The MYPOL project has had to adapt to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the current situation in Myanmar in order to continue promoting the reform of its police force. María José Urgel, FIIAPP’s project coordinator, offers us an overview of MYPOL and the reassessment of its aims and activities.
MYPOL is a FIIAPP-led European delegated cooperation project tasked with providing support to the Myanmar Police, offering a preventive and effective service and respecting international standards, human rights and gender awareness.
In order to achieve this ambitious goal, two offices have been set up in the country, one in Yangon and one in Nay Pyi Taw. From the field and in coordination with the FIIAPP headquarters in Madrid, we have focused on several areas of police intervention: improvements to criminal investigation and crowd management, modernisation of human resources and professional training, improved accountability and legal frameworks and ensuring a closer relationship between the police, civil society and the media.
For a little over a year and a half, FIIAPP has also incorporated a gender perspective in MYPOL. Today, it has a gender strategy and a women, peace and security programme in place, mainstreaming gender in the five areas of intervention and implementing the entire strategy at the institutional level.
Four partner cooperation agencies cooperate on the project– NICO from Northern Ireland, GIZ from Germany, DCAF from Switzerland and CIVIPOL from France – who pass on specific technical knowledge to the Myanmar police with a main focus on training, preparation of procedural guides and protocols and awareness-raising activities.
The exchange between public administrations, a fundamental characteristic of FIIAPP, is provided by the Spanish National Police, which heads up the mass management area.
In order to understand the context of MYPOL, the country’s history should be taken into account. Much of the current situation has been shaped by long years of military dictatorship, a protracted civil war with various ethnic groups coexisting which is still to be resolved and big social and cultural barriers that hinder the equality sought for women. There is also significant poverty that has been accentuated by Myanmar’s internal conflicts.
Since 2011, the country has been transitioning towards democracy, a process that has yet to be consolidated. In recent years, ethnic tension in the north of Rakhine state, better known as the Rohingya crisis (the Rohingya being a Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country), has seen a dramatic increase in violence in the area, adding to tensions between the international community and Myanmar.
COVID-19 and the initial underestimation of its impact took us by surprise, representing an additional challenge. Within a few months, many of the training activities had to be temporarily suspended due to restrictions imposed by the government. This also affected the joint dialogues between the representatives of MYPOL, the police and the authorities.
In addition, in recent months, the MYPOL project has had to work within a complex political climate prior to the elections held in Myanmar last November, with mobility restrictions due to COVID-19 and continued violence in some areas of the country.
Nevertheless, the ability to adapt to change and the creativity employed by the entire team in order to adjust the strategy for MYPOL has ensured that the implementation of our activities represents an important contribution to the country, without losing sight of the project’s initial objectives. After a great deal of internal reflection, the decision was made to focus efforts on the following areas, among others:
– The strengthening of our capacity within MYPOL in gender matters, seeking to ensure that the experts who lead the different thematic areas of the project identify the most important gender aspects on which to work and measure their impact. As part of this institutional reinforcement, we have implemented our own sexual harassment and discrimination policy which is mandatory for all MYPOL personnel and which has been accompanied by a series of awareness-raising courses.
– The preparation of information brochures and the consolidation of police action coronavirus protocols which have been distributed throughout the capital.
– The provision of virtual workshops to replace face-to-face activities.
– The preparation of election orientation guides for police trainers that have focused further on the protection of freedoms and human rights, respect for the media and the provision of a safe environment, especially for women.
– The preparation of forensic action manuals and protocols to apply gender perspectives in police interviews. Guidelines have been drawn up regarding police arrest, following international security and human rights standards.
– The creation of new bodies in MYPOL, including the Critical Incidental Management Team which is responsible for analysing the COVID-19 situation in the country and its impact on the evolution of the project.
– The renovation of police unit training facilities and the provision of the equipment required to carry out criminal investigations correctly.
As part of this drive to adapt to change, we have kept two elements very much in mind – the importance of establishing local alliances and the need to strengthen relationships with our four partners.
Local alliances have helped us understand the consequences of all these changing circumstances. We have increased the number of national advisers and advisers specialising in police and gender matters as well as strengthening our alliances with civil society, especially with women’s organisations that have worked on gender awareness within the police for many years.
Strengthening relationships with our counterparts has helped us to better understand how the different approaches and specialist areas of our partners can be used in a more strategic way in the face of the current situation.
FIIAPP has taken advantage of all the opportunities for improvement that have presented themselves, even in the most difficult moments for the project. We have learned that taking advantage of difficulties has helped us to learn lessons from the social change processes undertaken and identify our achievements, limitations and potential in order to improve our work, this being an area we will continue to be committed to.
María José Urgel, coordinator of the FIIAPP MYPOL project
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