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 Rohingya crisis, on-going clashes between ethnic armed organizations and the military in Kachin and Shan States, disagreements between the military and elected civilian government, intercommunal and religious cleavages, and precarious security structures threaten the nation’s stability.


Since 2012, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) has increased the conflict resolution skills of local and national leaders, professionals, and citizens; strengthened existing interfaith peacebuilding efforts; worked to improve the accountability of security and justice institutions; and bolstered the peace process through training and education programs in Burma. USIP’s recent work includes:

Applied Research in Rakhine State

The situation in Rakhine State has deteriorated further since August 2017. The latest and most serious outbreak of violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority, sparked by Rohingya militant attacks, 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.

Strengthening the National Peace Process

USIP’s support to the national peace process is informed by research into the needs and knowledge gaps among ethnic armed groups that are part of the nationwide ceasefire process as well as those that are not, 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 in Burma.

Improving Interfaith Peacebuilding Activities

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 what has and has not worked in recent interfaith work and will 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 these religious 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 into more inclusive approaches. Efforts are underway to support organizations and schools that wish to incorporate the curriculum in their classes and workshops.

Justice and Security Dialogues

USIP works at the local level in fragile conflict-affected townships to enhance conflict management skills 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 correct misinformation regarding different religions in Burma.

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.

Related Publications

The Intersection of Investment and Conflict in Myanmar

The Intersection of Investment and Conflict in Myanmar

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

By: Priscilla Clapp

Developing countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America are grappling with how to deal with China's rising economic influence—particularly the multibillion-dollar development projects financed through China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Myanmar, however, appears to be approaching foreign investment proposals with considerable caution. This report examines the framework the country is developing to promote transparency and accountability and to reserve for itself the authority to weigh the economic, social, and environmental impacts of major projects proposed by international investors, including China.

Type: Special Report

Economics & Environment

Xi Jinping’s Visit to Myanmar: What Are the Implications?

Xi Jinping’s Visit to Myanmar: What Are the Implications?

Thursday, January 23, 2020

By: Jason Tower; Jennifer Staats

From January 17-18, the chairman of China’s Communist Party, Xi Jinping, travelled to Myanmar to promote bilateral ties and advance construction of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). The visit saw the two sides commit to an ambitious economic agenda and building what China terms a “community of shared destiny.” The declarations of cooperation, however, failed to provide any clarity on how CMEC will address the countless questions and concerns that Myanmar has struggled with since its independence in 1948—issues likely to profoundly affect the two countries’ joint endeavors.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

The Religious Landscape in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

The Religious Landscape in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

Thursday, August 29, 2019

By: Melyn McKay

This Peaceworks report maps the religious landscape of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, focusing in particular on the current and potential influence of religion in peace and reconciliation efforts. Part of a broader USIP initiative to map the religious landscape in conflict-affected environments, it presents key findings and offers recommendations to enable policymakers and peacebuilding practitioners to better navigate and engage within Rakhine’s religious landscape.

Type: Peaceworks


Burma’s Big Test: Preventing Election Violence in 2020

Burma’s Big Test: Preventing Election Violence in 2020

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The people of Burma will head to the polls in late 2020 to elect more than 1,100 representatives to national, state, and regional legislative bodies. During a recent field assessment, the U.S. Institute of Peace confirmed that the risk of election-related violence is surprisingly low considering the ongoing conflicts and multitude of grievances. However, hate speech, disinformation, and intense competition between parties could create violent incidents, particularly during the campaign period. Early efforts to promote peaceful elections need to start now as the window for effective prevention will soon be closed.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Electoral Violence

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