After five decades of autocratic military rule, Burma (also known as Myanmar) has initiated a critical transformation to representative democracy. But regional and national tensions threaten the already tenuous transition: Disagreements between the military and elected civilian government, intercommunal and religious cleavages, and precarious security structures strain the capacity of leadership and risk the nation’s stability.
Since 2012, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) has supported security reform; increased the conflict resolution skills of local and national leaders, professionals, and citizens; and bolstered the peace process through training, education, and community engagement programs. USIP’s recent work includes:
Training the Police Force. The nation’s Chief of Police asked USIP to train hundreds of Myanmar Police Force officers from 13 states and regions on the best ways to prevent, mitigate, and resolve local conflict. USIP responded with the Policing for Peace program—a series of workshops, seminars, dialogues, and trainings for trainers. Launched in 2014, the Policing for Peace program is part of USIP’s long-term strategy to institutionalize effective security by embedding conflict management approaches within the police force.
USIP also plans to enhance conflict management skills and knowledge through a Justice and Security Dialogue program that promises to preempt violence before it has a chance to erupt and destabilize regions. The dialogues aim to foster relationships, fortify trust, and promote collaborative problem-solving among the police, government officials, judicial authorities, political parties, civil society organizations, and community leaders
Empowering Religious Leaders. In 2013, a rumor spread within Buddhist and Muslim communities that threatened to lead to violence in Burma’s fourth largest city, Mawlamyine. USIP trainees sprang into action, using shuttle diplomacy among religious and community leaders to invalidate the rumor within their areas and deescalate tensions among the groups.
This exemplifies USIP’s work helping Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu leaders prevent violence through interfaith understanding and collaboration. By empowering and connecting such leaders, USIP has earned their trust. USIP has collaborated with the Women of Faith Network—Burma’s first woman-led interfaith peacebuilding organization—providing the group with operational funds and helping plan and implement its programming, including seven workshops that trained 242 women in four cities.
USIP also facilitated the development of the Buddhist Peace Education Curriculum, which features 41 clergy members, scholars, and specialists. The curriculum helps educate Buddhists about peacebuilding and transform exclusionary religious narratives that have historically instigated violence.
Mitigating Hate Speech. Technology is two-faced: Online hate speech can spur offline violence—and we can use it to effectively promote peace. USIP is supporting local initiatives that leverage technology to monitor hate speech, educate citizens about its effects, and alter divisive behavior. Examples include:
- A mobile app that monitors speech in both Burmese and English, used by 70 organizations and student associations
- Regular coordination meetings of organizations working to combat dangerous speech
- An online resource database for journalists and activists about religious news, which encourages responsible reporting and tracks religious conflicts
- A PeaceTech Exchange, where more than 90 civil society participants learned how to better leverage technology for peacebuilding
Ensuring Safe Elections. Building on the powerful Policing for Peace program, the Myanmar Police Force requested USIP’s assistance in preventing violence during the 2015 election. The resulting electoral security strategy minimized election day incidents. USIP helped:
- Overcome bureaucratic roadblocks
- Train 240 members of Electoral Security Management Committees, in coordination with the national Union Election Commission and the United Nations Development Programme
- Create an Elections Code of Conduct, printed on 100,000 laminated cards for the police to carry on election day
- Spur an unprecedented dialogue between police and political parties—including Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy—that resulted in police sharing their election security plans to allay concerns about special police presence at the polls
Strengthening the National Peace Process. USIP is developing an initiative to augment the national peace process. It’s the result of extensive research into the needs and knowledge gaps among signatory and non-signatory Ethnic Armed Groups, the government, and other stakeholders. Through a series of dialogues, as well as workshops on facilitation and negotiation skills, the political players are envisioning comprehensive peace for Burma—and the steps needed to achieve it.