After five decades of autocratic military rule, Burma (also known as Myanmar) has initiated a critical transformation to representative democracy. But various regional and national tensions threaten the already tenuous transition; the crisis in Rakhine State, on-going clashes between ethnic armed organizations and the military, disagreements between the military and elected civilian government, intercommunal and religious cleavages, and precarious security structures strain the capacity of leadership and threaten the nation’s stability.
Since 2012, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) has supported police reform; increased the conflict resolution skills of local and national leaders, professionals, and citizens; strengthened existing interfaith peacebuilding efforts; and bolstered the peace process through training and education programs in Burma. USIP’s recent work includes:
Strengthening the National Peace Process.
USIP’s support to the national peace process is informed by extensive research into the needs and knowledge gaps among signatory and non-signatory ethnic armed groups, the government, political parties, civil society and other stakeholders. Through a series of dialogues and workshops on facilitation, mediation and negotiation skills, USIP helps those involved prepare for comprehensive peace for Burma.
Improving Interfaith Peacebuilding Activities.
To assist the interfaith peacebuilding field in Burma, USIP is implementing a meta-evaluation of the broad impacts of recent interfaith peacebuilding efforts in Burma. The resulting field-driven, evidence-based analysis will help USIP and peer organizations identify gaps in recent interfaith work and support strategies to implement more effective programming in the future.
Empowering Religious Leaders.
USIP works with Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu leaders to prevent violence through improved interfaith understanding and collaboration. By empowering and connecting such leaders, USIP has earned their trust, allowing for increased intercommunal collaboration and more effective de-escalation efforts. USIP also facilitated the development of the Buddhist Peace Education Curriculum, which was led by clergy members, scholars, and specialists. The curriculum focuses on peacebuilding strategies and methods to transform exclusionary religious narratives that have historically instigated violence. Efforts are underway to support organizations and schools who wish to incorporate the curriculum in to their classes and workshops.
Research on Peacebuilding and Reconciliation Work in Rakhine State.
The situation in Rakhine State has markedly deteriorated since August 2017. The latest and most serious outbreak of violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority created one of the world’s fastest-growing refugee outflows in recent years, further increasing the importance of effectively addressing the underlying drivers of violence. USIP is conducting applied research to fill gaps in data and analysis of peacebuilding work in Rakhine and its intersection with human rights, and humanitarian and development issues.
Justice and Security Dialogues.
USIP works at the community level to enhance conflict management skills and knowledge through a Justice and Security Dialogue program that works in three locations to preempt violence before it has a chance to erupt and destabilize those areas. These dialogues build relationships, foster trust and promote collaborative problem-solving among the police, government officials, judicial authorities, political parties, civil society organizations and community leaders.
Mitigating Hate Speech.
USIP supported local initiatives that leveraged technology to monitor hate speech, educate citizens about its effects and encourage those working to counter it. Examples include:
- A database that monitors online speech in both Burmese and English relating to topics of politics, religion and gender, and uses sentiment analysis to score speech as positive, neutral or negative. The database is used by 70 organizations and student associations to identify the online sources of hate speech and frequency that such speech occurs.
- An online resource database in Myanmar language for journalists and activists about religious news, to encourage responsible reporting and track religious conflicts
Ensuring Safe Elections.
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:
- Train 240 members of Electoral Security Management Committees
- Create an Elections Code of Conduct, printed on 100,000 laminated cards for the police to carry on election day
- Host an unprecedented dialogue between police and political parties where the police shared their election security plans to allay concerns about police presence at the polls