Transitional justice in Myanmar: fragments of quieted voices
ABSTRACT: This creative piece combines non-fiction, poetry and fiction to imagine the voices of a refugee, a market vendor, a soldier and a dissident addressing the question of transitional justice in Myanmar. Drawing primarily from my experiences working with Burmese lawyers and refugees on the Thailand–Myanmar border, the piece first provides an overview of transitional justice efforts in Myanmar, and then shifts to voices inspired by people whom I met along the way – in refugee camps, selling vegetables, recovering from prison. Transitional justice too often ignores these quieter voices. The voices that I attempt to capture, however, are frustratingly unhelpful, frequently evasive and largely ambivalent about justice. I expected passionate condemnation of past wrongs and outrage at government abuse. The quieter voices defied my expectations. The poetry and vignettes, therefore, reflect a more nuanced, lyrical perspective that partially surrenders to the passing of time and the powerlessness that people feel in the face of distant authority.
Stewart Manley is a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya, Malaysia. Though unnamed, the Burmese who gave their time and insights to me should also be considered, in a sense, authors of this piece. I can only hope that it meets their expectations.