CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Burmese civil society groups on Sunday urged ethnic peace negotiators to implement transitional justice as the country inches closer to a nationwide ceasefire agreement.
Forty-two representatives of about 25 CSOs made the recommendation during a meeting with the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, from Nov. 22-23. The NCCT is the negotiating bloc representing Burma’s myriad ethnic armed groups in ceasefire talks and political dialogue with the government.
Civil society attendees encouraged the bloc to raise the issue of justice during upcoming meetings with the government’s mediators, the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC), led by Union Minister Aung Min. The NCCT was also urged to push for the imminent creation of a truth commission and establish a comprehensive reparation scheme.
Attendees also recommended increasing the role of women in the peace process, ensuring independent ceasefire monitoring, postponing large-scale development projects pending genuine reform and implementing safe and internationally acceptable resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons. This weekend’s meeting was the first of its kind between the NCCT and civil society stakeholders.
Representatives of the NCCT have accepted the suggestion to propose transitional justice to the UPWC, but were unable to speculate on whether the government will agree to implement early steps toward justice before ratifying a ceasefire and entering political dialogue.
Han Gyi, coordinator of rights monitor Network for Human Rights Documentation (ND-Burma), said that while transitional justice will be a challenging and lengthy process, identifying perpetrators of abuse and compensating victims should be prioritized in order to build trust and allow for the rehabilitation of communities devastated by conflict.
“It is difficult to work on justice at this point because they [former generals] are still in power,” said Han Gyi, “but at least we can begin by finding out the truth and compensating the victims. We can start with these two steps [of creating a truth commission and reparation plan].”
Han Gyi also suggested holding memorial events that would acknowledge past abuses and offering financial support to victims and their families in urban areas, which could be partially facilitated by CSOs that already do similar work.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) and the U Win Tin Foundation, for example, have already been providing social and financial support for political prisoners and their families.
“Establishing a truth commission and reparation process are the responsibility of the government, but it has not shown any interest in doing that. That’s why civil society initiated this work already,” said Han Gyi.
Civil society representatives said that NCCT members briefed them on discussions with the government, and informed them that recent talks have been hindered by disagreements over the use of the words “federalism” and “revolution” in the most recent draft of a ceasefire agreement.
A statement released by the attendees on Monday summarizing the meeting said that differences emerged between the government-backed UPWC and the military after the text was drafted. The military’s “uncompromising” position led to a “deadlock” over the language. During previous meetings, the UPWC had reached an agreement with the NCCT about the terminology, but it was broadly and inarguably rejected by the Military.
Continued attacks on rebel troops have exacerbated delays in the peace talks. On Thursday, the Burma Army launched a warning shot in Kachin State that killed 23 rebel officers-in-training. The government said that the casualties were unintended, but ethnic leaders expressed serious skepticism.
Transitional justice is a touchy issue that has thus far been skirted by negotiators. Some have suggested that the issue might be addressed only after political dialogue, which could take years. CSO representatives advanced the possibility that some initial stages need not wait that long, and that demonstrated efforts to seek justice could fortify a weakened trust-building process.
Much of Burma’s newly-installed, quasi-civilian leadership is made up of former military strongmen that could potentially be affected by inquiries into wartime events. Earlier this month, Harvard University’s International Human Rights Clinic published an analysis of a decade’s worth of research implicating three former generals in war crimes during a Karen State offensive that took place from 2005-2008, among them Burma’s current Minister of Home Affairs Maj-Gen Ko Ko.
Authors of the report said that while they believed the evidence justified an arrest warrant, a trial would be unlikely. Because Burma is not party to the Rome Statute, referral to the International Criminal Court would require intervention by the UN Security Council.