Committee formed to prepare for CSO peace forum
MEMBERS of the government and civil society organisations (CSOs) have formed an ad hoc committee to prepare for a planned peace forum to be arranged for and led by the latter.
A meeting between civil society groups and a government committee formed to engage with CSOs and led by Yangon Region Social Affairs Minister U Naing Ngan Lin was held on November 6 at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center in Yangon to discuss preparations for the peace forum.
During the meeting, terms of reference for the peace forum, which were previously presented by CSOs to the government, were discussed. The temporary preparatory committee is made up of 39 representatives from a variety of CSOs.
Ko Sai Aung Myint Oo, a member of the National Ethnic Youth Alliance who attended the meeting, said talks between CSOs and the government’s engagement committee would continue to decide when the forum will be held.
“There are different perspectives among us on the date when the forum should be held. We still need to confirm a date,” he said.
The size of the forum has been set by the government at 500 participants, a cap that had initially dissatisfied some CSOs at the meeting, according to Ko Thwin Lwin Aung of the Genuine People’s Servants organisation.
Their objections were eventually dropped, however, after it was agreed that CSOs would be allowed to hold additional smaller forums in order to prepare for the main one.
“We are afraid that more voices from around the country could not be collected. But we were able to agree with the government’s team that CSOs will have smaller forums ahead of the main forum so that we can have more diverse input and voices,” Ko Thwin Lwin Aung said.
In May, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told her peace team and members of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) that a separate civil society forum should be held to allow CSOs to more effectively play an advisory role in Myanmar’s peace process, as a complement to the Union Peace Conference.
Daw Doi Bu, a member of the government’s committee for engaging with CSOs, said the forum would be part of broader national-level dialogues that are “topically based”.
Per the political dialogue framework, three types of national-level political dialogues are to take place – ethnically, regionally and topically based.
The UPDJC, a tripartite committee that was tasked with drafting the framework for political dialogue and will oversee those dialogues, has ratified the terms of reference for the CSO forum.
Stakeholders deemed eligible to participate in the national-level dialogues include representatives from the government, the hluttaws, the Tatmadaw, ethnic armed organisations that are signatory to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), registered political parties, ethnic representatives, CSOs and “other appropriate individuals”.
The next meeting of the ad hoc preparatory committee for the CSO peace forum is scheduled to take place on November 11.
Daw Doi Bu said participants in the November 6 meeting proposed that the agreed-to, smaller, topically held national-level dialogues and the CSO peace forum be held at least twice before the second iteration of the 21st-century Panglong Conference – also known as the Union Peace Conference – which is expected to convene in February.
“In the first [smaller forums], CSOs should form committees and organise other necessary tasks such as collecting voices and topics of discussion, and agendas to be brought to the following main CSO forum,” she said.
The government will not interfere with the management of the peace forum, according to Daw Doi Bu, and will instead let the preparation committee arrange and organise the forum. Funding for the forum has yet to be discussed.
“Not only CSOs that have nationwide networks but also CSOs that represent a specific location or region are to participate in the peace forum. We want to include as many groups as possible,” she said.
Topically held national-level political dialogues or the CSO peace forum will have three topics of discussion – on economic, social, and land and environmental issues.
Under the umbrella of economic issues, federal budgeting and taxsharing are the currently proposed topics of discussion. Resettlement and rehabilitation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and preservation of the environment are the proposed subjects for the topically based “social” and “land and environmental” issues, respectively.
The subtopics of “politics” and “land management”, under the broader “land and environmental issues” category, have been granted for discussion only at ethnically and regionally held national-level dialogues.
The sub-topics of “national defence, disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration and security sector reform” and “religious matters” have been categorised as “security” and “social” issues, respectively, and are up for discussion only at dialogues involving NCA signatory armed groups, political parties and the government at the Union-level.
Despite limits on the discussion topics, Ko Thwin Lin Aung said most CSOs are satisfied with the current set of proposed topics and sub-topics on the agenda for the peace forum, given the pledge to allow the forum to be managed by CSOs.
“We can arrange things and still have a free forum with less government interference. But we have to cooperate and coordinate with the government’s committee,” he said.
Daw Doi Bu said the presence of civil society groups in the nationallevel political dialogues would assist the government over the course of the peace process.
“There are some CSOs that specialise and study certain sectors. Their presence in the peace process is, I think, very helpful. The government will need their assistance, expertise and opinions in some of the areas to be discussed in the peace process,” she said.
As laid out in the framework for political dialogue, working committees formed in order to organise the national-level dialogues are to carry over the results from those dialogues to the Union Peace Conference.
Hundreds of delegates attend the first day of the Union Peace Conference in Nay Pyi Taw on January 15, 2016.