UN's Ban Ki-Moon sees "troubling signs" of (anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya) mobilization in Myanmar in the scheduled election process
"There are already troubling signs of ethnic and religious differences being exploited in the run-up to the elections. The reform process could be jeopardized if the underlying causes of these tensions are left un-addressed."
S T A T E M E N T
Secretary-General's remarks at the Meeting of the Partnership Group on Myanmar
New York, 24 April 2015
Thank you for your participation in this Partnership Group meeting on Myanmar. I especially welcome Honorable Union Minister U Soe Thane and his distinguished delegation from Myanmar.
We meet once again against the backdrop of both opportunities and challenges as Myanmar continues on its path of historic transition. The reform process initiated by the Government of President U Thein Sein continues to progress steadily. The country has taken visible strides in many areas of socio-economic development, national reconciliation and democratization. The results of the first census conducted in thirty years – not without controversy – will be available soon. They will have to be treated carefully and sensitively.
The general elections due to be held by year’s end will be an important milestone and conducting it in a credible, transparent and inclusive manner will require long-term engagement by all stakeholders. The Government must create a proper environment by ensuring free assembly, free expression, an open atmosphere for the media as well as by non-discrimination and the protection of civil and political rights for all.
President Thein Sein’s efforts to engage in political dialogue with other leaders on key issues -- including constitutional reform -- have been encouraging. The convening of the six-party talks on April 10 could set the stage for future discussions to iron out key differences. Parliament will also need to move forward with greater purpose to resolve the constitutional and other key issues.
The Government has shown exemplary resolve in striving to achieve peace and stability in the country. After sixteen months of intermittent negotiations, on 31 March, the Government and the ethnic armed groups reached agreement on the text of a nationwide ceasefire accord, which can bring to an end more than sixty years of ethnic conflict.
However, much more hard work lies ahead. It will be important that the ceasefire agreement is signed and sealed without delay.
I recognize the important role played by China’s Special Envoy, Ambassador Wang Yingfan, whose presence during the final stages of the process greatly contributed to its successful outcome.
I also wish to thank my Special Advisor, Mr. Nambiar, who was also an Observer to the process. The quiet support that he and his team provided helped build confidence in the process.
Undoubtedly, this agreement is only a first step towards a broader national dialogue on important pending issues including the role of military and constitutional reform. We are fully cognizant that the process should continue to remain nationally-led. The United Nations will continue to lend its support within the comfort level of all sides.
Meanwhile, ongoing clashes in Kachin and Northern Shan States have caused immense suffering to civilians. The clashes in Kokang are also deeply disturbing in terms of the toll of lives and destruction as well as their implications for the longer term stability of the region. Humanitarian actors will need unimpeded access to provide much needed aid in a timely fashion. The tensions arising from these clashes must not jeopardize the larger peace process.
The communal situation in Rakhine and elsewhere remains fragile. The continued animosity between the communities and possible eruption of violence could be seriously destabilizing. There are already troubling signs of ethnic and religious differences being exploited in the run-up to the elections. The reform process could be jeopardized if the underlying causes of these tensions are left unaddressed.
Meanwhile, the conditions of the vulnerable populations especially in the IDP camps, remain a matter of profound concern for the international community. Many have also risked their lives to flee the country by sea and others have become prey to trafficking rings. This situation is untenable.
The international community is still deeply concerned about the situation in Rakhine. The Government has taken some steps to stabilize the situation and to curb any fresh outbreak of violence. But long-term stability in Rakhine will remain unattainable without comprehensively addressing the issue of status and citizenship of the Muslim populations -- particularly the plight of those who self-identify and are known by many as “Rohingyas” but whom the government calls “Bengalis”. Without these steps, the Government will also find itself continually exposed to international criticism.
I have been in close contact with President Thein Sein, whom I met in Nay Pyi Taw on 13 November during the UN-ASEAN Summit under Myanmar’s Chairmanship. I also spoke with him recently to express my concern that continuing controversies on the race and religious bills as well as absence of swift action to regularize the status of White Card holders will be seen as institutionalized discrimination. With general elections looming, the Government must take urgent and practical measures to address these issues and their underlying causes.
As I have stressed earlier, Myanmar’s top leaders must send a unified message against incitement of hatred and to promote harmony and social cohesion.
As I stressed during this week’s General Assembly meeting on Tolerance and Reconciliation, religious leaders also have an important role to play to promote understanding and mutual respect.
The United Nations remains committed to supporting the Government to address the needs of all vulnerable populations. The establishment of an OHCHR office with a full mandate will help strengthen Myanmar’s commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.
Myanmar continues to strive toward creating a better place for its people. The transition may not deliver immediate results or satisfy all sectors of the population or civil society. Such a drastic and fast-paced reform process may have generated unreasonably high expectations; but the changes are painstakingly taking root and fundamentally transforming the identity of the state and nation.
Myanmar’s progress is also important for the region. 2015 is the year that ASEAN aims to become one community of Member States that share a vision and goal to become a zone of peace and stability.
I wish to thank you again for your commitment and support, particularly to my Good Offices in its continued efforts to play a constructive role in Myanmar.