21 September 2010


Ashley South with Malin Perhult and Nils Carstensen


  • People living in armed conflict-affected south-east Burma have a detailed and sophisticated understanding of threats to their safety, livelihood options and general well-being.
  • The biggest contribution to people's protection stems from their own actions. The impacts of internationally-mandated protection and assistance agencies remain marginal for people in conflict areas. Limited amounts of international aid are delivered by community-based organizations and local NGOs which are often, but not always, associated with conflict actors.
  • Assistance to refugees and internally displaced people is a significant factor in the political economy of armed conflict in south-east Burma. International agencies and donors should therefore exercise caution, and undertake continuous 'do no harm' analysis, regarding the relationship between aid and conflict.
  • The primary threat to civilians in armed conflict-affected south-east Burma comes from the militarized government and its proxies. Armed opposition groups also represent threats to civilian populations. In some cases, armed opposition groups offer a degree of protection to displaced and other vulnerable people.
  • A range of armed groups position themselves as protectors of the Karen nation. However, international humanitarian and human rights law do not recognize the protection roles of non-state armed groups. Whether civilian 'self-protection' or the activities of armed opposition groups are considered appropriate and worthy of support depends on the legitimacy accorded to these actors.
  • The manner in which international aid actors understand and support local agency is likely to become increasingly significant, given the shifting global balance of power and associated decline in rights-based approaches to humanitarian intervention.