New research collected by a peacekeeping project could help international actors plan a sustainable intervention to help end the conflicts in Myanmar. In her research seminar at Leeds Beckett University, Dr Rachel Julian discussed how understanding the local knowledge harnessed in unarmed civilian peacekeeping can promote resilience against violence.
The 18-month research project, Raising Silent Voices, built a case study of local conflict knowledge among violence-affected communities in Myanmar. They spoke with a diverse range of people and found there to be many competing narratives about the reasons for the conflict.
The researchers spoke with a diverse range of local civilians in the Karen and Mon areas of Myanmar, each with their own story and understanding of how conflict was created. They spoke with political prisoners who were promoting love and peace through art, peace activists who organised peace marches and festivals, and musicians who sung songs promoting forgiveness and acceptance. Although everybody’s story was different, they each had one message: to accept, forgive and move on.
Researchers also found that particular parts of Myanmar to be very isolated to the extent that some communities were unaware that there was conflict affecting the country. Information was found to be restricted, however local communities were found to be extremely organised in terms of communicating.
Furthermore, a split between hatred and complexity was found in the Southeast Asian country. Some states were found to be more peaceful than others, but there were still armed organisations in certain parts of the country, such as the Northern Shan state, and these armed organisations had different interests to the peaceful state.
Myanmar has always had a strong civic society, that grew from the underground resistant movement that overthrew the military dictatorship. The only way that people could survive the political unrest was by creating relationships and opportunities organised in isolated villages. This influence of community and culture of sharing is strongly apparent throughout Myanmar today.
Currently, Myanmar is experiencing violent conflicts with immense complexities. Not only are there tensions between ethnic groups and the military, but there are generational conflicts that have been passed down from generation to generation. These conflicts range from gender inequalities, drugs, religion and oppression. Raising Silent Voices found that every area they visited had their own complex picture of the entwined nature of the conflicts.
This peacekeeping project is particularly unique as there has been none carried out similar to this in Myanmar. Not only does it provide in-depth research on the culture of the local people, but also helps put Myanmar’s strong civic community culture at the heart of its conflict resolution.
As well as working with three other experienced peace and conflict researchers from the UK and US, Dr Julian worked closely with Nonviolent Peaceforce, a partner non-governmental organisation (NGO) who have worked closely with unarmed civilian peacekeeping projects all around the world.
PHOTO REUTERS/ Thomas Peter