Wednesday, May 29, 2024
HomeOpinionThe BURMA Act in the US: From legislation to liberation

The BURMA Act in the US: From legislation to liberation

Guest contributor

James Shwe

Amidst the devastating aftermath of the 2021 military coup, activists in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, continue to defy military oppression and advocate for democracy in a peaceful manner. 

By hanging protest banners from road overpasses under the cloak of darkness, they risk arrest, torture, and even death. Each act of defiance, from banners to flyers, to a day of silence, embodies the unwavering spirit of Myanmar’s people in their fight for freedom from military rule.

The recent appropriations under the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2022 (the BURMA Act) marks a pivotal moment in international efforts to restore democracy in Myanmar. 

With $121 million USD allocated for the fiscal year 2024, the U.S. has reaffirmed its commitment to the courageous Myanmar’s peoples’ struggle against military dictatorship. 

However, translating these funds into tangible change requires a strategic, transparent, and accountable implementation.

The Promise of the BURMA Act

The BURMA Act supports the National Unity Government (NUG), various other pro-democracy groups, and the restoration of a civilian-led democratic government in Myanmar. 

It holds the military regime and its international backers accountable and ensures humanitarian aid will reach those in need, circumventing military-controlled misappropriation.

Challenges and Strategic Implementation

Despite the promise, the path from legislation to impact is fraught with obstacles. Previous allocations were underutilized, underscoring the need for streamlined processes and guaranteed delivery to the intended recipients.

Optimizing Fund Utilization

To maximize the potential of the BURMA Act, several key actions are needed:

Empowering Transparency and Local Expertise: Collaboration with local organizations, who understand the region’s complexities, will increase the effectiveness of outreach and fund utilization. 

These organizations are pivotal in navigating the operational challenges in conflict zones. The challenge is finding organizations who are not already stymied by agreements with the military regime. Memorandums of understanding with Naypyidaw are the prerequisites of operating inside the country.

Flexibility and Creativity from the U.S. Agency for International Development: USAID must adapt its strategies to the fluid political and security landscape of Myanmar. This involves finding innovative ways to deliver aid while circumventing military-controlled misappropriation, especially using humanitarian aid as a weapon. 

Local organizations can assist in getting the aid to remote areas while avoiding interference from the regime but again finding the partners who are not already beholden to Naypyidaw through memorandums of understanding, which are the prerequisites of operating inside the country, is the main challenge.

Capacity Building in civil administration: Investing in the education of civil leaders through training and workshops is crucial. There are funds authorized in the act for strengthening federalism, building capacity for administrative operations and assisting reconciliation. 

These funds should help build a generation of administrators who are versed in democratic principles, ensuring a stable and democratic future. Understanding that battlefield command and civil administration are two very different skills is an urgent necessity. 

Swift support for military deserters: The rapid distribution of funds for deserter programs is vital. Involving the NUG and Ethnic Resistance Organizations (EROs) ensures these funds swiftly reach those who abandon the military, bolstering the opposition against the military regime without spilling any blood.  The recent mass surrender of regime troops to the resistance is also driving the need.

Collaborative decision-making: Allowing the NUG and EROs to help coordinate fund distribution ensures that resources are directed efficiently to where they are most needed and get there through the most reliable channels. 

This collective decision-making process should be transparent and inclusive, tailoring aid distribution to regional needs. This will also enhance dialogue and cooperation among the NUG and the EROs.

Combating misinformation: Clear, public reporting on fund use and outcomes will combat misinformation about misappropriation by the NUG and maintain trust both domestically and internationally. 

The public does not seem to know that none of the funds will be given directly to the NUG but will be distributed by USAID as they see fit through their established partners.

Balancing partnerships: Managing the relationship between the NUG, EROs, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) carefully prevents potential divisions. 

Establishing clear communication channels and collaborative platforms fosters cooperation and maximizes collective impact. Independent hodgepodge clamoring for funds should not be encouraged.

A united front: Collaborating with other nations and regional bodies like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will amplify the impact of interventions and ensure a coordinated approach to restoring democracy.

Setting a strong precedent and demonstrating effective assistance

This initial appropriation under the BURMA Act is not just crucial for the immediate support it provides but also sets a precedent for future U.S. commitments to Myanmar, which are set to continue until 2027. 

It is essential that this first implementation sets a high standard, demonstrating effective use and clear results. Successful management and transparent processes in this early stage will lay a strong foundation for the appropriations scheduled over the coming years. 

The visible and effective use of the BURMA Act funds not only supports Myanmar’s democratic transition but also enhances the international standing of the U.S. Demonstrating a commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law reinforces the perception of the U.S. as a leader in global humanitarian efforts. 

Conversely, failure to effectively manage and implement these resources can create the impression that the U.S. is indifferent to the suffering of the Myanmar people, potentially seen as placing political expediency above human rights and democratic principles. This could damage the credibility and moral authority of the U.S. on the world stage.

A call to action

The U.S. and its partners must remain vigilant and responsive as the situation in Myanmar evolves. Sustained advocacy, strategic funding, and international collaboration are essential to support Myanmar’s return to civilian-led democratic government.

As the BURMA Act sets a robust framework for action, its success will depend on how meticulously and responsively its provisions are executed. This isn’t just a financial commitment—it’s a moral one to the people of Myanmar, who continue to fight for their freedom against overwhelming odds. 

Through a united and well-coordinated effort, we can help ensure that the aspirations for a democratic Myanmar materialize, making the dreams of freedom for individuals like the brave activists in Yangon a reality. 

James Shwe is a Myanmar democracy activist in the U.S. and is a member of the advocacy groups Free Myanmar and the Los Angeles Myanmar Movement. He has been trying to organize and motivate the Myanmar diaspora to advocate for democracy in Myanmar.

DVB publishes a diversity of opinions that does not reflect DVB editorial policy. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our stories: [email protected]


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