Identities beyond conflict: Rights, recognition, and reconciliation within Myanmar’s post-conflict justice agenda

Bethia Burgess2
2School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

Despite the military’s gradual withdrawal from the Myanmar government and the commencement of state-wide peace talks in 2016, armed conflicts remain virulent across several of the state’s ethnic regions. Media and scholarly reporting on the political and security situation in Myanmar suggest that ethnoreligious identities are at the core of ongoing violence, with the term ethnic conflict used widely as shorthand across a complex landscape of social and political discord, and ethnic identities pathologised as such. My research focuses on the ways in which identities matter in establishing peace, justice and reconciliation in Myanmar. Its central aim is to develop a better understanding of the relationship between post-conflict justice and intergroup reconciliation in deeply divided societies by investigating the roles that identities play in grassroots justice agendas. This approach adopts a broad understanding of post-conflict justice to include not only immediate responses to the violations of human rights, but also to the structural roots of such violence. It will seek to understand what makes initiatives successful in promoting reconciliatory agendas within communities, how intergroup tensions are acknowledged and approached through these initiatives, and what identities mean to those involved in seeking justice. It will further investigate the ways in which justice initiatives that acknowledge group identities are able to make visible the collective prejudices underlying mass violence that must be addressed before reconciliation can occur. A particular effort to understand multiple sources of identity formation, including gender, ethnicity, location, and class, will be made through the application of feminist theories.


Bethia is a PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne. She is interested in how structural harms and state crimes are actively resisted through innovative approaches to justice in the absence of traditional legal responses. Her PhD dissertation focuses on the microdynamics of peace and justice processes in Myanmar, with a particular emphasis on gender and ethnic identities.



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