Myanmar’s civilian government, which has been in power for two years under State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, has imposed mechanisms to tighten oversight and control of domestic civil society organizations (CSOs) and international NGOs. In December, the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government issued the Draft Law on International Non-Governmental Organizations, which would regulate such groups, including those of the United Nations. The document reportedly contains a vague definition of the groups it would control, calls for Myanmar employees to monitor the organizations’ work, and offers the groups few measures to protect themselves against temporary shutdowns by Myanmar officials. CSOs and international NGOs say the draft law raises concerns about a crackdown on their activities and is another move by the administration to backpedal on certain democratic freedoms in the developing nation. Thinn Thiri of RFA’s Myanmar Service discussed the controversial policy with NLD party spokesman Myo Nyunt. What follows is an edited version of their conversation.
RFA: A recent NLD statement calls on party members to let superiors know before they work with various NGOs and CSOs. People are saying this is a setback for freedom.
Myo Nyunt: It’s a precaution. There are so many CSOs nowadays, and some are politically active and have attacked our party in some ways. But we are not being so strict. They [NLD party members] can freely work with NGOs and CSOs that are not politically motivated, like IT groups. We only want to be cautious with some politically inclined groups. These groups highlight democracy and human rights in their work, but in reality, instead of finding solutions or providing support, they want to create problems for the NLD, such as bringing about actions that are not in accordance with the law and making impossible demands. The NLD always welcomes those groups if they are being led by recognized pro-democracy leaders and if their actions and training courses support democratic practices. [Then] we encourage our members to work with such groups.
RFA: Critics say that CSOs and NGOs do not receive enough support in their activities for peace movements.
Myo Nyunt: The peace process in Myanmar is not like those of other countries. We have many key players and very sensitive issues, and we want to have our party members take a unanimous stand.
RFA: Some say the government is not providing enough support to CSOs. What’s your take?
Myo Nyunt: As I said earlier, we can accept most groups, but we have to be cautious because it would be difficult to control if our party members got involved with certain groups that have a little "color" [are politically inclined].
RFA: Aung San Suu Kyi said in a speech last week that the country would have to be developed collectively with the strength of the people. How is the NLD going to harness the strength of NGOs and CSOs?
Myo Nyunt: The NLD will take into consideration all suggestions from the people as well as from NLD teams at the grassroots level. Some groups in working together with the people sought non-legal ways, which we cannot accept. For instance, those movements where farmers forced themselves onto legally contested lands. We don’t want our people to get involved there.
RFA: What is the main challenge for the party and the government?
Myo Nyunt: The main problem is [trying to] win the confidence and trust of the masses. This will be resolved only if people truly and fully understand that the path we are currently taking is in their interest.
Reported by Thinn Thiri of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Edited by Roseanne Gerin.