Collaborative rebel-civil society driven governance as resistance to state criminality: The Kachin Independence Army's revolutionary law abidance.

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Sch of Law


The Kachin Independence Organisation/Army (KIO/A) emerged in 1961 in response to discriminatory policies imposed by Myanmar's authoritarian leaders who perceive minority rights as a threat to its Bamar-Buddhist nationalist ideology. The conflict persists making it one of the longest running civil wars in modern history. Alongside armed violence, a faction of KIO/A leaders perceive the development of parallel state structures as an important component of Kachin resistance. Included within this nascent process of 'rebel governance' are attempts to comply with elements of international humanitarian law (IHL). Most clearly, the prohibition against the military recruitment of persons under the age of 18. This position is counter-intuitive because international norms belong to a system of state-centric regulation constructed to maintain state sovereignty, which for the most part, delegitimises actors violently resisting governmental authority. The project aims then to enhance our understanding of the motivations underpinning rebel decisions to engage with international norms, though the laws of war belong to a broader system of international regulation which, at its foundations, obstructs armed opposition to sovereign power (Mégret 2009, Anghie 2003, Orford 2006).
The research is valuable in the sense that it humbly seeks to address our limited ability to conceptualise armed opposition groups as potentially legitimate actors. This approach is designed to enhance our understanding of the motivations and implications of 'rebel' engagement with international law, upon strategies of resistance to abuses perpetrated by governments, which international law frequently fails to address efficiently.
The project is based upon over seven months of fieldwork observations, including more than 160 interviews and informal discussions with Kachin rebel, community, and political leaders as well as individuals displaced by the conflict, international aid workers and diplomats, and local and international political analysts, journalists, and civil society actors. My research reveals that intensified Myanmar state violence post-2011 has triggered and strengthened collaborative civil society-rebel resistance and Kachin nation building ambitions.
The phenomenon of rebel governance, specifically a willingness to engage, albeit in a limited sense, with IHL elicits a number of urgent questions that my research seeks to address: How might IHL's 'othering' of rebels, paradoxically, deprive such groups of the opportunity to comply with international humanitarian norms? How does collaborative civilian-rebel resistance emerge and evolve in response to state criminality and influence IHL engagement?


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