Brett G. Scharffs is the Rex E. Lee Chair, Professor of Law, and the Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University
Seng Mai Aung is a Program Officer for Myanmar at the Institute for Global Engagement
Myanmar is, and for several years has been, included on the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom Annual Report’s “blacklist” as a Country of Particular Concern. In 2012, an incident in Rakhine State occurred between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims, escalating into nationwide religious conflicts between different faith groups. Then came the rise of the Buddhist Nationalist Group, Ma Ba Tha also known as the Association for Protection of Race and Religion. This Ma-Ba Tha movement promoted fear of being invaded by foreign religions and influence along with damaging relations between other religious groups. Social media played an important role in spreading false news and hate speech and further dividing people of different faiths.
A reconciling peacebuilding effort was introduced—the religion and rule of law training program—to assist Myanmar in promoting religious freedom. In 2015, the Institute for Global Engagement in partnership with the International Center for Law and Religion Studies of Brigham Young University Law School were invited to give the religion and rule of law training in Yangon by local religious leaders providing them with resources, tools, and lessons learned from similar international cases.
Identifying Local Stakeholders
For the successful implementation of the religion and rule of law training programs in specific regions, identifying key stakeholders was the first pressing matter. Due to the sensitivity of the topic and how the subjects of “religion” or “rule of law” are perceived, it was vital to identify key stakeholders who understood the risks and benefits of such programs, recognized the importance of the topics, and were willing to get involved in the process of implementing the program in their city. To identify the stakeholders, it was important to talk to people who knew the area before approaching any stakeholders. It was also essential to approach them humbly and respectfully that included a willingness to listen to their challenges and needs.