The election of a new civilian government in Myanmar in 2015 raised hopes for democratization, greater economic and social justice and an end to one of the longest running armed conflicts in the world. In Myanmar, TNI's work on agrarian justice, trade and investment, alternative development and a humane drugs policy come together. TNI's Myanmar work aims to strengthen civil society organizations, particularly those based in ethnic regions, in dealing with the challenges brought about by the rapid opening-up of the country and the desire of its people for an inclusive and sustainable peace.

Goal (2014–2016): Support ethnic-based civil society organizations in addressing ethnic conflict in Myanmar and in making the current peace process more inclusive.

Goals Outcomes in 2016 to which TNI contributed
Provide space for strategic thinking for ethnic groups from Myanmar and support liaison with ethnic armed opposition groups and political parties, as well as with international experts.
  • At a seminar in March, representatives of ethnic-based CSOs, armed organizations and political parties were able to have open discussions on solving ethnic conflict in the country, and helped build increased understanding between CSOs, political parties and armed groups on their different strategies and priorities.
  • CSOs representing opium growing communities and drug users presented a vision for a different drug policy at the annual TNI-GIZ Asia Informal Drug Policy Dialogue organized in cooperation with the Myanmar government. Participants included – for the first time – a senior advisor to the SSA-South/RCSS, to discuss links between drugs and conflict.
  • TNI organized several workshops for 60 CSOs enabling them to engage in policy dialogues on investment protection in the EU-Myanmar Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) and the new regional trade agreement RCEP. Consequently, workshop participants participated in a consultation hosted by EU delegation during the fourth round of negotiations in December 2016.
Provide high quality and balanced analysis on Myanmar to increase understanding among ethnic actors, policy makers and international community of key issues affecting ethnic communities.
  • TNI published commentaries, policy briefings and in-depth reports on ethnic conflict, land, drugs, investment and women and peace.
  • TNI’s publications were used, for example by CSOs, to analyse and comment on the draft National Land Use Policy (NLUP) as well as the 1993 Narcotics law.
  • Director-General from the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry wrote a letter to TNI thanking for the initial analyses of the first draft NLUP, and asked for further concrete suggestions.
  • Government representatives used TNI’s final and more detailed response to the NLUP to produce the final NLUP draft, which included many of the key recommendations of TNI and local CSOs, including on ethnic land rights and the right to land for women.
Build capacity of ethnic political actors and civil society organisations in key policy areas such as land and management of natural resources and drugs policy.
  • On request, TNI helped to organize two out of five thematic workshops – land & natural resources and social issues – for the eight Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) that signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). This resulted in common positions subsequently brought into the 21st Panglong Conference.
  • TNI organized several land workshops with ethnic-based CSOs and EAOs in Mon, Kachin, Kayah and Shan States. These workshops helped to coalesce demands by local communities to be treated as human rights holders, including the human right to land.
  • With TNI support, the Myanmar Lands In Our Hands network (LIOH) developed joint responses to the draft NLUP and the Farmland Law.
  • Through TNI co-organized meetings, CSO representatives were able to engage with government representatives, and present their proposals and policy recommendations, for example in the National Dialogue on Customary Communal Tenure of Rotational & Fallow Taungya.
  • The NLUP final draft was adopted in 2016 after a long consultation process (TNI, Paung Ku and LIOH co-organized 14 regional pre-consultations involving over 1200 participants). The NLUP is largely viewed in positive terms as many actors felt that they could see voices and contributions included; those working in ethnic areas described it as having 60-65 per cent good provisions.

Project in numbers

  • 5,000 TNI publications distributed in Myanmar
  • 52,000 visits to TNI's web publications
  • 1,100 participants in 23 workshops
  • Regular media coverage in Myanmar Times, TIME magazine, The Guardian, Reuters, The Irrawaddy, New York Times and others

Why this issue matters

As Myanmar opens up politically and economically, TNI’s accompaniment of local citizen organizations has expanded as well. TNI researchers have co-operated with local CSOs in providing analysis and training on drugs, land and investment policies for community leaders who have used that knowledge to advocate for their own priorities. TNI’s approach and philosophy of embracing a support role for local movements, rather than promote our own profile, has made us a trusted partner.

Empowering ethnic-based civil society organizations to defend and promote the right to land

As the Thein Sein government formally adopted the National Land Use Policy (NLUP), TNI spent much of 2016 involved in a series of workshops with ethnic-based CSOs and Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) in Mon, Kachin, Kayah and Shan States on how to defend and promote the right to land at a time of political and economic transition. This included a 5-day workshop in December for the eight EAOs that signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) as they prepared for the 21st Century Panglong Conference.

Many of these workshops helped to coalesce demands by local communities, many of whom depend on control of land and related natural resources economically, socially and culturally, to be treated as human rights holders, including with regard to a human right to land. TNI has also helped strengthen multi-ethnic civil society coalitions, such as LIOH, to defend rights to land.

TNI has sought to be as responsive to local needs as possible. This has led to workshops in regions typically ignored by the government and international NGOs. It led to developing new areas of work looking at, for example, the rights to restitution and redistribution of land for internally displaced people and refugees. TNI has supported many of these meetings with expert input, research and analysis, provision of international best practices, drafting of proposals and requested follow-up, and facilitated bringing diverse ethnic communities together around these issues.

Finding an equitable path forward in Myanmar that guarantees respect for the right to land of the many people who have been displaced by numerous causes, especially conflict and militarization, will be essential to the success of any peace process in Myanmar. TNI therefore co-organized with The Border Consortium (TBC) two workshops for local representatives of IDPs that culminated in a public forum and the release of a joint statement by the workshop participants. A follow-up meeting on the issue in Kachin State in October was attended by the State Minister of Social Welfare, other state-level officials, the Forestry Department, as well as international NGOs. CSO representatives at the  meeting in Myitkyina set up a steering group for ongoing work, which TNI is supporting with a baseline research study in Kachin and Northern Shan State to be carried out in 2017.

A great deal of the learning from this mutual work with partner organizations was collated in a primer, published in January 2016 on The meaning of land in Myanmar.

“We never had a workshop like this. We want to work together, and make our own policy.”

(Participant in Kengtung land workshop, August 2016)

Pushing for just investment and trade

As Myanmar opens up, it will be critical that its trade policies serve its people rather than the multinational companies keen to exploit its natural resources. This will require the government taking a firm stand to demand trade deals that allow the country to develop sustainably – and this will require a mobilized civil society determined to defend its rights.

TNI has therefore actively supported training, education and coordination by Myanmar civil society on trade and investment policy. In September TNI co-organized a workshop with local CSOs Paungku and KESAN on the risks of investment protection clauses in the upcoming regional trade deal (RCEP) and in the EU-Myanmar Investment Protection Agreement. In November, Myanmar CSOs participated in a TNI co-organized ISDS training in Manila, alongside 35 other participants from Southeast Asia. When EU negotiators held consultations in December during the fourth round of negotiations with Myanmar, they were forced to debate well-prepared, informed civil society representatives.

Myanmar CSOs launched several calls to the EU and Myanmar government requesting transparency in the negotiation process and calling for a postponement of the EU–Myanmar Investment Treaty until further steps in the peace process are made.


“Not long after the [TNI] workshop, I had the opportunity to attend consultation meetings with the Secretary General of ICSID [International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes – World Bank] and representatives from the European Commission. The workshop prepared me well for those kind of meetings – through the role play sessions, case studies and reference materials. I was able to present concerns... to Ms. Meg Kinnear [of ICSID] based on lessons-learnt from the workshop and to explain how it could stall the country’s democratization process...”

(Doir Ra, Paung Ku, Myanmar)

Advancing drug law reform in Myanmar

Collecting opium seeds in Shan State (after the harvest)
Collecting opium seeds in Shan State (after the harvest)

Throughout 2016, TNI also worked closely with local CSOs as the government considers new approaches on drug policy. TNI supported the Myanmar Opium Farmers' Forum in order to ensure that farmers’ voices are heard in local and national debates. In May, 34 opium farmers, representing communities from the key poppy growing areas from Shan, Kayah and Kachin States, came together to discuss key concerns and future plans, and issued a declaration calling for an end to forced eradication and for recognition of traditional uses of opium and customary land tenure rights.

TNI has also supported the emergence of a national Drug Policy Advocacy Group, a discussion platform consisting of local and international NGOs that is advocating for drug policies based on public health, human rights and development. DPAG meets monthly and actively engages in discussions with parliamentary and government officials about drug policy reform options. DPAG also organized several public events that included representatives from drug users and opium farming communities as speakers.

In the second half of the year, TNI – working with the National Drug Users Network Myanmar (NDNM) – published a policy briefing, Found in the dark, on the impact of drug law enforcement in Myanmar. The report calls for decriminalization of drug use, harm reduction policies and improvement of services for drug users and was launched in Yangon.

In November, TNI and GIZ organized the 8th Asian Informal Drug Policy Dialogue in Nay Pyi Taw, in cooperation with the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC). It was the first time the dialogue took place in Myanmar, and it was attended by representatives from governments, local NGOs and international agencies from the region. Representatives from NDMN, MOFF and DPAG gave presentations at the dialogue. Agenda items included the drug law reform process in Myanmar and the rights of affected communities, including opium farmers and drug users, as well as the links between drugs and conflict and what this means for the peace process.

“For drug policy issues, TNI really is the best source. TNI is the only institution that has been working on this issue for such a long time and it has contributed a lot to this drug-related work in Myanmar.”

– Ye Ni, Editor at Irrawaddy (independent news agency in Myanmar)



Tom Kramer
Project Coordinator, Myanmar

Pietje Vervest
Economic Justice Programme Coordinator

Jennifer Franco
Senior Research Associate

Martin Smith
Senior Research Associate, Myanmar

Ernestien Jensema
Drugs Programme Coordinator

Khu Khu Ju
Land Policy Advisor, Myanmar

Sai Lone
Drugs Policy Advisor, Myanmar

Renaud Cachia
Drugs Policy Advisor, Myanmar

Phwe Phyu
Project Assistant and logistical support, Myanmar


Hannah Twomey
Research Assistant

Shadan Mung San Zau
Translation and research, Myanmar

Major publications


  • Land in Our Hands
  • Paung Ku
  • Drug Policy Advocacy Group
  • Myanmar Opium Farmers' Forum
  • National Drug Users' Network Myanmar
  • Karen Environmental and Social Action Network
  • Ethnic Community Development Forum
  • Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability
  • Metta Development Foundation
  • Joint Strategic Team
  • Shalom Foundation
  • Dawei Development Association
  • Farmers' and Labour Union
  • Mong Pan Youth Association
  • Pa-O Youth Organisation
  • Ta-ang Students' and Youth Union
  • The Border Consortium
  • Human Rights Foundation of Monland
  • Karenni Land Policy Committee
  • Lahu Development Network
  • Mon Land Policy Committee
  • Shan CSO Land Network
  • Dawei Development Association
  • Myanmar Anti-Narcotics Association
  • Mae Fah Luang Foundation
  • Land Core Group
  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)