The National League for Democracy’s decisive victory in Myanmar’s 2015 elections inspired hopes of a full transition from military rule and an opening of civil space. Neither has materialized, and the groups working to advance social, political, and economic change in Myanmar continue to face significant challenges. Focusing on three cases of organized nonviolent action in Kachin, Mandalay, and Yangon, this report explores the divide that has opened between civil society and the NLD government and the rifts emerging within civil society itself.

Demonstrators protest a toughening Myanmar public assembly law in Yangon on March 5, 2018. (Thein Zaw/AP)
Demonstrators protest a toughening Myanmar public assembly law in Yangon on March 5, 2018. (Thein Zaw/AP)

Summary

  • As the forces binding the political opposition and civil society can fray after nonviolent transitions from authoritarianism, the relationship of Myanmar’s civil society—including social movement actors—with the governing National League for Democracy (NLD) has become contentious, with reduced levels of trust, in the midst of shrinking civic space and other mobilization challenges for strategic nonviolent action.
  • Despite state and nonstate repression, Myanmar’s nonviolent movements and campaigns continue to mobilize, often with youth in the vanguard. They are pressing for an end to armed conflict, championing freedom of expression, and challenging the military’s influence.
  • International support to social movement organizations appears to be minimal and usually consists of subgrants handled through international and national intermediaries. This approach has hampered donor engagement with local actors and unintentionally contributed to intra–civil society divides.
  • Donors should localize priorities and support sustained solidarity in the face of shrinking civic space, and enable nonvio¬lent action capacities and youth leadership development through flexible financial and nonfinancial assistance.

About the Report

This report explores the challenges facing civil society actors in Myanmar as they push for good governance, democracy, and peace. Based on in-country interviews and focus group discussions in 2019 with social movement and civic actors, national and subnational civil society organizations, and international actors, the report was supported by USIP’s Program on Nonviolent Action and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

About the Authors

La Ring is a democracy and human rights researcher and educator and a former Asian Peacebuilders Scholar at the U.N.-mandated University for Peace. Khin Sandar Nyunt is a human rights activist, researcher, and former Civil Society Leadership Award scholar at Maastricht University. Nist Pianchupat is an international development researcher and former Asian Peacebuilders Scholar at the U.N.-mandated University for Peace. Shaazka Beyerle is a senior fellow at George Mason University’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center.

Related Publications

Myanmar Coup Weakens Southeast Asia Security and Cooperation

Myanmar Coup Weakens Southeast Asia Security and Cooperation

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

By: Brian Harding; Jason Tower

Southeast Asian governments have reacted to the coup in Myanmar in diverse ways that reflect divergent interests. Some, such as Singapore, have condemned the generals’ violence against anti-coup protesters. Others, including Vietnam, have strategic concerns behind their limited willingness to speak out. Cambodia may believe it benefits from the takeover as international attention shifts to Myanmar. They can all agree, though, that fallout from the coup is damaging the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a time when the broader regional order is in flux.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Policy

China’s High-Stakes Calculations in Myanmar

China’s High-Stakes Calculations in Myanmar

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

By: Jason Tower

The ultimate outcome of Myanmar’s nine-week-old coup will affect a range of international actors — but none more than China. As Asia’s greatest power, China has strategic and economic stakes in its neighbor to the south that leave little space for genuine neutrality behind a façade of non-interference. Since February 1, Beijing has profoundly shaped the trajectory of post-coup violence and blocked international efforts to restore stability.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Policy

Myanmar in the Streets: A Nonviolent Movement Shows Staying Power

Myanmar in the Streets: A Nonviolent Movement Shows Staying Power

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

By: Zarchi Oo; Billy Ford; Jonathan Pinckney

The people of Myanmar have opposed military rule in the past but never like this: In the face of horrific brutality by a lawless regime, Burmese have risen up in an historic national movement of nonviolent resistance. Led by young women, the fractious country has united across ethnic, generational and class lines, weaponizing social norms and social media in a refusal to accept the generals’ February 1 seizure of power.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Nonviolent Action

Myanmar Coup: The International Shockwaves Have Just Begun

Myanmar Coup: The International Shockwaves Have Just Begun

Thursday, March 18, 2021

By: Jason Tower

Myanmar has collapsed into horrific violence since the military sought to retake full control of the country on February 1. Western governments have watched in distress as soldiers rounded up civilian leaders including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, restricted internet access, rolled back individual freedoms and ultimately employed violence against the people. These domestic effects of the coup have been widely noted. USIP’s Jason Tower examines here the less discussed international security repercussions, the response of regional actors and options for preventing mass atrocities in the coming weeks.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications