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Event Summaries
June 29, 2016

Event Summary: ‘Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads’

by
Henry Jackson Society

TIME: 18:00-19:00, Tuesday 28 June 2016

VENUE: Committee Room 10, House of Commons, Houses of Parliament, SW1A 0AA

SPEAKER: Benedict Rogers, Author of Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads, and East Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity

For a full transcript of this event click here

By Gemma Sunnergren

On Tuesday, Benedict Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide gave a talk on the state and future of democracy in Burma. He described the events leading up to Burma’s first reasonably democratic elections in recent history and the current state of the government. He then explained what he sees as two of the biggest challenges facing Burma at the moment and concluded with his hopes for the future and how the UK can help.

Benedict began his talk by describing the lead up to the November 2015 elections.  He explained how the then regime held elections for the first time in 2010, but these were widely considered a sham, leaving the military in power with little change. Then, in August 2011, President Thein Sein invited Aung San Suu Kyi to the capital city, built by the regime and populated almost entirely by government officials. After their meeting, a period of reform began in the country. A second election was held in 2015. This election appeared to be fair and, and Aung San Suu Kyi and her party won with an overwhelming majority.

The talk then progressed to the current state of the government, as the newly elected officials took office early this year. Benedict explained how certain constitutional clauses have left the military with a significant amount of power. This explains why there has not been a coup d’état, as the military does not feel threatened at the moment.

From here, Benedict moved on to the two major challenges he believes face Burma currently, the first being ethnic conflict, and the second rising religious intolerance. The regions along Burma’s borders have been torn apart by ethnic conflict, as the ethnic nationalities struggle for autonomy within a federal Burma. In response, the military has launched offenses that have displaced large numbers of the populations, and they have been accused of rape, the recruitment of child soldiers, and mass destruction. While there have been some ceasefires, they have not worked. He explained that the ceasefires are not good enough because there has been no peace process and that any political dialogue must focus on the topic of federalism.

In reference to the second challenge to Burma, religious intolerance, Benedict described the largely Muslim Rohingyas, who have been effectively stripped of their citizenship and are among the most persecuted groups in the world. The persecution of these people and Muslims across the country reflects a growing campaign of anti-Muslim sentiment, the result of rising Buddhist nationalism. This movement has targeted, Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists who preach tolerance.

Benedict concluded his talk by describing the work activists within Burma have done in speaking out against these issues and the work he has done in meeting with moderate Buddhist monks and bringing groups of Burmese people to other countries, such as Indonesia, for the exchange of ideas. He described Burma as democratically led, but not yet democratic, but he is optimistic for the future and hopes for the support of the rest of the world in promoting democracy and peace in the region.