Southeast Asian countries include nearly 9% of the world’s population and, according to the Pew Forum, a disproportionate share of religious freedom violations. Fortunately, there are emerging opportunities to influence reform in the region. With a strong platform established by previous IGE efforts, further opportunities have now opened to provide training on religion and rule of law in Myanmar.
In December 2012, Dr. Chris Seiple took his first trip to Myanmar where he met with Buddhist, Christian and Muslim faith leaders to learn of the situation and discern if IGE might contribute to Myanmar's transition.
Shortly thereafter, from 14 to 16 January 2013, the Archbishop of Yangon, Charles Bo, and the Secretary General of the Myanmar Council of Churches, Saw Shwe Lin, co-convened the first-ever meeting of Catholics and Protestants at the Catholic Bishops Conference in Yangon. Dr. Seiple, the only American present, was invited by the Archbishop and Secretary General to speak formally into this discussion through a prepared presentation, “Five Principles for the Minority Church amidst Countries in Transition,” as well as respond informally at the conclusion of the conference.
Building on previous visits and conversations, from 1-2 October 2013, IGE, along with one of Myanmar’s most prominent Buddhist leaders, the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw of the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy (SIBA), co-convened the first ever international-scale multi-faith dialogue to address critical issues facing the country, including sectarian conflicts and citizenship. The conference, attended by over 200 local and international observers, included a nine-person international delegation led by IGE consisting of scholars and practitioners from Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the U.S. Following the conference, at the invitation of the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw, the IGE delegation embarked on a study tour of Bagan and Mandalay where they were able to meet with various religious leaders including Ashin Wirathu, a controversial Buddhist leader depicted on the July, 2013 Time magazine cover as “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”
In 2014 IGE hired Ms. Seng Mai Aung as the Myanmar Program Officer. As a result of previous efforts in the region as well as our previous experiences within Myanmar, further opportunities opened to provide training on religion and rule of law with other ASEAN members. Demonstrating IGE’s theory of change and incorporating opportunities for comparative analysis and region-wide change, IGE will work in Myanmar through an advanced certificate training program on religion and law for officials, scholars, and leaders.