Shan State, Myanmar.
A few days before December 25th, violence broke out between two ethnic armed groups in the Northern part of Shan State. A girl from a local village was killed and three other civilians were injured during the conflict. Civilian monitors, trained by Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) and supported by local partner Shalom (Nyein) Foundation, responded to prevent further casualties. (Photo: Nonviolent Peaceforce trains a group of local monitors in Myanmar)
The monitors engaged both armed groups and negotiated a three-hour ceasefire to evacuate 300 civilians caught in the crossfire. They worked with community leaders from a local township, who lent them a few trucks to transport the civilians to a safe area. The monitors referred the injured civilians to local community based organisations, who ensured medical treatment. Approximately, 1,150 civilians have been displaced during these clashes and are taking shelter in monasteries and houses of relatives. During the clashes, clinics, farming equipment and civilian houses were destroyed.
CONTEXT and History of NP in Myanmar
“This is not just the longest running civil conflict in the world but probably the most complex. The result is the most complicated peace process we’ve found anywhere. Trying to corral all these groups—18, 20 of them — with their different interests and identities into a single unified peace approach is extraordinarily difficult.”
-Derek Mitchell, former US ambassador to Myanmar
After more than 60 years of civil war, Myanmar has embarked on a path towards peace. In 2011 and 2012- the Myanmar government signed a series of bilateral ceasefire agreements with 14 out of the 17 largest ethnic armed groups.
Though these agreements increased security in parts of the country, they were not followed by meaningful peace talks to address the root causes of conflict.
In an attempt to negotiate a more meaningful multilateral ceasefire agreement various armed groups got together and formed the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) in November, 2013
October, 2015- After two years of negotiations, eight armed groups signed the so-called Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Myanmar government.
One month later, the country welcomed its first democratically elected civilian-led government since 1962!
November, 2015-In line with the agreements in the NCA, a process towards the establishment of a formal ceasefire monitoring body, Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committees, was initiated in five States and Regions where EAOs and Government signed the NCA.
August, 2016- The newly elected government made the peace process a top priority and brought nearly all armed groups together at the first 21st century Panglong Peace Conference to initiate the long-awaited peace talks.
Despite signs of progress, there are major challenges ahead. Many armed groups chose not to sign the multilateral ceasefire agreement in 2015, they didn't feel that the process was inclusive enough. Civil society groups, and women in particular, have felt largely underrepresented.
Meanwhile, fighting in many parts of the country has picked up, making peace talks and additional ceasefire negotiations more difficult, eroding trust in the peace process, and impacting the lives and livelihoods of already vulnerable civilians.
Since 2011, armed conflict and inter-communal violence in Myanmar have displaced more than 240,000 people. Myanmar is also one of the countries at highest risk of natural disasters in Southeast Asia, with approximately 460,000 flood-affected people in need of humanitarian aid as of November 2016.
Agreement on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, 2015
As Myanmar opened up and embarked on a peace process, state and civil society actors started to look for examples and models in neighboring countries. In 2010 and 2011 they visited the Philippines to learn more about the monitoring of the ceasefire agreement in Mindanao and had the opportunity to engage with Nonviolent Peaceforce.
In August of 2012, Nonviolent Peaceforce was invited by the Government of Myanmar and civil society organizations to support the country's peace process.
Since 2012 NP has supported local communities in establishing networks that monitor the impact of ceasefire violations and armed clashes on vulnerable civilians. By working with local partners, NP is able to provide training and technical assistance to civilian monitors in their own communities to:
Nonviolent Peaceforce also:
NP facilitates dialogue between civilian monitors and representatives of armed groups about the nationwide ceasefire agreement, Hpa An, Kayin State, 2015
STRATEGIES AND THEORIES OF CHANGE
Nonviolent Peaceforce envisions its application of Unarmed Civilian Protection to contribute to Myanmar’s peace process through the reduction of violence, the building of healthy relationships, and the mobilisation of grassroots initiatives. Nonviolent Peaceforce believes in:
Violence reduction: The participation of civilians in the ceasefire monitoring process encourages combatants to minimize violence against civilians. In the long run, we believe that the actual reduction of violence will increase confidence in the peace process and provide safer spaces for dialogue.
Healthy relationships: NP builds healthy relationships with all parties and encourages conflicting parties to address their needs without harming civilian. This models and promote the transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace and nonviolence in the early stages of a peace process. It allows for a smoother transition towards reconciliation.
Grassroots mobilisation: Mobilising civilians to monitor ceasefire agreements and responding to civilian protection concerns builds confidence among civil society and increases local ownership. A bottom-up, community driven initiatives will not only compliment top-down peacemaking initiatives, but influence them in a meaningful way. Civilian-led grassroots initiatives can increase the attention to civilian protection concerns among decision makers and create opportunities for the voices of vulnerable communities to be heard.
The spectrum of civilian ceasefire monitoring as presented by NP Myanmar
“To reiterate, it is important to highlight that perhaps the greatest contribution of this work will be the many civilians who have changed their beliefs and behaviours. They are becoming less governed by a ‘culture of fear’ and less limited by traditional roles. They are more accepting and promoting women’s leadership, and actively engaged in civilian protection. These are easy words to write, and very hard shifts to accomplish.”
Ellen Furnari, PhD, Transforming Matters, in her paper on the projects implemented by Nonviolent Peaceforce with the Karen Women Empowerment Group and the Gender and Development Institute Myanmar (Furnari, 2016, p.28).
Nonviolent Peaceforce's in Myanmar has:
External project evaluators have judged the efforts of NP and its partners to be a ‘highly relevant contributor to the peace process in Myanmar’.
"Before the training, we did not know how to engage actors, especially like Tatmadaw and KIO. But the training from NP helped us learn the ways to engage them and build our confidence. It is because of the skills and confidence we got from the trainings; we can now intervene and respond to cases of violence in our communities. I hope NP continues building our capacity and we in return continue protecting our communities"
– Township Coordinator, Momauk Township, Kachin CCM.
“In the past 3 days we learned a lot about the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. This is very important for peace. Before I attended this workshop, I felt like playing chess without knowing the rules of the game. But now I understand which way to go.”
- Liaison Officer of Ethnic Armed Organisation
Nonviolent Peaceforce in Myanmar has currently 10 staff members, coming from the Netherlands, Kenya, the USA, Nepal, and Myanmar.
NP staff members and local partner Karen Women Empowerment Group discuss the protection of women, Hpa An 2016
OUR LOCAL PARTNERS
NP has been working with the following local organizations:
Map of local partner organisations of Nonviolent Peaceforce that have established and are currently managing, overseeing, and/or supporting civilian monitoring networks in Myanmar (2016).
As an intern in the Nonviolent Peaceforce office in Minneapolis, Rachel Beecroft dreamed of being part of an NP field team. Now as Rotary Peace Fellow and graduate student at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, that dream will come true. She will join the NP Myanmar team for three months as she fulfills requirements for a degree a Master of International Relations majoring in Peace and Conflict Resolution. The Rotary Peace Center program emphasizes development of practical skills, including mediation and project development. The program explicitly explores the relationships between peacekeeping and peacemaking. Both of these fields involve not only what happens after a conflict, but also what happens before a conflict breaks out. Creating lasting peace requires developing a culture of peace, and in war-torn societies, entire generations know only violence. Changing those cultural norms requires a multi-pronged approach, and this program is helping her to develop and implement those multi-faceted solutions.
On 15 October, the government of Myanmar and eight Ethnic Armed Organizations signed a long-awaited joint ceasefire agreement. The event marked the culmination of more than two years of negotiations between the government and a consortium of Ethnic Armed Organizations. In the capital city of Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s President, the Army Commander-in-Chief, parliamentary leaders and the leaders of the eight Ethnic Armed Organizations signed the agreement in the presence of six international and 20 domestic witnesses.
Even though a number of Ethnic Armed Organizations that have been part of the negotiations have decided to not to sign the agreement at this time, it is an important step towards securing a just and sustainable peace in Myanmar. The signing of the ceasefire agreement opens the door to a political dialogue process, which aims to address the underlying causes of the armed conflict that has lasted more than 60 years in Myanmar.
1948 Myanmar (also known as Burma) gains independence from Britain. Civil wars break out almost immediately as ethnic people demand greater autonomy.
1962 Army general Ne Win stages a coup against the elected government and creates a one-party state. Civil wars continue. In subsequent years, some ceasefire pacts are signed, but conflict also continues in many areas.
1995 The military leaders had by then signed several ceasefire agreements with ethnic-armed organizations.
2008 A new constitution is introduced.
2009 The military leaders demand that all "ceasefire groups" transform into "Border Guard Forces" and accept the command of the Myanmar army. Many armed organizations refuse.
2009 Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi begins talks with Myanmar’s military leaders and is allowed to meet Western diplomats.
2010 Federal elections are held, which introduce the first civilian government. Twenty-five percent of the Parliament seats are allocated to the military.
2011 The Myanmar government starts a 3-phased peace initiative with ethnic groups (ceasefire, confidence-building and political dialogue, and agreement for eternal peace).
2012 By mid-2012, 13 groups across the country have signed bilateral ceasefire agreements with the government.
2013 Leaders of 17 ethnic armed groups establish a Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which will represent them in negotiations with a government peace negotiation team, the Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC).
2015 16 ethnic-armed organizations and the government sign a draft ceasefire agreement. Negotiations continue.
In July and August, negotiators of a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in Myanmar intensified their efforts to conclude a deal before the campaign season for the upcoming elections kicks off. During this same time, heavy monsoon rains poured down, causing widespread flooding around the country. Nonviolent Peaceforce is working in several states to support civilian ceasefire and protection monitoring mechanisms. Among these states, Chin has been the most severely affected by the floods and subsequent landslides. Some of the monitors and Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) partners halted their usual activities in order to respond to the situation and support relief efforts. Others were simply unable to continue or communicate their activities as landslides blocked the roads and internet connections were interrupted. Citizens in Yangon and other cities flocked the streets to collect donations in a display of solidarity with flood-affected communities.
While monsoon rains created havoc around the country, negotiators of the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the ethnic armed group’s Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) continued to address outstanding issues. They were able to reach an agreement on most of the provisions in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement text and excerpts of the text were released to the public in August. A Senior Delegation of ethnic leaders is expected to meet with the president and the commander in chief in September. During that time, they will work to finalize the National Ceasefire Agreement and discuss any outstanding issues.