Beyond the ‘Egosystem’: A case for locally led Humanitarian Resistance


  • Adelina Kamal



Resistance Humanitarianism, Myanmar, military junta


This article invites readers to consider a new form of humanitarianism that has emerged out of people’s resistance to military atrocities—called Resistance Humanitarianism—with a particular focus on the crisis in Myanmar. In that country, Resistance Humanitarians are challenging traditional aid actors because their operational presence and coverage can go deep inside the hardest-hit areas, which are usually inaccessible to the large INGOs and UN. This gives Resistance Humanitarians significant operational advantages, particularly the acceptance of the population, access, and data that reflects ground realities. Meanwhile, most international aid actors continue to try and gain access to affected communities through Myanmar’s oppressive and illegitimate military junta, constraining their ability to reach those most affected by crisis and potentially aiding the junta’s violent cause. The paper suggests that this vertical, top-down, ‘neutral’ approach to aid access taken by many international actors may deepen the conflict, as it pushes people away from their determination for a systematic end to injustice. The paper also argues for the urgent need to critically rethink the humanitarian approach for the Myanmar conflict, and suggests a new type of aid architecture—a locally-led, horizontally-constructed ecosystem that builds on and supports people and organisations on the ground and prioritises inclusivity, diversity and collaboration at its heart. If the aim of external international actors is to build resilience, they must rethink their approach and support military-avoiding Resistance Humanitarianism.


Metrics Loading ...


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

  • Adelina Kamal

    Adelina Kamal is an independent analyst with more than 25 years’ experience with ASEAN. She led the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance as its Executive Director from 2017 to 2021, and prior to that, worked with the ASEAN Headquarters in Jakarta for over two decades. Adelina currently sits as a voting board member of the Melbourne-based Centre for Humanitarian Leadership Executive Committee, an Advisory Group member of the London-based Overseas Development Institute Humanitarian Policy Group, and a steering committee member of the Southeast Asian Women Peace Mediators. Since leaving the AHA Centre, Adelina has been consulting for governments and international and regional organisations in the areas of disaster management, humanitarian assistance, crisis management and alternative public financing


ACLED Conflict Index (2023). Mid-Year Update: Data As of July 2023.

ASEAN Secretariat (2021, April 24). Chairman’s Statement on the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting.

ASEAN Secretariat (2022, November 11). ASEAN Leaders’ Review and Decision on the Implementation of the Five-Point Consensus.

ASEAN Secretariat (2023, September 5). ASEAN Leaders’ Review and Decision on the Implementation of the Five-Point Consensus.

Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (2023, September 29). Political Prisoners Post-Coup.

Beals, E. (2023, June). Convoys Cross-Border Covert-Ops: Responding to State-led arbitrary aid denial in civil wars. Lessons from Syria, Myanmar, and Ethiopia. TaTo.

Bloomberg. (2023, September 29). Myanmar Resistance Leader Claims Majority Control Over Territory. Time.

DA Global (2021). Literature Review: Is aid really changing? What the Covid-19 response tells us about localisation, decolonisation and the humanitarian system. British Red Cross.

Darusman, M., Lee, Y., & Sidoti, C. (2023, March 14). The clock is ticking for ASEAN on Myanmar. The Jakarta Post.

Djikzeul, D. (2021, October 6). Making Localization Work: The Everyday Practice of Three NGOs in South Sudan and Northern Uganda. Front. Polit. Sci. 3:71628.

Fishbein, E. (2021, August 25). Choosing sides: Five local takes on aid neutrality in Myanmar. The New Humanitarian.

Gareth, E. (2021, April 26). Applying R2P to Myanmar. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

Ha, Hoang Thi (2021, March 30). Hang Together or Hang Separately?. ASEAN Focus Spotlight: Rethinking ASEAN. ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

Hlaing, Syaw Hsan (2023, September 15). Responses to Humanitarian Needs in Western Myanmar after Cyclone Mocha. Perspective (72). ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

Harvey, P, et al, (2023, April). Humanitarian Access SCORE Report: Myanmar, Survey on the Coverage, Operational Reach and Effectiveness of Aid. Humanitarian Outcomes.

International Commission of Jurists (2021, February 8). Myanmar: Military Coup d’état violates principles of rule of law, international law and Myanmar’s Constitution.

Inter-Parliamentary Union Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians (2021, May 25). Decisions adopted by the IPU Governing Council as its 207th session. p. 9.

Irrawady (2021, February 15). ‘You Messed With the Wrong Generation,’ Myanmar’s Youth Tell Coup Makers.

Jordt I., Than T. & Lin, S.Y (2021). How Generation Z Galvanized A Revolutionary Movement Against Myanmar’s 2021 Military Coup. Trends in Southeast Asia (7). ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

Kamal, A. (2020, November). Creating a Level Playing Field – Lessons from Covid-19 on Improving Localisation. Because Resilience Is Local. Siap Siaga.

Kamal, A. (2021, October 23). An ASEAN-led inconvenient approach to Myanmar crisis. The Jakarta Post.

Kamal, A. & Benowitz, D. (2022, October 19). Supporting the people of Myanmar: it’s about political will. Overseas Development Institute Humanitarian Practice Network.

Kamal, A., Hser Hser, N. & Ohmar, K. (2023, February 1). Myanmar’s neglected crisis demands a different response. The New Humanitarian.

Kamal, A., & Ohmar, K. (2023, April 11). Time to reframe ASEAN five-point consensus in line with ASEAN Charter. The Jakarta Post.

Kantar, S. (2022, October 31). Displacement crisis in southeastern Myanmar requires local humanitarian response, Karen groups say. Myanmar Now.

Khan, T (2023, September). Envisioning an alternative ecosystem for global development and humanitarianism. Centre for Humanitarian Leadership.

Koh, T. (2022, August 4). Should ASEAN be an organisation based on the rule of law?. The Straits Times.

Karen Peace Support Network. (2022, October). Border Based Karen Community Groups Lead Aid Response to Post-Coup Humanitarian Crisis in Kawthoolei.

Karen Peace Support Network. (2023, February 27). Kawthoolei IDP Update.

Mardini, R. (2022, June 16). Back to basics: humanitarian principles in contemporary armed conflict. ICRC Blog on Humanitarian Law & Policy.

Maya, A. (2022). The ‘New Humanitarians’: Vernacular aid in Greece. The Humanitarian Leader. p.68. Centre for Humanitarian Leadership.

Metcalfe-Hough, V., Fenton, W. & Manji, F. (2023, June). The Grand Bargain in 2022: An independent review. HPG commissioned report.

Muhibah, Shafiat F. (2021, March 30). Embracing Change to Stay Resilient. ASEAN Focus Spotlight: Rethinking ASEAN. ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

Nissen, L.P. (Host). (2021, April 23). Trumanitarian (Audio Podcast). Adelina Kamal in Collaborative Contrarian. Minutes 28:38 – 48:48

OCHA (2016). The Grand Bargain – A Shared Commitment to Better Serve People in Need.

OCHA (2022, December 1). Global Humanitarian Overview 2023.

OCHA (2023a, January 25). Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan.

OCHA (2023b, August 31). Myanmar: Humanitarian Response Plan 2023 – Mid-Year dashboard (Jan-June 2023).

OCHA (2023c, September 8). Myanmar Humanitarian Update No. 32.,of%20the%20required%20funding%20received

OHCHR (2023a, January 31). Illegal and Illegitimate: Examining the Myanmar military’s claim as the Government of Myanmar and the international response.

OHCHR (2023b, September 11). Intensity of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity Have Increased in Myanmar, Independent Mechanism tells Human Rights Council [News Release].

Ohmar, K. (2021, July 28). There’s nothing neutral about engaging with Myanmar’s military. The New Humanitarian.

Okoth-Obbo, G.W. (2023, February 27). Seminar on Collaboration for Atrocity Prevention in Myanmar and Beyond [YouTube]. CSIS Indonesia.

Overseas Development Institute Humanitarian Policy Group. (2022, December 1). Beyond Neutrality alternative forms of humanitarian action [Webinar].

Progressive Voice (2023, April 17). Open Letter by 546 CSOs: The United Nations Security Council’s Meting on Myanmar Must Lead to Firm Measures Against the Junta.

Saez P., Konyndyk, J., & Worden, R. (2021). Rethinking Humanitarian Reform: What Will It Take to Truly Change the System? Center for Global Development (CGD).

Seiff, A. (2022, October 11). Backroom aid: The groups helping behind the scenes. The New Humanitarian.

Setkab or Cabinet Secretariat of the Republic of Indonesia (2022, May 25). President Jokowi Offers Four Concepts of Sustainable Resilience, 7th GPDRR, Bali, Indonesia.

Slim, H. (2020, August 27). You don’t have to be neutral to be a good humanitarian. The New Humanitarian.

Slim, H. (2022a). Solferino 21: Warfare, Civilians and Humanitarians in the Twenty First Century. Hurtspublishers.

Slim, H. (2022b, September 2022). Humanitarian resistance: Its ethical and operational importance. Overseas Development Institute Humanitarian Practice Network.

Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (2022, September 5). Briefing Paper: Effective Control in Myanmar.

Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (2023, October 3). How the UN is Failing Myanmar.

Thuzar, M., & Sheah, S. (2022, November 17). Reviewing the Review: ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus Implementation. Fulcrum: Analysis on Southeast Asia. ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

Thuzar, M., & Alexandra, L. (2023, May 5). Future-proofing ASEAN’s Myanmar Response. Fulcrum: Analysis on Southeast Asia. ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

Thuzar, M., & Sheah, S. (2023, September 14). Does ASEAN Matter for Myanmar?. Fulcrum: Analysis on Southeast Asia. ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

Tun, A. (2022, March 18). Community-led Social Cohesion in Post-Coup Myanmar: A Promising Glimmer. Fulcrum: Analysis on Southeast Asia. ISEAS Yusof Ishak Insitute.

UNHCR (2023a, January 17). Briefing Notes: UNHCR seeks comprehensive regional response to address rise in deadly South-East Asia sea journeys.

UNHCR (2023b, August 23). Rohingya Refugee Crisis Explained.

UN Myanmar (2023, January 25). Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan 2023.

United Nations. (2005). Responsibility to Protect.

Willis, H. & Cai, W. (2023). The Country That Bombs Its Own People. The New York Times.

: Medical volunteers from ‘Nway Oo Sayy aid’ take care of a Karen refugee in an IDP camp in Kayah State, Myanmar.






How to Cite

“Beyond the ‘Egosystem’: A case for locally led Humanitarian Resistance” (2023) The Humanitarian Leader, 5(1), p. Working paper 041, November, 2023. doi:10.21153/thl2023art1907.