Friday, August 3, 2012

Post-military Burma/Myanmar, far from being out of the woods, remains in a state of transition. Overall infrastructure remains poor, and in the ethnic homelands it isMembers of the Burmese delegation exchange views with former Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey far poorer. De facto military rule continues in various parts of the country, often coinciding with continued ethnic clashes. The level of education among ethnic minorities remains low, further hindered by language barriers and the difficulty of learning Burmese to gain access to employment in the central parts of the country. This is especially troubling in light of the fact that 25% of the state budget goes towards defence expenditures, with only 1-2% towards education.

As Thian Uk Thang, Secretary of the Chin National Party, expressed at the Caux Forum, it is not enough to have a democratic Burma/Myanmar; the voices of each of the ethnic minorities need to be heard in order to reinforce a sense of common humanity and human dignity. Despite there being eight main ethnic groups, all 32/33 ministers in the Cabinet are Burman. Minority ethnic groups are represented at different levels of government, however the vast majority of positions are occupied by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, formed by the military government.

In working towards a full democratic transition, Thang sees his main responsibility as spreading democratic values at the grassroots level. He has helped work towards a ceasefire between the government and various ethnic groups, apart from the Kachin, who continue to experience clashes in their area of Burma/Myanmar. Ja Seng Hkawn, an activist for Kachin women's issues and national ethnic equality, notes the painful irony of the non-representation of the Kachin in parliament, despite her people forming, together with the Shan, the majority amongst the ethnic groups. Burma/Myanmar continues to be a male-dominated environment where women remain in the background, and Hkawn strongly feels this is an unsustainable model. Her mission is to take women’s concerns to decision-makers at all levels, from the grassroots to the international arena. Tun Min Sandar, a researcher at the Centre of Economy and Social Development, works on community development at the grassroots level, encouraging an understanding of the real issues at stake and improving the formulation of government policies.

At the Caux Forum, the members of the delegation gained much from the panels and community discussions, particularly in the areas of healing memory and intercultural dialogue. They were particularly reminded of the need for a greater sense of humility, and for listening to perspectives which are not entirely ethnically-focused. They also found that the five pillars of human security – living sustainably, inclusive economics, just governance, healing memory and intercultural dialogue – are all important for the development of humanity and especially of Burma/Myanmar, which continues to face challenges. The delegation gained a deeper understanding of the need to work together, both nationally and internationally, and to transfer the spirit of Caux—the humility to serve others—elsewhere in the hopes of creating a better world.

- By Soumya Iyer, Communications Assistant for the Caux Forum for Human Security

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