Thu 27 Oct 2016
Filed under: Ethnic Issues,Inside Burma
Outside government control and subject to the whims of numerous, often armed and competing actors, the enforcement of justice in ethnic areas is a tumultuous affair, according to a new report by the Asia Foundation.
Entitled “Armed Actors and Justice Provision in Myanmar”, the report examines authority, courts, laws, regulations, policing methods and accepted punishments in ethnic armed organisations’ territory as well as areas under mixed control.
The report, authored by two independent researchers, calls for boosting the efficiency of justice in ethnic armed areas, but adds that measures must be taken in a sensitive, individualised approach.
“Unilaterally strengthening and applying the government’s justice system in ethnic areas may lead only to misunderstanding and further grievances,” the report says. “There is already a profound lack of trust in government institutions in many ethnic communities, particularly those who have long lived under EAA [ethnic armed army] control or had bad experience with the Tatmadaw or other state authorities.”
The report was developed as part of the Asia Foundation’s Social Services in Contested Areas in Myanmar series, and provides insight into some of the largest ethnic armed groups in the country, including the Karen National Union, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, the Pa-O National Army and the United Wa State Party.
Research was done in southeast Myanmar, and Shan and Kachin states, in areas controlled by both ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) party to ceasefire agreements and others that are still in conflict with the state.
At the launch of the report, the authors explained that their study details how villages, and village-based mechanisms, are the foundation of stability and order for civilians in most areas they visited.
“We focus on institutions and practices for ordinary forms of crimes,” said Kim Jolliffe, one of two report authors.
The report also examines how different political and judicial systems in these areas cooperate with and elaborate on one another, he added.
Report co-author Brian McCartan said the research found that people in EAO-controlled regions said they preferred an EAO justice system to that of the state because it was administered by people of the same ethnic group. Despite this, he added, reforms to these EAO justice systems are needed to provide more robust protections for local people.
As the systems and organisations of ethnic armed groups are often complex, the authors recommended that more research into the topic be undertaken, particularly in light of the country’s ongoing peace process.
According to Mr Jolliffe, maintaining stability and order in non-government-controlled areas throughout the peace process will depend on systems and institutions created and administered by EAOs.
The report describes itself as a basic, foundational study and notes in its conclusion that many gaps in the body of research into the topic still remain.