In this article, the process of becoming a mediator in the Myanmar war is being analyzed from the perspective of a co-facilitator, Ja Nan Lahtaw. She was forced into a passive role which she turned into an active role as a mediator. Taking matters into her own hands unauthorized, for the greater purpose of peace is the very subject of this analysis.
Conflict: Myanmar civil war
The longest-running civil war, history has seen so far is the Myanmar conflict between various armed ethnic organizations (AEOs.). Since the end of the British rule in Myanmar in 1948, there has been struggling between the government and the AEOs, who wish to have more autonomy.
The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement was signed by eight of the AEOs in October 2015 and two more by the end of 2019. In 2015 the National League for Democracy party was elected as well as in 2018 which has been the leading party until the announcement of the state of emergency during a military coup on the 1st of February 2021 only days prior to the completion of this paper.
The mediation during the lengthy Myanmar civil war was very complex since there were several parties and several opposing interests. During the negotiations of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, women were underrepresented. This female-male ratio among government negotiators was two to fifty-two while among the EAOs it was one to sixteen.
The underrepresentation in this instance was a clear sign of male opinion on the inferior female roles in such negotiations. There was however one particular individual that was a co-facilitator for the talks Ja Nan Lahtaw Executive Director of the Nyein (Shalom) Foundation who redefined her own role and earned an honorable invitation to act as a mediator.
Mediator: Ja Nan Lahtaw
Ja Nan Lahtaw is a member of the Kachin ethnic minority group and has a history with mediation since her father, Baptist Reverend Saboi Jum, was the mediator of a previous ceasefire between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Organisation in 1994 that lasted 17 years.
In her article – Unsticking stalled peace processes: insider mediator perspectives from Myanmar – she explained that the role that was assigned to her by others during the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement negotiations was more about appearances as a so-called “master of ceremonies” which was fitter to a woman according to men. She was however more interested in the actual content as well as bringing the parties closer to each other. She called her strategy “summarising” and explained in the article that not everyone was open and positive about her added input.
Still, after a few sessions, there were some generals who appreciated it. One general even went as far as saying how “useful this new style was”. Even though the openness was crucial in bringing this act to success it was an innovative strategy of taking on the role of a mediator without plainly asking for the parties’ cooperation in the process of mediation and having their acceptance (for the most part in this particular case). This is another example of how versatile tool communication is. Communicating about the very topic of the negotiations and repeating the words of the generals was powerful enough to open them up and turn them towards each other without adding any additional information.
The above-mentioned strategy (if executed as an insider party) has a key element which is building and maintaining a relationship of trust with all parties. The summary that builds the bridge between the parties has to be firm on both ends, reflecting both their interests but conjoined in the middle by an impartial phrasing. It can also secure an insider mediator in its position if there is personal sympathy between them and the parties.
A friendly female voice might do the trick in a negotiating room full of men threatening each other with their mere presence and interest. It might sound judgemental still Ja Nan Lahtaw herself experienced situations where male negotiators asked her to express certain issues because it will not ruffle as many feathers if she verbalizes them as if a male party does.
These components are present at a mediation session initiated by the parties where they conscience invite a mediator as well. The question is whether it is ethical to earn such an invitation or not? Does the greater goal of peace justify the means? One might suggest that gaining trust and building a positive relationship between parties by a third party with the above-described method is manipulation hence it is immoral although it builds a bridge between parties that could have a compromise and could live in peace if only they trusted the mediator in the first place. The question of morality still remains and it is for the reader to decide if it’s an invitation well-earned.
- Myanmar: Military Coup Kills Fragile Democracy. (2021, February 1). Retrieved February 3, 2021, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/02/01/myanmar-military-coup-kills-fragile-democracy (Human Rights Watch)
- Myanmar Case Study Current Peace Effort. (n.d.). Retrieved February 03, 2021, from https://www.cfr.org/womens-participation-in-peace-processes/myanmar (Council on Foreign Relations)
- Origins of the longest civil war in the world. Milko, V. (2019, September 19). Origins of the longest civil war in the world. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from https://www.globalgroundmedia.com/2019/09/19/origins-of-the-longest-civil-war-in-the-world/ (Global Ground Media)
- Unsticking stalled peace processes: Insider mediator perspectives from Myanmar. Ja Nan Lahtaw. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from https://www.c-r.org/accord/pioneering-peace-pathways/unsticking-stalled-peace-processes-insider-mediator-perspectives (Conciliation Resources)
- Women’s Inclusion in Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. Muehlenbeck, A. Palmiano Federer J. (2016, July). Case study – the institute for inclusive security. Retrieved February 3, 2021, from https://www.inclusivesecurity.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Womens-Inclusion-in-Myanmars-Nationwide-Ceasefire-Agreement.pdf (Inclusive Security)