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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2790

A New Approach: Incorporating civilian resistance strategies within aid to Burma

Bangkok, 26 November, ( With the publication of the report Village Agency, the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) helps introduce important new voices into the debate over engagement with Burma – the voices of rural villagers themselves. Citing the personal testimonies of over 110 villagers in rural Karen State, the 181-page report seeks to challenge portrayals of villagers as helpless victims and instead highlights how these villagers can help strengthen international efforts to aid Burma.

Responses to the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 have served to further polarize international actors on Burma into two camps. While one group has called for a clear separation of politics from humanitarian and developmental concerns, the other has been more narrowly focused on the formal transfer of State power away from the military. Both of these approaches, however, neglect the strategies that villagers already employ to resist abuse and address their humanitarian concerns.

According to Naw September Paw, a Karen spokeswoman for the report "Karen villagers have been active in resisting the many human rights abuses committed against them. They have developed strategies to resist exploitation, reduce the demands placed upon them, escape attacks and evade attempts to bring them under military control."

In areas under the control of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), villagers have employed negotiation, bribery, refusal, false compliance and confrontation in order to evade abuses such as forced labor and arbitrary taxation. And when the burden of military demands has become too great, villagers have fled to hiding sites in the forest and used a wealth of other strategies designed to support their efforts to evade the SPDC's ongoing campaign of forced relocation, while at the same time addressing their humanitarian needs.

Village Agency demonstrates how villagers’ strategies necessitate a new approach to international aid, one that is accountable to the local population and mindful of on-the-ground human rights implications. By recognizing that effective and politically conscious intervention need not focus on regime change, international approaches to Burma's political and humanitarian challenges can hopefully progress beyond the contentious debates in which they have been caught. Ultimately, the report asserts that the voices of villagers themselves must be included in the political processes which affect them.

Reiterating the above argument, September Paw stated "In trying to address the problems in Burma, the international community should listen to the voices of the villagers and work together with them to strengthen the tried and tested strategies that they are already using to resist abuse and claim their rights."

- Asian Tribune -

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