Peace Leadership and Research Institute
OPENING REMARKS delivered at PLRI Graduation Ceremony on May 7, 2019
by Saw Myo Min Thu, Executive Director
Thabyay Education Foundation
Distinguished guests, members of the Board of Thabyay Education Foundation, faculty, staff and graduating fellows: Good morning!
Because this is the graduation ceremony in honor of our fellows at the Peace Leadership and Research Institute, the first order of things to do is to offer my heart-felt congratulations to the graduates. I am very proud of your achievement and I look forward to your contribution to the peace building in Myanmar.
During the course of one year, you have studied together, you have asked many difficult questions to yourselves and to others, read many academic essays and papers, spoke with leaders and ordinary persons, and listened to and learned from so many scholars and practitioners. You have done all this with one goal in mind – to help find ways to achieve lasting peace in Myanmar.
At PLRI, we seek to go beyond ad-hoc, short-term capacity building workshops and trainings, and aim to build a dynamic research and learning community. Having completed this rigorous and demanding program, I hope that you have been empowered enough to provide essential research and analytical inputs to Myanmar peace negotiations. In that sense, your achievement today is not about you, but about your country, and about how to achieve peace in your country.
As we gather here today, I am reminded of the celebration of the Day of Peace in 1972. His Holiness Pope Paul VI famously titled his message “If you want peace, work for justice.” Today, I call upon you, the graduating fellows of PLRI, to of course seek peace, but also to work hard for justice. That is, if we really want to see peace in our country, we cannot avoid talking about issues such as economic inequality; access to education and healthcare; land rights, human rights, and above all, the need for change in the constitution.
However, in doing so, we must encourage a culture of evidence-based arguments and a practice of open and honest discussions with one another. This is the very essence of the Graduate Research Diploma in Peace Leadership Program. Our goal is to provide high quality training in conducting social science research and equip you with the necessary skills and mindset for the leadership roles you are expected to play in the peace process.
Nowadays, we can safely assume that all of us want to see peace in our country, but we are unsure still if some of us really want to see justice or even to talk about it. In fact, we know that some people work very hard to set the issue of justice aside— all in the name of peace and national reconciliation.
Oftentimes, peace in Myanmar may seem like a distant dream for some of us. But, my hope is in the possibility of your generation. The possibility that you will look beyond what our twisted history lessons have taught you about how this country was given birth to; the possibility that you will be able to see beyond your own ethnicity and think about the multi-ethnicities that truly reflect Myanmar’s reality. The possibility that, when your time for leadership comes, you will hear and respond to the cry for justice and freedom from those who have been suppressed for so many decades in this country.
In Myanmar, having to live in a pluralistic society is a given. But to embrace it or not is a choice we can make. We can choose to not embrace diversity and as a result fail collectively to achieve much needed national harmony. But, if we want to progress as a multiethnic nation, we must find ways to live together without having to sacrifice each of our own identities. For that, we must treat one another with respect and dignity. We will just be fools if we think we will be able to enjoy a sustained and lasting peace at the expense of justice, equality and right to self-determination of others.
I hope you, unlike the generation before you, have learned to embrace diversity of cultural backgrounds, of faiths, of ideas and perspectives and understand that we share a common political destiny. We cannot live with good conscious in a country where half of the population goes on with their own business while the other half have to continually run from rockets, and become internally displaced persons in their own land.
To take inspiration from the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., injustice anywhere in Myanmar is a threat to justice for every one of us in this country and beyond. What happen today in the mountains of Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states will directly impact our lives in ways that we may not be able to comprehend immediately. But, it is our moral and intellectual responsibility that should enable us to feel the need to defend justice and make all possible efforts to defeat injustices.
It would be irresponsible on our part to depend on one or two leaders and expect things to change at the national level. Putting all the responsibilities on a small group of people called “leaders” for the transformational shift we want to see in the country is an easy task; but taking our own share of responsibility and subsequent accountability in the process as intellectual citizens is difficult and yet essential.
While the PLRI is only a year-long program, our hope is that the relationships that have been built among you will be sustained long beyond the duration of the fellowship. And as you come from different backgrounds, different geographic regions, you will go back and serve or work with different organizations. It is even possible that you will one day sit in the same room – where peace negotiations take place – and yet on different sides of the table. But, our hope is that, at that negotiation table, critical reasoning is your common denominator; and evidence and objectivity the foundation of your arguments.
Finally, I would like to urge you to make the most out of the learning experience and education you’ve received at PLRI – question the status quo and come up with new ideas and new ways of thinking about peace. Dare to dream about a new Myanmar!
Now that you have gone through the program at PLRI, I hope that you will let reason prevail in your search for peace, and allow critical analysis and objectivity to guide you in your endeavor for justice.
No matter what your goal in life is, and no matter what your profession is, you – as intellectual citizens of the country – should always be concerned about the issues of justice.
We must not forget that there are those among us who feel that their opportunities are less than others' simply because of their race, language they speak or religion they subscribe to. There are those who feel that they are being left out in the country’s development process because of where they live. And, there are those who feel that they are not being treated equally by the law and by the authority in the country because of their ethnicity.
And, all these feelings are our concerns because we want to help build a Myanmar wherein everyone is treated equally; diversity is embraced and, regardless of their race or ethnicity, is accorded with basic human dignity.
One final note: even in thinking about “rule of law,” which is something our country is greatly in need of, please still do not forget to question whether it is a just or unjust law, but in the end, I only urge that you answer to none other than your own intellectual consciousness.
I wish you all the best and again, CONGRATULATIONS! Thank you.