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Insights and Analysis

Photo Blog: Critical Issue – Ethnic and Religious Conflict

August 6, 2014

Asia Foundation 60th anniversary seriesSubnational conflicts are the most deadly, widespread, and enduring violent conflicts in Asia. Recent studies by The Asia Foundation indicate that more people have died in the region’s 26 subnational conflicts than in international conflicts during the past 20 years. In South and Southeast Asia, active conflicts affect regions that are roughly the size of Indonesia and inhabited by more than 130 million people. In many countries, such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand explored in this photo blog, conflicts often derive from deeply rooted religious and ethnic differences and struggles over minority rights.  Compiled by In Asia editor Alma Freeman.


In South and Southeast Asia, the average duration of a subnational conflict is over 30 years, such as one of the world’s longest-running violent conflicts in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in southern Philippines. Concentrated in the Muslim-majority areas of central and southwestern Mindanao, the conflict is rooted in the clash of interests over land and natural resources, and the struggle of Muslims (a minority in the largely Catholic Philippines) to preserve and protect their identity. Photo/Karl Grobl


As with most internal conflicts, women have been particularly affected by the conflict in Mindanao, which has claimed around 150,000 lives, leaving widows and survivors to provide for their families in a region mired in poverty. Here, members from different religious groups, local government, the Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines, community and clan elders, and civil society participate in an Asia Foundation-supported forum to discuss peace and security in Marawi City. Photo/Karl Grobl


In March this year, the Philippine government and the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), signed a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in a power sharing agreement to empower the region and bring to close the decades-long armed conflict. Supporters of the October 2012 signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro stand with the ubiquitous green signage seen across the region. Flickr user dnorodin


After 30 years of a deadly civil war, Sri Lanka now boasts high-income growth and a notable improvement in human development indicators. The country has a multicultural, multi-religious demographic: more than 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people are Buddhists, with Muslims making up about 8 percent of the population, followed by Hindus and Christians. Photo/Karl Grobl


However, tensions among different religious and ethnic groups remain – and most recently, violent clashes between Buddhist and Muslim groups have further threatened stability and increased a sense of alienation among minority communities across Sri Lanka. Photo/Karl Grobl


Despite this, opportunities where resilient communities cross religious, ethnic, and social barriers to co-exist and flourish exist throughout the country. For decades, community mediation boards – such as this one pictured – made up of non-political, volunteer mediators who facilitate voluntary settlement of minor disputes have played an important role in providing recourse for citizens to settle their disputes. Photo/Udaya Wijesoma


While Thailand’s Malay-Muslim population is a significant majority in the Deep South, it represents a small percentage of the majority Buddhist national population. A student walks to school in Pattani, one of the three southern border provinces. Photo/Chandler Vandergrift


Since Thailand’s century-old conflict reignited in 2004 in the southernmost region, nearly 6,000 people have been killed, among them religious and public school teachers, imams, monks, soldiers, police, and citizens. Here, Explosive Ordnance Disposal soldiers inspect a car bomb site. Photo/Chandler Vandergrift


For decades, the community of Mengabang has called for the renaming of villages in a manner that reflects the identity of the region. In February, The Asia Foundation, in cooperation with local partners, organized a Village Renaming Celebration event. Students from the local pondok school wave the newly renamed Megabang village flags.



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