‘Peace’ as ‘peace for business and development’ or ‘peace’ as ‘an end to violence, oppression’ and ‘presence of justice’?: Understanding Karen people’ assertion of ‘genuine’ peace and peacebuilding process through the Salween Peace Park

Friday, 25 November 2022 | 10:00 to 12:00 EST | Room 830, Eighth Floor, Kaneff Tower, York University and via Zoom

with Sheila Htoo, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, York University

For Zoom attendees, register at: www.tinyurl.com/Peace-25Nov

Employing Wood’s (2011) concept of “ceasefire capitalism,” this paper examines and discusses how ceasefire and peace talk since 2015 have become a catalyst for capitalist accumulation by dispossession of ethnic civilians of their land, identity and cultural traditions in Karen State of southeast Burma/Myanmar. On the one hand, ongoing state oppression and violence by the Burmese military is disguised in liberal notion of peace as ‘peace for business’ and packaged as ‘development’ through ceasefire with Karen armed groups. On the other hand, local Karen leaders and civilians, who have survived seven decades of wars and political conflicts, conceptualize ‘genuine’ peace in a positive notion as “presence of justice” and “an end to state violence and oppression.” This paper highlights one grassroots peacebuilding process that addresses the fundamental root causes of longstanding conflicts, grievances and political injustices through an establishment of the Salween Peace Park. This peace park arguably functions as a discursive power and political tool for local communities and leaders to organize based on indigenous Karen identity, rights and environmental relations and to mobilize strategically against increased militarization and large-scale infrastructure and extractive development projects in ethnic territory. The paper concludes that this indigenous-led conservation movement for political purposes, embodied in the Salween Peace Park, not only protects ethnic civilians’ land and territory against widespread land grab (or capitalist accumulation by dispossession facilitated by violent state’s land management laws such as the Virgin, Vacant and Fallow Land Law), but also exemplifies an innovative model of federal resource governance system in Burma/Myanmar.

Sheila Htoo is a PhD candidate in the Environmental Studies Program at York University. Her doctoral research focuses on the political ecology of war, resources and armed conflicts, ceasefire capitalism, and peacebuilding efforts by Indigenous Karen people in southeastern Burma/Myanmar through the Salween Peace Park movement. Sheila holds a master’s degree in Urban Planning from the University of Toronto. She has worked as a knowledge exchange leader and researcher on multiple community-based research projects with Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services in Toronto. She is a certified interpreter with LanguageLine Solutions and serves as a chairperson for the Karen Community of Toronto (KCT) as well as an advocacy leader with the Karen Community of Canada’s (KCC) National Advocacy Team.

This event is part of the Burma Past and Present: Religion, Ethnicity and Power, a series of readings and discussion of works in progress. We will be reading and discussing work in progress with the author. Please email hmlwin@yorku.ca to receive a copy of the reading.