Religions for Peace Advisory Forum Provides “Open Space” to Advance National Reconciliation and Peace in Myanmar
(November 22, 2018 | Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar) The inaugural Religions for Peace Advisory Forum on National Reconciliation and Peace in Myanmar (RfP Advisory Forum) convened at Myanmar International Convention Centre II in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar on 21-22 November 2018, succeeded in creating “open space” for all sectors in Myanmar—governmental, military, ethnic groups, civil society and religious groups—to earnestly seek together a common path for peace. The Forum is designed to help all stakeholders engage in free and open dialogue on how to address the concrete challenges the country faces
The RfP Advisory Forum Co-Chairs Cardinal Charles Bo, U Myint Swe, and Bishop Gunnar Stålsett, stated that the Forum is aimed to overcome anger, hatred and revenge with forgiveness and compassion, to build trust and confidence, and to develop common action for peace and reconciliation.
The RfP Advisory Forum included over 100 key stakeholders for national reconciliation and peace in the country. These included Myanmar and international senior religious leaders, senior representatives of the Myanmar government and the military, parliamentarians from ruling and opposition parties, ethnic organizations, foreign governments, UN agencies, international and national NGOs, civil society groups and experts. The Opening Ceremony was attended by over 300 participants including Vice Presidents U Myint Swe and U Henry Van Thio, Pyithu Hluttaw Speaker U T Khun Myat, Amyotha Hluttaw Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Commander-in-Chief Vice-Senior General Soe Win, and Karen National Union Chairperson Saw Mutu Say Poe and representatives of ethnic armed organizations peace.
The proposal for a RfP Advisory Forum was first presented in the Letter to the Peoples of Myanmar: Multi-religious Vision of Peace and Development issued by Myanmar and International religious leaders and welcomed by H.E. State Counsellor in May 2018. At the invitation of H.E. Cardinal Charles Bo and other Religions for Peace Myanmar leaders, a high-level multi-religious delegation met in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw from 22 to 25 May 2018, followed by their representatives’ visit to Sittwe and Maungdaw in the north of Rakhine State on 26-28 May 2018.
Forum participants noted that shared values among Myanmar’s religious traditions can support national reconciliation and peace, and contribute to building a foundation for multi-stakeholder actions to address issues of 1) education, 2) equal rights and responsibilities for all ethnic communities, 3) women’s empowerment and participation, 4) youth empowerment and engagement, and 5) identity, diversity and common challenges in Rakhine State.
On the issues of education, it was emphasized that all children and youth severely affected by conflicts should be given special care and support to ensure their access to quality education with freedom of movement and protection wherever needed. This was particularly emphasized with reference to Rakhine and other conflict areas. Religious communities determined to work with the government in developing a national curriculum on a basic introduction to the world’s major religious traditions as part of civic education for all public schools. It was further proposed that a national peace education curriculum for public schools be developed to educate children and youth about fundamental values and issues to promote multi-religious and multi-ethnic harmony.
On the issues of equal rights and responsibilities for all ethnic communities, the Forum called for an immediate cessation of hostilities nationwide. Bringing about equitable development in ethnic areas and enacting and enforcing laws on ethnic rights were emphasized. Participants also committed to work with other stakeholders to tackle illicit narcotic production and trafficking.
On issues of women’s empowerment, participants lamented that violence and discrimination against women are still prevalent in homes, conflict areas and society at large. They called for a close cooperation with the government and relevant partners in addressing such violence and discrimination and overcoming the prevailing culture of impunity. Participants emphasized the need for speedy bureaucratic and legal procedural reforms to protect women from violence. In the meantime, they were encouraged by the increasing leadership of women in peacebuilding as a great contribution to democracy and nation building. Daw Yin Yin Maw, Chair, Women of Faith Network said that “the Forum members were united in working with the government and local authorities to further strengthen women’s participation in decision making in political, economic, social, cultural and other areas at different levels from household, grassroots communities to the state levels.”
Participants were convinced that the future of Myanmar depends on the empowerment education of youth. A transfer of wisdom and experience to younger generation through youth engagement in decision making processes in different areas at different levels is necessary for a long-term peace-building. Youth participation and engagement in the peace process should be further advanced.
On the issues of Rakhine State, participants were encouraged by the government’s willingness to implement the bilateral agreement with the government of Bangladesh and a tri-partite agreement with UNHCR and UNDP. It was recognized that creating conditions needed for voluntary return of displaced persons to Myanmar in a safe, secure and dignified way is crucial. The returnees should be guaranteed access to basic services and freedom of movement, and sustainable livelihood. Participants supported a planned voluntary and safe return of verified refugees from Bangladesh to their places of origin with proper protection and accompaniment by international agencies UNHCR.
Participants expected the government’s Independent Commission of Enquiry to establish the facts and seek accountability by carrying out an independent and impartial investigation of atrocities and human rights violations. Participants recognized that inclusive citizenship is the basis for freedom of movement and access to basic services such as health and education. In this regard, an appreciation was expressed for a proposal to set up a governmental working committee with legal experts to address issues of statelessness in accordance with international laws.
U Myint Swe, President, RfP Myanmar, noted that the Forum can help build the trust essential to advancing peace. He stressed its full independence and exclusive commitment to advance Myanmar-led solutions.
H.E. Cardinal Charles Bo, Patron, RfP Myanmar, stated: “This is a colorful country blessed with abundant resources. Ethnic communities are great assets…” This country has always celebrated unity and diversity. …We appeal to the parties in conflict to believe in peace through dialogue. Peace is possible, peace is the only way.”
Bishop Gunnar Stålsett, Honorary President, RfP International stated that “Our multi-religious vision for Myanmar is a harmonious and prosperous democracy built on the foundation of human dignity, human rights and international law. The compelling vision that has brought us to this day is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society with dignified citizenship rights for all its inhabitants.”
Religions for Peace leaders in attendance included Fr. Joseph Maung Win, Secretary General, RfP Myanmar, Al Haj U Aye Lwin, Co-Founder, RfP Myanmar, Rev. Mahn Palmerston, General Secretary, Myanmar Council of Churches and RfP Core Group Member, Dr. Hla Tun, Co-Founder, RfP Myanmar, Dr. Din Syamsuddin, Moderator, RfP Asia, Dr. Vinu Aram, Co-Moderator, RfP International, Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary General, RfP International, Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Deputy Secretary General, RfP International.