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Role of Civil Society Organizations in Peace-Building in Myanmar  

Info: 10257 words (41 pages) Dissertation
Published: 9th Dec 2019

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Forging Sustainable Peace: The role of Civil Society Organizations in peace-building in Myanmar

Chapter (I) Introduction

I. Background to Peace-building and Civil Society Organizations

The global peace-building mechanism started with the establishment of League of Nation following the Huge peace conference in 1898, which later result to the establishment of the United Nations in the end of second world war with the objectives to monitor and support global peace through mediation, facilitation and arbitration between states that are in conflict; however, the major actors in global peace monitoring and peace supports led by these global institutions of the time were limited to state and international diplomats as it was considered that the involvement of other sectors such as civil society would complicated the peace-building efforts of professional mediators and diplomats (Paffenholz & Spurk 2006).  The practice of peace-building activities began to take momentum only in early 1990s with the end of the cold war; and, during the period, the international attention on peace and conflict also shifted from inter-state conflicts to resolving and managing armed conflict within states as the intrastate armed conflicts persistently continue to increase (Lederach 1997, p.10) and as these conflict become a significant source of regional and instability in the post-cold world system (Keating & Knight 2004, p.33) because weak states can create environment that allow emergence of terrorists and criminal networks (Barnett et al, 2007).

While the practice of global peace-building started since the end of the first world war, the discourse of peace-building become an authoritative discourse (although it was first introduced by Johan Galtung in 1976[1]) only after the UN Secretary General Bourtros Boutros-Ghali use the term in “An Agenda for Peace” (ibid, p.35), in which he defined the term as “actions to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid relapse into conflict” (Boutros-Ghali 1992, p.11). Boutros-Ghali perceived peace-building more as post-conflict activities that involves creating a new peace conducive environment in political, economic, social and security sectors of the conflict-affected countries in order to prevent conflict from re-occurring; and thus, it is presumed to play a complementary role to peace-making and peace-keeping (ibid). Some of the peace-building activities under his conception include the issues of disarming and destroying weapons, refugee repatriation, training support for security personals and strengthening institutions of governance (Keating & Knight 2004, p.35); and the professionals from the UN and officials from the parties involved in conflict are the key actors in these activities as framed in the ‘Agenda for peace’ (Mac Ginty & Richmond 2013). In other word, the UN peace-building approach of the time see peace as state affair and all the interventions were limited to high level officials and diplomats. Similar to peace-building practice, the peace-building research discourse was also focused on the role of external actors until mid 1990s (Paffenholz & Spurk 2006).

However, the failure of UN diplomats led peace-making, peace-keeping and peace-building approach to instill peace in internal armed conflicts affected countries such as Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia, due to a frequent lack of political will in the international community, bring a lot of criticism toward the UN approach of designing and implementing peace-building (Lenonardsson & Rudd 2015).  Lederach (1997) argues that the setting of the intrastate conflicts in post-cold war are related to communal and inter-communal conflicts characterized by deep-rooted and longstanding animosities along group identities that are fighting to attain rights in opposition to each other in countries that are struggling with poverty, inequalities and underdevelopment; and the diplomatic approach to conflict resolution adopted by international peace institutions such as the United Nations is very limited in dealing with such internal conflicts as it can not address the root of conflicts. Therefore, it become imperative to engage with wider society in the process of building peace in order to create the changes needed for achieving durable and sustainable peace (Berns 2006).

With the increase criticism toward the top-level diplomats oriented approach and external interventions approach to peace-building emerged the new approach that emphasizes on the need to involve grass-roots and civil society in late 1990s (Paffenholz & Spurk 2006). Paffenholz and Spurk (2006) further argue that the shift in paradigm of peace-building was primarily driven by the pioneering work of Lederach in 1997 titled ‘Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Society’, where he argued that ‘[when] the general tendency is to think of peace-building as being initiated with outside resources, whether money or personnel; but the inverse is probably true [and] [t]he greatest resource for sustaining peace in the long term is always rooted in the local people and their culture” (Lederach 1997, p.94). Lederach (1997) also further reinterpreted peace-building, in contrary to Boutros-Ghal’s perception of peace-building as post-conflict activities after the warring parties signed peace accord, as a comprehensive process that includes all stages ranging from signing of accord to transforming toward a more sustainable and peaceful social relationships, implying that the grass-roots and civil society involvement should also be involving in all peace-building efforts.  The significant of involving grass-roots and civil society to achieve sustainable peace was also later recognized by the United Nations and it’s reflected in the report of the secretary general Kofi Annan titled ‘No exit without strategy’, in which he emphasized: “successful cases [of sustainable peace] have often included reformed systems of governance that are responsive to people’s basic needs at the local, regional, and national levels….this can only be achieved by the local population itself” (Annan 2001, p.2).

Along with the shift in paradigm of peace-building discourse, the international community also increasingly focused on the potential role of civil society (Paffenholz & Spurk 2006). It is believed that civil society is the force that favor peace in society and is seen as more representative and closer to the grassroots than both government institutions and armed groups involve in conflict; and thus, vibrant civil societies is believed to be a key component of democratization and peace-building and presumed to contribute to reforming state-society relations and emergence of responsive and legitimate institutions that can effectively deal with conflict (Verkoren & Leeuwen 2013). In addition, Steinberg (2006, p.151) also noted: “civil society organizations could also help the reconciliation process by highlighting issues that need to be addressed in the negotiations necessary for reaching compromise or concluding peace, and by facilitating understanding of majority-minority relations among the minorities themselves.”  Similarly, Das (2007) claimed that in a situation where ethnicity creep into civil society sphere and the organizations are with ‘civil’ intention, they can also play a role as ‘civic representatives’ of their ethnicity and communities in peace-building processes. The significance of civil society in peace-building is further strengthened by researches showing that, although exclusion of civil society actors may streamline the peace negotiation process, the peace-building processes that involved civil society actors are more durable than those that are only settled by high level officials and diplomats (John & Kew, 2008). Fischer (2006) also explained that civil society organizations also help to foster peaceful situation in conflict ridden countries by engaging in a range of activities including in early warning system, dialogue facilitation and conflict mediation as well as in building social cohesion through cross-cultural understanding and relationship building. Similarly, Berns (2006) also argued, based on the three years experiences of Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), that civil societies play important roles in every stage in conflict resolution ranging from unearthing injustice situation to prevention of violence, from creating conditions conducive for peace negotiation and peace settlement to ensuring that the settlement and agreements are consolidated as well as healing the victims of armed conflict related psychological trauma. The paradigm shift in peace-building conceptual framework driven by Lederach’s new approach combined with the increased recognition of the significance of civil society to international politics in conflict setting as a tool for peace building lead to large amount of donors supports directed toward civil societies peace building activities; and that resulted to proliferation of international, national and local peace-building initiatives (Paffenholz & Spurk 2006).

II. Issues and Debates on Civil Society and Peace-building

As mentioned above, the growing importance of civil society’s role in the peace-building and international politics is impossible to negate (Fisher 2006) and it has been widely acknowledged by international organizations such as the United Nations and in academic discourses in the last decade to the extend that the discussion on whether civil societies have a role to play or not in peace-building is no longer the main debate, but rather the debate is more on its significance to and how it can best contribute to peace-building processes (World Bank 2007). In addition, Fisher (2006) also remarked that the impacts, legitimacy and activities of civil society in relation to peace-building is the current controversial debates among scholars and practitioners. Some researchers have shows skepticism about the efficiency and effectiveness of current practices of civil society organizations led peace initiatives and their contributions to peace-building. Paffenholz and Spurks (2006) argue that the existence of support for and presence of civil society don’t automatically lead to peace-building. Likewise, Orjuela (2003) argues that it is not useful to just assume civil society as being ‘good’ and ‘peace bringing’ without specifying their function and critically evaluating their achievement. She further argued base on her study in Sri Lanka that most of the civil societies organization’s peace-building activities are often ‘project-oriented and top-down rather than mass-based’ and thus raised the question on the assumption of seeing civil society organizations as the people or ‘from below’. Similarly, the world banks study on the accountability of civil society organizations to the local citizen in three conflict affected African countries – Angola, Guinea Bissau, and Togo – find out that civil society organizations tend to be more responsive to donors’ demands by implementing activities in line with their donor’s agenda rather than addressing the local priorities (World Bank 2005). Vogel (2016) also argues that increase demand for professionalization from peace-building civil society organizations by donors not only just create ‘conflict resolution’ into a job market and a livelihood for peace actors, but it also excluded the rural communities who are more underprivileged and less educated from peace-building. Such donor-driven civil society peace initiatives and monetization of peace work can result to reduced domestic ownership of peace-building (Paffenholz 2014).

Therefore, despite it’s theoretically assumed that there is a positive relationship between civil society and sustainable peace building, Paffenholz and Spurks (2006) recommended for the need to conduct more systematic studies on the roles and contribution of civil society organizations to peace-building due to the presence of ambivalence of civil society contribution to peace-building processes. In addition, World Bank (2007) also pointed out that, in order to understand to what extend civil society can play active role and make positive contribution to peace-building, it is important to investigate a range of external factors that define the environment in which they operate as well as the internal characteristics and capacities of civil society.

III. Research Questions

Myanmar has been affected by conflicts between ethnic armed groups and a militarized state for over half a century since the country gained independence from British in 1948. The communities particularly in ethnic nationality-populated rural areas have been disrupted and displaced for generations as results of the conflict. Successive government have attempted to end the conflict through  different form of peace approaches. The first attempt was when Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP) government under general Nay Win issued an amnesty order in 1963 and invited ethnic and communist rebellion groups for peace-negotiation, but the negotiation failed to materialized (Thu 2014). Consequently, the Ney Win government launched over 738 military operations to eliminate ethnic rebellion in all parts of the countries (ibid). After BSPP government was toppled down by the nationwide student uprising in 1988, another military regime, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) which later transformed into State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), took over the power and initiated a new era of ceasefire agreement with ethnic armed groups. The military regime made unwritten ‘gentleman agreement’ ceasefire deals with over 40 armed groups one after another (Oo 2014) without involvement of any other stakeholder nor agreeing to hold political dialogue to address the root cause of the conflict, while some major ethnic armed groups including Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and Shan State Army – South (SSA-S) among others continued their fight against the regime. Until 2010, among the 40 groups that agreed to cease fire with the government:15 groups were either disarmed or integrated into paramilitary units under the control of government troop,  another 15 groups were transformed into militia groups or border guard forces with each controlling certain territory and five refused to be incorporate into government forces (ibid). Among the five only one, Kachin Independent Organization (KIO), return to open conflict with military and made alliance with other non-ceasefire armed groups (ibid). Under the both BSPP and SLRC/SPDC regimes, civil society movement were severely oppressed and any opposition to the regimes were eliminated (Petrie & South 2014), and thus forcing many of the civil society organizations to emerge and active in exile.

However, the general election held in 2010 was a major turning point in which the former-general U Thein Sein was elected as the president. Upon assuming the president office in 2011, he immediately started democratic reform and initiated peace process to negotiate with the remaining ethnic armed groups that are in open conflict with the government by announcing that he was ‘holding out the olive branch to peace’ in 2012 with the aim to bring about an end to ethnic armed conflict in Myanmar and create lasting peace in the country (BBC 2016).  By October 2015, the government signed Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with eight major ethnic armed groups and the agreement was approved by the Union Parliament (Frontier Myanmar 2015), while negotiation with other non-signatory of NCA groups is still ongoing with the new National League for Democracy (NLD) government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Along with president Thein Seing’ reform agenda, more space were opened for civil society organizations and politicized civil society activism led by political elites with the aim to promote and support democracy and peace emerged in Myanmar (Petrie & South 2014). Likewise, many civil society activists in exile has also returned as more space is opening (ibid). Despite the positive development in the political arenas in terms of progress in peace process and openness of space for civil society organizations, the ongoing military offensive against non-signatory armed groups in norther region of the country is displacing over 50,000 people. Compounded to that, the communal tension between Muslim and Buddhist population in western part of the country remain tense after communal violence between the two group broke out in 2012 (ibid).

This increasing space for civil society organizations and growing promotion of peace-building efforts by the government amid ongoing complex multi-form of conflicts in Myanmar make it an interesting case to study. While there are some institutions that look into peace-building process in Myanmar such as Burma News International (BNI) – which has been following the progress of the situation and have produced a series of publications titled “Deciphering Peace Process in Myanmar” covering major events happened from 2013-2014[2] – and Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) which produce regular analysis and publications based on the voice of conflict affected communities and people involved in peace process, there are very few evidences of systematic study on the role and contributions of civil society organizations to peace-building efforts in Myanmar. South and Petrie (2014) paper titled ‘Mapping of Myanmar Peace-building Civil Societies’ is the only paper that is found to specifically looks into the civil society and peace building, however the focus of the paper is more on identifying different civil society actors rather than looking into their functions. Therefore, this study aims to understand to what extend civil society organizations from Myanmar have been contributing to peace-building in the country and what are the challenges and barriers that they have been facing; and it is hopeful that this study will also contribute to the wider debate on the effectiveness of civil society organization in peace-building. In order to achieve the aim, the following questions will be pursued by the study:

  1. What is peace-building context in Myanmar?
  2. What is the status of civil society organization in Myanmar
  3. What activities do civil society organizations in Myanmar implement with regards to peace-building in Myanmar?
  4. What are the factors that affect their contributions to peace-building in Myanmar?

IV. The Shape and Scope of the study


This study will look into the roles and contribution of different types of civil society organizations to the development of peace-building efforts in Myanmar. Furthermore, the study will also explore both internal and external factors that shapes and frames the nature of their roles and contributions. It is hopeful that this study will contribute to the ongoing debates on the impacts, potential and limitations of civil society organizations to peace-building efforts. The study will be carried out using qualitative approach. The data for analysis will be collected by reviewing publications produced by civil society organizations that are working on peace-process in Myanmar, journal articles and online news articles as well as by conducting semi-structure telephone interviews with national and local level peace-building civil society organizations in Myanmar. The interview will be structured around their perceived responsibilities as civil society organizations, activities that they have been conducting, difficulties that they are facing, and their recommendations. In order to understand what roles and contributions different level of civil society organization in Myanmar are making to ongoing-peace process, functionalist conceptual frameworks provided by Paffenholz (2006, 2010) will be used and the factors affecting their capability will also be analyzed.
V. Outline of the structure of the study

This chapter has provided a brief background of the development of peace-building practice and involvement of civil society organization in it as well as introduced the debate over the effectiveness of civil society organization in peace-building. It has also presented a brief background on conflict and peace-building process in Myanmar and presented the research questions. The second chapter will provide literature review on the concept and definition of civil society, peace-building and their relations as well as introduce the analytical framework on the roles and functions of civil society in peace building. The third chapter will describe the research method used. The fourth chapter is the empirical chapter in which background context of peace-building in Myanmar and the status of civil society in Myanmar will be explored and it will also identify and analyze the functions and roles of civil society organizations to peace-building in Myanmar based on functionalist conceptual framework. The last section of the chapter will also explore the factors affecting civil society organization’s efficacy and shaping their activities. The concluding chapter will summarize the findings and implications of the study.



Chapter (II) Concepts and theoretical framework of the study


The main purpose of this chapter is to explain and define the two main ideas of the study, which are civil society and peace-building, and their relations. A brief explanation about the concept and definition of civil society organizations, which will be used throughout the study, will be discussed in the first section follow by the discussion on the concept of peace, peace-building and dimensions of peace-building as well as involvement of civil society in different theoretical approaches to peace-building. Lastly, a comprehensive functionalist conceptual framework analyzing civil society’s roles and contribution to peace-building will be discussed, which will be used to analyze the role played and contributions made by civil society in the peace-building process in Myanmar.

Defining and contextualizing concept of civil society


Despite the concept of civil society have a rich history, the fall of communism and opening of democratic systems at the end of cold war along with the rapid growth of non-government organizations on the global stage move it to the center of international attention; and it become ‘big ideas on everyone’s lips today (Ewards 2004, p.2). However, the term civil society is an extremely complex and contested concept because of ideological framing of the concept by thinkers from different school of thoughts to justify their ideological agendas, and that have influenced the theoretical debates and empirical researches  (World Bank 2007 & Ewards 2004, p.2).  As it bears different meaning for different people with different ideological agendas, the term often resulted into a ‘muddled political slogan’ (White 1994), and it’s almost impossible and unrealistic to conceptualized a universally agreed definition of civil society even under the best circumstances (Harpviken and Kjellman 2004).

However, the basic idea of civil society as a domain of voluntary and unforced collective actions around shared interests, purpose and values is generally agreed (Spurk 2010, p.3). Within this basic concept, some scholars such as John Lock, Charles de Montesquieu and Alexis de Tocqueville, who emphasize on the relationship between society and the state, incorporate the ideas of resistance and struggle against state despotism, while other scholars such as Putnam emphasize more on the normative and idealistic value of civil society such as civility, pluralism, respect and tolerances. On the other hand, some scholars such as G.W. Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx, who perceive civil society as a product and support system of economic modernization and capitalism, conceive civil society as a process of people organizing themselves with the goal to protect and extend their interests, ideologies and identities (Eward 2004, p.6-10).

In spite of such variation in conceptualization of civil society, Spurk (2010 p.10-9)  identified two understandings of the structure and positions of civil society within the society at large base on some common ground. In his presentation, the first view of understanding perceives civil society as a sector on its own in which contained various organizations and associations with different objectives, interest and ideologies. According to him, civil society sphere is different from state and political sphere because they are not contesting for political office in government despite they make political demands and are different from economic sphere and private sphere because they are striving for neither economic profits nor for private gain. On the other hand, he argues that the civil society can also be characterized as the space between the state/political sphere, economic sphere and family/private sphere, where the boundary between each sector is blurred; and, in this view, civil society actors can be active in various sphere simultaneously. Therefore, the second view of civil society take into account of a wider range of actors within civil society including community leaders, informal rural groups, religious and ethnic organizations as well as actors from other sectors such as business associations when they made political demands (Spurk 2010 p.25, White 1994). Similar to Spurk’s second understanding of civil society, Harpviken and Kjellman (2004) further elaborate that, in developing countries, the civil society, state institutions and market are closely interrelated that it is difficult to think of civil society as a separate sphere.

By synthesizing the above two structures and positions of understanding about civil society in society at large, Spurk defines civil society as following: “civil society is a sphere of voluntary action that is distinct from the state, political, private, and economic sphere, keeping in mind that in practice the boundaries between these sectors are often complex and blurred. It consists of a large and diverse set of voluntary organizations – competing with each other and oriented towards specific interests – that are not purely driven by private or economic interests, are autonomously organized, and interact in the public sphere. Thus, civil society is independent from the state and the political sphere, but is oriented toward and interacts closely with them” (Spurk 2010, p. 8).

This view of understanding civil society is appropriate for the study of civil society in Myanmar because it reflects the diversity of civil society composition in Myanmar. As explained by Steinberg (1997), civil society in Myanmar, prior to democratic transition primarily, was composed of non-ephemeral organizations of individuals from various sectors – including religious, cultural, students and trade associations among others – that come together to purse their respective common purposes through group activities. Lidaures (2010) explained further about the development of civil society in Myanmar that more politically active and institutionalized civil society organizations such as National and Local Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), advocacy groups and networks and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) began to proliferate in the country after Nargis cyclone hit Myanmar (Lidauer 2012). The political activeness of civil society was further enlarged by the decision of National League for Democracy to engage in social work as part of engaging with communities and mobilizing their supports in the context where their political work was still suppressed by the government authorities (Petrie & South 2014). Therefore, Lidauer (2012) also noted that the line between civil society and political opposition groups is often blurred in Myanmar. Given the context, it is impossible to view civil society as a separate sector in Myanmar but rather it’s a sphere enmeshed with state/political sphere, economic sphere as well as family/ethnic/kinship sphere.

As this study will primarily focus on more established and institutionalized form of civil society, also known as Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), it will adopt a more concrete definition of CSOs provided by World Bank, which is defined as: “a wide array of non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations that have a presence in public life, expressing the interests and values of their members or others, based on ethical, cultural, political, scientific, religious or philanthropic considerations. The term goes beyond the narrower category of development-oriented NGOs, and depicts a broad range of organizations, such as community groups, women’s association, labor unions, indigenous groups, youth groups, charitable organizations, foundations, faith-based organizations,  professional associations, think tanks, independent educational organizations and social movements” (World Bank 2007, p.2). This broad definition of civil society organizations is most suited for the study because some of the organizations that this study will look at are established along the line of ethnicity, gender and youth.

Defining Concepts of Peace, Peace-Building and dimensions of peace-building


While the purpose of peace-building is to create peace (Haugerudbraaten 1998), the term ‘peace’ itself is inherently contentious and can be interpenetrated in multiple ways (Barnes 2009); and this is problematic as the term is often used by different actors in conflicts differently to promote or justify their actions (Gawerc 2006).  As Barnes (2009) argued, “peace for one could be experienced as pacification by another…[and] the pursuit of justice for one could be experienced as war by another.” To broaden our understanding on the definition of peace in more a positive way, Galtung (1996, p.1-3) differentiated two different concepts of peace; the first is ‘negative peace’ concept of which he refer to as achieving a situation of an absence of direct violence where groups don’t physically attack to kill one another in the form of armed conflicts, and another is ‘positive peace’ concept where root causes of conflicts such as structural violence and cultural violence are addressed to prevent re-occurrence or escalation of new and old violent conflicts and a stable social equilibrium is achieved. Galtung further argued that while the ‘negative peace’ can be achieved through ‘peace making’ and ‘peace keeping’, which focus on negotiating and removing tensions between conflicting parties (Paffenholz 2010, 45), such narrow approach to peace is doomed in advance (Galtung 1996, p.2). It is now generally agreed that peace-building process aimed to create ‘positive peace’ (Haugerudbraaten 1998) with the intention to create “a structure of peace that is based on justice, equity, and cooperation, thereby addressing the underlying causes of violent conflict so that they become less likely in the future” (Gawerc 2006, p.439). However, there is two contentious paradigms of how best to achieve sustainable or positive peace and in what situation can it be called peace-building is completed; and these two pardigmes are: liberal peace-building and sustainable peace-building (Paffenholz 2010, p.46).

From the liberal peace-building point of view, it is argued that social conflict is inevitable; and as long as conflict does not become violent, it can even contribute to ‘a dynamic and innovative society’ (Haugerudbratten 1998). Based on Kant’s arguments in 18th century that democratic value is strongly correlate with peaceful behaviors because democracies’ shared norms of compromise and cooperation prevent conflicts of interests from escalating into violence, liberal peace-building paradigm focus on establishing ‘security, political structures, rule of laws and economic reforms’ at the end of armed conflict (Paffenholz 2010, p.47). In this liberal peace notion, it’s perceived that through such reestablishment and readjustment of political structure at the top level, peace will flow down to citizen and community level automatically (Clements 2014). In this sense, the liberal peace-building is in line with the UN’s ‘Agenda for peace’ conception of peace building, as mentioned in the introduction section of the study, which perceive peace-building as the last of three stages to be undertaken after peace-making and peace-keeping have been made in order to prevent relapse of violent conflict. Under this paradigm of understanding, peace-building end when the post-conflict affected countries can ensure security for its people and a working democratic political structure, such as a legitimized government elected from free election, is set up (Paffenholz 2010). However, liberal peace-building paradigm approach is criticized that democratic values, good governance and security can crumble and break up under strong social tension (Haugerudbratten 1998). For example, Tziarras (2012) argue that the liberal peace building effort in Kosovo don’t result to stable peace because, as the ethnic divisions have been historically institutionalized in the country, not only the democracy value was not fully embraced by the whole society which result to low electoral participation but also unresolved ethnic grievance resulted to violent unrest in 2004. Therefore, sustainable peace paradigm advocates argued that peace-building need to also take into consideration about the complexity of the conflict situation and focus on addressing the root causes of conflicts in order to be effective and to achieve lasting peace (Haugerudbratten 1998).

Puffenholz (2010, p.47) argue that the conceptualization of sustainable peace can be attributed to John Paul Leaderach who identified relationships as a central component of peace-building. Leaderach (1997, p.18) argued that contemporary violent conflicts are the resulted of deep-rooted animosities, which are often reinforced by protected violence and direct experiences of atrocities; and therefore, the psychological and cultural features are often the main elements that sustain the conflict. He argues that since the conflicts are emotionally attached, there is no successful short-term rational political and legal remedy to address them. Therefore, he sees peace-building as a long term process of building good relationship to create sustainable reconciliation between and among various levels of people involved in and affected by violent conflicts through creation of social and political space, where they can interact among themselves as well as with each other to ‘recognize past grievances and explore future interdependence’ (ibid, p.23-37). Similarly, Clements, who is inspired by social-psychological and ethical arguments for peace and non-violence put-forwarded by Emmanuel Levians, argues that “building sustainable peace is not just a question of enhancing the power and effectiveness of the state, economy or civil society, rather it is an enhancement of positive peaceful relationships at all levels of social engagement” (Clements 2014). Therefore, in his view, peace-building requires to create a situation of “(1) trustworthy, empathetic and predictable relationships; (2) strong, resilient and relatively equal communities; (3) sustainable economies capable of satisfying basic human needs and (4) political systems capable of maintaining order, rule of law and promotion of justice and common good” (ibid). However, the limitations of this approach, particularly with the relationship building, is that there is no clear end and scope of peace-building as it allows almost any activity at any given time Puffenholz (2010, p.47). Similarly, World Bank (2007) also noted that such broad concept of peace-building make it difficult to distinguish between when peace-building activities end and when the regular development activities starts.

Although these two paradigm of peace-building have some differences, Puffenholz (2010, p.49) argues that these two paradigms also have overlapping elements. She argue that, for example, sustainable peace-building approaches also constitute many liberal elements of ‘good society’ (ibid). While acknowledging that the two approaches are differences, she defined a more balancing definition between the two peace-building paradigms as following: “Peace-building aims at preventing and managing armed conflict and sustainable peace after large-scale organized violence has ended. It is a multidimensional effort; its scope covers all activities that are linked directly to this objective across five to ten years. Peace-building should create conducive conditions for economic reconstruction, development, and democratization as preconditions for legitimate democratic order; but should not be equated and thus confused with these concepts” (Paffenholz 2010, p.49).

The above definitions of peace-building highlight that the signing of peace agreement and ending of armed conflict don’t automatically achieved sustainable positive peace, and that it’s a long term working processes. In order to achieve sustainable peace, the long term ongoing peace-building efforts need to focus on three dimensions, which are: (1) “altering structural contradictions” that includes undertaking “state-building and democratization measures, reform of structures that procreate conflicts, economic and sustainable development, social justices and human rights, empowerment of civil society and constructive journalism”; (2) “improving relations between conflict parties” by carrying out programs of reconciliation, trust-building and dealing with the past that aimed to transform damaged relationship; and (3) “changing individual attitudes and behavior” by “strengthening individual peace capacities, breaking stereotypes, empowering formerly disadvantaged groups, and healing trauma and psychological wounds of war” through training and conflict resolutions workshops/dialogues (Berghof Foundation 2012, p.62-64).

Civil Society involvement in different theoretical approaches to peace-building


As there exist different paradigms of peace-building, the primary actors involved in the peace-building processes are also different depending on the peace-building approaches adopted. In general, there are three prominent peace-building approaches, which are outcome oriented approach or the traditional conflict management approach, relationship-oriented conflict resolution approach and comprehensive conflict transformation approach (World Bank 2007).

In the conflict management approach, the primary aim is to end conflict through diplomatic initiatives among elites from conflicting parties and the initiatives are normally mediated by external diplomats from multi-literal organizations such as the United Nations or regional governmental organizations (Paffenholz, p.50). In this approach, the main actors responsible to achieving peace lie on the representatives of the leaders (Lederach 1997, p.45); and the role of civil society is very limited as non-state issues are not the primary concerns in this approach (Paffenholz p.56). The weakness of this approach is that focusing narrowly on top level representatives in negotiation may miss the real causes of conflict that can affect sustainability of peace agreement (World Bank 2007) as many of the representatives may not be truly representing the people that they claim and they may settle with agreement that will guarantees them to hold on to power. Richmond (2001) claims that this approach allow state-centric political settlements between conflicting parties based on ‘peace without justice’.  Similarly, Kumar (1997, p.2) claimed that as the civil war is the result of failed political system, achieving pre-crisis conditions through settlement between leaders to agree cease-firing as solution is not enough; there is a need to revisit and redefine the relationship between political authority and citizens as well as between different ethnic and social groups.

In contrary to conflict management approach, conflict resolution approach regard conflict as a social phenomenon, and thus, not only leaders but also society need to be involved in peace-building process. It aims to address address the root causes of conflict by rebuilding the social fabric of conflict-affected society (World Bank 2007). A central tool in this approach is the problem-solving workshops initially design to enable positive interaction among conflicting parties’ representatives who can influence their leaders; and these workshops are facilitated by social scientists whose position is not to propose solutions but rather to create appropriate context for emergence of solutions from the conflicting parties themselves (Kelman 1979). As the approach evolved, the scope of actor is expended by involving individuals, communities and organized civil society groups (Paffenholz p.52). Richmond (2001) noted that conflict resolution approach’s attempt is to transform conflict into peaceful non-violent process of social and political change rather than to eliminate conflict, thus it’s a never ending task.  World Bank (2007) also states that long term relationship approach is not appropriate in the situation of sever violence and that building good relationship between individuals affected by and involved in conflict don’t always have strong impact on the peace processes.

Conflict transformation approach, which is currently the leading peace-building approach (World Bank 2007), aims to resolve the underlying causes of violent conflicts by combining both short-term conflict management and long-term relationship building. Ledearch (1997), the pioneer of conflict transformation scholar, identified three separate levels of actors for peace-building – in top level includes political and military leaders who are highly visible, in middle level includes community leaders, ethnic/religious leaders and civil society organizations and in grass roots level include community members, local leaders and local civil society organizations – who should be approached with different peace-building strategies. According to Ledearch, high level official negotiations aiming at achieving cease-fire should be targeted at top level leaders while problem solving workshops, informal meeting and peace training should be targeted at the middle level leaders and activities such as formation of peace commission and programmatic peace-building activities such as local level discussions on peace related issues can be targeted at grass root level leaders and community members. He further added that although peace-building engagement need to take place in all level concurrently, the middle level, which is the realm of active social groups that make up civil society, is the most important as it can influence on both the top and grass root level.

In summary, while the conflict management theoretical approach to peace-building offer very limited space for civil society organizations, the other two approaches emphasized on the importance of civil society in achieving sustainable peace. The following section will look into the framework to analyze the functions of civil society organizations in peace-building.

Comprehensive Analytical Framework: The functions of civil society organization in Peace-building

So far, the theoretical and concepts about civil society, peace-building and their relation have been discussed, and the theoretical literature showed that civil society play an important role in achieving sustainable peace. In order to structurally understand the functions of civil society in peace-building Paffenholz and Spurk (2010) developed a ‘comprehensive analytical framework’ based on the work of Merkel and Lauth and Edward’s civil society function and role model. They also argue that while analyzing the functions of civil society, it’s also important to take into account of the context of the peace-building within the country of study as well as the impacts of the regional and international actors on the peace-building process. In addition, they argue that it’s necessary to understand the status of the civil society of the country being study including their composition, the characteristics and the enabling environment for civil society (Paffenholz & Spurk 2010, p.66). The following are seven functions constituted in framework:

1. Protection

In normal situation, protecting citizen is the responsibility of the state and the roles of civil society to remind the state of its responsibility and pressure the state to honor the responsibility (Spurk 2010, p.21). However, during and immediately aftermath of armed conflict, the state capacity to provide protection for its citizen life, rights and property against threats from conflict actors are very weak, and in some instances, the state itself might be perpetrators of violence. In conflict situation, creating safe space is very important to enable civil society organizations to perform other peace-building functions, and thus protection is almost a precondition (Schirch 2008). While international civil society organization can play an important protection role by acting as observers and watchdog of the conflict situations with the accompany of local civil society, the national and local civil society organizations and community members can also play important role by creating peace zones, other civil society initiatives for human security and provision of humanitarian assistance to victims (Paffenholz & Spurk 2010, p.67-8). In addition, civil society organizations can also provide support in security related interventions such as removing land mine and demobilization, disarmament and reintegration of former combatants (ibid).

2. Monitoring

Monitoring is one of the key function to enable civil society to carry out advocacy, provide recommendations to decision makers as well as protection function. The task in monitoring for civil society organizations in conflict situation involve surfacing human rights abuses and seek for justice through national legal system and international human rights mechanisms, creating early warning system in collaboration with local communities and setting up civilian monitoring initiatives (Paffenholz & Spruk 2010, p.68, Barnes 2009, Schirch 2008).

3. Advocacy and Public Communication

One of the core function of civil society in democracy discourse is to make the voice of people in disadvantage position to be heard by policy makers. In the case of peace-building, the task of civil society involve identifying the issues that need to be addressed in responding to the conflict and bring the issues to national dialogues, advocating for involvement of civil society in peace dialogues, mobilizing people to generate public pressure as well as political wills of decision makers against recurrent of violent conflicts and advocating specific issues such as land minds and child soldier to international communities in order to put pressures on armed groups (Paffenholz & Spurk 2010, p.69, Barnes 2009). The advocacy work can be distinguish into two different categories: one is direct engagement with the elite representatives of conflicting parties and another is by demonstrating public opinions on certain issues through demonstrations, press release, petitions and statements (Paffenholz & Spurk 2010, p.69).

4. In-Group Socialization

In the context of conflict, it’s import for society to be able to address conflict in peaceful ways. The socialization function of civil society in this context is to instill and promote ‘democratic value’ and ‘culture of peace’ through dialogue projects, peace education as well as traditional conflict resolution and reconciliation training. Socialization in this context focus on within-group rather than between adversary groups as it aim toward building and strengthening the identity of a particular group, especially the most oppressed and marginalized group, in conflicts where power relations is unbalance.  The rational behind socialization function is that by strengthening in-group identity with peaceful attitude, it will empowered the group to engage with their adversary groups (Paffenholz & Spurk 2010, p.70-1).

5. Social Cohesion

Violent conflict often destroy the social relation and social fabric between different ethnic, religious and class groups, and restoring reconstruction trust between the groups and communities is very important in order to prevent ‘uncivil virtues’. The social cohesion function of civil society in peace-building is to help the groups to learn how to live in harmony and in peaceful coexistence. Civil society organizations can undertake three types of activities that can create platform for group in adversary to build social cohesion, which are: 1) building relationship between adversary groups through workshops, dialogues and exchanges visits; 2) achieving concrete peace-building outcomes by bringing representatives of conflicting parties in conflict resolution workshops and other peace initiatives; and 3) bringing groups in conflicts together to carry out developmental work and projects which enable building trust and social capital unconsciously (Paffenholz & Spurk 2010, p.71-2).

6. Intermediation and Facilitation

In the democracy discourse, civil society play an important role as an inter-mediator/facilitator between the state and citizen. In the context of peace-building, civil society organizations can carry out formal and informal facilitation initiatives between and among relevant stakeholders such as armed groups, communities and development/aid agencies at the local level for not only creating peace conducive environment but also for delivery of aids to conflict affect victims (Paffenholz & Spurk 2010, p.73-4). In addition, although it’s widely recognized that local and national civil society play a very limited role in official national level they diplomatic conflict management activities such as in official peace agreement negotiations because such functions are often carried by third party such as officials from UN or other international NGOs, they can still play an important role by engaging with different actors involved in dialogue in preparation for formal negotiation (World Bank 2007).

7. Service Delivery

In conflict context, when the weaken state government often fail to effectively provide services to its citizen in conflict affected areas, it’s very important that civil society organizations fill in the role to help the war affected population. However, whether the service delivery as a function of civil society organization is relevant to peace-building is a contentious issues as some argue that it’s relevant because it safe lives, reduce people’s suffering and is effective in reaching to the most marginalized groups which may be the roots of conflicts while other argue that it is the task of humanitarian organizations, the state and market (World Bank 2007). Since, it remain ambiguous, Paffenholz and Spurk (2010, p.74-5) argue that it’s important to explore whether the service delivery function can provide entry points for civil society organizations to carry out other peace-building activities.

The above mentioned seven functions will be used as an analytical framework to explore the activities of civil society organization in Myanmar as well as analyze the challenges and limitations that they face in fulfilling these functions.



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[1] Cited in Fischer 2006 as footnote

[2] ‘Deciphering Peace Process’ publications produced by Burma News International are available at http://mmpeacemonitor.org/research/reports

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