The Myanmar Interim Arrangements Research Project (MIARP) was funded by the Joint Peace Fund (JPF), and implemented between October 2017 and October 2018. Researchers spoke to more than 450 people in Shan, Karen/Kayin and Mon States, Tanintharyi Region, Naypyidaw, Yangon and Thailand, including conflict-affected communities, representatives of Myanmar government and Army, leaders and members of Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs), civil society organisations (CSOs), political parties, diplomats and donors, and international aid workers and analysts.
The term “Interim Arrangements” is a contested concept, meaning different things to different stakeholders. The MIARP adopted the following working definition of Interim Arrangements:
“Service delivery and governance in conflict affected areas, including the relationship between EAOs and government systems, during the period between initial ceasefires and a comprehensive political settlement.”
Interim Arrangement refers to EAOs’ governance functions, administrative authority and service delivery systems. The issue of which geographic areas are covered by Interim Arrangements is problematic. The Myanmar Army has pressed to restrict EAOs’ service delivery and governance functions to
areas under armed groups’ exclusive control (which in most cases have not yet been demarcated); on the ground however, EAOs’ influence and delivery of services and governance functions extend into areas where political and military authority is mixed, and contested with the government and Tatmadaw.
In principle, the “interim” period extends until a comprehensive political settlement has been implemented, which given recent setbacks in the peace process may take many years to achieve. In the meantime, recognition of Interim Arrangements reflects the government’s acknowledgement of key EAOs’ political legitimacy and administrative responsibilities – at least, for those groups which have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). One of the key recommendations of this report is to support EAOs to exercise governance and administrative authority in a responsible and accountable manner.
The only official text referring to Interim Arrangements is the October 2015 NCA. However, Interim Arrangements are relevant in areas where EAOs have not signed the NCA, and furthermore the NCA text fails to cover the full range of meanings associated with the term.
Although Interim Arrangements are about more than the NCA, Chapter 6 (Article 25) of this agreement does recognize the roles of signatory EAOs in the fields of health, education, development, environmental conservation and natural resource management, preservation and promotion of ethnic cultures and languages, security and the rule of law, and illicit drug eradication. The NCA allows EAOs to receive international aid, in coordination with the government. However, with no agreed mechanism for addressing these goals through the peace process architecture, the NCA has had limited impacts on improving conflict-affected communities’ access to equitable and effective governance and services. Furthermore, on the ground in southeast Myanmar, government officials seem to regard EAOs primarily as service delivery actors, and/or private companies, rather than legitimate governance and administrative actors.
For many years, Myanmar’s larger EAOs have taken on governance and administration roles in their areas of control, often delivering a wide range of services in partnership with CSOs.
In the southeast, groups like the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), Karen National Union (KNU) and New Mon State Party (NMSP) are de-facto governments in relatively small pockets of territory. They also have influence and provide some services in wider areas of “mixed administration”, where EAO authority overlaps with that of the government and Myanmar Army. Between them for example, these three EAOs administer or support more than 2,000 schools, providing ethnic language teaching to vulnerable children who would otherwise often be denied an education. They also work with local partners to provide health services, access to justice and other public goods.
Similar arrangements exist in other parts of the country, both in ceasefire areas where EAOs have not signed the NCA, and in areas of on-going armed conflict. For example, across much of Kachin and northern Shan States, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and other EAOs provide elements of governance, and life-saving if under resourced services to Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and other highly vulnerable communities.
There are three principal rationales for supporting Interim Arrangements:
1. Effective Interim Arrangements will provide the best outcomes for vulnerable and marginalised communities in conflict-affected areas. Rather than reinventing the wheel,
existing EAO and CSO service delivery systems should be supported on a case-by-case basis, recognising best practice (an “appreciative inquiry” approach). Meeting the government’s targets for school enrolment and universal health coverage for example, will depend on the work of EAOs and affiliated civil society actors, who should be
seen as partners in meeting critical needs and achieving development goals. Chapter 3 explores how these issues play out in relation to specific sectors and issues.
2. Several of Myanmar’s EAOs (including NCA signatory and non-signatory groups) enjoy long-standing political legitimacy among the communities they seek to represent.
Supporting EAO governance regimes will counter perceptions of the peace process as a vehicle for state penetration into previously autonomous areas, displacing existing EAO authorities and services, without consulting local stakeholders. In order to be conflict-sensitive, aid should be delivered in ways that do not undermine systems associated with EAOs, to the benefit of the government (which is a party to the conflict). Timely peace dividends can best be provided to vulnerable and marginalized communities by working with existing and trusted local service delivery systems.
3. Interim Arrangements could be a key element in building “federalism from below” in Myanmar, supporting effective local governance through equitable practices of self-determination. The administrative functions and services provided by key EAOs (and their civil society partners) should be regarded as the building blocks of federalism
in Myanmar – a political solution to decades of armed conflict which key stakeholders have endorsed.
It will be very difficult for conflict-affected parts of Myanmar to move from the current mixture of service delivery systems and governance regimes towards a formalized (federal) system, without better coordination, and substantial political and technical negotiations. However, given the slow pace of the peace process since 2016, Interim Arrangements have been given relatively little attention.
Given that the Political Dialogue element of the peace process appears stalled, it could be useful to identify a small number of political priorities, to help deliver on ethnic stakeholders’ key aims. These could be negotiated by EAOs (and political parties) in a „fast track“ manner, resulting in a Union Peace Accord that benefits both the government and ethnic stakeholders. Areas for possible progress include education and language policy (recognition of and funding for EAOs’ extensive school systems; “mother tongue” teaching in government schools); land issues (recognition of land title documents provided by EAOs; revision of unjust land laws; compensation and restitution for people who have had their land unfairly taken); equitable natural resource management; and addressing forced displacement – i.e. Interim Arrangements. This would not prevent ethnic stakeholders from continuing to campaign for federalism, including changes to the 2008 Constitution.
Despite occasional positive references, the main constraint on progress regarding Interim Arrangements has been lack of political will on the part of the Myanmar government and Army. Indeed, as this report was finalised (in September 2018), the government seemed to be imposing new restrictions on relationships between EAOs and aid agencies. Furthermore, there are missing connections between debates around governance in ceasefire areas, and constitutional, legal and policy reforms underway in the mainstream political process. As discussed in Chapter 3, actors in the peace process are often absent from discussions regarding legislation and policy changes conducted at the Union level, in Parliament and elsewhere. In part, this is because EAOs are reluctant to acknowledge the political legitimacy of parliamentary and governance systems under the 2018 constitution. If Interim Arrangements are to make significant impacts on peace and development outcomes in Myanmar, it will be important to build connections between the situation in conflict-affected (particularly ceasefire) areas, and the rest of the country. In order to support and be consistent with the peace process, key stakeholders should ensure that their activities do not undermine the NCA, or violate Interim Arrangements provisions.
There is concern among many ethnic stakeholders that international agencies, and particularly major donors, are pushing a “convergence agenda”, aimed at merging EAO and civil society service delivery with that of the state. While convergence between EAO and government systems may be appropriate in some scenarios and sectors, for most EAOs and CSOs Interim Arrangements are primarily about the maintenance and support of their independent systems. This is a sensitive topic, given the widespread perception that donors are intent on strengthening government capacities and systems, and extending these into previously inaccessible and/or contested conflict-affected areas. Given the failure of the peace process so far to deliver on ethnic stakeholders’ demands for federalism, such concerns are particularly urgent.
Peace-support efforts often struggle with tensions between state-centric aid and development programs, and inclusive and politically sensitive peace-building. Assumptions that weak institutional capacity is at the core of conflict, with a consequent focus on reinforcing state institutions, can result in peace-building activities which marginalise other sources of authority, such as EAOs. This is particularly problematic in the context of Myanmar, where the State is a party to armed conflict, and EAOs have extensive (if often contested) political legitimacy. Rather than adopting an overly technocratic approach, framing key issues in terms of development needs rather than as sites of social and political struggle, donors and diplomats should recognize that many of the issues structuring decades of armed conflict in Myanmar are irreducibly political. This would help to assuage ethnic stakeholders’ concerns that the government has an “economic development first” agenda for the peace process in Myanmar, and uses aid as a distraction from demands for political reform.
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