, calling themselves “socialists,” seized power in 1962 and, to this day, has tried to draft a state constitution which solidifies the junta’s hold on the state apparatus. We have grown and matured in an atmosphere of oppression, human rights violations and a lack of democratic opportunities..." Burma’s people have grown accustomed to living in a closed society for many years. After the era of feudalism, Burma fell under colonial rule. Then, Burma was given spurious independence from Japan. Later, there was a period of parliamentary governance characterized by civil unrest and an absence of democratic rights and values. The military, calling themselves “socialists,” seized power in 1962 and, to this day, has tried to draft a state constitution which solidifies the junta’s hold on the state apparatus. We have grown and matured in an atmosphere of oppression, human rights violations and a lack of democratic opportunities..."
Author/creator: Thar Nyunt Oo
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy", Vol 6, No. 4
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Title: "Axe-handles or willing minions?" International NGOs in Burma
Date of publication: 05 December 1997
Description/subject: "The issue of how International Non Governmental organisations (INGOs) should approach operating in Burma is a thorny one. This was particularly so in the early 1990s. Many development workers and the expatriate democracy movement felt that an NGO presence would provide the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC)[i], with much needed legitimacy. Warnings were sounded: INGOs would fall prey to the SLORC's manipulation, aid would be stolen and sold to profit the government, INGOs would be used in SLORC propaganda and meaningful development would not reach those it was intended for. They would become “willing minions” executing the SLORC’s agendas. INGOs were urged that their priority should be the large refugee populations in neighbouring countries who were the most visible and accessible victims of the SLORC's misrule. Despite the heat of the debate in 1993, some fifteen INGOs have entered Burma and more continue to arrive to explore the environment (and some have subsequently withdraw).[ii] What has their experience been? As Burma approaches its thirty-fifth year of military rule, what are the issues for INGOs wanting to work with Burmese? What possibilities could be explored for facilitating the growth of civil society? What attitude should INGOs adopt towards the democracy movement inside Burma? This paper examines these questions, with a focus on INGO experience, and begins by outlining a theoretical model for understanding the variety of INGOs and how their approach to operating in Burma might be categorised..."... This paper is one of four presented at the conference organised by TNI and the Burma Centrum Nederland on December 4 and 5, 1997 in the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, 'Strengthening Civil Society in Burma. Possibilities and Dilemmas for International NGOs'. A book of the same name, containing edited versions of the papers, an introduction and notes on the authors was subsequently published by Silkworm Books, Chiangmai 1999.
Author/creator: Marc Purcell, Australian Council for Overseas Aid
Language: English
Source/publisher: Transnational Institute/Burma Centrum Nederland
Format/size: html (267K), Word (167K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs3/purcellpaper.doc
Date of entry/update: 10 August 2005


Title: A Void in Myanmar: Civil Society in Burma
Date of publication: 05 December 1997
Description/subject: "The term 'civil society' has been prominent in the history of Western intellectual thought for about two hundred years. Its con­notative vicissitudes, its origins and previous political uses from Hegel and Marx and beyond in a sense reflect a microcosm both of poli­ti­­cal and social science theory. For a period reflection on civil society was out of style, an anachronistic concept replaced by more fashionable intellectual formulations. Today, however, the term has once again come back into significance. Here, however, we are not concerned with its history, but rather with its contemporary use, as defined below, as one means to under­stand the dynamics of Burmese politics and society..."... This paper is one of four presented at the conference organised by TNI and the Burma Centrum Nederland on December 4 and 5, 1997 in the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, 'Strengthening Civil Society in Burma. Possibilities and Dilemmas for International NGOs'. A book of the same name, containing edited versions of the papers, an introduction and notes on the authors was subsequently published by Silkworm Books, Chiangmai 1999.
Author/creator: David Steinberg
Language: English
Source/publisher: Transnational Institute/Burma Centrum Nederland
Format/size: html (85K), Word (67K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs3/Steinbergpaper.doc
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Title: ETHNIC CONFLICT AND THE CHALLENGE OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN BURMA
Date of publication: 05 December 1997
Description/subject: "...The peaceful and lasting solution to the long-running ethnic conflicts in Burma is, without doubt, one of the most integral challenges facing the country today. Indeed, it can not be separated from the greater challenges of social, political and economic reform in the country at large. Since the seismic events of 1988, Burma has remained deadlocked in its third critical period of political and social transition since independence in 1948. However, despite the surface impasse, the political landscape has not remained static. During the past decade, the evidence of desire for fundamental political change has spread to virtually every sector of society, and, at different stages, this desire for change has been articulated by representatives of all the major political, ethnic, military and social organisations or factions. That Burma, therefore, has entered an era of enormous political volatility and transformation is not in dispute..."... This paper is one of four presented at the conference organised by TNI and the Burma Centrum Nederland on December 4 and 5, 1997 in the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, 'Strengthening Civil Society in Burma. Possibilities and Dilemmas for International NGOs'. A book of the same name, containing edited versions of the papers, an introduction and notes on the authors was subsequently published by Silkworm Books, Chiangmai 1999.
Author/creator: Martin Smith
Language: English
Source/publisher: Transnational Institute/Burma Centrum Nederland
Format/size: html (255K), Word (150K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs3/smithpaper.doc
Date of entry/update: 10 August 2005


Title: No Room to Move : Legal Constraints on Civil Society in Burma
Date of publication: 05 December 1997
Description/subject: "The development and maintenance of civil society - that is, free associations of citizens joined together to work for common concerns or implement social, cultural or political initiatives which compliment, as well as compete with the state - depends upon the citizens of any state being able to enjoy fundamental freedoms: freedom of thought, opinion, expression, association and movement. Underscoring and defending these freedoms must be an independent judiciary and the guarantee of the rule of law. In Burma today, none of these conditions exist. There is no freedom of the press in Burma: government censorship is heavy-handed and pervasive. While the opening up of the economy since 1988 had lead to a proliferation of private magazines and access to affordable video and satellite equipment has also resulted in a massive expansion of small scale video companies and TV/Videos parlours around the country, the organs of state censorship have kept pace with these developments, and virtually every sentence and every image which is produced by the indigenous media has to passed by the government's censorship board, and all non-local media are also carefully monitored and controlled. The Burmese services of the BBC, VOA and the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma are often jammed; CNN and World Service broadcasts which include issues sensitive to the government mysteriously loose sound. New laws have been promulgated to restrict access to the internet, and it has been reported that the government has also purchased technology from Israel which can monitor and censor e-mail messages, and other equipment from Singapore to monitor satellite phones...".... This paper is one of four presented at the conference organised by TNI and the Burma Centrum Nederland on December 4 and 5, 1997 in the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, 'Strengthening Civil Society in Burma. Possibilities and Dilemmas for International NGOs'. A book of the same name, containing edited versions of the papers, an introduction and notes on the authors was subsequently published by Silkworm Books, Chiangmai 1999.
Author/creator: Zunetta Liddell
Language: English
Source/publisher: Transnational Institute/Burma Centrum Nederland
Format/size: html (90K), Word (71K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs3/liddellpaper.doc
Date of entry/update: 10 August 2005


Title: Strengthening Civil Society in Burma: Possibilities and Dilemmas for International NGOs
Date of publication: 05 December 1997
Description/subject: Links to 4 Papers from the conference of this name, Amsterdam, 4-5 December 1997, organised by the Burma Center Netherlands & Transnational Institute... (Also published by Silkworm Books, Chiangmai 1999, with Introduction and notes on the authors)... A Void in Myanmar: Civil Society in Burma by David Steinberg... Ethnic conflict and the challenge of civil society in Burma by Martin Smith... No Room to Move: Legal Constraints on Civil Society in Burma by Zunetta Liddell... "Axe-handles or willing minions?" International NGOs in Burma by Marc Purcell
Language: English
Source/publisher: Transnational Institute/Burma Centrum Nederland
Format/size: html (3K)
Date of entry/update: 10 August 2005


Title: Burma Tests Asian Values
Date of publication: August 1997
Description/subject: If Asian values are about encouraging a harmonious relationship between the state and society, then ASEAN leaders have their work cut out in Burma. Now that Burma is a member of ASEAN, it would not be illogical to assume that ASEAN will now take some responsibility for the well-being of that unfortunate country - which is now an economic, political and social "basket case" in the regional forum.
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy", Vol. 5. No. 4-5
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003