The New York City summer was hot and sticky, providing a perfect setting for guests at Quaker House to focus on transitions and challenges in another tropical setting: Myanmar. During July, QUNO hosted two briefings on Myanmar offering diplomats and UN staff an opportunity to hear from Rachel Gasser of Swisspeace. Rachel had recently returned from several months working with Myanmar civil society groups inside Myanmar and her briefing explored possible avenues for international actors to support local peace processes.
Discussion focused on the numerous peace processes currently taking place between the government and ethnic armed groups. By Rachel’s estimation there are currently 19 separate peace processes taking place, each with a different ethnic group and each at a different phase. The work is being locally led with little role for outsiders, and the scope of the endeavor is unheard of in the field of mediation.
Quaker House guests discussed the importance of local ownership and expressed an interest in finding ways that outsiders could offer support that is welcome and makes a positive contribution. Rachel recommended that donor governments and international NGOs think carefully about how to engage. She emphasized that coordination is key and assistance should prioritize opportunities to build local capacity. Guests were encouraged to think about the importance of long-term commitment – not just quick, short-term projects. Finally, colleagues considered how engagement by outside actors could either support, or potentially undermine, the process of reform and rapid change taking place within the country.
Participants in these discussions were quick to acknowledge the tremendous change that has taken place in Myanmar. This change is reflected in an array of political and legislative reforms as well as official visits by foreign ministers. For QUNO staff, we note a significant change simply in our ability to share work on Myanmar in our newsletter. While we have worked on Myanmar over the past five years, this article marks one of the first ground mean we can share this information without posing a risk to partners in country. As developments continue to unfold in Myanmar we will continue to host opportunities for experts and practitioners to offer their perspectives on how international actors can best engage and support long-term peacebuilding efforts in Myanmar.