Washington, D.C. – (October 11, 2013) – Amidst the return of sectarian violence to Myanmar’s Rakhine State, resulting in the first visit by President U Thein Sein to that volatile region on 1 October, the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) and the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw of the Sitagu International Buddhist Association (SIBA) co-convened a conference on “Peace, Security, and Co-Existence” in Yangon, Myanmar. Institutional partners also included the Judson Research Center at the Myanmar Institute for Theology (MIT), the Myanmar Council of Churches (MCC), and the Catholics Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM). The conference was held from 1-2 October and addressed topics including religion, security, citizenship, and education in the context of a multi-faith and multi-ethnic society.

Hosted at SIBA’s campus in Yangon, the conference brought together a diverse group of religious, government, and civil society leaders. Several local and international news agencies covered the conference, and Myanmar’s state TV channel broadcasted the entire opening session. Several dignitaries attended and provided strong endorsements of the conference including U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell. President U Thein Sein, who missed the conference in order to travel to Rakhine State, and Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi also sent messages of support for the conference. Participants also heard from several Myanmar religious leaders including the Islamic Center of Myanmar’s Al Haj U Aye Lwin, CBCM’s Archbishop Charles Bo, and MCC’s Reverend Saw Shwe Lin. IGE president Chris Seiple gave a keynote presentation, “Some Observations on Building Peace, Security, and Co-Existence from around the World.”

The two-day conference consisted of over 200 participants. Among them were 10 government officials, 19 foreign delegates, 27 Buddhists, 24 Christians, and 9 Muslims. Panel sessions focused on “Comparative Perspectives on Religion and Security” and “Comparative Perspectives on Education and Co-Existence in a multi-ethnic and multi-faith population.” The international delegation of scholars from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Singapore, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, and the United States provided global perspectives on these topics, while IGE Vice-Presidents Christy Vines and James Chen also spoke on the role of women in peace building and on religion and security.

The Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw called the conference “the beginning of the beginning” and expressed his desire for short- and long-term strategic action plan. In his closing remarks, IGE president Chris Seiple summarized the various actions that different participants had proposed. Conference participants also passed and signed a joint statement calling for the “[building of] bridges of practical cooperation in [Myanmar’s] multi-religious and multi-ethnic societies for better understanding of other religions and reductions of tension.” As a result of the conference, the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw and Al Haq U Aye Lwin—president of Myanmar’s Islamic Association, who directly asked for Sitagu’s help at the conference—traveled to violence-afflicted areas in Rakhine State from 7-9 October.

With the facilitation of the MCC, the IGE delegation also met with leaders and representatives from the Rohingya, Kayin (Karen), Rakhine Burmese, and 88 Generation Student groups. After the conference, IGE visited Bagan and Mandalay, home to Myanmar’s oldest religious sites, and met with Ashin Wirathu, “The face of Buddhist Terror” (as coined by TIME magazine), at his monastery in Mandalay.

About the Institute for Global Engagement – The Institute for Global Engagement works at the critical intersection of religion and global affairs, building sustainable environments for religious freedom worldwide. Through local partnerships, IGE works transparently to convene, connect, and build consensus among government, religious leaders, and scholars to ensure that all people, of any religion or no religion, have full freedom of conscience and can participate as equal citizens in public life. To learn more about IGE or our various overseas programs, please contact James Chen at jchen@globalengage.org.