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Over 650 Myanmar/Burma Civil Society Actors Speak Out on the Reality of the Transition

By Burma Partnership  •  October 21, 2014

15 October 2014 Photo By Burma PartnershipThe forum titled, “Civil Societies’ Review on Myanmar/Burma’s Transition Process: Prospects for 2015 and Beyond”, held on 15 – 17 October 2014 at the Myanmar Christian Fellowship of the Blind Center in Rangoon, brought together over 650 representatives from 257 organizations and networks from across the country and border areas to discuss and strategize a wide range of key issues currently facing Burma in the context of the recent economic and political reforms since 2011. This is the first forum of this scale to assess the reform and the wide range of problems currently facing Burma.

Despite the hailed “transition to democracy,” exalted particularly by the international community, civil society organizations (CSOs) spoke of the decades old challenges that remain unresolved, the stagnation of the reform process, and new emerging issues, in addition to the need for meaningful inclusion of the voices of civil society, democratic opposition forces, ethnic peoples, women and youth in the reform process.

The forum addressed six core issues; (1) law reform, (2) peace and conflict, (3) media, hate speech and communal violence, (4) Parliament, Government and accountability, (5) economic reform and foreign direct investment, and (6) the international community’s role and involvement, which were discussed under six panel discussions and six workshops. The forum produced a statement that gave concrete recommendations from civil society groups to the Burma Government, United Nations, international governments and international non-governmental organizations (lNGOs). This statement was then presented to the media, diplomats, UN and INGOs during a briefing on 17 October 2014 in Rangoon followed by a press conference. The forum also developed follow up mechanism and a plan to implement a mapping exercise to assess areas where CSOs can potentially collaborate.

Of the key issues raised, recurring discussions surrounded the need for the international community to take a closer look at the peace process in relation to businesses, investments and development projects that are producing negative social and environmental impacts, particularly in ethnic areas where many mega development projects are located.

The increased economic activities and the lack of proper mechanisms as well as the weak legal framework leave villagers and communities vulnerable to exploitative land expropriation. While many people are illegally (and often forcibly) evicted from their land without consent, adequate compensation or consultation, those who benefit from the liberalization of the economy “are crony businessmen connected with the Burma Government and/or Army,” according to the statement. The statement calls for international governments engaging in Burma “to adopt ‘do no harm’ policy in all forms of engagement with the Government of Myanmar including collaboration between states, provision of aid and assistance, and business investments.”

The statement also calls for the repeal of old and new oppressive laws such as Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, education laws, labour laws, and stressed the need to reform a non-independent, corrupt and incompetent judiciary that is undermining the reform process. It also called upon the Burma Government to amend the enabling law of Myanmar National Human Rights Commission in order to establish an independent accountability mechanism in line with the “Paris Principles” – the internationally accepted standards on national human rights institutions.

At the forum there was also lively debate over the proposed set of national race and protection laws that seriously impinge on the rights of women and religious minorities in Burma. The forum thus concluded with recommendations to the Burma Government to “lay down policies and legislate new laws that serve the people in compliance with democratic and human rights principles” and “to cease from imposing restrictions on any religion.”

In addressing the various issues and the need for improvements in these areas since the reform process began almost four years ago, it was apparent that many of the issues and human rights abuses remain unresolved and in some cases has deteriorated. The so-called reform has benefited only a few, mainly those connected to the Burma Government and the armed forces. As legal expert in the forum U Kyee Myint stated, Burma needs “new policies and new leaders – not just people who have changed out of their uniforms.”

Therefore, we echo the statement that calls on the international governments to focus their efforts and aid towards a people-led reform process that will create a move to genuine democracy and bring about meaningful change in people’s lives. We also call on the international community to consult with local people and community-based organizations regarding their involvement in decision making of the project that will directly affect the people, to adopt a “do no harm” policy in engaging with the Burma Government and to avoid investment in projects that lead to environmental and human rights violations.

The Burma Government has time and again failed to listen to the people’s voices in the reform process. If the Government is genuinely aiming towards a successful reform, now is the time for them to include meaningful participation of the people in the process.

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