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Restoring justice through healing political trauma towards National Reconciliation in Myanmar: Practices and options to the diverse people of Burma / Myanmar

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Part One

The violence and bias we see every day are stark reminders of the distance still to travel in upholding human rights, preventing genocide and defending our common humanity.We must redouble our efforts to eradicate the deep roots of hatred and intolerance. People everywhere must unite to stop the cycle of discord and build a world of inclusion and mutual respect, writes Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, in Myanmar Times in 2015. This statement guides me to write in this perspective for my nation and my country.

Map of Myanmar/Burma with major ethnic groups (photo:the Economist )
Map of Myanmar/Burma with major ethnic groups (photo:the Economist )

This perspective (seasonal essay) will be exploring the options and possible practices open to the national and international peace negotiators and officials dealing with the past trauma of the nation in a social and political narrative. However, the empowering of the individual, family and local community in addressing these issues would be the foundation of the healing process while we seek a national reconciliation among us in the country. I will not seek any theoretical (western model) in addressing the issues of trauma (political trauma) in this context in order to heal but I will be exploring our own model of recovery based on the social and cultural context. It is not for an academic research paper rather for a better understanding of our own past in dealing with our current social and political impacts. Our leaders and activists from each political affiliation have been expressing the phrase ‘reconcile, unity and equality’ through the Burmese media but the task on them is to practice it rather than preach it. This essay is aimed at practicing unity in diversity but the national healing program would be desirable for our own sake. It is in the new fate of politics that we are destined to walk a hard and painful journey.

Healing the trauma:

Providing torture victims with access to justice involves two key components: Access to an effective remedy and reparation for the victim. Governments have the obligation to criminalize torture, to investigate all allegations and to prosecute perpetrators, according to the Statement issued by the IRCT, international peak body of International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims based in Denmark. I have listened to the local and national news over the past twenty years on Burma’s conflicts and other forms of political issues and I have heard people of the country express the words ‘peace, reconciliation and unity’ in all terms of their dialects. There is missing one debate in this argument. It is the healing process for the wounds that occurred over the past half a century and beyond to the mentality of people of diverse populations in the country.

Racial harmony:

Our country, either Myanmar or Burma, the name we like or dislike as the ‘Golden Land’, we know it has been facing social, cultural and political misery for over two-hundred years. Burma’s empire had gone when the British invaded her in the late 18thcentury but the sentiment of the people in Burma’s empire had yet disappeared when the new elites of Burma ruled again in the late 1950s. Racial discrimination, political oppression and cultural assimilation practices have been rooting within our own blood and soul regardless of our own tribal affiliation. Our leaders have been engaging in world affairs through the United Nations for over half of a century but we are remaining a nation of hopelessness and despair until the end of 2015, or even until our country finally elected a new democratic – civilian government in April 2016. This is the best time for our leaders and people nation-wide to heal our own political trauma in the context of our own fate but we cannot afford to ignore the legality and morality on these issues. Racial assimilation will never be the foundation theory of politics in the world as most nations failed after they have attempted over many centuries. Let’s face it, our country could live with diverse people and their own unique cultures.

Healing through the ‘mitta’: kindness, care and unconditional love

One key word in Myanmar that we use in daily life is the Pali term ‘mitta’, literally translated to ‘love, care and kind’ to self and others in the universe. We, especially the Buddhist people, pray and chant every morning and evening either at home or in the monastery. The word ‘love, care and kind’ could be also practiced as a foundation of healing within individuals and the community at large. A healing process would take time, space and a long journey but appropriate resources shall be allocated to the people. I have stayed over ten years in the monastery and also close to twenty years in Australia but I have been observing our country from the insightful eyes and mind that we, as a nation have to ‘heal’ our own wound either spiritually or legally. Acts based upon greed, hatred and delusion are considered “unwholesome” (akusala/akutho). They are described as inauspicious and lacking in merit. These actions do not create merit and have negative outcomes. As we might expect, Buddhists are keen to perform auspicious actions that produce merit, such as through generosity or giving, known as dana, and ethical conduct, or virtue, known as sila, Paul Fuller, Scholar on Buddhist studies asserted in a piece to Myanmar Times amid racial violence in our country. We, the Buddhist men and women lack on keeping the practice than preach to one another in the aspect of ‘merit or caring’ to the fellow citizen.

Trauma recovery:

According to the practice affirmed by the IRCT, reparations broadly comprise of a range of individual and collective measures that may be taken to address wrongs suffered by victims of human rights abuses. It aims to erase all the consequences of the violation and re-establish the situation, which would, in all probability, have existed if the violation had not occurred. There are five widely acknowledged forms of reparation: restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. I am not an academic for examining the five reparations for further proofing of the impact on healing but I am capable of arguing the options for healing based on the social, cultural and political context of our country.

Another legacy of the regime, the country’s wrecked healthcare system, means that many of those suffering from psychological problems, whether from torture or other causes, cannot receive much-needed psychological treatment from government health care facilities, asserted by Connor Macdonald (2016), on his article to the DVB, just a few weeks before Myanmar New Year in the second week of April. He warned that ‘Cultural stigmas and a lack of public understanding in Burma about common disorders, such as depression and anxiety, further worsens their plight. Many people choose to suffer in silence rather than face being labelled ayoo, or crazy’.

We have been living in the land, as we called it “Burma, Myanmar, The Golden Land” and other names in different dialects and languages from Mon, Karen and Shan etc. It is in fact the land, the river, and the mountain that we are inherited from the past civilizations to the new comers in our own era. It is the land of over twenty diverse tribes but one dominating tribe (national) treated another minority tribe with less respect either waging war, invasion or unlawful occupation from the late 11th century to the late 17th century until British ruled our country in the early 19th Century. History is recorded, it is in the past but it is living memory to our diverse people until our era. We have been living in both war and peace times over the last 200 years since the land has been entirely controlled by Burma’s Empires or the Kings of Burma since the late 17th Century. Time has passed but the trauma of our people remains un-healed legally and spiritually.

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