Commentary

Inter-ethnic and inter-faith: National Reconciliation and the Advancement of Peace in Myanmar

The necessity of peace by political means, inclusive of all nationalities and faiths within the Union.

A pregnant woman with labour complications being carried to nearest clinic two days away in Chin State. / Photo credit Khumi Media Group

It is again sad to point out that it is not only in the health field that many nationality peoples feel marginalised. Over the years, restrictions on local cultures and languages have only furthered alienation from the national authorities. Even today, for example, children are not allowed to sit for government exams who come from areas where the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement has not been signed. As a result, another generation of young people feel discriminated against within the country. Such examples highlight that inequality is not simply about conflict, as is often believed, but it can also be caused by the structural violence generated by weak and absent state policies and financing. In short, the patterns of inequality within our country are not because of war but reflect the long-standing failures of state that have always needed to be addressed by reform.

Looking to the future, it is vital that this legacy of under-achievement and challenges of reform are discussed in meaningful dialogue. All of us can play a role: political parties, civil society organisations, faith-based groups and also those who hold arms, which is a particular feature of political life in our country. Without such inclusion, the cycle of division and violence is only likely to continue.

Equally concerning, as the pace of national transformation accelerates, a new generation of grievances will develop among marginalised peoples and communities that feel left outside. But it does not need to be like this. New problems only arise because of the inequalities that are present in society and the conflicts that continue in the field. But when these day-to-day issues are resolved at the grass-roots level, then this complements the national peace process, supporting the finding of solutions at the top.

In the meantime, there are many ways to support these goals. Concentration, for example, can be given to education, health outreach, women’s empowerment, child protection, livelihoods and youth opportunity, all of which are intertwined, interdependent and interconnected. A just land law is also required, and the peoples and farmers must be able to take part and advise in the process of enacting laws. When we seek equality, a just citizenship law is also essential. Each of these issues strengthens the fabric of society and the ability to break the cycle of violence, supporting the road to peace.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize it is only because of the faith of the peoples that so much division and suffering has been survived during these long years. It is their voices that we need to remember. As religious, social and political leaders, the onus is on us to pave the way for change, overcoming the inequalities in society, and fulfil the hopes of those who cannot take part in discussions for now. And there must also be self-reflection and humility. Dialogue is a process that continues through life and must include all peoples and communities in our society. With its great human and cultural potential, our country should be a model for compassionate and progressive inter-change, not an example of division and denial. Learning from the lessons of the past, there is much that we must seek to achieve.

Lahpai Seng Raw


P.S.

• “National Reconciliation and the Advancement of Peace in Myanmar”. TNI, 27 November 2018:
https://www.tni.org/en/article/national-reconciliation-and-the-advancement-of-peace-in-myanmar

• This commentary is part of a TNI project funded by Sweden. Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of the donor.

• This commentary is an English language version of a presentation that Lahpai Seng Raw delivered on “Equal Rights and Responsibilities for All Ethnic and Minority Groups” at the conference, “National Reconciliation and the Advancement of Peace in Myanmar”, organised by the Religions for Peace Advisory Forum in Nay Pyi Taw on 21-22 November 2018. The conference was attended by representatives of the Myanmar government, national armed forces, parliament, ethnic armed organisations and local non-governmental organisations. Speakers included State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Karen National Union Chairperson General Saw Mutu Say Poe, and Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Yangon Cardinal Charles Bo.

• Lahpai Seng Raw is a 2013 Ramon Magsaysay Award winner and co-founder of the Metta Development Foundation and Airavati. She was also a delegate at the 21st Century Panglong Conferences in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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