The 24 men and women represent numerous state institutions and non-governmental organisations as well as Myanmar's parliament and political parties. At Switzerland's invitation, they are taking part in this year's international relations and democracy course in Geneva from 10 April to 1 May, organised for the third time by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF). The course gives participants the opportunity to learn about the collaborative implementation of reforms, and covers human rights and federalism as well as the democratic control of armed forces, police reforms and involving the population in the political decision-making process. The course is also designed to strengthen national and international networks and so facilitate the country's opening-up.
Myanmar is in the midst of upheaval as it opens up politically and economically after decades of war between the government and ethnic minorities. On 31 March, the ethnic minorities and the government agreed on the text of a national ceasefire agreement. Following this historic step, the parties must now sign the agreement and embark on political negotiations. The parliamentary elections in autumn 2015 are seen as a test for the reform process. Media plurality, greater freedom of expression and assembly and the creation of over 70 political parties are all favourable signs for successful elections.
Switzerland, via the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), continues to actively support the reform efforts through development cooperation, humanitarian assistance and the promotion of peace and democracy – despite some recent setbacks. In February and March of this year, the northeast of the country saw military clashes and large numbers of students arrested during protests.
Switzerland is advising the government and ethnic minorities in connection with the peace negotiations. In the run-up to the parliamentary elections, it is working with other countries to strengthen the technical expertise of the electoral authorities, promoting civil-society involvement and collaborating with the national election commission and all of Myanmar's political parties on drawing up a code of conduct for the candidates and parties.
At the same time, Switzerland is fostering dialogue between the government and civil society, as exemplified by the Geneva course for senior officials. Experience from the first two courses has shown how important it is that Switzerland is seen as impartial and trustworthy so that it can provide an ideal framework for talks on the country's future in which the participants can openly discuss lessons from the past.
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