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Part of the problem and part of the solution? Non-state armed groups and humanitarian norms in Burma/Myanmar

Civil wars involving non-state armed groups in Burma have been driven by a complex mix of historical socio-political grievances and economic factors. The central government and its armed forces have conducted counterinsurgency campaigns against myriad rebel groups in ethnic areas virtually since independence in 1948. Civilian populations caught in these conflicts have suffered immensely as a consequence. The government and army have never completely controlled all the territory and people of the internationally recognised state as it exists on the map. Instead, in some areas it has been armed groups and welfare actors associated with them that have been responsible for limited administration and service provision to conflict-affected populations. Despite tolerance or support for this non-state governance in some areas, armed groups still present threats to the security of the constituencies they also claim to represent. This thesis assesses the factors that have facilitated or obstructed armed groups’ actions and the extent of their compliance (or not) in response to the norms against landmine use and the recruitment of children. While studies in other regions on armed groups and humanitarian norms have tended to consider policies of violence deliberately directed against civilians, the present study considers these less deliberate threats that armed groups in Burma present to the security of their own constituencies. It explores a set of theoretical propositions drawn from literature that has addressed armed groups from the perspectives of humanitarian engagement, sociology and political economy analysis of armed conflict. These contrasting approaches offer a more inclusive framework for analysis, considering the social, economic and coercive military and political structures influencing armed groups, affected populations and humanitarian actors engaging with them in relation to these issues. This thesis contends that perceived legitimacy and the role of armed group associated welfare and civil society actors have been significant influences on attempts to ameliorate the impact of these issues. The perspectives and influences of legitimacy diverge, however, between international support for the prohibition of landmine use and underage recruitment, and local perceptions, from armed group constituencies and the government, of the groups as credible armed actors. Localised economic agendas combined with geographical dispersion and weak organisational cohesion have also been factors leading to less compliance with these protection norms. The findings indicate that there is also considerable divergence in the extent of compliance between the two norms. Whereas landmine use remains perceived as militarily necessary to most armed groups in Burma and related to their maintenance of local legitimacy, children involved with armed groups are seen as less vital militarily, and external engagement with armed groups to address this issue has met with more acceptance over time. In the light of bilateral ceasefires and ongoing negotiations since 2012, the willingness and capacity of the armed groups and their welfare wings to address these concerns for conflict-affected populations will be important for their future support and for lasting political settlements.
Type of thesis
Jagger, S. J. (2016). Part of the problem and part of the solution? Non-state armed groups and humanitarian norms in Burma/Myanmar (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/10679
University of Waikato
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