Panel: Myanmar in Crisis

On Monday, February 12, 2018, the Fletcher initiative on Religion, Law, and Diplomacy welcomed back Ambassador Derek Mitchel (F 91) and Reverend Susan Hayward (F 06), as well as human rights activist May Sabe Phyu, for a dinner and brilliant panel discussion on the key issues facing Myanmar.

The topic of the Rohingya crisis — an ongoing situation in which huge numbers of Muslims in the western Rakhine State are being persecuted and forcibly displaced at the hands of the military, many over the border into Bangladesh — featured prominently in the discussion. While there is a strong element of Buddhist nationalism driving this crisis, the panelists urged the audience not to oversimplify the narrative. Reverend Hayward spoke at length about the many dimensions to ethnic conflict in Myanmar, which includes centuries of antagonism from the government, flare-ups of nationalism, political conflict dating back to the colonial era, and porous borders.

Ambassador Mitchel went on to say that the western media’s vilification of Myanmar’s de facto leader, Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has reduced diplomatic relations between the west and the Myanmar government to its lowest point in recent memory. While acknowledging the justifiable criticism of Myanmar’s iconic leader in her reluctance to speak out or take action on the Rohingya crisis, Ambassador Mitchel commented that the western media could not resist the juicy narrative of the “Nobel Peace Prize Winner Fallen from Grace”, and proceeded to publicly crucify her without properly examining the relevant complexities of the situation or the nuances of her position.

May Sabe Phyu, currently on a one-year fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School, drew attention to many of the other ethnic minorities clashing with the Burmese military, including her own Kachin people in the north of Myanmar. Phyu phyu emphasized the need for political participation from all parties in building a lasting peace, especially women, and pointed to the politicization of religion as an increasingly dividing force in the country.

Check out more reporting about this event here.