• 21 January 2021


    Posteado en : Opinion

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    The constant adaptation of a cooperation project to change

    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 

  • 12 March 2020


    Posteado en : Interview

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    A new generation of Myanmar women is determined to move up

    We interviewed Diana Achard, Senior Advisor to the Community Police in the Myanmar Police Reform Support Project (MYPOL)

    Diana Achard is one of the three highest-ranking women in the Myanmar Police and works on the Myanmar Police Reform Support project. The project is managed by the FIIAPP and funded by the European Union. 

    Achard joined the police academy in 1984 and was assigned to the Taunggy police force in 1985, before being transferred to narcotics. There, Achard managed domestic and administrative work, but she quickly became an undercover agent. 

    In 1994, she was transferred to southern Shan, to an area known as the ‘golden triangle’ due to drug trafficking. During this stage, she was named leader of the narcotics team for southern Shan. 

    In 2008, she was promoted to captain based on her excellent record and major drug seizures under her command. This was the year when she joined the Yangon Financial and Narcotics Investigation Team (NTI). At the NTI she collaborated with all the bilateral agencies (Australian, ASEAN, India), sharing information and participating in major operations. 

    By 2012, Achard had been promoted based on an impressive track record of seizures and she was transferred to the International Relations Division within the Narcotic Drugs Division. 

    In 2017, she was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was transferred to the Transnational Crime Division (DTOC, based in Napyitaw), a unit with 110 sub-departments, including narcotics, cybercrime, human trafficking, environmental crime and part of the criminal investigation department. 

    Achard represented the Myanmar Police Forces (MPF) and Myanmar in all narcotics-related matters. 

    What was it like being a woman in the beginning? 

    Almost from the beginning I was assigned to undercover duties and handling information and confidants since there were only two women in the unit. When I left the MPF in 2018, there were twelve women in the Transnational Crime Division (DTOC), but they were mainly assigned to administrative and secretarial duties. 

    Have you faced challenges and obstacles to achieve recognition for your work? 

    It is difficult for any police officer to get a promotion, but it is particularly difficult for female officers. I was a lieutenant for seven years because I am a woman despite being responsible for major drug seizures. 

    What can women contribute to the MPF? 

    Regarding narcotics, I believe that obtaining reliable information is crucial, and civilians and informants trust women far more than they do men. What’s more, it used to be unusual to find women in undercover operations, so, we had an additional advantage. These days, it is far more common. In general, I would say that women are more persistent workers, are more meticulous and excellent at negotiation and mediation. 

    How is the MPF advancing in terms of gender integration in the police service? 

    Well, when I started in ’85 there were 2.2% women in the police force and there are now 9.6%. Little by little, women are getting recognition for their comparative advantages and skills. 

    Female investigators have now been appointed in most Yangon districts as focal points for crimes involving women and children. There are also many women in charge of mediation, negotiation, and intelligence gathering. 

    Generally speaking, I would say that women are better educated and better equipped, since the entry requirements are more rigorous (at least a two-year degree is required). On the other hand, women in the police also have more opportunities to integrate non-traditional police branches. 

    What is the main barrier for women in the MPF? 

    Access to dominant roles; no matter how capable you are, this is still dominated by men. 

    How do you see the future of women in the MPF? 

    Given that women have to choose between having a married life or the MPF, I doubt that the situation will progress in the short term. However, there may be some hope for the future. Although it is a slow process, a new generation of Myanmar women is determined to move up. 

  • 22 December 2017


    Posteado en : Interview

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    FIIAPP expatriates: Azucena Martínez

    “This is the furthest away I've been and my biggest professional challenge to date”

    For this edition we go to Myanmar to meet Azucena Martínez and learn about how the MYPOL project is going, which is concerned with reforming the country’s police force. The project is financed by the European Commission and managed by FIIAPP. Azucena, project coordinator, takes this opportunity to share her experience of the country with us.

    How have you adapted to this country?

    When I first arrived in Myanmar nearly a year ago now I thought the adaptation process would be complex given that culturally the country is so different from Spain, Europe and Latin America. However, Burmese people are particularly welcoming, generous and decent. As a foreigner here in Myanmar I have never felt unsafe; people in the street are willing to help you out without expecting anything in return.

    The language here is the main barrier. Even though Myanmar is an ex-British colony, English is not that widespread among the local population. This can lead to some pretty amusing situations when trying to deal with taxi drivers or when shopping, etc. Anyhow, I hope that my Burmese classes help to remedy these “little” communication problems.

    What was most difficult for you and what was least difficult?

    The fact is nothing has been particularly easy, but if I had to mention something, perhaps it would be the relative ease with which I managed to find a place to live. So far, I have lived both in the administrative capital, Naypyidaw, as well as in the former capital and commercial centre of the country, Yangon. Finding a place to live can be quite a problem in both places. Sometimes the cost of renting an apartment here can match that of Manhattan. As unbelievable as it might seem!

    What you find most difficult is being away from home, missing your own circle: your family, friends, your reliable, local shopkeeper, etc. But in the end, it all comes down to returning home now and again to recharge and making the most of the opportunities the country offers where you are posted which, in this case, are many.

    Is this your first experience outside of Spain?

    No, I’ve lived abroad before. But this is the furthest away I’ve been. Moreover, the experience is, for me, the biggest professional challenge to date, both in terms of the scope of the project and the situation the country is undergoing.

    Tell us about your job and your daily routine

    I’m now working at the MYPOL project office in Yangon. There are 15 of us in all, five of whom are expatriates from different EU countries, while the rest of the staff is made of up locally hired personnel for the project. We also have another six people in Naypyidaw. Consequently, a major part of my work involves coordination tasks. On the one hand, those of my office, and on the other, liaising between both teams.

    From the Naypyidaw office, we are in touch with the main beneficiary institution and stakeholder: the Myanmar Police. At the same time, other activities, such as training, seminars and monitoring meetings are carried out in Yangon with the project funder: the EU Delegation in Myanmar. There’s never enough time to get around to everything that is required by a project of these characteristics.

    What is your relationship with headquarters in Madrid? 

    My relationship with the office could not be better. It is a key element for my work: being able to be in touch practically in real time, bearing in mind the five-and-a-half hour time difference, with the team at headquarters is extremely important. Despite the distance and difficulties, there is never any lack of willingness, professional commitment, or working hours for everything to go forward.

    What about your colleagues in Myanmar?

    I have a very close relationship with both my fellow expats and the Burmese members of the team. We have come from very diverse professional backgrounds (police, journalists, sociologists, interpreters, political scientists, etc.) and from different organisations, countries and work methods, which makes the whole experience that much more enriching.

    How would you evaluate your experience of working as an FIIAPP expatriate in Myanmar?

    The experience is turning out to be very positive. I won’t deny the fact that it’s always quite complicated at the start: laying the foundations to work with the local authorities, establishing work networks with other organisations that also collaborate in the reform process, setting up a human structure and basic logistics to operate in the country. All of the foregoing constitutes most of the work done this year and reflects a lot of challenges, while at the same time affording you great satisfaction when you think there was nothing before we came and all we have accomplished is due to hard work.

    Do you have any experiences or anecdotes about your arrival in the country? 

    Names in general are a tricky business. My name is Azucena, which of itself is complicated outside Spain. Here it fails to identify you as a male or female. Pronunciation wise it is quite difficult, but I have the same problem with their names. There are no surnames as such in Myanmar, nor is their a homogeneous name to call a person: it can be one, two, three, five, or more names that refer to different things: ranging from their ancestors or the day on which they were born to their ethnic group.

    It is a real adventure learning how you ought to call a person here. And that’s not all, there are a lot of names that recur quite often. Indeed, there are a lot of people who, knowing this difficulty foreigners have, opt to use a nickname or simply indicate which of these different words that make up their name you can use as their “main name”.

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