Aung Naing Oo
The NCA (Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement) is a complex legal document containing 103 points across seven chapters.
Being a complex legal document covering ceasefire, politics, humanitarian and civilian protection, it may be difficult for grassroots or people in conflict zones to understand the meaning of the agreement. But it will affect the lives of millions of people directly or indirectly connected to the armed conflict. Adequate explanations, therefore, should be provided.
Following the successful conclusion of negotiations over the NCA on August 7, the government published the full text with the agreement from the ethnic armed organizations. It is also available online.
But no one knows how many people have actually read the historic text. Most importantly, do they understand it?
Recently it came to our attention that there are comprehension problems regarding the ceasefire text. We realized that even among those who have followed the peace process closely did not understand the NCA well.
There were complaints from some ethnic civil society groups that the ethnic armed organizations in their areas did not provide adequate explanations of the NCA. Equally the government must share the blame.
It dawned on us that the importance of the NCA was lost in translation. In addition, the NCA was considered to be the government property rather than a joint effort with Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs).
It was a wake-up call for us. Indeed, then we had many questions.
Have the people in the government read it? Have the ethnic leaders who have never been at the negotiation table read the NCA text and fully understood it and its implications?
What does the JMC (Joint Monitoring Committee) mean? What are the requirements of all signatories to the NCA regarding ceasefire monitoring and civilian protections? How will political dialogue be organized?
To answer some of these questions, we made a presentation to a selected group of politicians, academics, civil society leaders and high profile journalists in early September during our monthly community forum. Even here, we found out that there were shortcomings in understanding the NCA and its implications.
Based on these alarming revelations, we have organized press conferences, invited diplomats, political parties and civil society groups to explain the NCA. Ethnic groups have also organized gatherings to inform the public of the NCA, its contents and meanings. The Myanmar Peace Center also published a booklet on NCA. The government-owned TV stations have broadcast news, interviews and analyses on the NCA.
We know it is not enough. But it is worth mentioning here some of the key points in the NCA.
Firstly, the aims of the NCA are to strengthen existing ceasefires; to start political dialogue and to lay firm foundations for peace not only under the current administration but also future governments of Myanmar until peace is achieved.
Secondly, the NCA contains 55 provisions directly related to military issues. They deal with agreements that all signatories – be they the Myanmar Tatmadaw or EAOs – must abide by without fail. The NCA also contains 18-point civilian protections.
Most important of all, the NCA provides that the signatories form joint monitoring committees at all levels in order to strengthen the ceasefire. After the signing, necessary terms of references will be jointly developed in order that the NCA can be easily understood in the conflict areas. At this juncture, the role of civil society organizations working in conflict and conflict-affected areas will be crucial in maintaining ceasefires.
Thirdly, as a minister involved in the peace process remarked that although the NCA, as the Agreement suggests, is about ceasefire also contains 33 clauses relating to political issues.
Of these, the main points are as follows.
The EAOs do not need to give up their weapons or territory. The majority of the provisions in the NCA originated with the EAOs but they were included in the document as the product of the joint drafting process. Negotiations were conducted among equals.
The amendments, including additions and subtractions – to the 2008 constitution will be carried out based on the results of the political negotiations. The government guarantees a Union based on democratic and federalism principles and all-inclusive political negotiations — both longstanding demands of the EAOs.
Most crucially, the NCA provides a roadmap and a joint political dialogue committee to negotiate the future of Myanmar.
Fourth, the NCA is not an end in itself; it is a means to put an end to armed conflict in Myanmar. The NCA is considered the door way to political negotiations. In fact, it is the real beginning of the peace talks.
Fifth, the EAO signatories to the NCA will no longer be subject to prosecution under the troublesome Unlawful Association Act otherwise known as penal code 17/1. The delisting will be completed before the signing so that the EAO signatories will ink their assent not as illegal organizations but as legitimate entities.
Sixth, the government will fully commit to the NCA regardless of whether all or some groups sign the NCA. In turn, the government will expect full compliance from the other signatories. In other words, the NCA calls for rigorous implementation and unwavering commitments from all signatories.
Seventh, the negotiations of the NCA were conducted in the spirit of good faith, cooperation, negotiation and compromise. This same spirit will govern the implementation.
Finally, the NCA along with the whole peace process is a joint effort. It is a shared process and collective ownership by all who negotiated the agreement over 20 months in good faith. To this end, it belongs to all citizens of Myanmar regardless of where they are from and where they reside.
The NCA is a historic document. It is a catalyst for changes that will ensure the end of the armed conflict and bring about durable peace. For this, we all have a duty to understand it.
(Aung Naing Oo is the Director of Peace Dialogue Program, Myanmar Peace Center.)