The 'everyday politics' of IDP protection in Karen State

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The 'everyday politics' of IDP protection in Karen State

Published date:
Monday, October 20, 2008

While international humanitarian access in Burma has opened up over the past decade and a half, the ongoing debate regarding the appropriate relationship between politics and humanitarian assistance remains unresolved. This debate has become especially limiting in regards to protection measures for internally displaced persons (IDPs) which are increasingly seen to fall within the mandate of humanitarian agencies. 

While international humanitarian access in Burma has opened up over the past decade and a half, the ongoing debate regarding the appropriate relationship between politics and humanitarian assistance remains unresolved. This debate has become especially limiting in regards to protection measures for internally displaced persons (IDPs) which are increasingly seen to fall within the mandate of humanitarian agencies. Conventional IDP protection frameworks are biased towards a top-down model of politically-averse intervention which marginalizes local initiatives to resist abuse and hinders local control over protection efforts. Yet such local resistance strategies remain the most effective IDP protection measures currently employed in Karen State and other parts of rural Burma. Addressing the protection needs and underlying humanitarian concerns of displaced and potentially displaced people is thus inseparable from engagement with the 'everyday politics' of rural villagers. The present article seeks to challenge conventional notions of IDP protection that prioritize a form of State-centric 'neutrality' and marginalize the 'everyday politics' through which local villagers continue to resist abuse and claim their rights. (This working paper was presented on the panel 'Migration within and out of Burma' as part of the 2008 International Burma Studies Conference in DeKalb, Illinois in October 2008.)