Myanmar has an estimated population of 53 million and a territory of around 675,000 km², making it the largest country in continental South East Asia. The country witnessed significant change over recent years. A democratically elected government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, took over in April 2016 after 5 decades of military rule. The smooth handover of power to the new government led by the National League for Democracy demonstrated that remarkable progress had been achieved over a comparatively short period. However, under the current constitution the military remains an important political actor, occupying 25% of parliamentary seats unelected, holding a veto power over constitutional amendments and providing 3 key ministerial posts.
The reforms and transition to full democratic rule are progressing at a slow pace. In a context of sustained high economic growth the government faces multi-faceted challenges like consolidating democracy, promoting ethnic peace and reconciliation, advancing constitutional reforms, institution building, development of basic infrastructure and security sector reform.
On 25 August 2017, following the attacks launched by the insurgent group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on police and border posts in Rakhine State, a heavy-handed military response triggered in return an internal displacement of around 30,000 Rakhine and other non-Muslim ethnic minorities as well as an exodus of over 730,000 Rohingya Muslim into neighbouring Bangladesh.
The government remains committed to addressing the people’s expectations to deliver higher incomes and better quality basic services through economic growth and inclusive sustainable development. The transition also offers opportunities for increased regional cooperation, including with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The peace process is a key area, benefitting from significant EU support, where progress should contribute to important improvements in respect of human rights, particularly rights of minorities. The State Counsellor made peace and national reconciliation the top priority of the government. However, as clashes between the government and Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) continue, inclusiveness, trust and de-escalation remain key challenges. Ethnic and religious minorities remain highly vulnerable. Hate speech and intolerance is a growing issue enforced by the increasing influence of Buddhist ultranationalist movements.
The EU intends to further improve aid effectiveness in the area of peace through an additional contribution to the Joint Peace Fund, delivering coordinated international financial and technical assistance to the peace processes. The action will aim at women’s meaningful participation in the implementation and monitoring of the ceasefire agreement, further peace negotiations, peace-building and reconciliation. The systematic integration of gender perspectives will contribute to making the peace process more inclusive and peace agreements and outcomes more sustainable. As part of the support for socio-economic recovery in conflict-affected areas, a strong emphasis will be given to Rakhine State in order to alleviate intercommunal tensions and address serious human rights concerns.
The EU in Myanmar is one of the 6 Delegations around the world that has been asked to operationalise the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus. As a result between 2018-2019 the delegation has developed a joint EEAS-DEVCO-ECHO Nexus vision enshrined in its Nexus Plan of Action, it has launched of 4 Nexus Pilot Projects in conflict areas and is currently developing Nexus SoPs and working on "Nexus Response Mechanism" for 2020.
For the support to the reform of the Myanmar Police Force (MYPOL 2016 – 2021) the EU tends to support a more effective, efficient and accountable police service in order to become a modern police service that adheres to international best practices, respects human rights and maintains gender awareness.
We improve access to justice and legal aid for the poor and vulnerable, develop legal capacity of justice sector professionals and strengthen selected rule of law institutions to better fulfil their mandates. For this our focus is to improve access to both formal and informal justice systems especially for vulnerable groups in six regions/states in Myanmar and at the same time to strengthen the capacity of formal and informal justice service providers in Myanmar.
Through the Joint Peace Fund, the EU has been supporting a powerful platform which is providing specialist knowledge, technical advisory support and project funding to lay the foundations for an inclusive and nationally owned peace process in Myanmar. Since it become operational in mid 2016, it has:
- supported the government and Ethnic Armed Groups to build their capacity to negotiate with each other, increasing the likelihood of a peaceful settlement
- provided technical advisors to all sides so that the negotiation can become more effective
- supported the holding of the Union Peace Conference, a pan-stakeholder national gathering of all those engaged in the peace process
- supported 60 projects ranging from the Union to the grass-roots level to a wide range of stakeholders – government, Ethnic Armed Groups, women’s networks, youth groups, CSOs, media, political parties, research institutes - all focused on achieving peace in Myanmar and many of them gender mainstreamed, including security and negotiation projects, areas in which women struggle traditionally to have a voice
- supported women’s networks from the community to national level, to support advocacy aimed at ensuring women have their voices heard in the peace process.
Around 90% of the JPF’s projects are run by national organisations, helping embed the principle of national ownership in its approach and build the country’s capacity to make and sustain peace.
Enrolling 725,000 children
- By the end of 2018, the EU-funded project Quality Basic Education Programme has reached over 675,000 children in 34 townships across Myanmar; since 2017 this programme focusses solely on disadvantaged children (IDP) in Rakhine.
- Through the EU funded projects 'education for change' implemented by the Lutheran World Federation since 2015, 50.000 children in Rakhine from different ethnic ethnicities were reached.
Training 4,500 police officers
- over 4,500 police officers were trained in best international practices, community policing, and crowd management . The projects also address police relations with the media and civil society to encourage better mutual understanding.
- Assisting 20,000 people through maternal and child cash transfers (MCCT). Following 4 years of project innovation, the MCCT programme in Chin state was the first to seek a state-wide and universal coverage of all pregnant women and children aged under 2 with cash transfers, and is a success story that has helped the Department of Social Welfare replicate it to other areas of the country.
- Training over 5,000 school teachers
- Through the Quality basic education programme the EU supports the roll-out of teacher training on the new curriculum organised by the Ministry of Education.
- Specific training on the use of a child-centred approach with the aim of developing minimum standards for teaching and school administration were organised both through the Quality education programme and the education for change projects.
- Through the Education Sector Reform Contract the EU provides support to the Ministry of Education in the areas of secondary education and TVET and public finance management, while engaging in policy dialogue to ensure inclusiveness for access to education at all levels.
- Capacity building for over 500 local civil society organisations
- Over 500 subgrants to local civil society organisations were delivered to local civil society organsiations through CSO-LA projects.
- For the election support, large number of civic and voter education trainings for 12,412 people
- support to the 2015 and 2020 elections
- support to the groundwork for potential legal reforms and to review the advance voting- and campaign finance procedures
- support CSOs to engage in electoral and democratic reform debates and roundtables which allow these organisations to build their capacity to develop and advocate for reforms in non-confrontational multi-stakeholder settings
- hosted numerable multi-party dialogues to enhance cooperation among parties and party alliances
- implemented the code of conduct for political parties, training for party candidates and polling agents, and dialogues between parties and the UEC
- provided the very first opportunities to many people in remote and marginalised regions to talk about politically sensitive questions in a semi-public space
- For the access to justice, over 40,000 people reached by legal awareness raising activities and community meetings
- an expanded network of justice centres providing legal assistance to more than 10,000 people in 12 locations
- more than 800 paralegals trained
- all deputy township staff officers of the General Administration Department introduced to mediation skills and rights-protection principles, with 431 local administrators supported to resolve disputes more fairly
Under the period of 2014-2020, EU cooperation with Myanmar/Burma is focusing on 3 sectors: rural development, education, governance and support to peace building. The EU and its member countries are engaged in giving support aligned to the government’s own development planning with their framework for economic and social reforms.
- Rural development interventions have a strong nutrition focus, for example by ensuring increasingly diversified food production and consumption, as well as the integration of hygiene education. New approaches are being tested such as maternal cash transfers and supporting local businesses in developing affordable complementary foods produced with local ingredients.
- For the area of education, the EU’s €221 million grant to the Ministry of Education has been provided as a sign of partnership and trust, and as a sign that the EU shares the government's ambition to dramatically improve the education outcomes in Myanmar. Between 2019 and 2022, the EU pledged to provide €175 million, through direct financial transfers to the Ministry of Education's budget, to assist the implementation of reforms outlined in the National Education Strategic Plan 2016-2021 focusing on equal access to better quality secondary education and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). A further €46 million is allocated for technical assistance to help the government achieve these goals.
- MyJustice, the EU access to justice programme in Myanmar (2016-2019, €20 million) aims to equip the people of Myanmar with knowledge, confidence and opportunities so that they can resolve conflicts fairly, equitably and justly. We work closely with local communities to achieve a lasting impact on the way disputes are resolved and justice is delivered, especially for poor, vulnerable and marginalised people. A second phase is under preparation. MyJustice keeps people at the centre of the programme and encourages learning, trust and collaboration between communities as well as between communities and institutions such as civil society organisations, legal professionals and formal and informal justice institutions. MyJustice works with its partner organisations to empower communities so that they are equal partners in the process of identifying solutions to the challenges they face. MyJustice gathers evidence from the process of delivering the programme to understand what works and what doesn't in access to justice programming in Myanmar. This evidence will be a significant contribution to the knowledge base on how justice is accessed and experienced in the unique socio-cultural and political context of Myanmar.
- For the election support, as Myanmar began its transition towards democracy, STEP Democracy emerged as a unique EU programme designed to support a wide range of actors to fulfil their roles and responsibilities within the electoral process. STEP Democracy began activities in April 2015 with a budget of €8 million and was implemented by 8 organisations with its overall objective to support inclusive and peaceful electoral processes, empower electoral stakeholders and to strengthen the democratic transition. A second phase started in 2018 with an increased budget of €10 million. The programme’s primary target groups were the Union Election Commission (UEC) and its sub-commissions, civil society organisations, political parties and the general public. Secondary beneficiaries included the media, parliamentary committees, General Administration Departments, and electoral support organisations.