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

Transnational Crime in Southeast Asia: A Growing Threat to Global Peace and Security

Transnational Crime in Southeast Asia: A Growing Threat to Global Peace and Security

Monday, May 13, 2024

Organized crime is a significant driver of conflict globally. It preys on weak governance, slack law enforcement, and inadequate regulation. It tears at the fabric of societies by empowering and enriching armed actors and fueling violent conflict. In Asia, criminal groups prop up corrupt and dangerous regimes from Myanmar to North Korea, posing a direct threat to regional stability.

Type: Report

Democracy & GovernanceEconomicsGlobal PolicyHuman Rights

Rohingya Face Fresh Uncertainty in Myanmar

Rohingya Face Fresh Uncertainty in Myanmar

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

An uptick in the conflict between Myanmar’s military and an ethnic armed organization in western Rakhine State is raising new concerns about the fate of the Rohingya population. In 2017, over 800,000 Rohingya, a mostly Muslim community, fled to Bangladesh to escape genocide committed against them by members of Myanmar’s military in Rakhine State. Now, emboldened by the military’s increasing vulnerability in the face of an armed resistance, the Arakan Army has vowed to push aggressively to expand its territorial and administrative control across the state. But its leaders have been unclear about their plans to address the Rohingya issue.

Type: Analysis

Global Policy

Nine Things to Know About Myanmar’s Conflict Three Years On

Nine Things to Know About Myanmar’s Conflict Three Years On

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

On March 28, 2021, barely two months after the February 1 coup in Myanmar, a minor skirmish erupted at the Tarhan protest in Kalay township in central Sagaing region as demonstrators took up makeshift weapons to defend themselves against ruthless assaults by the junta’s security forces. This was the first recorded instance of civilian armed resistance to the military’s violent crackdown on peaceful protesters since the February 1 coup d’état.

Type: Analysis

Global Policy

China Forces Myanmar Scam Syndicates to Move to Thai Border

China Forces Myanmar Scam Syndicates to Move to Thai Border

Monday, April 22, 2024

While Myanmar has long been the chief venue for the criminal operations of Chinese-origin gangs in Southeast Asia, these organizations have always stood ready to move — internally or across borders — if their sources of protection dissolved. In recent months, the organized crime kingpins have once again faced a fraying safety net. This time, the cause is the weakening of Myanmar’s corrupt coup regime in the face of a rising, multi-front revolution and, perhaps more importantly, an aggressive push by China’s law enforcement authorities.

Type: Analysis

Global Policy

View All Publications