speaker, Thura Shwe Mann has said on Thursday that he is ready for a meeting
with the president, the commander-in-chief of the army and Aung San Suu Kyi.
The four-side meeting was requested by the National League for Democracy
(NLD) in a letter to the President’s Office in November last year to discuss
“We always met at the parliament session. I am ready for the quadruple
meeting whenever. I can attend it when they arrange it. It is my principle to
meet, discuss and cooperate,” said Thura Shwe Mann.
Union Assembly speaker was addressing a press conference at his office
on March 6.
In return the president replied that he will consider the meeting only
after the report by Myanmar’s Constitution Review Joint Committee has been
The joint committee submitted a report to parliament in January and the
parliament formed another committee to implement amendments consisting of 31
members on February 3.
The committee consists of 14 representatives from the ruling Union
Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), two from the opposition NLD and 15
from various other parties.
“If the constitution can be reviewed and amended, the country and its
citizens will benefit. The constitution is a promise between the government and
people. If both sides agree, all will experience the quintessence of the
constitution and policies will be designated for the sake of the country,” said
Thura Shwe Mann.
The chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, Thura
U Shwe Mann, has said he regards National League for Democracy politicians as
colleagues rather than enemies.
His comments follow a decision by the National League for Democracy to
take legal action against U HlaShwe, who represents Magway for the USDP in the
Amyotha Hluttaw, for allegedly defaming the NLD.
The decision followed a newspaper report in which U Hla Shwe was quoted
as saying that with the exception of NLD chairperson Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the
party’s members were “rubbish”.
Speaking to the media on March 6 after a session of the Pyidaungsu
Hluttaw, of which he is Speaker, Thura U Shwe Mann acknowledged that he was
aware of tension between some USDP and NLD members and said their comments were
embarrassing to each party’s leaders.
Referring to the period of parliamentary democracy in the aftermath of
independence in 1948, Thura U Shwe Mann said political parties then had “fought
each other to the last breath”.
“Our country turned out to be in this current situation because of the
fighting between political parties then,” he said, in an apparent reference to
the decision by the military to seize power in 1962 and rule until the change
of government in 2011.
“But these days, we won’t fight each other, we won’t finish each other
off, and we won’t regard each other as enemies but as colleagues,” Thura U Shwe
The USDP chairman said that at a meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi after
she was elected to parliament in 2012, he had expressed a desire for harmonious
relations between party members.
“She accepted my desire and our followers do not dare fight each other,
because the two leaders have friendly relations,” he said.
“However, there are still some party members who say things that make
the leaders feel embarrassed.”
Thura U Shwe Mann said both parties would be putting all their efforts
into winning the election due to be held late next year.
Asked about reports that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had said at a meeting with
him that the NLD would “finish off” the USDP in the 2015 election, Thura U Shwe
Mann said: “She did not say she would finish us off; she just said she would
make sure that her party won.”
“I understand that, and I told her that I would do my best for the USDP
to win,” he said.
National reconciliation was even more important than national
development and political parties should get along with each other, Thura U
Shwe Mann said.
Draft laws on inter-faith marriage will only be accepted for debate by
the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw if they are recommended by the relevant government
ministries, the Speaker of the joint house, Thura U Shwe Mann, told Mizzima on
“The relevant ministries should consider if it is appropriate to enact
such laws under the present circumstances,” he said, adding that any decision
on their recommendations would be made by parliament in the interests of the
nation and the people.
His comments follow a decision to refer a proposed law to ban
inter-faith marriage to the Office of the Attorney-General and the ministries of
Religion and Immigration and Population.
The decision was made at a meeting in Nay Pyi Taw on February 27 that
was convened by Thura U Shwe Mann in his capacity as Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Speaker
and attended by the chairpersons or secretaries of the Pyithu and Amyotha Hluttaw’s
45 parliamentary committees.
President U Thein Sein had earlier written to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw
Speaker requesting that consideration be given to enacting laws concerning
marriage, religious conversion and population increase.
The request came after a petition in support of an inter-faith marriage
ban containing more than 1,000,000 signatures was sent to President U Thein
Sein by the Myanmar Organization for the Protection of Nation and Religion.
Speaking on March 6, Thura U Shwe Mann said political party leaders had
decided at a meeting earlier that today that the laws could only be debated in
parliament after the ministries made their recommendations.
A spokesperson for the Tatmadaw MPs who comprise 25 percent of all
parliamentarians told Mizzima it did not want to comment on a proposed
inter-faith marriage law.
NAY PYI TAW - The
Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services, Min Aung Hlaing gave his first ever
press conference on March 5 to a select group of journalists.
Only the state-owned Myanmar Radio and Television, Myawady and the
Myanmar News Agency were allowed to attend the event.
Private media groups applied to attend the presser but were subjected to
a strenuous vetting process, including being requested to submit photographs
and questions, only to be turned down.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was speaking at the 11th gathering of
regional ASEAN chiefs of defence in Nay Pyi Taw.
"The ASEAN defence forces will need to cooperate with each other to
face the regional security threats and to create a more stable and peaceful
region," Min Aung Hlaing, was quoted by state media.
Min Aung Hlaing urged the ASEAN military forces to cooperate in regional
security tasks and to seek a peaceful solution over territorial disputes in the
South China Sea.
Security threats to ASEAN nations include natural disasters, endemic
diseases, cross-border crime, social security issues and internet crimes, said
The ASEAN defence forces will exchange information and cooperate in
military drills to improve their ability to tackle those threats, the army
He also welcomed a joint military exercise programme to be held in the
Malacca Straits next year. In 2015, Malaysia will organise a meeting of
military intelligence chiefs for ASEAN nations.
The Myanmar military is trying its best to shed its negative reputation
and participate in the United Nations as a peacekeeping force. The country has
been proposing sending a contingent since 2011, said Min Aung Hlaing.
It should have been an opportunity to build trust between the media and the
military. But Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s first press conference has, if
anything, cast more suspicion on the military’s commitment to democracy, with
journalists being barred from the event and state-controlled media given
“The worst ASEAN-related press conference I’ve ever experienced” was how
one journalist, who has covered ASEAN meetings in Vietnam, Cambodia and
Indonesia since 2009, described the March 5 question-and-answer session
following the 11th ASEAN Chiefs of Defence Forces Informal Meeting.
More than 10 reporters, including those from Democratic Voice of Burma,
Mizzima and Trade Times, were not allowed to enter, even though they had
registered to attend.
A colonel told them it was because of “seating difficulties” in the
press room, said Ko Pyae Thet Phyo, a reporter with The Myanmar Times who was
also blocked from entering.
“We were all really angry,” he said. “We asked how there could be a
shortage when we had all pre-registered. Then we saw the state media guys walk
into the press room. We asked, why can they enter and not us? The colonel said
it was because they are the state media.”
Reporters were told on March 3 that they had to register that evening.
By the time many found out about the press conference they had already missed
the deadline. One of those who registered the form described it as like
“answering questions to enlist for cadet training”.
Journalists were also told that they could only ask questions related to
the ASEAN meeting and were ordered to submit them in advance.
A reporter allowed into the press conference who asked not to be named
said the Senior General spoke for barely five minutes. He answered five
questions, all of which came from state media: Myawady, MRTV and New Light of
“Myawady asked the first question, then handed the microphone to MRTV.
When MRTV was done, it was handed to New Light of Myanmar,” the reporter said.
The event also highlighted the government’s failure to introduce proper
journalism standards at state newspapers, which churned out pieces about the
press conference lauding the military’s achievements.
State-run New Light of Myanmar reported on March 6 that more than 40
local and foreign journalists attended the press conference. “The Senior
General who chaired the 11th ACDFIM answered the questions raised by media
persons,” it said.
The Senior General said “sweeping reforms of the new government brought
about by democratisation process which was initiated by Tatmadaw won political
achievements in the country and international plaudits”, according to the New
Light of Myanmar.
“Myanmar formed with different ethnic minorities is progressing towards
a lasting peace,” he was quoted as saying.
Observers said the press conference highlighted the military’s continued
reluctance to adhere to international standards of transparency.
“We want transparency in every sector of the country and for that it is
important that the public have access to news,” said U Nyan Win, a spokesperson
for the National League for Democracy.
Ko Sai Ye Kyaw Swar Myint, co-founder of Yangon School of Political
Science, said the press conference showed the military’s “arrogance”.
“It’s like they don’t need to make any effort to build relations with
other [stakeholders] or the public,” he said. “They think that they don’t need
to reform because there are no consequences from not reforming.”
Myanmar Vice President Sai Mauk Kham has called for implementing
development projects in 13 districts of central Myanmar to improve the
livelihood of people suffering hardship in the dry areas, official media
In his address at work coordination meeting on implementing development
projects in central dry zone on Thursday, the vice president said the projects
will focus on livestock, farming, irrigation, supply of safe drinking water and
food, job creation, greening and socio-economic development in Mandalay,
Sagaing and Magway, the New Light of Myanmar reported.
The Ministry of Livestock Breeding, Fishery and Rural Area Development
has finalized the project plan for the dry regions and is now working with the
Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development to include it on the
list of state projects, he said.
He said that the World Bank is planning to grant 80 million US dollars
in loans for the implementation of the development projects from 2012 to 2019.
The Asia Development Bank will offer 12 million US dollars for
development projects in Mandalay and Magway regions from 2013 to 2016 while
Japanese International Cooperation Agency will grant more than 4 million
dollars from 2012 to 2017, he added.
NAY PYI TAW - The Upper House of Parliament will discuss amendments made
to the Association Registration Bill passed by the Lower House, sources in
parliament confirmed on Wednesday.
The Lower House amended key changes in the bill such granting an
association temporary registration certificates within seven days (bar public
holidays) extendable to 90 days by township and national-level committees if
the registration is successful.
The Upper House Draft Committee made corrections to the bill, adding
that any organisation that is registered in a self-administered state or region
must be processed in that state or region without additional fees.
Also organisations registered at the township level must run their
business in the respective district where the township is located. If they want
to move to other districts, they have to notify the township registration
committee where they want to go in advance.
MPs who want to discuss the draft must register their names by March 10
at the latest.
RANGOON -The 88
Generation Peace and Open Society has pledged to collaborate with ethnic
leaders of the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) to advocate for
At a meeting in Rangoon
on Thursday, leaders of both sides agreed to push for amendments that would promote
a more democratic and federal political system in the country. The two groups
have not collaborated formally in the past, although both have worked
separately to advocate for democracy and ethnic minority rights.
The 88 Generation Peace
and Open Society also recently pledged to team up with the National League for
Democracy (NLD) party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, to promote constitutional
When asked about the
collaboration with the UNA, Mya Aye, a spokesman for the 88 Generation, said it
was crucial to focus on ethnic issues to put a stop to decades of conflict
between government troops and ethnic armed groups.
“We agreed on three
points of collaboration, including to hold inclusive stakeholder meetings, to
amend Article 436 of Section 12 [of the Constitution], and to promote a
democratic and federal system in the country,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Article 436 says
constitutional reform can only take place with the support of more than 75
percent of the lawmakers—giving the military, which holds 25 percent of seats
in Parliament, an effective veto over amendments.
Sai Nyunt Lwin, secretary
of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and a member of the UNA,
said the stakeholder meetings would be particularly important. “From the
meetings we will agree on a framework, and then the new government will
continue to work through the framework,” he said.
Parliament is preparing
to amend the 2008 Constitution, which was written by the former military
regime. After soliciting feedback from the public last year, a new
implementation committee has been formed by lawmaker to decide what should be
changed in the charter.
Over the weekend,
hundreds of protesters in Rangoon, Mandalay and Pegu Division called for
changes to an Article 436 and another article that currently bars Suu Kyi from
outside of Parliament is needed. The government needs to listen to the voice of
the people while amending the Constitution,” Mya Aye said.
The UNA is an alliance
that includes representatives from several ethnic political parties. The 88
Generation Peace and Open Society is a political organization born out of the
student-led uprising of 1988 that almost toppled the then-military government.
Many of its members were formerly student leaders of the pro-democracy
In a joint statement last
month, the NLD and the 88 Generation said they had been working together toward
democracy for 25 years, and would join their efforts to ensure a transition to
“real democracy” by amending the charter. The association between these two
groups was also not new, but previously under the government of President Thein
Sein they had not formally cooperated in political activities.
The Lower House passed
amendments to Burma’s Peaceful Assembly Law on Wednesday, dropping a provision
that allows local authorities to deny would-be protestors permission to carry
out a demonstration.
The proposed changes will
now go to the Upper House’s Bill Committee, and if the proposed legislation is
passed in its current form, protesters would no longer need to seek permission
from local authorities to stage a protest, and would be required only “to
inform” township administrators about any planned demonstration.
“The authorities cannot
deny permission under [the amended] Section 5 of the [Peaceful Assembly Law] if
the protesters inform them,” said Phay Than, an Arakanese lawmaker. “It would
be very convenient for the protesters.”
According to Phay Than,
protesters must still inform authorities of any planned demonstration “so that
unnecessary or unexpected situations—such as riots, or other disturbances or
crimes—can be prevented.”
“We have reduced many of
the restrictions so that it would work for the protesters,” added Thein Nyunt,
a legislator from the New National Democracy Party.
The amendments approved
by the Lower House represent a liberalization of the Peaceful Assembly Law’s
controversial Section 18. The provision has riled freedom of expression
advocates since the law’s passage in December 2011, because it allows for the
imprisonment of protestors who fail to obtain local authorities’ permission to
stage a demonstration.
The maximum punishment
under Section 18 of the original law is one year in prison. Lawmakers in the
Lower House this week agreed to reduce that to six months, and make it a charge
that activists would face only if they fail to inform local authorities of a
Thein Nyunt was reluctant
to declare a victory for free speech on Wednesday.
“We have to wait and see
what will be the Upper House’s decision,” he said.
Under Section 17 of the
amended law, violence and unrest caused during demonstrations would carry with
it a maximum sentence of one year in prison, a halving of the law’s current
two-year sentence that was put before the Lower House by the chamber’s Judicial
and Legal Affairs Committee last month. The Judicial and Legal Affairs
Committee’s proposal, however, maintained the requirement that protestors
receive local authorities’ permission before carrying out the action—the provision
that the bill passed Wednesday was stripped of.
The Home Affairs Ministry
has signed off on a reduction in the law’s punishments, but has been reluctant
to accept removal of the requirement that local authorities’ permission be
More than 100 people were
facing trials on charges of violating Section 18 at the end of last year,
according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
An amnesty from President Thein Sein on Dec. 31 saw all of those pending
charges dropped, but since that time, another 21 people have been charged under
the provision and are awaiting trial, while five others have been found guilty
of the charge and given sentences ranging from three to six months, AAPP said.
LAIZA, Kachin State -
About 80,000 people living in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence
Organization (KIO) will be left out of Burma’s nationwide census, a rebel
spokesman told The Irrawaddy this week.
organizations and NGOs have raised concerns that United Nations-backed census
could be divisive. Objections range from fears that the results will have a
political impact or be used by groups with an agenda, to complaints around the
categorizations of ethnic groups into subgroups of other ethnicities.
But while most of Burma’s
ethnic armed groups—who are in talks with the government toward a nationwide
ceasefire agreement—have agreed to work with the government to administer the
census in rebel-controlled areas, this is not the case here in Kachin State.
Fighting between the
Burma Army and the KIO’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)
since a ceasefire broke down in 2011 has left about 100,000 people residing in
temporary shelters, at least half of them in 22 camps in rebel administered
areas. Many people are divided from family members, and many have misplaced
their identification documents while fleeing violence.
KIO spokesman and joint
secretary La Nan said the organization was not ready to conduct a census of the
population living in its areas—about 80,000 people in total.
“There has been no
invitation or initiations by any organization to conduct a census so far,” La
Nan told The Irrawaddy in an interview at the KIO’s headquarters in Laiza, on
the Burmese-Chinese border.
“The census is a state
project and we will not do it right now.”
He dismissed a letter
sent from Naypyidaw to the Kachin State government and forwarded to the KIO,
which invited the group to send representatives to the launch of the census in
Naypyidaw last week. The letter arrived just a day before the meeting took
place, La Nan said, adding that he also took exception to a reference in the
letter to ethnic armed groups “coming under the rule of law.”
La Nan said that the KIO
already had records of all the people in its area and in its camps for
internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Doi Be Za, the officer in
charge of the KIO’s IDPs and Refugees Relief Committee, said that more time was
needed to conduct a census in conflict-affected parts of Kachin.
“The practical tasks of
collecting the census need to be flexible with the time and situation. It will
not get support from the people if it is conducted right now,” he said, adding
that local civil society groups were discussing how to conduct a census in the
representing ethnic groups in Kachin State say that the government’s list of
135 recognized ethnic groups, which includes 12 groups in the state as
subgroups of Kachin, is “incorrect.” The Kachin National Council said in a
statement that “the census procedure is seen as alienating and breaking up
ethnic national identity.”
parts of Kachin, the local government has reportedly decided to begin the
census early to account for potential delays caused by the ongoing conflict.
While in most of the country the census will not begin until March 30, the
Democratic Voice of Burma said Thursday that it was already underway in
Kachin’s Putao, Machanbaw, Nawngmun and Suprabum.
Among the ethnic armed
groups, only the Kachin and Ta’ang National Liberation Army—both of which have
regular clashes with government troops—have said they will not allow the
government to conduct the census in areas under their control.
De De Poe Jaine, the
general secretary of the Ta’ang Women’s Organization (TWO) said the ethnic
group, known as Palaung in Burmese, also rejected the subgroup system, which
places it within the broader Shan ethnicity.
“We were descended from
Mon-Khmer race, not from the Shan. Thus, we should not be placed under it,”
said De De Poe Jaine. “Instead, we should have given a specific code for us. We
will make demands for our rights at different levels.”
She also said it was not
a good idea to conduct the census in conflict-afflicted areas.
“One thing I am certain
of is that if a census is conducted in an unpeaceful land, it will end up with
inaccurate data. That’s why we have also called for the postponement of 2014
census until a genuine peace plan has been made,” said De De Poe Jaine.
SITTWE - The Rakhine
Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) has released a statement on Tuesday
objecting to the inclusion of “other” on the list of ethnic names in the
upcoming nation-wide census.
The statement released on
March 4 said that while they accepted international aid in for the census,
collecting Bengali population figures must take priority over the improvement
of international relations.
Khine Pyi Soe, secretary
of RNDP central executive committee, said that keeping the option “other” was a
“Now Bengalis are being
alerted to fill ‘Rohingya’ in the space of ‘Other’. An official racial name
must be used. Moreover, some 1302 Bengalis have been assigned duties to collect
population figures in Rakhine State without the knowledge of the Immigration
Department and the population figures collected by none-citizens is not
precise,” said Khine Pyi Soe.
The statement added that
in the past the government neither focused on alien population numbers nor used
state funds to collect population data. As a result, Rakhine people have
suffered from illegal immigration and the creation of a forged race, according
to the RNDP.
The party insisted that
the word “other” be replaced by “Bengali” which is the official name for them
that are not recognised in Myanmar.
The RNDP has asked the
government to take action against non-citizens under the 1982 Citizenship Law.
CHIANG MAI - March 7.
Burma Army troops have partially withdrawn from Tar Hsarm Pu after seizing Shan
State Army-North (SSA-N) outposts, but are forbidding villagers from using this
strategic river crossing in central Shan State.
The Burma Army troops had
seized the outposts without fighting while leaders of the Shan State Progress
Party, the political wing of SSA-N, were in Naypyitaw at the end of February.
Despite the withdrawal
from the SSA-N outposts at Tar Hsarm Pu, there remain two Burma Army camps, one
in the east, 1 kilometre away, and one in the west 2 kilometres away from Tar
Hsarm Pu, each comprised of 50 soldiers. After the partial withdrawal of the
Burma Army, the SSA-N returned to its outposts.
An SSPP officer said,
“Since the Burma Army moved in around Tar Hsarm Pu, people have not been
allowed to cross the river there. They have to travel on the road from Mong
Jarng to Mong Su instead of Mong Jarng to Tar Hsarm Pu. It is very difficult
for people to travel.”
Tar Hsarm Pu is a
strategic crossing over the Pang River, where SSA-N collected tax from
transport and mining.
SSPP/SSA signed a
ceasefire with Naypyitaw in January 2012. The SSPP/SSA has reportedly engaged
in over 100 clashes with the Burma Army since the ceasefire.
is vital for the peace process, the Shan State Chief Minister said in his
opening speech during the annual second Ethnic Media Conference held in capital
Taunggyi. Last year’s ethnic media conference took place in Mon state capital
building peace, it’s also important for the ethnic media groups and other media
to report true and fair information. I am glad and welcome this ethnic media
conference is held in Shan State,” said Minister Sao Aung Myat.
conference was organized by Burma News International, an ethnic media network
that IMNA is part of.
distribution in ethnic areas and border areas was very weak. But now newspapers
and journals in ethnic languages are allowed to be published in the ethnic
areas. Later the government will provide more opportunities [for the media],” U
Pike Htwe said.
of last month, the country has 9 journals in ethnic languages, 18 daily
newspapers and 389 weekly journals, U Pike Htwe said. He also said they have
recently submitted a broadcasting bill to Parliament and hopes that “NGO or
private community radio, FM and TV stations may be permitted”.
200 people from both Burma and international countries attended the first day
of the conference on March 4 running until the 6th. On the first day, forty
media organizations and twenty community based organizations were counted.
state level politicians were also in attendance. U Aung Naing Oo, from the
Myanmar Peace Centre and U Khun Myint Htun from the UNFC joined the conference.
year’s location will be determined on the last day of the conference.
Renowned Burmese comedian and vocal regime
critic Zarganar is reported to be involved in discussions towards the making of
a film about the life of Snr-Gen Than Shwe, Burma’s infamous former military
The film would be based on the political
biography written by journalist Benedict Rogers titled, Than Shwe: Unmasking
“I guess everyone has different opinions
about the senior general Than Shwe but surprisingly it turned out Benedict
Rogers and I have the same view,” Zarganar joked in an interview with Burmese
newspaper the Tomorrow News Journal.
“So he asked me whether it would be a good
idea to make a film adaptation of the book and I agreed.”
Oscar-winning Hollywood film director Steven
Soderbergh has already been contacted to direct the movie, the report said.
Zarganar is quoted saying he wants to take
the role of assistant-director. The former political prisoner is due to travel
to the United States in April to discuss the plan with Soderbergh who has
previously directed hits such as Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brockovich, and
Sex, Lies and Videotape.
The Burmese satirist said it should not be
difficult to find an actor to play Than Shwe “as many people in Burma, perhaps
unfortunately, bare his likeness”.
Outspoken and controversial, Zarganar was
arrested in June 2008 for speaking to foreign media about the situation of
millions of people left homeless after Cyclone Nargis devastated the Irrawaddy
Delta. In November that year he was sentenced to 59 years in prison, but was
released on 11 October 2011 in a presidential amnesty.
In the month in which the Burmese national
census is set to begin, another count is taking place. A list comprising every
political prisoner arrested in Burma since the 1962 military takeover is being
compiled by three NGOs – the Assistance Association for Political
Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B), Former Political Prisoners Society (FPPS) and the 88
Generation Peace and Open Society (88GPOS).
Ye Aung, a member of the FPPS, said the list
would take half a year to put together. The group began their task in January.
Ye Aung told DVB that the NGOs would be
compiling evidence to confirm that each entrant to the list had indeed been
imprisoned for political activity.
Kyaw Naing Oo is an activist collecting
political prisoner profiles in Pegu Division. He said he has encountered many
individuals who have been unwilling to recount their experiences — many due to
trauma suffered in detention. For others unwilling to discuss their past, the
fear of resurrecting the scrutiny of officials remains too great.
“Some former political prisoners were not
willing to give their information due to concerns from the families, wanting to
leave those memories behind, saying it will lead to nothing. Some were worried
that appearing on the list would bring them suffering again if things were
turned around,” said Kyaw Naing Oo.
The three organisations say they have
uncovered numerous cases of suffering. They say the majority of political
prisoners tallied have been affected by poor health and many have found it
difficult to find work. Faced with these hardships, a large number of former
political prisoners cannot now support their families.
Win Tin, patron of the National League for
Democracy (NLD) and a former political prisoner, said that on completing the
list, a major political force would be born in Burma.
“All political prisoners have their own
political history,” he said. “Some may be NLD members, some may believe in
political parties, and some may be from ethnic minorities – but nonetheless,
bringing them together to some extent will help create a political force in the
country which can provide a great deal of assistance for public interest works,
the country’s politics and achieving political goals.”
An international lawyers’ group has welcomed
a decision by Myanmar’s legal profession towards establishing an independent
“Myanmar’s legal profession has taken a
significant step towards establishing a new independent bar association by
forming an inclusive interim committee to steer its creation,” the
International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute said in a news release
issued in London on March 7.
It was referring to a decision taken at a
three-day seminar in Nay Pyi Taw last month which was organised by IBARHI and
hosted by the Parliamentary Committee on Rule of Law and Tranquillity.
More than 180 people, including lawyers from
throughout Myanmar, attended the event, which was opened by IBA president
The recommendation to establish an
independent national bar association followed long and heated debate, Mr
Reynolds said in the March 7 news release.
“The IBARHI seminar is the first time that
so many lawyers in Myanmar have assembled to learn about the role of a bar
association and to discuss the development of the country’s legal profession,”
Mr Reynolds said.
He quoted one of the Myanmar delegates as
saying: “We have been waiting 30 years for this”.
“While many challenges lie ahead, Myanmar’s
lawyers have taken the first important steps to establish an independent
representative bar association and we will fully support their endeavours,” Mr
The news release said the first meeting of
the bar association steering committee will be organised by IBAHRI and take
place at an unspecified venue on March 22.
Over 200 acres of land seized by the
military was given back to villagers in a ceremony in Irrawaddy Division’s
Myanaung Township on Thursday.
Thirty-nine farmers, from Daungkya,
Thayettaw, Shwegyin and Htu village-tracts were handed back land they used to
own, along with papers cited them as the new owners.
“The army’s 551st Infantry Battalion is
returning 206 acres of land in Daungkya, six acres in Shwepyithar, as well as
around 336 acres of forest land and 56.5 acres of vacant land,” said Myanaung Township’s
administrator, Min Min Tun.
He went on to say that any remaining land
would be handed over to the township’s Land Utility Department.
Farmers, township officials, and regional
parliament members attended the ceremony in Myanaung Township.
In Myanaung Township alone, over 2000 acres
of land was taken by the military after 1988. Often villagers were forced to
work the land for the army and their crops were taken as well.
Although over 200 acres of land has been
returned, 1600 acres of confiscated is still owned by the military in the area.
For villager Khar Khin it was a day of mixed
“The army forced us to provide one basket of
beans per family and also labour. I went with my husband to do the labour and
he passed away there,” she said. “I am gratified but sad at the same time. But
I’m happy to have the land returned.”
The issue of land confiscation is one of the
largest problems facing Burma.
In many cases, villagers have lost their
livelihoods, have been forcibly relocated and have received no compensation.
Protests have erupted all over the country
and villagers are demanding the return of hundreds of thousands of acres of
their land from the military, government, or private companies who are using it
for investment projects.
Last week four farmers were charged with
trespassing and vandalism after staging a plough protest on their confiscated
In 2012 the government enacted the Farm Land
Law and the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Law but both have proved to be
inadequate at stopping continued land confiscation, and have even aided further
The UW received a two-year $1.5 million
Higher Education Partnership grant, called Advancing Democracy and Promoting
Transformations with Information Technology (ADAPT-IT), from the U.S. Agency
for International Development (USAID) to build upon President Obama’s call to
“extend a hand” to Myanmar in its transition to democracy by strengthening
higher education and policymaking.
In recent years, Myanmar has begun to shift
from authoritarian to democratic rule, transform from an underdeveloped nation
to an integrated market economy, and switch from armed conflict to peace. Now,
the Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) and the Information School,
along with Microsoft, the U.S. Federal Government, and Myanmar-based public and
private sector stakeholders, will work together to facilitate the country’s
reform processes, expand economic opportunity, and strengthen citizen
“The fifty years of public disinvestment in
Myanmar’s education system represents one of the greatest barriers to progress
on any front,” said Dr. Mary Callahan, associate professor in the JSIS and
co-director of the USAID grant. “In the current environment, building the
capacity of local universities and developing the leaders of tomorrow is
necessary to sustain democratic and economic reform.”
The UW and Microsoft will train public,
private, and civil society leaders on information and communication
technologies. The first training program is yet to be held as partners from the
Myanmar Information Laboratory are currently working on a focus for the first
round of information leadership fellows. The project will grow based on
According to Dr. Sara Curran, co-director of
the grant and director of the UW Center for Global Studies in the Jackson
School, ADAPT-IT is a training model for growing information leadership and
literacy throughout all sectors of Myanmar’s society.
“Information leaders will have the skills to
assess the quality of information currently available, the information needs
required for informing citizens and policy makers, and the best strategy for
collecting, producing, and widely disseminating high quality, trustworthy
information to enable citizens and institutional leaders to make reasonable and
well-informed decisions,” Curran said.
Microsoft plans to contribute both software
and technical expertise to strengthen economic growth and advance civic
engagement in Myanmar.
“At Microsoft, we believe in the power of
technology to help connect people, drive greater economic growth, and build a
foundation for a successful society across all sectors,” said James Bernard,
global director of Strategic Partnerships for Education for Microsoft.
ADAPT-IT will eventually result in a future
distributive knowledge network of information hubs based in libraries,
institutions of higher education, civil society organizations, and in public-
and private-sector institutions. To make this a reality, the project will
integrate Myanmar- and Seattle-based training, curricula development, outreach
to under-served areas to increase knowledge, skills, and critical information
capabilities among Myanmar’s next generation of leaders.
“Myanmar with its rapidly changing
information and technology landscape is a fascinating country to work in and bring
our extensive experience in advancing the role of new technologies in social,
political, and economic development,” said Chris Coward, director of the
Information School’s Technology & Social Change Group.
reporter Karina Mazhukhina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @karina9m
The International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC) opened a new office in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina on Tuesday,
its fifth regional outpost in Burma.
The office will facilitate the ICRC’s
humanitarian assistance activities in Kachin State, including rehabilitation
programmes for landmine-injury survivors.
“This office will bring us closer to the
disabled people who need access to the physical rehabilitation services we
provide,” Claudia Matter, the ICRC’s Mandalay-based sub-delegation chief, said
in a statement.
“It will also allow us to work in closer
cooperation with Myanmar Red Cross Society branches in Kachin, where we jointly
provide aid to communities displaced by fighting,” she said.
Although the ICRC has led humanitarian
activities in both government and non-government controlled areas of Kachin
State for the past year, until today it had no permanent mission in the area.
Many of the functions performed by the ICRC’s Mandalay offices will now be
steered from Kachin State directly. “It simply puts [ICRC] in a better position
to cooperate with the Myanmar Red Cross and with local authorities,” Michael
O’Brien, the ICRC communications coordinator in Yangon, told DVB.
Ganish, the joint secretary of the Kachin
State Red Cross’ supervision committee, said the opening of the ICRC liaison
office would help distribute aid more effectively to remote areas. “Having the
ICRC office here will allow us to more effectively provide assistance in remote
areas such as Putao and Pangwa,” he said.
According to UN estimates, more than 100,000
people have been displaced by fighting in Kachin State and northern Shan State
over the past two years. Humanitarian access to these populations has often
been difficult, especially for those living in areas not controlled by the
Two weeks ago, the Chinese Red Cross made
its first-ever offer of aid to internally displaced people in Kachin State,
delivering 10,000 aid kits worth more than US$800,000 to be distributed by the
Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).
The ICRC is the flagship branch of the
International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, which also encompasses 189
national societies. The Geneva-based organization provides technical training
and financial support to the Myanmar Red Cross, and conducts activities
independent of its local affiliate, including visits to Burma’s jails and
monitoring of political prisoners.
The ICRC is currently rehabilitating two
hospitals in the KIO-controlled towns of Laiza and Mai Ja Yang with the
permission of the president’s office.
Kachin State’s social affairs minister, Bauk
Ja, said the opening of the ICRC office will make it easier for aid to get to
areas outside of government control. “It will be the best because there are
IDPs on both sides, including in areas out of reach by the government,” she
Migrant workers who overstay their work visa
will not lose their entitlement to social security benefits, the Labour
Ministry said yesterday.
The workers, mostly from Myanmar, are
required to leave the country after having worked here for four years. They
must return to their home countries and remain there for three years before
they can return to work in Thailand.
A change was made to the memorandum of
understanding signed between labour authorities of the two countries to reduce
the waiting period to one day. However, the change has not been endorsed by the
caretaker cabinet which has no power to sign agreements that legally bind the
Without this endorsement, the three-year
waiting period remains and more than 100,000 migrant workers who have worked in
Thailand for more than four years have been declared as overstaying their work
visa and face deportation.
To rectify the problem, the Labour Ministry
has proposed that immigration laws be relaxed to allow the overstayers to
The ministry will ask the Immigration Police
Bureau not to arrest them as part of measures to help migrant workers while the
country waits for a new government, he said.
Department of Employment director-general
Prawit Khiengpol has also allayed workers' fears they might lose social
security benefits if they remain in the country as overstayers.
Mr Prawit said the workers retain their
right to social security coverage as long as they remain employed and
contribute to the Social Security Fund.
Thay Thay Oo, a 25-year-old Myanmar worker
in Samut Sakhon, said social security entitlements will cover the hospital bill
when she gives birth in two months' time.
She was worried about being sent home and
the possible financial burden in the event she was allowed to stay and work in
Thailand but was deprived of social security benefits.
Aung Kyaw, president of the Migrant Workers
Rights Network, says the delay to the ratification of the MoU amendment could
lead to a spike in human trafficking.
report measuring global adherence to the rule of law, released on Wednesday, finds
Burma near the back of the pack, ranked 89th out of 99 nations studied.
addition to its low global ranking, the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law
Index 2014 placed Burma 14th among 15 countries surveyed in the Asia-Pacific
region, in an assessment that weighed eight factors and 44 sub-factors related
to the rule of law in a given country.
the country fared better than Cambodia (91st) and Bangladesh (92nd).
on fundamental rights and freedoms are sources of concern,” the report said of
Burma, while noting that “the country is safe from crime and places 3rd among
16 low-income countries in control of corruption [placing 63rd overall].”
interference by the executive branch within Parliament and the judiciary, weak
administrative enforcement of regulations and insufficient nongovernmental
checks on power also dragged down Burma’s Index score.
World Justice Project describes rule of law as “notoriously difficult to define
and measure,” but says it broadly consists of “a system of rules and rights
that enables fair and functioning societies,” using four principles as the
basis for its definition.
Index based its rankings on interviews with more than 100,000 households
globally, combined with consultations with experts, typically in the academic
and legal fields, in the countries surveyed. It is the WJP’s fourth annual
report on rule of law globally, but the first in which Burma is included.
the eight factors assessed, Burma performed most poorly on guarantees of
fundamental rights, ranking 97th and ahead of only Zimbabwe and Iran. Those
rights include due process of law, freedom of expression and protection against
discrimination, among others, the report said.
were also glaring in the country’s adherence to principles of open governance,
and in rule of law assessments in the realms of criminal and civil justice.
to The Irrawaddy following the report’s release, Juan Carlos Botero, executive
director of the US-based World Justice Project, said open governance
initiatives would likely constitute the easiest short-term means of improving
rule of law in Burma, citing neighboring India as a potential example to
area in particular is an area in which many countries, with a piece of legislation
and a governmental campaign, can quickly see major advances,” he said.
the criminal or civil justice system is something that takes many years of
sustained effort, whereas changing to open governance is something that can be
achieved in one or two years of dedicated and mindful efforts, so that would
qualify, I think, as the closest possible ‘low-hanging fruit.’”
report describes open government as “the extent to which the society has clear,
publicized, accessible, and stable laws; whether administrative proceedings are
open to public participation; and whether official information, including
drafts of laws and regulations, is available to the public.”
currently lacks a freedom of information law, legislation that is a common feature
of democracies globally and is designed to give citizens the legal right to
request a broad range of government records. “Official communications” from
Burma’s government often take the form of posts to the Facebook account of
presidential spokesman Ye Htut and brief announcements in state-run media.
reforms over the last few years lauded at home and abroad, concerns about the
absence of rule of law in Burma have weighed on the country’s transition to a
more democratic form of rule after the long-standing military junta ceded power
to a nominally civilian government three years ago. Opposition leader Aung San
Suu Kyi has frequently emphasized the need for rule of law in Burma, and heads
a parliamentary committee on the matter.
government has been criticized for its handling of several outbreaks of
communal violence since June 2012 in Burma, where clashes between the nation’s
majority Buddhists and minority Muslims have most devastatingly plagued western
Arakan State. While several dozen people have stood trial in connection with
the violence, it is believed that many more have eluded justice, and Physicians
for Human Rights in a May 2013 report went so far as to accuse government
forces of complicity in attacks on Muslims in Meiktila, central Burma.
country’s Constitution is considered inherently undemocratic, and includes a
provision that prevents the prosecution of members of the former military
regime “in respect to any act done in the execution of their respective
duties,” an effective immunity that bars any substantive approach to
transitional justice for the brutal wielders of pre-2011 power.
country’s judicial system is said to be rife with corruption, while a lack of
regulatory certainty and land rights issues are often cited as holding back
prospective foreign investors to one of Asia’s last “frontier markets.”
is a country that has raised significant attention due to its general movement
toward openness that is perceived, at least, in the international community,”
Botero said, explaining the reason for Burma’s debut in the WJP’s rule of law
index. “The other part of the reason is that it is a very important country
with a significant population.”
report’s lead author Alex Ponce acknowledged the limits of the WJP research,
which may in fact undervalue the extent of Burma’s rule of law shortcomings.
Based on a survey of 1,004 households and at least 16 experts, the Index
compiles data gathered from Burma’s three biggest cities—Rangoon, Mandalay and
Naypyidaw—but did not poll public or experts’ sentiment in the country’s ethnic
minority border regions, where some of the harshest criticisms regarding a lack
of rule of law have been made.
would say that they are a fair assessment of the situation of the three cities,
but do not speak about the situation in other parts of the country, including
the ethnic border regions,” Ponce told The Irrawaddy.
Communal Conflicts & International Response
The arraignment of two
journalists based in southern Thailand has been postponed following pleas from
rights advocates that charges be dropped.
Alan Morison, founder and
editor of Phuketwan online news, and staff reporter Chutima Sidasathian, still
face potential charges of defamation and violation of Thailand’s Computer
Crimes Act for reporting on a Reuters feature that implicated Thai authorities
in the smuggling of Rohingya Muslims from Burma.
Morison confirmed that
the Australian Embassy informed them on Friday morning that the 10 March
hearing has been rescheduled for some time in April.
Just before being alerted
of the postponement, an international advocacy group, Human Rights Watch (HRW),
publicly urged the Royal Thai government to abandon the case and instead
investigate the Thai Navy, emphasising that journalists are being unfairly
targeted while serious accusations against officials remain wholly overlooked.
“Prosecutors should be
investigating the poor treatment of Rohingya boatpeople instead of targeting
journalists,” read the public statement issued Friday morning.
Thai authorities have not
offered any further information about why the hearing was rescheduled, but Phil
Robertson, Deputy Director for HRW Asia Division, told DVB on Friday afternoon
that a combination of factors could have influenced the decision.
Thai authorities, he
said, probably did not expect the issue to garner so much attention; the case
has even sparked demonstrations in Australia, Morison’s country of origin.
“We don’t know why,
exactly, the date was postponed,” he said, “but buying time, in our view, is a
good thing.” Robertson explained that while the charges were being brought by
the Royal Thai Navy, the decision to proceed to trial is “fortunately not up to
them”. HRW has urged caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to take up
the issue directly and completely drop the case.
In its stead, HRW
suggests, serious allegations against naval crimes should be independently
Morison and Sidasathian
first presented themselves to the Phuket Police after a captain of the Royal
Thai Navy accused them of defamation in December 2013, five months after
Phuketwan published an article titled, “Thai Military profiting from trade in
boatpeople, says special report”.
The article cited an
investigative report claiming that Thai naval officers abetted a
long-operational people-smuggling scheme for the sale and extortion of Rohingya
Muslims, who in recent years have fled by the thousands to escape communal
violence in Burma. The Rohingya have been described as among the world’s most
persecuted peoples by the UN and others.
Last month the Burmese
government was implicated in crimes against humanity for decades of targeted
policies that deny Rohingya citizenship and limit their basic freedoms. While
disputes between Burmese nationals and the stateless Muslim minority date back
to the era of British colonialism, conflict has intensified since June 2012,
when a succession of riots began that has to date left an estimated 200 dead
and about 200,000 displaced, mostly Muslims.
Earlier this week
Thailand faced serious criticisms over the country’s human trafficking record,
which without a swift remedy could result in sanctions from the US, according
to the Environmental Justice Foundation. Allegations of Thailand’s severe and
endemic mistreatment of migrants is not limited to the Burma’s Rohingya;
migrants from various parts of Burma, Laos and Cambodia are routinely abused,
the group said.
While it’s “good news”
that Morison and Sidasathian are not immediately facing prison terms for their
reporting, the issue of government accountability remains, said Robertson,
reiterating HRW’s position that an independent investigation should be carried
out by relevant experts, and results made public.
Robertson said that if
the Thai government wishes to maintain a reputation as a democratic nation,
they need to show that the Navy can be reigned in. To dismiss with a wave of
the hand, he said, the findings of serious, “potentially Pulitzer-winning
investigative journalism” would be “absolutely shameful”.
A senior business
spokesman in Myanmar says forging local partnerships will be the key success
factor for Thai companies looking to establish a presence in that country.
Aung, central executive member of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers
of Commerce and Industry, urged businesses to come to Myanmar to "see for
yourself" and find partners.
at a seminar yesterday hosted by Index Creative Village and titled
"Myanmar: The Promising Trade Platform in AEC", Tun Aung said:
"If you're not here, you can't 100 per cent understand our country."
remark was addressed to a businessman struggling to get his stainess-steel
exports through a Myanmar port.
assured the businessman that all the troubles he was experiencing - including
frequent changes in import duties that result in months of clearance delays -
would be solved if he had a local partner.
Aung said Myanmar offered investment potential.
abundant natural resources and a "trainable and well-educated labour
force", the country still depends on imports to satisfy domestic demand.
the snack market, up to 80 per cent of items on shelves are imported from
Thailand and China.
and medium-size enterprises are yearning for foreign partners who can share
more advanced manufacturing technology with them.
Aung invited businesses to contact the chamber so partnership could be
urged Thai investors to be patient when experiencing the three main business
obstacles in Myanmar: workers that are not as "fully trained" as
their Thai counterparts; a foreign-exchange market restricted to a few
currencies; and a banking sector that is not yet fully liberalised.
with a bank that is not up to international standards might pose problems
regarding financing, he said.
has hamburgers and fried chicken, but we don't have McDonald's hamburgers or
Kentucky Fried Chicken," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd of about
a sign of the overwhelming investment interest in the country, the crowd included
Thai Union Frozen Products chief executive Thiraphong Chansiri and an executive
of a Bangkok-based Indian firm.
speakers included Thai Ambassador to Myanmar Pisanu Suvanajata and a Commerce
Ministry official, who agreed that Thai companies must act now to get a
foothold in Myanmar and benefit from a new market that was luring companies
from around the world - largely because it is in the Asean Economic Community.
little-known private company based in Bangkok is the latest to lay claim to
becoming the major electricity provider for the Dawei Special Economic Zone—a
project to build a regional economic hub in southern Burma that has generated
much talk, but little action.
Power & Utility Company Limited says it has been chosen by the Burmese
government to be the “sole electricity and utility provider” for Dawei and its
have also secured the natural gas feedstock from the Gulf of Martaban, thus
enabling us to proceed with our power plant project with full confidence,”
Andaman Power & Utility chairman Upakit Pachariyangkun in a statement
posted on the firm’s website.
is understood he is referring to the offshore Zawtika gas field in Block 9 of
Burma’s territorial waters, which is being developed by Thai government-owned
PTT Exploration & Production. The field was originally due to begin
producing gas at the end of 2013 but is now expected to start up this in the
Power will proceed with the power plant development for Dawei “at a fast pace,”
Upakit said in the announcement.
media reports in Burma last week said the Ministry of Energy was planning this
month to sign a memo of understanding with a firm named as “Admin Power &
Utility”—likely a mistaken reference to the same company—to build a
500-megawatt natural gas power plant in Dawei, although a first phase target
would be for only 50 megawatts.
500 megawatt plant would be equivalent to 25 percent of Burma’s entire existing
electricity generating capacity and would require investment of several hundred
million US dollars, plus specialist construction skills.
last November, the leading business news agency in Japan, Nikkei, reported that
Tokyo conglomerate Mitsubishi was teaming up with the Electricity Generating
Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and Bangkok construction firm Italian-Thai
Development (ITD) to build a huge power plant complex at Dawei totalling 7,000
cited the governor of EGAT, Soonchai Kumnoonsate, as the source of its report,
saying the complex would be fuelled by a combination of coal and natural gas.
More than half of the electricity was to be transmitted to Thailand to help
recover the US$9.85 billion cost, said Nikkei.
first electricity from a first phase start-up would be in 2015, said Nikkei,
but nothing more has been heard of this project.
held the main contract for Dawei’s development for several years but failed to
find backers to help finance it.
Power says on its website it is a private company with offices in Bangkok, Naypyidaw,
Dawei and Chiang Rai in northern Thailand, and claims to have “vast experience
in the electrical and utility supply,” as well as business interests in mining,
transportation, communications, hotels and tourism.
says it supplies electricity to Burma’s northeast border town of Tachileik and
claims to be the “top power provider” in Shan State. However, it’s not clear
where Andaman obtains its electricity for Shan State. The company is an unknown
in Thailand’s electricity generating industry.
calls and emails to the firm’s Bangkok office this week by The Irrawaddy failed
to obtain any more information concerning Dawei. Messages sent to Andaman
Power’s email address were returned with a “no such recipient here” note.
only thing that can be said with any certainty about the Dawei SEZ and power
projects is the lack of clarity about who is involved and who is doing what,”
regional energy consultant Collin Reynolds in Bangkok told The Irrawaddy.
would say that Dawei is a distant third in the [Burma] government’s plans for
SEZs after Thilawa in Rangoon and Kyaukphyu in Arakan State.
have been a number of foreign businesses involved in negotiations with the
[Burma] government to develop power stations at Dawei, which is a prerequisite
for the proposed port-industrial project there, but they have all come to
nothing,” said Reynolds.
started with ITD in 2011 proposing a massive 4,000 megawatts coal-fuelled power
plant as the centre-piece of its ambitious $50 billion complex including a deepwater
port, warehousing, a steel factory, petrochemicals production, and a
trans-shipment hub for piping Middle East crude oil to the greater Bangkok
power project was refused by Naypyidaw after President Thein Sein took office,
reportedly on environmental grounds.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra became mired in domestic political
crisis with mass street protests against her which have disrupted state
business, Thailand’s government had for the past 18 months been trying to push
the Dawei SEZ forward, seeing it as offering a gateway to the Indian Ocean
close to Bangkok only 300 kilometres away.
the Thais have consistently failed to attract any major Japanese backing for
Dawei beyond expressions of interest, and the SEZ plans continue to gather
Thailand and the former military-ruled government of [Burma] signing a joint
development agreement in 2008, and work on the SEZ beginning in 2010, there is
still little to see at Dawei. The site houses a small port and a few simple
buildings connected by dusty, unpaved roads,” said the Bangkok Post in a
special report on March 2.
Twenty years after
Beijing and fifteen years after the Millennium Development Goals, Myanmar
stands on a wave of unprecedented reform with much to celebrate on gender
equality and women’s rights, but much to do to reduce gender equality gaps.
the country braces itself to build a culture of peace and nurture the seeds of
human development, it must routinely remind itself, that none of this will
endure, if its women stand on the margins of existence.
for women is an expression of Myanmar women’s rights and an inclusive and
democratic Myanmar. Equality for women is also progress for all in Myanmar.
data suggests that women’s participation in the labour force has been steadily
increasing, with the share of women’s non-agricultural wage employment,
reaching 44.7 per cent in 2010. Rural women have benefited from micro finance
and micro credit schemes.
literacy has improved, standing at 90 percent compared with 95 percent for men.
Primary school enrolment has increased and gender parity has been achieved at
both primary and secondary levels. Since 1990, women’s life expectancy has
increased, reaching 67 years in 2009.
fertility rate is remarkably low, at 1.9, and the maternal mortality ratio fell
from 230 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2005 to 200 deaths per 100,000 live
births in 2010.
the other hand, women dominate the unprotected informal sector, raising
concerns of job quality and sustainability. They continue to bear the major
responsibility for unpaid care work, in addition to their paid jobs. Women’s
participation in political decision-making at senior levels and in all aspects
of the peace process is limited.
based on economic status, regional and urban-rural location shadow improvements
in female literacy. For instance, 96.6 per cent of women in the wealthiest
households are literate compared with 69 per cent of women in the poorest
are persisting regional and class based gender inequalities, despite achieving
parity in primary and secondary education. Violence against women in Myanmar is
widespread, and accompanied by a culture of silence and impunity.
no country has achieved gender equality, Myanmar’s reform can learn rich
lessons from other contexts, including within the opportunity provided by the
country’s chair of the ASEAN community in 2014.
few key reforms, which the country has embarked on with the support of
international development partners and civil society have the strong potential
to further reduce gender gaps and empower girls and women.
comprehensive National Strategic Plan on the Advancement of Women (2013-22)
launched last year and the drafting of a comprehensive law to prevent violence
against women promises to reduce gender gaps in the economy, social sector,
women’s leadership in decision-making, including the peace process and greater
safety and security for women.
ambitious inclusive education reform can help further reduce gender gaps in
enrolment, completion and learning achievements between boys and girls in
various parts of the country and within specific communities.
health, new plans are being drawn to strengthen health systems to help women
deliver in safer conditions and be better supported in post natal care. It
includes strengthening the health facilities as well as further empowering
midwives and female volunteer health workers to reach out to women living in
particularly remote areas of the country.
new social protection strategy is being laid out to protect the most
vulnerable, especially women, overcome particular vulnerabilities.
are promising examples arising from the public arena.The private sector needs also to play its
role. Responsible business, a much talked about issue in Myanmar, must include
the development and adaptation of employment and work practices and policies to
attract and retain women in the workforce.
other efforts aiming at empowering women, such efforts are most likely to also
benefit their male peers.
as much as we celebrate girls, women and all their supporters, we must also
reflect on all types of obstacles preventing men and women, girls and boys from
enjoying equal rights at home, within communities, in political life and in the
economy – a process that Myanmar is already engaged in as it also gears up to
report to the CEDAW Committee. The upcoming census will help us better
understand how life experiences in Myanmar differ based on whether you are a
boy, a girl, a woman or a man.
many of these gaps will remain difficult to capture through statistics. We must
commit to consistently apply a gender lens, encourage participation of women
and men, girls and boys when we design new policies and strategies, develop new
services, and decide on budget and other resource allocations- at all levels,
in the home, within communities, at regional and Union levels.
is an essential component of the inclusive and people-centred approach to
development that Myanmar has committed to. Equality between women and men,
girls and boys is indeed progress for all and it is in this spirit that we all
celebrate the International Women’s Day today.
A crackdown on the
press bodes ill for Burma's reforms.
As Burma continues to crawl its way out of global obscurity, following
decades of military dictatorship, it has come to be fêted as a poster-child for
democratic transition. Western political leaders have oozed with accolades over
government moves to scrap media censorship and unshackle hundreds of political
prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But three years into
the reform process, journalists are still casually threatened, harassed, and
tossed into jail.
Recent weeks have exposed a worrying trend of state intimidation against
reporters in Burma. In early February, four journalists and the chief executive
of a local journal, Unity Weekly, were formally charged under the Official
Secrets Act for publishing a story about an alleged chemical weapons factory in
central Burma. Citing anonymous testimony from workers at the facility in Magwe
region, the article described an expansive network of underground tunnels
linking several buildings studded with 15-foot rockets and Chinese-made
chemical reactors. The government has described the claims as "baseless"
and defended their decision to enforce the colonial-era law, which bans the
publication of material deemed damaging to the state and imposes criminal
penalties of up to 14 years in prison.
"It is a national security issue, and even a country like the
United States would respond the same way," presidential spokesperson Ye
Htut told the Irrawaddy, a Burmese news magazine headquartered in Thailand. He
subsequently insisted that the factory is for lawful defense purposes only.
Though it is impossible to verify the admittedly tenuous claims made by
Unity Weekly, the government's draconian reaction sends a clear message to any
reporters investigating Burma's military activities. (In the photo above,
Burmese journalists march for press freedom in Yangon.) It is not difficult to
understand why the allegations would have irked the notoriously secretive
regime, which has been accused of illicit weapons production for decades. In
2010, a five-year investigation by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a
pro-democracy media group and my former employer, uncovered evidence of a
nascent nuclear weapons program, based on extensive testimony and data provided
by a whistle-blower. It sketched out details of a $3 billion labyrinth of
underground tunnels, built in partnership with North Korea, connecting bunkers
stocked with secret weapons and equipment. The documentary, published by Al
Jazeera, provoked a furious backlash from the junta, which branded DVB a
"killer broadcasting station ... hateching [sic] evil plots and sowing
hatred between [Burma] and the international community."
Four years later, suspicions of Burma's military capacities continue to
fuel acrimony in Washington, where policymakers have imposed fresh sanctions on
senior Burmese military personnel accused of dealing arms with North Korea.
Although the United States has been careful to avoid implicating the upper
echelons of Burma's political leadership, it is tough to imagine that any of
the country's leaders could coordinate bilateral military deals without the
knowledge and authorization of both President Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief
Min Aung Hlaing. Some analysts suspect that Washington is trying to send a
subtle "message" to Burma's leadership without openly tarnishing
their diplomatic relations, which have dramatically thawed since the nominal
end of military rule in 2011.
The United States formally dropped Burma from its list of countries
suspected of harbouring a chemical weapons program in 1993, but grassroots
organizations have persistently resurrected the accusations. In the northern
Kachin state, where a bitter conflict between ethnic minority rebels and the
government resumed in 2011, local soldiers say they have felt nauseous and
dizzy for days after a military onslaught.
Several reports by the humanitarian group Free Burma Rangers offer
evidence that the army used chemical munitions against the rebel fighters. The
Burmese government has repeatedly denied the accusations, but has also failed
to ratify the U.N. Chemical Weapons Convention, which would grant inspectors
unfettered access to suspect sites.
Journalists probing military affairs are not the only ones who have come
under assault. In January, fresh reports of violence against Burma's Muslim
Rohingya minority splashed across the headlines. The Associated Press reported
that dozens of people, including women and children, had been massacred in
Maungdaw Township, an isolated region straddling the Bangladeshi border. If
true, that attack would have been the deadliest episode of violence since
Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists first clashed in 2012. But the
government promptly dismissed the allegations as "false" and issued a
stern warning to the outlets that published the story, accusing them of
"instigating unrest" in the troubled state. The Ministry of
Information scolded AP for failing to "verify" the allegations with
Two weeks later, a suspicious fire swept through Du Chee Yar Tan
village, the site of the alleged violence, destroying 16 homes. A spokesperson
for the government accused local "Bengalis" (the government's name
for the stateless Rohingya minority) of torching their own homes -- repeating
the same absurd rhetoric popularized during the 2012 riots, which claimed over
200 lives and displaced 140,000 people, mostly Muslims. A subsequent snap
investigation by the state-backed human rights commission ruled that there was
no evidence to support claims of a massacre, despite hearing several
testimonies alleging that a local man had discovered eight Rohingya corpses in
a graveyard. Another investigative body, formed to establish the "real
cause" of the unrest, was mandated with a clear bias to exclude the
possibility of a massacre.
In yet another worrying development, an outspoken, self-proclaimed
Rohingya member of parliament, who represents Buthidaung Township in Maungdaw
district, has been accused of "defaming" the state by suggesting that
local policemen may have started the blaze. He has also been blamed for
instigating unrest between Muslims and Buddhists, facing possible jail time if
charged and convicted. The second investigation is partly designed to
investigate his "false and groundless" reports about the fire. Rights
groups have expressed outrage over the flagrant hypocrisy displayed by a
government that has unremittingly refused to investigate the violence against
Muslims and question known anti-Muslim preachers. In Rakhine State, security
personnel have been implicated in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the
It seems, however, that Burma is keen to suppress any reports that sully
the narrative of the country's perfect democratic transition.
"Authorities at the state and union level appear to be attempting
to discredit or silence those who have information about what happened in
Maungdaw," said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, one
of the two NGOs that supplied evidence of the incident to the media.
Both Fortify Rights and the Arakan Project, two respected organizations
with extensive research networks in western Burma, maintain that a massacre
took place. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has confirmed that its physicians
treated 22 Rohingyas, including a gunshot victim and several people with stab
wounds, at the time of the reported attack. Soon after, MSF was banned from
working in the country for "misleading" the world about the attack in
Maungdaw - an unprecedented move. They have since been allowed to resume work
in the country, but not in Rakhine State. Although foreign journalists and
independent researchers remain largely banned from entering the region, a
recent investigation by the New York Times exposed gruesome details of the
January bloodbath, including findings from an unpublished U.N. report, which
said that ten severed heads had been discovered in a local water tank.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Burma's democratic reforms
appear to be running "out of steam" as the government struggles to
cope with ethnic and sectarian strife. Despite clambering modestly to number
145 on RSF's annual press freedom index, the group says Burma has imposed
"unacceptable" restrictions on the media. In late 2013, a local
reporter was sentenced to prison for allegedly trespassing and using abusive
language while covering a piracy case in eastern Burma's Karen State.
Meanwhile, a string of new laws, currently being pushed through parliament
without adequate consultation, include several troubling provisions that could
be used to revive censorship. For example, a printing and publishing bill
passed on Tuesday, March 4, explicitly bans material that may be perceived to
undermine the rule of law or "ethnic unity" and authorizes the
government to arbitrarily revoke licenses.
Indeed, recent events illustrate how easily regulations can be
manipulated according to political whim. In mid-February, Burma moved to
squeeze visa restrictions on foreign journalists working in the country,
downgrading their permits from three months to one. The new rules will require
reporters to disclose exhaustive details about their work in Burma, including
the regions they plan to visit and what topics they will cover. Two western
journalists from the Irrawaddy, one of the outlets harangued by the government
for reporting on the alleged Maungdaw massacre, were left stranded in Thailand
in February after their visas were refused. Meanwhile, state media, which have
pledged to become public service outlets, continue to shamelessly airbrush
references to sensitive topics such as corruption and human rights.
There is no doubt that Burma has welcomed extraordinary media reforms over
the past two years, including ending pre-censorship and liberating the foreign
press. But it has also reaped quick rewards, with the United States and
European Union shedding most economic sanctions without significant hesitation.
The recent assaults on media freedoms should serve as a timely warning that old
habits die hard -- not least in a country that has spent five decades erasing
"We said that too much euphoria too soon from the international
community would give the wrong signal to the authorities," said Benjamin
Ismail, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk. "The recent clampdown shows
that we have not reached a point of no return."
For many years, we have learned about cryptic events in Burma/Myanmar
from rumours. We had hoped that this would change with the elimination of
censorship, and there has been much progress. But rumours still abound and
decision-making is often still opaque.
According to some reports, Aung San Suu Kyi has said that if the 2008
Myanmar constitution is not changed to allow her to compete for the presidency,
her party - the National League for Democracy (NLD) - will boycott the 2015
elections. Others in the party say this is not true. She is currently
prohibited from being (indirectly) elected by the Burmese parliament (Hluttaw)
for the presidency or vice presidency because family members hold
During her many recent trips abroad, she stated that she wanted to
become president and sought foreign support for her aspirations, which under
current conditions means amending the 2008 constitution - no small
consideration as it involved a 75% vote in parliament and a national referendum
- effectively, military approval. Although it seems evident that she would be
elected to the Hluttaw, there is little doubt that if she is prohibited from
being elected to leadership there will be an outcry from foreign elements,
especially the United States. How strong an outcry, if the elections are
otherwise deemed free and fair, is unclear, and potentially an important US
It might be prudent to remember two Myanmar precedents concerning
foreign family citizenship and high public office: General Khin Nyunt
(Secretary One and head of military intelligence) in the 1990s disowned a son
because the son married a foreigner, and the first choice for vice president
under President Thein Sein could not take that position because of an
Australian citizen in his family.
Boycotting elections is problematic: they are an essential element of
the democratic process. The sad state of Thailand illustrates the dilemmas
involved. There, anti-government forces decided that since they could not beat
the incumbents, they prevented elections from having any legitimacy by
boycotting them. That drama may take long to be resolved.
A democratic process exists on two levels - in the state and inside the
parties. National by-elections held on April 1, 2012, were considered free and
fair, reflected by the fact that they were swept by the opposition NLD, while
the general elections of November 2010 were evidently broadly manipulated,
giving the government an implausible majority. How will the NLD internally
determine whether boycotting would be in their interests, in the interests of
democracy that they espouse, or in the interests of the state as a whole?
In the past, Aung San Suu Kyi has determined NLD policies, and many
leaders of that party have publicly said that if she wanted something, they
would follow. A few who have not agreed have had to leave the party to have
their voices heard. So one issue that will be closely followed is, how
democratic are internal NLD processes?
Whether Aung San Suu Kyi is allowed to run for high office with a
constitutional amendment, the internal actions of the NLD are not
inconsequential. The population as a whole is just beginning to understand what
democracy means, as for years they were denied access to such concepts except
through illicit communications, such as foreign radio broadcasts. As the
democratic opposition, the NLD needs to set an example.
The NLD may be in a dilemma. If it boycotts the elections because of a
refusal to change the constitution, then the government can easily afford to
make them free and fair, and expect a favourable result, at least in majority
Burman areas (in minority areas ethnic political parties may dominate). And if
they are free and fair, then the new government will have a legitimacy that the
NLD will not be able to challenge. If the constitution is not changed, and the
NLD does not boycott the election, then Aung San Suu Kyi would effectively be
cut out of the presidential race, but the NLD would still lend legitimacy to
the new president, and another elected NLD member could pick up a vice
The participation of the NLD, other opposition groups, and
minority-affiliated parties in the 2015 general elections would be an important
indicator of political progress. We can only hope that the government will
understand that it is in the interests of the people to have free and fair
choices of their representatives, and that a broad spectrum of views may be
The constitution needs amending in a variety of provisions to ensure
greater pluralism and progress. But the elections themselves will be a
landmark, and if the campaigning and the elections are conducted under
democratic principles that will be progress, and the Burmese peoples could be
proud of that result.
Constitutional changes will come as greater confidence is built into the
new political process - as the military recognizes that civilian leadership is
not the anathema they have long postulated. But it would be unwise to prejudge
these elections only on the basis of whether one person has been denied the
chance for national leadership.
commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors.
Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed.
David I Steinberg
(email@example.com) is Visiting Scholar, School of Advanced International
Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and Distinguished Professor of Asian Studies
Emeritus, Georgetown University.
The 67th anniversary of Union Day has come and gone, marking the 1947
Panglong Conference that brought together Burman, Shan, Kachin, and Chin
political leaders and formed the basis for an independent Burma. The
"Spirit of Panglong" - its meanings, failures, and promises - haunts
the country's current peace talks, which, despite seeming progress in recent
weeks with a common position from the ethnic armed groups' negotiating team,
could remain stalled if the military refuses to accept a ceasefire agreement
that also contains detailed language and timeframes for future political
At a time like this, with many people calling for a "Second
Panglong," it is useful to look back at the history of the Panglong
Conference to examine its dynamics and effects, in order to draw lessons
for nation-building in contemporary Myanmar. This article briefly considers 10
lessons from Panglong and their significance for the current peace process, as
well as two broader lessons drawn from post-conflict peace-building around the
world in the hope of fostering more critical dialogue about Panglong, what it
was, what it wasn't, and how it is relevant today.
1. Get it in
The Panglong Agreement included the promise that "full autonomy is
agreed to in principle." This was a rather vague clause that wasn't
actually included in the 1947 constitution implemented after achieving
independence from colonial rule under the British. Many non-Burman leaders who
attended the conference trusted independence hero General Aung San and hoped
that he would honour the informal promises he made to them, such as "If
Burma gets one kyat, you will get one kyat."
Unfortunately his assassination in 1947 meant that he never had a chance
to do this. Although this wasn't always the case, contemporary political groups
seem to have gradually learned this lesson and even the least fruitful
ceasefire negotiations these days seem to end with some sort of written
agreement, if only an understanding to continue meeting. These written
documents will be absolutely necessary to hold parties accountable in the
future, both domestically and internationally.
Written agreements are important, but there must also be agreement on
how they will be implemented, especially as the legal status of an agreement
might not always be clearly enforceable. The 1947 constitution wasn't exactly a
federal constitution, but it wasn't necessarily inconsistent with a federal
structure. The constitution was implemented in a unitary way, which betrayed
the expectations of non-Burman groups. It's also important to note that there
have been a number of written ceasefire agreements signed by the Myanmar
government and military over the years, many of which have been broken. A
written agreement is necessary, but of course not sufficient to ensure that
both parties will follow through.
For current political discussions, it will be important to be clear
about who will be responsible for implementation. What types of oversight will
there be after an agreement and who will enforce it? Additionally, while the
wording of any document is important, it will also be necessary to consider
whether or not the parties have similar understandings of the intent of the
agreements. Assumptions about these key questions resulted in disappointment
with the way the Panglong Agreement was incorporated into the 1947 constitution
and the way that constitution was implemented.
Additionally, participants will need to consider enforcement mechanisms.
If the Tatmadaw or an ethnic armed group violates the terms of a ceasefire,
what will the penalty be? Will it be enough to ensure compliance? At a time
when Western governments have been dropping or suspending sanctions left and
right and encouraging massive aid and investment, it might be prudent to
consider explicitly tying some of those benefits to a ceasefire in order to
encourage all parties to honour their agreements.
3. Trust is
There was actually another multi-ethnic gathering that took place at
Panglong several months before the more famous Panglong Conference. This was an
important opportunity used by non-Burman leaders to build trust among
themselves. General Aung San had also been travelling around the country in the
year leading up to the conference and many non-Burman accounts also reflect a
growing trust in his willingness to listen to and consider non-Burman concerns.
A contemporary political settlement would need to acknowledge the
difficult truth that this kind of trust does not exist in Myanmar today. After
decades of civil conflict, most non-Burman groups do not trust the government
or the military, with good reason. Additionally, military divide-and-conquer
tactics as well as the failures of various attempted united fronts have eroded
trust between many non-Burman groups, making negotiations more complicated.
While recognizing the advantages in bargaining collectively, non-Burman groups
should not give in to the temptation to suppress dissenting viewpoints within
their own ranks in order to present a united front; similarly, neither the
government nor the international community should expect or demand a single,
unitary "ethnic minority" perspective.
4. …but don't rely
Many of the non-Burman leaders gradually came to trust General Aung San
and, whatever his actual intentions were, when he was assassinated the country
was left without a mediating figure. Much of the mainstream media coverage
surrounding the current peace talks suggests that many non-Burman leaders have
a growing respect for President's Office Minister U Aung Min and trust that he
will be a fair negotiator; U Aung Min has also stated this himself. Yet there
are several reasons to be concerned with this assumption.
First, there are enough conflicting reports about attitudes towards U
Aung Min to suggest that claims that he enjoys the complete trust of the
non-Burman groups are overstated. Second, when it comes to a ceasefire (and a
possible future political settlement), even though U Aung Min has been
appointed as chief negotiator, the military will still likely make any final
decisions. Finally, it cannot be known what any individual's true intentions
are, what will happen in the next few years, or what U Aung Min's role will be
in a future government. All of this makes it very dangerous to rely on an
individual in this sort of situation. The best assurance is to design
representative, inclusive, and adaptable institutional frameworks that are not
reliant on particular charismatic individuals.
As Chin scholar Lian Sakhong has explained, the Chin delegation was at a
disadvantage during the Panglong Conference because they did not have a
translator who was familiar with their particular dialect. The British
administrator who they were expecting to act as translator was recalled several
weeks earlier (there is some debate as to whether he resigned or was fired).
Additionally, even though the Shan and Kachin delegates were more familiar with
the Burmese language, they were not very well versed in more advanced concepts
in constitutional law or the kinds of political settlements that might result
in the autonomy they hoped for.
Although political awareness and knowledge has definitely increased
among non-Burman communities in the decades since independence, any future
negotiations should take into consideration the fact that most non-Burmans will
be participating in negotiations using a language that is often not their
mother tongue. This is not meant to be a demeaning comment on their abilities
to speak Burmese, but simply a reminder that native language status can confer
a more powerful bargaining position in negotiations like this; a critical
element of negotiations will be the opportunity for non-Burman delegations to
evaluate and fine tune the language of any agreements.
More importantly, national political discourse in Myanmar has not only
taken place using the Burmese language, but also using predominantly Burman
conceptions of politics. If discussions about the future political structure of
Myanmar were to take into account, for example, the ways in which Karen and
Burman conceptions of "justice" differ from one another or the ways
in which Kachin notions of community, family ties and mutual obligations are
different from Burman understandings, it could have several positive effects.
First, it would help facilitate agreement on the intent of specific
agreements (as mentioned above) by navigating through these different
conceptual frameworks. Second, it could provide creative new avenues for
political discussion, as non-Burman ideas and practices of politics would
become a part of the national dialogue. And, finally, it would contribute to a
feeling of inclusion in the state, where non-Burmans might see insights from
their own political and social traditions valued as part of a broader national
Although Myanmar school textbooks portray Panglong as the moment when
all of the country's ethnic groups came together to declare their intentions to
join together in a union, the signatories to the agreement were only a few
Burman, Shan, Kachin, and Chin leaders. The British required General Aung San
to get agreement from the "Frontier Areas," the administrative region
of the country that comprised the border areas. While this area was occupied by
more than just the Shan, Kachin, and Chin, other groups were excluded for a
number of reasons, many of which have been explained by historians and analysts.
Beyond the groups that were specifically excluded, many marginalized
populations within the Burmans, Shan, Kachin, and Chin were not a part of the
The question of inclusion will be critical for future political
discussions. Who will be included? Who will have the authority to decide who is
included? Inter-personal rivalries have often inhibited pan-ethnic solidarity
and they have also had an influence on who has been included in recent peace
talks and political discussions. How can we determine if certain groups are
representative of the populations they claim to represent? Women's groups, for
example, have conducted important research and advocacy campaigns in conflict
zones, in addition to providing basic services for people in need. However,
they have more often than not been excluded from the current peace talks and
from most political negotiations between the Burman-led government and
non-Burman groups; exclusion like this is absolutely unacceptable given the
critical and constructive role of women in building peace in Myanmar and
helping to create a more just society.
The initial Panglong Conference sought to bring together different
ethnic groups and the assumption is that a future political settlement would
also be along ethnic lines. This, however, will not be sufficient in dealing
with the wide range of identities and identity conflicts that exist in present
day Myanmar. Although it would certainly make the discussions more challenging
and complex, the conversation needs to include marginalized populations beyond
ethnic groups. These include religious minorities, sexual minorities, and
under-represented socio-economic interests, just to name a few.
Additionally, are there Burman groups and perspectives that ought to be
included beyond the government, the military, and maybe a few of the prominent
democratic opposition groups? What about other identities that are not easily
captured by the "ethnic" framework, such as Sino-Myanmar, Burmese of
Indian descent, or the Rohingya? While some Burmese may find this suggestion
unreasonable, Myanmar's recent history of political exclusion has gone well
beyond ethnic identity and a national effort that will contribute to peace and
reconciliation must consider the dynamics of marginalization beyond ethnicity.
7. Power dynamics
The general political climate at the time of the Panglong Conference was
one in which it was clear that the British wished to negotiate a transition to
independence as quickly as possible while minimally honouring obligations to
their non-Burman allies. This meant that they were willing to work primarily
with General Aung San, which gave him a much stronger bargaining position at
the conference. Even on the non-Burman side, the negotiations at Panglong were
complicated by the prominent role played by hereditary leaders such as the Shan
Saophas (sawbwas) and Kachin duwas, who enjoyed a high degree of traditional
Those concerned with the ways in which power dynamics can silence
marginalized voices ought to be asking a number of questions regarding the
organization of future political discussions. What will the structure of the
meeting(s) be? Where will they take place? What will be the methods of
discussion? Will they privilege men or older people, as is common in Myanmar
society? Will they privilege those with Western education, fluency in English,
or law and politics degrees? In essence, these questions boil down to one: who
gets to assess what is and is not a valuable contribution to the discussion
While the discussion currently seems to revolve around degrees of
political and economic autonomy for non-Burman states, how will minority groups
be treated more generally? This refers not only to ethnic minorities in Burman
divisions, but also to non-Burman minorities in other states, such as the Shan
population living in Kachin State. Attention to power dynamics will also force
participants to contend with an uncomfortable question: How much bargaining
power do non-Burman groups really have in the current political situation?
While there is undoubtedly pressure on the government and the military
to address the "ethnic" issue in Myanmar, international actors are
putting equal, if not greater, pressure on non-Burman groups to seize the
current opportunity and sign agreements, no matter how unsatisfactory they may
be. Many non-Burman leaders at the first Panglong Conference underestimated the
degree to which the British were eager to end their colonial involvement in
Burma; current leaders cannot make the same mistake and international actors
ought to be encouraging a process that pays attention to power inequalities and
the demands of justice.
Power dynamics also matter in assessing where real decision-making
authority lies. Can U Aung Min and his negotiating team make credible
commitments on behalf of the government and the Tatmadaw? Will the military
agree to abide by the terms of a ceasefire and what is its promise worth
considering they have violated agreements in the past? Persistent fears about
the degree to which the military is invested in the process of political
negotiation also strengthen the hand of the government side. Government
negotiators can present themselves as the "good guys," attempting to
blunt potential roadblocks from the military while also pressing non-Burman
groups to give in and accept a one-sided "compromise."
8. Take your time
General Aung San understood that the British wanted to wash their hands
of the situation in Burma after World War II and took advantage of that fact to
push for immediate independence. Not only did this put pressure on the
non-Burman groups to acquiesce quickly to an agreement, it also resulted in a
rather undemocratic process. For example, given the small window of opportunity
to get agreement from the Frontier Areas leaders to join the Union of Burma,
Aung San's political party, the AFPFL (Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League),
chose to work primarily with the hereditary leaders who enjoyed greater
standing in the eyes of the British administration rather than more
democratically-inclined allies such as the Shan State People's Freedom League
and the Kachin Youth League.
The current situation has many similar elements. While both the Myanmar
government and many of the non-Burman political and armed groups have become
more democratic over time, there are still many individuals and organizations
within these communities that have been pushing for more transparency,
inclusiveness, and democratic decision-making. However, with the pressure to
get a "quick win" before the 2015 elections, it is likely that a
slower, more consultative process will be passed over in favour of a settlement
that wins the approval of international observers, but doesn't effectively
respond to the concerns non-Burmans have expressed over the years.
Additionally, the growing sentiment in the international community that
there is a fast-closing window of opportunity for political negotiation puts
greater pressure on non-Burman groups to come to the table, even when the
offerings from the government side are less than ideal. This discourse (which
is also reinforced by some members of non-Burman groups seeking to push for
peace and a quick settlement) paints reluctant groups and individuals as
"spoilers" who are inhibiting the chances for peace.
The spoiler discourse is dangerous, especially since the concerns raised
by some of those who are now labelled as "spoilers" are the same
concerns many non-Burmans have expressed consistently over the past few
decades. The risk is that the pressure to come to an agreement in time for the
electoral benefits to pay off in 2015 will result in a flawed settlement that
legitimizes a hastily negotiated and non-representative agreement. Domestic and
international groups who claim to be supporting "democratic development"
in Myanmar need to recognize the potentially destructive effects of this
pressure and to support instead a more thoughtful, inclusive process.
9. Acknowledge the
The Panglong Conference took place only a few years after World War II
had ended in Burma. This was a war that initially saw mostly Burmans allied
with the Japanese fighting against mostly non-Burmans allied with the British.
Near the end of the war, the Burmans abruptly switched sides, joining with the
British-led Allies to drive the Japanese out of the country. The complexities
of this conflict and the lingering hostilities went almost completely
unexamined at Panglong.
No one discussed, for example, the atrocities committed by Burman and
Karen troops against each other's civilian populations (probably because the
Karen weren't a part of the Panglong negotiations, but there were other
examples). No one raised the ways in which the pre-war nationalist movement was
configured in part against non-Burmans as allies of the oppressive colonial
authority, the flare-ups of violence directed at non-Burman and non-Buddhist
populations in the 1930s, or the ways in which the British had used non-Burman
troops to quell Burman rebellions. Panglong didn't address the underlying
tensions between the groups that were about to form an independent nation, and
as a result there was no basis for sticking together once those tensions and
Political discussions in the current period not only need to acknowledge
the complex pre-independence history of opposition and mistrust, they also have
to honestly engage with the subsequent decades of civil conflict and oppression
experienced by the vast majority of Myanmar's population. The trust-building
that will be necessary to facilitate stability and growth cannot occur without
recognition of this history. The most challenging element of this
acknowledgement will be on the side of the Tatmadaw. Present and past military
leaders are justifiably terrified of the possibility of one day being tried for
war crimes or crimes against humanity (and it's likely that some leaders of
non-state armed groups might fall into this category as well) and there is a
range of opinions inside and outside of Myanmar as to what justice might look
like in this transitional context (tribunals, truth commissions, public
The frank truth of the matter is that the Tatmadaw holds most of the
cards; the military will likely resist any efforts at uncovering past or
present abuses and the international community has so far shown no inclination
towards concerted action that would bring this about. Perhaps the best place to
begin is through all sides honestly engaging with a harsh and brutal history of
exclusion and violence. Could the military be appealed to on the grounds of its
own supposed dedication to the nation?
Its current leaders have been using language that suggests they view
their present incarnation as a different institution not to be judged by past
actions, but this would definitely not be a sufficient response in a
reconciliation process. Would more honest self-reflection on the part of the
military (without the threat of punishment) be enough to satisfy its tens of
millions of victims? There will likely be conflicting answers to these questions,
but a crucial lesson from Panglong is that unacknowledged grievances will not
stay hidden forever.
10. Accept that
there is no "Union Spirit" or "Panglong Spirit"
This is perhaps the most controversial of the lessons that emerge from
Panglong. An examination of the accounts of the conference reveals that the
Shan, Kachin, and Chin joined the Union for primarily economic and instrumental
reasons. Most of these leaders remained sceptical of the degree to which they
would actually be incorporated into the Union as equals (indeed, some were
unsure whether they wanted these themselves).
It is even difficult to attribute to the AFPFL leaders the type of
"Union Spirit" that is celebrated in Myanmar's textbooks since the
British required that they gain the agreement of the Frontier Areas in order to
achieve independence. All of this suggests that there was no "Union
Spirit" at the time of the Panglong Agreement, and that furthermore the
waves of ideological, religious, and ethnic rebellions that occurred in the
years following independence provide additional proof that Panglong did not
succeed in creating that spirit.
While official versions of the history honour Panglong as an expression
of "Union Spirit", it must be acknowledged that the decades of civil
conflict in Myanmar that followed independence represent strong evidence of the
lack of this spirit in the country. Many groups never felt themselves to be a
part of the Burmese nation after independence and have pointed to formal
policies of discrimination as well as informal methods of exclusion from full
membership in the national community.
Proclamations from the government and the military that insist not only
on the foundational presence of "Union Spirit" but also on the duty
of every citizen to cherish and safeguard it only further reinforce the view of
many non-Burmans that the government does not take their concerns seriously.
One way to recognize this fact would be for the government to acknowledge that
"Union Spirit" is something that needs to be actively constructed
through trust-building over a period of time. Without recognition of the
present emptiness of "Union Spirit", political settlements are
unlikely to address the deep divides that inhibit national reconciliation.
Soldiers shouldn't lead political negotiations
There are multiple modern examples (the Balkans Spring of 1941 comes to
mind) of the negative long term effects of war fighters serving as the sole
voices in both peace talks and subsequent political settlements. Their interests
are primarily in military matters and beyond that in maintaining economic and
political power and in some cases control over territory. Inclusive
participatory negotiations are generally not first in the minds of those who
have been engaged in prolonged armed conflict. This is not necessarily a
criticism as much as an observation of the dynamics of peace talks led by
In Myanmar there is the further complication that virtually every armed
group in the country has been involved in various atrocities, committed against
each other in violation of laws of war, but more importantly against civilian
populations. This means that every one of the armed groups involved in the
peace talks has an incentive to avoid transparent and detailed engagement with questions
related to war crimes and abuses committed against civilians.
If their voices are the only ones helping to create a peace settlement,
they may very well close off opportunities for addressing critical questions of
justice that would be a necessary component of reconciliation, both between and
within different ethnic groups. Not only do groups and individuals with
grievances against both the Tatmadaw and non-state armed groups need to be
involved, these dynamics also highlight the importance of participation by
Tatmadaw officers themselves as a way of acknowledging past wrongs and moving
towards a common understanding of both national and human security concerns.
won't correct years of institutionalized inequality
Decades of centralized control supported by military might has meant
that, despite living in resource-rich areas of the country, most non-Burmans
have not seen the benefits of economic development. In places where the
government or military have not been able to monopolize resource extraction,
other strongmen have stepped in to reap the rewards. There may be a strand of
logic in the military argument that they have deployed their forces
predominantly in non-Burman border states because those have been the regions
with active armed rebellions, but whatever the motivation, the result has been
persistent militarization and poverty for the populations of those regions.
These factors, combined with a lack of educational or economic opportunities
have made it more likely that people will remain in a cycle of poverty and
Political settlements in these areas will have to acknowledge this fact
and provide more than just guarantees of "equality" for non-Burmans
in the country. While overt ethnic discrimination may be declining in Myanmar,
notwithstanding the recent violent persecution of the ethnic Rohingya, a
lasting peace could easily be hindered by an insufficient response to
entrenched privilege and institutionalized inequality. To put it simply,
populations that have suffered disproportionately over the past decades will
need a more active, interventionist state to help level the playing field.
If Myanmar is to have a more inclusive state with something approaching
equality of opportunity, it will require policies of affirmative action that
explicitly give benefits to historically disadvantaged populations, including,
but not limited to, those based on ethnicity. These might include more spending
on education both in non-Burman languages and in non-Burman areas more generally,
reserved seats in universities and in the civil service, preferential hiring to
ensure that development projects actually improve the livelihoods of local
populations, or a national government body to assess and provide redress for
civil rights violations.
Of course, these policies would also need to be adaptable, in order to
respond to changing dynamics of opportunity and inequality. Developing these
policies will primarily be the responsibility of the Myanmar government, but
the international community can play a role in being sensitive to these
dynamics both in the distribution of aid and, more importantly, in investment
in the country.
Myanmar's leaders and citizens have many global models to draw on in
facilitating national reconciliation, post-conflict transformation, and a
gradual move towards federalism and increased regional autonomy. Yet an event
like Panglong still retains a pull on the national imagination, as much for
what it could represent as for what it actually was. Even though many groups
have advocated for a "Second Panglong" that would move toward a
political settlement of ethnic conflict, such a "conference" might
still fall short of being an effective vehicle for creating harmony and
stability in the country, even if it were more inclusive.
Instead of considering a single Second Panglong Conference, Panglong
Spirit could be recognized as something that needs to be continually and
actively constructed. This would mean envisioning "Panglong" as more
of an ongoing, institutionalized process than an event. It could consist of
meetings at regular intervals and at various levels. Some of these meetings
might be "safe" spaces where groups could air their grievances freely
and others would simply be mutual teaching, where disparate groups learn about
and learn to respect each other's histories, customs, and aspirations. Some
could bring together different groups to identify common experiences and goals
as well as points of disagreement, while others would be designed to bring
those grievances and suggestions directly to policy makers and implementers.
The latter aspect is critical to ensuring that these conversations, while
gradually building trust and identifying common interests, were also regularly
engaging with government officials in a position to alter policy.
The "agenda" for each meeting might vary based on local
circumstances, yet there might also be a national "coordinating"
committee that would ensure that different identity groups are sufficiently
represented and also that divergence of opinion within those groups is
recognized and not suppressed. The participants themselves - and the various
communities and identities that would be represented - would also change over
time, as certain grievances and inequalities are addressed and others emerge.
The discussions and conclusions of meetings could be disseminated in multiple
languages, fostering greater national understanding of the challenges facing
different communities, but also helping to hold the government accountable for actually
channelling grievances from the meetings into concrete policy changes.
A model like this could only work with acknowledgement from the Myanmar
government that the "Panglong Spirit" is not something that ever
really existed among the population nor (and this part is very important)
something that will ever be fully realized. This is, in fact, the very reason
why a single event would never be sufficient for developing a more inclusive
political system. The nature of governments to view and categorize people in
convenient ways and the tendency to see national identity as something
primordial and given means that some individuals and groups will always find
themselves outside of the national community.
Justice does not necessarily demand that every group be included, but it
does demand that every grievance be considered. In the case of Myanmar, the
lens of justice must be adaptable enough to look beyond ethnicity and to
recognize the repression of difference within and by groups that are themselves
oppressed. By seeing the creation of the Panglong Spirit as something inspirational
and continually in need of re-assessment, the people of Myanmar have a unique
opportunity to acknowledge the country's exclusionary past and to develop and
institutionalize a system that would accommodate the changing nature of
national identity, build trust between estranged groups, and create a more
inclusive and just union.
Matthew J Walton
is the Aung San Suu Kyi Senior Research Fellow in Modern Burmese Studies at St
Antony's College, University of Oxford. He is also a consultant for The Elders
on their engagement in Myanmar.