EU-Myanmar: Embrace civil society

Press release
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The developing EU-Myanmar partnership must reflect commitments to civil society, said an alliance of human rights organizations ahead of the launch of the EU-Myanmar Joint Task Force. We urge you to ensure substantive civil society participation in all areas of the task force, the organizations wrote in a letter to EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.

The EU’s official Burma policy confirms that it attaches great importance to the involvement of civil society in building the institutions that are necessary for a modern inclusive democracy.” The EU will “strive to enlist the assistance of local and foreign NGOs where possible” and encourage the Burmese government in supporting interactions between the state and civil society.

At present these commitments are not being met. Discussions with NGOs and activists in Burma suggest that the EU has not been able to effectively inform the people of Burma about EU policies and plans, or substantively engage civil society.

As donor funds flood the country the EU should recognise that its added value is not just through additional funding but through its ability to include and politically support the existence of an independent and vibrant civil society, reads the letter to Ashton.

At present the EU is seen as prioritising normalisation of relations with the Burmese government, above and beyond its commitment to civil society. This perception, fair or otherwise, undermines EU policies in the country, keeps civil society away from policy processes, and ultimately weakens the prospects of transition, the organizations say and conclude, The EU-Myanmar Joint Task Force presents a good opportunity to realign the EU’s top-down approach.

The EU-Myanmar Task Force is scheduled for launch in November in Yangon and Naypyidaw, with the attendance of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, Commissioners Andris Piebalgs and Dacian Ciolos, and the EU Human Rights Representative Stavros Lambrinidis. The letter is sent by a group of organisations based in Europe and elsewhere that work closely with Burmese civil society to ensure that international policies toward Burma/Myanmar are informed by local concerns.

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