NAYPYIDAW — United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon met with an interfaith panel and civil society representatives at two different events with two contrasting messages in Naypyidaw on Wednesday.
During the meeting with the interfaith group, well-known Buddhist monk Ashin Nyanisara, also known as Sitagu Sayadaw, attributed a “lack of understanding of the essence of one’s own faith” to “one of the causes of conflict” in Burma.
Only through understanding this “essence,” the monk explained, can mutual understanding and friendship be fostered. Government schools, Ashin Nyanisara added, should develop a religious education syllabus “to help students understand every religion in the country.”
‘Focus on Poverty’
His comments came at a time when Burma has been struggling with interfaith relations, particularly between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority. Since 2012, the country has been coping with ongoing violence and tension—mostly instigated by Buddhist nationalists—between the two communities. The latest documented incidents of anti-Muslim violence occurred in June, when a mosque was destroyed by a Buddhist mob in Pegu Division and on July 1, when a Muslim prayer hall was burned down in a similar manner in Kachin State.
In August, Burma’s government announced that they would form an advisory commission led by former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan to tackle ongoing abuses in Arakan State affecting the region’s Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim Rohingya.
Political parties like the Arakan National Party and the Union Solidarity and Development party have objected to the presence of international members on the Arakan State commission, describing it as foreign meddling in domestic affairs.
Ashin Nyanisara compared the ethnoreligious violence in western Burma to “fighting between a husband and wife,” also emphasizing that it was an internal affair.
“If a fight between husband and wife breaks out, it doesn’t make sense to call for outside help. That’s a problem they have to solve between themselves,” he said.
Yet, the monk offered a different stance referring to conflict-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, pointing out that only “powerful” outside countries are able to intervene and halt the atrocities occurring there.
“Mr. Ban Ki-moon just folded his arms and watched what was happening, as he can do nothing,” said Ashin Nyanisara.
The self-identifying Rohingya have been disproportionately affected by the violence in Arakan State and are often referred to as “Bengali” migrants—implying that the have come from neighboring Bangladesh—by the Burmese public, government and locals; this is an assertion that the Rohingya deny, insisting that the Arakan region is their ancestral home.
Referring to “Bengali” immigrants, Ashin Nyanisara said that Arakan State had experienced an increase in migration due to poverty in Bangladesh, and asked Ban Ki-moon to consider this when examining conflict in Arakan State.
“My request to the UN general secretary and others today is to focus on poverty when you tackle the problem,” he said.
A Lack of Security for Women
UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon also met 13 civil society representatives on the same day in Naypyidaw’s Kempinski Hotel.
Nang Phyu Phyu Lin, chair of the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process said her organization highlighted for Ban Ki-moon how ongoing violence against women, particularly in conflict zones, remains a threat not only to security in those regions but also nationally. She also reflected on the lack of legal protection for women outside of conflict areas, and the need for more effective interventions to stop violence against women in all contexts.
“We still have a lack of security for women, whether they are in conflict zones or not. Because the policies protecting women from violence are very weak; perpetrators are not taken into custody and are still at large,” she explained.
“We urged the UN general secretary to pressure the government, the army and the ethnic armed groups to abide by and implement the UNSC resolution,” Nang Phyu Phyu Lin said, referring to the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which recognizes the gendered effects of conflict and provides a framework for furthering the participation of women in peace processes and security efforts.
Lway Cheery, secretary of the Ta’ang Women’s Organization, told The Irrawaddy that she raised issues concerning human rights abuses in northern Shan State, where many ethnic Ta’ang [Palaung] live.
“He seems well-informed about the refugees and IDPs [internally displaced people] and the peace process [in Burma],” Lway Cheery said of Ban Ki-moon. “He said he would raise these concerns with the government when he meets the leaders.”
“He pledged,” she continued, “that the UN is ready to provide more support toward achieving peace in Myanmar.”
Additional reporting by Kyaw Phyo Tha from Rangoon.