Enabling environment of Civil Society in Myanmar (Burma)

As part of CIVICUS’ work to promote and protect the enabling environment for civil society in the Asia-Pacific region, CIVICUS provided Carine Jaquet from the Research Institute on Contemporary South-East Asia (IRASEC) with technical and financial support to conduct research on the changing environment for civil society in Myanmar.

Civil society in Myanmar was virtually non-existent in the late 1990s due to the tight political control exercised by the military juntas from 1962 to 2010. It gradually re-emerged in the early 2000s and made exponential progress following the large-scale response to the devastation caused by the Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Since then, the installation of a new, quasi-civilian, government in November 2010, led to a more favourable environment for civil society organisations (CSOs) to operate. As a result of rapid political changes, Myanmar civil society has been expanding and exploring new issues. 

Jaquet’s report highlights that civil society has been able to benefit from expanding space, thanks mostly to political changes at the highest levels of government. This enabled - still incomplete - regulatory and legal reform, leading to noticeable increases in freedom of expression, association and assembly. Issues, once considered taboo, can increasingly be discussed by CSOs. Nonetheless, some significant restrictions remain that hinder civic space. The post-2010 reforms are based on a top-down centralised democratisation process, leaving many remote and marginalised groups – mainly ethnic minorities – behind. In spite of some noticeable improvement in local governance, state representatives at the lowest levels often continue to operate as they did under the former junta. However, some issues are still taboo, especially those related to government and private sector control of resources. The recent advances in freedom of expression need to be supported to promote a better understanding of minority-related issues and to avoid fuelling conflict in a still fragile political transition process.

The full report is accessible here.