– International Cooperation and Civil Society’s Solidarity –
On the 1st February 2022, we commemorated one year since the coup and people’s continuing resistance in Myanmar.
In January 2022, BEBESEA spoke with H.E Mr. Bo Hla-Tint, or U Bo, theNational Unity Government of Myanmars’ (NUG) Ambassador to ASEAN. The NUG was established on the 16th of April 2021 as a government in exile. Ambassador Bo is a prominent political figure, who co-founded the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) on the Thai-Burma border in December 1990.
The full conversation is available on Voicesea Podcast. This article is part 3 of 4.
The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has increased more than 300,000 since 1st February 2021 and more than 1 million people have fled Myanmar into neighbouring countries as recorded by UNHCR. The assistance for asylum seekers and migrants rely on the initiatives of local civil society, the international community and neighbouring countries. While the military junta has blocked the foreign aid to Myanmar, what is NUG doing about it?
We are trying to work with our dialogue partners, especially the sympathetic countries or countries that are strongly supporting us, such as the United States and EU, to gain more and more cross-border assistance and to make more consolidated efforts for working with the civil society inside and outside of the country. We are welcoming regional and international governmental or non-governmental organisations to work with our system.
One of our priority areas is effective humanitarian assistance delivery for IDPs and refugees in Thailand, and increasingly in India as well. At the same time, we are seeking more government-to-government humanitarian assistance. The United States has already allotted more than $50 million cross-border humanitarian assistance through the mechanism we established. We are asking the EU and other members of the international community to follow this kind of practical approach to increase their cross-border assistance, humanitarian assistance as well as education or health programs to be delivered. The military will never be able to reach out to increasing IDPs and refugees, or they will intentionally block all international efforts to reach those people. We are the ones who are able to handle the situations by delivering effective humanitarian assistance, and respond to health, education or other emergency needs of people. That is why we are asking the international community including ASEAN to work through this channel as well.
What can civil society in our regions do to more engage with and build solidarity in this advocacy?
It is very important because this is a movement of the people. This is not a movement of the government or any specific group, but this is a movement by the people. NUG’s approach is a people-centred approach. When we engage with a country, we engage not only with the government, or parliament, but also we engage with the people. We trust people’s power. We trust that people’s involvement will be more fruitful for the desired result we all are aiming for.
There are a lot of ways in which civil society organisations (CSOs) can help our case. The first thing is awareness raising like you are doing now by talking with ethnic leaders and those who are representing people. As I mentioned, Myanmar is a multi ethnic society. We have major religious groups, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and others. There are not only the political spectrum, but also regional and the religious spectrum. We have to aproach Muslim, Buddhists and everybody so the people-to-people engagement will be more fruitful. Political awareness – human rights and democratisation awareness is very important. What we have to make it clear is that if you recognise militarism or military dictatorship as a de facto authority in Myanmar, you cannot find solutions. The problem of Myanmar now will be never ending because people will not accept it and people are determined to end the military dictatorship and take initiatives to build a genuine federal democratic union. In that effort, awareness raising of the political situations, human rights situations and the determination of the people is important.
Second thing you can do is to raise the attention of the respective government in your country, or where you are based, in Southeast Asia and East Asia. Without the clear understanding of the will of the people and if they do not use their power effectively, ASEAN member state governments or any other governments will not move correctly. It is a very crucial role for CSOs to work together regionally or internationally; to work with Burmese CSOs and understand the complete picture of the problem or conflict. Then you can correctly educate your own government and people through media awareness and so forth.
At the same time, you have respective expertise on human rights, democracy, education, international law and so forth, all of which are needed not only to defeat the military junta, but also to re-establish our country as a democratic federal union. Therefore, we all need people-to-people engagements in those respective areas to learn from you, to share with you, and to work with you in order to establish genuine civil society and to develop civic space in the Burmese future society. Not only establishing solidarity within the movement, or regional or international movements focusing on Myanmar’s case, but also you can help establish the future. We believe that, in those areas, without active CSOs, the dictatorship will be able to manipulate the situation. We want stronger and more systematic development of CSOs and civic space in the future of Myanmar society. You may understand how to utilise your expertise, respective expertise in so many areas. You have CSOs and civic space for key areas such as democratisation, human rights, or constitutional preparation, or education and health systems within the society. We use a people-centred approach, so we want active civil society development in the future Myanmar as well. We even believe that without participation of regional civil society, strong cooperation and solidarity, we cannot gain the serious attention of the ASEAN leadership. The Philippine Foreign Minister has spoken very clearly and loudly that if the military continues to reject the special envoy to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or other political leaders, they would consider inviting NUG to all ASEAN meetings. This is the first time we hear such a very encouraging message. ASEAN leadership needs to be pushed by the ASEAN CSOs that it is time to make a very clear cut decision to whom you will work with.
You have explained a lot about the current conditions and very challenging situations caused by Tatmadaw. What inspires us is that despite all these conditions, people in Myanmar continue to resist and struggles still continue.
What we are also assuring is that accountability, responsibility and justice must be served for what happened between 2016 and 2017 against the Rohingya minority people in our country. On one hand is that justice, accountability and responsibility must be served, and on the other, at the same time, we are working closely with Rohingya international campaign leaders. How can we work together to ensure they are part of the society? The first point is to end the military dictatorship, and none of Myanmar people would be discriminated against within the future federal union. This is also an area we are taking initiative.
The final point is on the International Crisis Group’s (ICG) report. ICG usually calls for a very engaging kind of peace process, ceasefire efforts and so forth. However, this time in the report, they are saying clearly that international donors should shift focus from supporting the peace process to assisting people in conflict areas effectively. It means that they departed from supporting the peace process, because it is the military who is destroying the peace in the case of Myanmar. Talking about the peace process with the peace destroyer is very impractical. That’s why IGC is untraditionally calling for shifting the priority from the peace process to practical assistance for people in the conflict areas affected by the brutal crackdowns. At the same time, they are recommending international actors to avoid pressuring ethnic groups into a new ceasefire.
We want to keep advocating ASEAN and the international community not to lend any legitimacy (to the military), but instead open the door for closer working relations with the legitimate representatives of the people of Myanmar.