The politics of human rights in Myanmar

Authored by: Naing Ko Ko

Routledge Handbook of Human Rights in Asia

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  December  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138855700
eBook ISBN: 9781315720180
Adobe ISBN:


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This article investigates the politics of the democratisation and human rights movement in Burma, principally during the period 1988–2011, with a coda exploring the policy challenges for the current civilian-led government. Many events in the past 25 years could have led to democratisation and the embrace of human rights norms in Myanmar, including the 8888 people’s uprising in 1988; the1990 election and the Committee Representative People Parliament; the military-initiated road map to democracy and most recently, the 2015 election of a civilian government led by the National League for Democracy. Using a neo-Gramscian political economy framing, I analyse how hegemonic forces (such as the military elites and their business cronies) have struggled with counter-hegemonic forces (such as democracy activists and their transnational supporters) at each of these potential turning points. I argue that the influence of a nascent civil society can be seen in the changes to political discourse around human rights in Myanmar, and in the generals’ decision to open the country and ultimately sponsor democratic elections. At the same time, I suggest that the competition for control of the systems of political, economic, legal and social power in contemporary Myanmar are far from over, and that both the concept and practice of human rights today remains partial and fragile.

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