TNI’s Myanmar programme works to strengthen ethnic-based civil society organisations (CSOs) and Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) to engage in policy development with respect to land and other natural resources. As these are often opium-growing regions, the programme necessarily includes a focus on drugs. TNI seeks to build the capacity and confidence of opium and other farmers, with an emphasis on participation by women and youth as well as internally displaced people (IDPs), to develop their own positions on policies; to normalize dialogues with the EAOs that control the territories such that a certain social compact is achieved; to facilitate exchanges among the regions such that they are collectively strengthened in engaging with the Myanmar national state on key common policy areas. TNI works in Karen, Kachin, Karenni, Mon, Shan, Kayah and Tanintharyi states, as well as at national level. It brings international context and experiences to bear on the process, and helps CSOs understand the more technical nature of national legal proposals and their implications for the communities while encouraging them to develop and articulate their own analysis and positions.
Key results in 2018, as an outcome of processes TNI has facilitated since 2013, include land and natural resource policies developed by three more Ethnic Armed Organisations (one has a draft ready, and two have zero drafts ready), with a fifth still in development. The first such policy was achieved earlier in Karen state through a process which established a social contract with villages, and which has come to provide a model for the other states. There, TNI supported the development of the Salween Peace Park. It gives the people a say in their own development path through a democratic process ratified by a referendum supported by 78% of the population, and includes the right to say no to foreign investors.
Significantly, these policies have been developed with civil society organisations (CSO) input as EAOs – as well as the Mynamar state — have come to accept CSOs as dialogue partners over time. Indeed, it is often that the CSOs are in the lead in policy development, thanks to the capacity-building support they have received from TNI and the Myanmar NGO partners with which cooperation has been built over the years. Complementing this effort, a report commissioned by TNI on how Myanmar could take a sustainable development path and avoid the pitfalls of the prevailing orthodox was widely discussed by CSOs in Myanmar, and was also in high demand from EAOs and Myanmar government officials.
In 2018, the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land law was amended to allow the government to reallocate ancestral lands governed by customary arrangements to domestic and foreign investors. This would render millions of people, particularly in ethnic minority regions, landless and criminalised should they attempt to use the lands, and profoundly threatens peace. TNI facilitated exchanges among IDPs and with CSOs across five states. This resulted in a joint statement on the new law, and a major campaign launched to suspend the amendment, which is due to come into effect in March 2019.
A similar effort was undertaken in and between Kachin and Karen state relating to a new law on biodiversity conservation, which had not been subject to any prior consultation. For the first time, the programme also worked with communities in Tanintharyi state, where marine, mining and Special Economic Zone projects are being implemented by the central government.
Regarding drugs policy, a significant result was booked with the adoption of a new National Drug Control Policy in February, which commits Myanmar to reducing harm by treating drug use related issues as a public health rather than criminal matter, albeit still in contradiction with Myanmar’s still draconian narcotics law. Myanmar government officials explicitly cited TNI-facilitated dialogues as having been invaluable in the development of the new policy. Later in the year, TNI organised an exposure trip to the Netherlands and Germany for Myanmar officials to examine alternative drug policy approaches. The delegation included representatives of national, regional and local government as well as the drug control agency of the police.
TNI, GIZ (German development agency) and the Myanmar government co-hosted the 10th Asian regional drug policy forum, which took place in Shan state in early 2018. It was attended by governments, researchers and CSOs from Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, China, and Tajikistan, as well as from Latin America and UN agencies. The dialogue was followed by a field trip to opium growing areas. Significantly, no arrests took place and officials spoke with farmers about how to improve drugs policy in Myanmar. In both Shan and Kachin states, opium farmers were able to safely dialogue with EAOs too. TNI also arranged exchange visits for farmers from Myanmar and Colombia so that they could learn lessons from each other given the history of illicit cultivation, conflict and fragile peace processes in both countries.