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Ken Turchi
IU Maurer School of Law

Last modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Experts: Watch Burma's negotiations with rebels, election for reform clues beyond prisoner release

Jan. 17, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Last week's cease-fire between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Burmese government ended the world's longest-running civil war -- and it came the same week the government released hundreds of political prisoners. Speculation abounds about reform and the lifting of U.S. and European Union sanctions.

But according to David Williams and Susan Williams, co-directors of The Center for Constitutional Democracy at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law who have long advised numerous Burmese reform groups, the cease-fire is only the beginning of meaningful reform.

David Williams

David Williams

Print-Quality Photo

"Releasing prisoners is a visible, smart and important move but will do nothing to bring reform, peace and stability to Burma," David Williams said. "How the government handles negotiations with the KNU and the forthcoming election will determine whether we are on a path to fundamental structural changes, politically and economically, that will bring a free and democratic Burma."

The Williamses believe economic sanctions should stand -- for now.

"Immediately lifting sanctions will give the government exactly what it wants without having to seriously negotiate for peace," David Williams said. "Only after a genuine multiparty election should we consider easing sanctions, and even then, we should do so only gradually."

Further, said Susan Williams, one the world's foremost experts on gender equality and constitutional law, conscious attention must be paid to who is represented in the next round of peace talks.

Susan Williams

Susan Williams

Print-Quality Photo

"Because current discussions are among armed groups, few women will be involved in the initial decisions for peace," she said. "It is vital that the second stage of negotiations, between civilian wings of the KNU and government, includes women -- if not, they may be lost in the shuffle if the country truly moves toward peace."

The Williamses, who will soon travel to Tunisia to advise on the drafting of the new Libyan constitution, are available to discuss all aspects of reform in Burma, including origins of the conflicts, next steps on the cease-fire and election, and political and economic opportunities and challenges facing the nation.

The Center for Constitutional Democracy at the IU Maurer School of Law studies and promotes constitutional democracy in countries marked by ethnic, religious, linguistic and other divisions. Its current work is primarily in Burma, Liberia, Vietnam and Libya, training the reform leaders of these countries in constitutionalism, parliamentary process and legal ordering. The center also has programs in Libya and South Sudan.

The center draws on an international and interdisciplinary team for its scholarship, research and outreach; its staff includes a legal scholar who is a former Burmese revolutionary solider resisting the military government and a former Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations.