Understanding and Supporting the Roles that Religious Leaders play in peacebuilding

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Sustainable peace requires not only political will from all sides, but also the collective efforts of the civil society and religious leaders.To this end JPF partner LAIN technical support group conducted a three-day ‘Peace and Religious Leaders’ awareness workshop in Pekon Township, Shan State in February, as part of their efforts to support the peacebuilding initiatives in Kayah State which seek to resolve internal conflicts within the state and contribute towards lasting peace.

A total of 25 participants, representing different religious groups from Kayah and Shan States, attended the event, with the objectives of analyzing the roles that religious leaders play in internal peacebuilding; promoting awareness about the ongoing peace process; and enabling greater channels for religious leaders to support peacebuilding efforts.

LAIN’s Project Manager, Mu Caroline, highlighted the importance of bringing religious leaders into dialogues, saying, “In our society and country’s context, we can’t deny that religious leaders are important social influencers. Their influence, together with their negotiation skills, has given them an important status throughout the history of Myanmar and the peace process as they communicate with the public on a daily basis and can advocate to the armed stakeholders in their own way. So, we believe that inviting them to this event and analyzing their respective roles when it comes to peacebuilding is hugely important”.

All Myanmar Gorkha Hindu Religious Association’s Secretary (1), U Soe Nyein, said that attending the ‘Peace and religious leaders’ workshop enabled him to gain more knowledge about peace.

“I will share the peace knowledge I gained from this dialogue with Gorkha Hindu’s youth so that they are aware of the ongoing peace process, the importance of negotiation and the actual meaning of peace which is different from living in peace” he added.

One of the participants, Rev. Saw Min Lwin, from the Kayah Phu Baptist Association in Demoso Township in Kayah State, shared his view on the role of that religious leaders in Myanmar can play in the peace process.

“Every human being in this country needs peace, regardless of their religion or beliefs. We, as religious leaders, are also committed to the peace-making process in Myanmar and would like to support it as much as we can. For instance, we can openly discuss some of the regional challenges that people are going through with the armed stakeholders and advocate for potential solutions. This is just one way that we can engage in the process,” he said.

The Vice Chair of the Kayah State Interfaith Group, U Kyaw Myint Oo, highlighted the importance of including all voices in the peace process.

“Everyone is hungry for peace. To achieve it, we need to include all voices and help build collective strength in the peace process.” he said.

At the three-day workshop, participants exchanged knowledge and updates on the peace process and identified the channels through which they could best communicate in order to help support internal peacebuilding efforts and counter hate speech. Discussions also focused on how leaders could help build unity among different groups of people, how they could extend networks of different religious leaders, what roles they can play in discussions and dialogue with the general public at the community-level and how religious groups can separate religion from politics to ensure that religion is not used to advance political interests, while still making a positive contribution to Myanmar’s peace process.

Sayadaw U Day Wei Dah from Zeyya Yanti Monastery in Pekon Township in Kayah State underscored how regular dialogue could help build unity in society.

“The absence of regular communications among the different stakeholders, including different religious groups can lead to a mutual distrust. Thus, organizing dialogues can strengthen relationships, and from there, we could move ahead to foster real unity and heal divisions which will in turn help ensure a successful peace process,” he said.

This event was one of the four peace process awareness workshops that LAIN has conducted for marginalized groups, reaching over 100 participants since August.

LAIN will conduct a peace process awareness workshop for the State-level armed forces in Kayah State and the workshop is expected to receive about 30 participants.

Fr. Thomaso Chit Thar from Pekon Township said, “I believe that trust building between the political leaders and ethnic armed leaders plays a vital role in the peace process. For me, to achieve equality and justice in society is to build peace. Therefore, I will continue to organize peace talks and encourage peaceful discussions and dialogue among youth in order to promote friendship and mutual understanding among different communities as a grassroots level peacebuilding initiative”.

LAIN is one of over 80 organizations currently supported by the Joint Peace Fund across the country and is part of the Fund’s projects promoting informal discussions within communities on key political issues around the peace process to promote civic engagement and support participation in Myanmar's peace process.