For decades, Myanmar has suffered civil war and military rule, both of which have constitutional roots. On the one hand, the civil conflict grows out of ethnic discord: Myanmar’s ethnic minorities have always desired a strongly federal system, so that they will be allowed to govern themselves in their own ways, but other maintain that only a strongly centralized government can keep the country together. On the other hand, military rule grows out of profoundly different ideas about political authority: the army and its supports claim that it is the only institution capable of preserving the country from chaos, but the democratic forces insist that only popular rule will deliver good government, peace, and prosperity. Underlying both these disagreements is a broader clash of values: hierarchy and orthodoxy, on the one hand, plurality and equality, on the other.
Since 2002, the CCD has been advising those in Myanmar who hope for a government characterized by plurality and equality. At the time that the Center started work, the Myanmar army ruled the country. In 2008, it adopted a constitution that allowed for a partially civilian government, and in 2010 it held the first elections. Shortly thereafter, it started to negotiate a peace agreement that, it was promised, would bring constitutional change of a federal and democratic nature. Elections in 2020 returned a government controlled by the National League for Democracy, the largest civilian political part. On February 1, 2021, however, the army again seized power, dissolved the civilian government, and declared a state of emergency that will last at least until 2023.
Through all these changes, the CCD has been advising a wide range of partners on constitutional reforms. That network of relationships is wide, deep, and rooted in mutual trust and commitment. At the present moment, it is not possible to enter Myanmar so as to discuss constitutional reform, so most of the work occurs by Zoom or in neighboring countries. The increased use of Zoom has, however, allowed for a day-to-day presence not possible before: CCD personnel have contact with Burmese people most days of most weeks.
The CCD's mission involves work with a number of stakeholder groups:
- The National Unity Government of Myanmar: The legislators who were elected in 2020 but whom the army has not allowed to sit have formed a government, the National Unity Government of Myanmar. Currently, the United Nations has implicitly recognized this government by allowing its representative to occupy Myanmar’s seat; ASEAN has also implicitly recognized it by refusing to allow the military government to participate in its activities. The CCD is in weekly contact with members of the NUG, to help them design a constitution-making process and to increase general constitutional knowledge among its members.
- State Constitution Drafting Committees: As it has been doing for many years, the CCD is also helping to support the drafting of state constitutions in anticipation of a future federal regime that allows the states to have constitutions. These meetings serve several purposes: first, they increase the general constitutional knowledge of those who will likely be leading the states in the years to come; second, they generate constitutional drafts that might be used as a starting point for discussion; and third, they develop a wide web of relationships among those who are engaged in similar work.
- Ethnic Armed Organizations: The CCD has also been advising the ethnic resistance forces on ceasefire and peace agreement negotiations. For many years, the CCD has maintained close personal relationships with the leaders of these organizations, as they have developed their thinking on the outlines of an acceptable constitutional settlement. Even after the military coup, these discussions have continued, to a more limited extent. The CCD has also helped to negotiate an agreement between the NUG and the EAOs, which will be critical in allowing them to move forward together, in a united front against the military.
- Women’s League of Burma: The CCD has worked with the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) for almost 20 years. We have trained two generations of WLB leaders on issues in constitutional design, gender equality, and democracy. In particular, we helped them to draft the position paper that has been the primary tool for advocating for gender quotas in all of the peace process stages. In recent years, we have focused both on empowering them to be active participants in the peace process and in constitutional drafting at both the union and state levels. And we have worked with them to provide materials, teachers, and support for their own programming inside Burma training women for political and NGO leadership roles.
- The International Community: In the wake of the coup, many organizations have sought out the CCD’s advice on how they might best engage with people in Myanmar as events unfold, because of the CCD’s deep, longstanding, and intimate connection to stakeholders there. These organizations include both NGOs and sovereign governments.
For all of these groups, the CCD has been doing more than providing just technical assistance in constitutional analysis. As crisis after crisis has unfolded, we have sought constantly to adapt so that we can remain close to our partners. Frequently, when Burmese leaders meet, we are the only nominal outsiders in the room. We see our role as providing not only technical expertise but also moral support, solidarity, strategic advice, and hope for the future.