Myanmar Trip Important, Says Secretary-General, Not For What He Brought Back, but for What He Left Behind; Now Up to Leaders to Act in Interest of Country

13 July 2009

Myanmar Trip Important, Says Secretary-General, Not For What He Brought Back, but for What He Left Behind; Now Up to Leaders to Act in Interest of Country

13 July 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s statement to the Security Council today, 13 July:

Thank you for this opportunity to brief the members of the Security Council, at their request, on my visit to Myanmar from 3 to 4 July at the invitation of the Government of Myanmar.

I wish to thank all interested Member States in this Council and in the Group of Friends on Myanmar for supporting my decision to visit Myanmar at this time and also for supporting my efforts in the context of my good offices.  Whereas the objective of my first visit last year was to unblock the humanitarian situation caused by Cyclone Nargis, my objective this time was to engage Myanmar’s senior leadership directly on a number of serious and longstanding concerns which I believe cannot be left unaddressed at this critical stage of Myanmar’s transition.  At a time when there is much attention on the ongoing trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and on the eve of Myanmar’s first elections in 20 years, it was necessary for me to raise those concerns and extend the help of the United Nations in advancing national reconciliation, democracy, respect for human rights and sustainable development.

At the outset, let me say that the refusal of the senior leadership to allow me to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was not only a deep disappointment, but also a major lost opportunity for Myanmar.  While this should not define our efforts, allowing such a meeting would have sent a constructive and conciliatory signal, both inside and outside Myanmar.  However, the United Nations engagement with Myanmar is broad and complex, as it encompasses a range of fundamental issues of concern for the future of the country, which I was able to address during this visit.

In my two meetings with Senior General Than Shwe, and an additional meeting with the Prime Minister General Thein Sein, I discussed extensively the need for Myanmar to take meaningful steps on the five-point agenda developed in the context of my good offices, as well as in the humanitarian area.  I made specific proposals with a particular focus on three outstanding concerns which, if left unaddressed, could undermine any confidence in Myanmar’s political process:  (i) the release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; (ii) the resumption of a substantive dialogue between the Government and the Opposition; and (iii) the creation of conditions conducive to credible and legitimate elections.  From experience, the United Nations has learned that elections can be unifying or divisive, depending on the level of buy-in and the quality of the process. 

Addressing these three concerns, including with the support of the United Nations, is therefore essential to ensure that the political process is all-inclusive and serves the interest of all the people of Myanmar in a way that can be broadly accepted by the international community.  Meeting with Myanmar’s registered political parties and ethnic ceasefire groups allowed me to listen to their views and concerns in this regard, which I also shared with the authorities.  However, I also encouraged the two groups to remain constructive in the political process.  Any successful transition will require overcoming the country’s twin legacy of political deadlock and civil conflict.  It is in the interest of all to ensure that any gains made so far become irreversible.  While the Government has a primary obligation to address the concerns of all stakeholders, every stakeholder has a role to play and a responsibility to assume in the interest of the nation.

On the humanitarian front, I saw for myself the progress made one year later in the recovery and reconstruction of the cyclone-affected region, thanks to the unprecedented cooperation between Myanmar, the United Nations and ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations].  In all my meetings, I stressed the need to consolidate and build on such efforts to ensure that assistance in the Delta is expedited and that humanitarian access is expanded to reach all vulnerable groups across the country.  Just like the international community cannot hold humanitarian assistance hostage to political considerations, there is no justification for the Government to allow humanitarian access to some of its people, but not to others.

Furthermore, my visit was also the occasion to address Myanmar’s development challenge.  Here too, we know from experience that peace and security can be affected by underlying socio-economic conditions.  Accordingly, I proposed to the senior leadership to enhance cooperation with the United Nations to address the pressing development needs facing the country through a broad-based process involving all sectors of society.  Empowering the people to participate in their country’s development is equally important for stability, democracy and prosperity, and for ensuring that Myanmar fully benefits from and contributes to the regional and global economy.

My visit offered the clearest signal of the United Nations commitment to work with the Government and people of Myanmar to address issues that are of fundamental importance for the prospects of durable peace, democracy and development.  While I stand ready to work to that end with all concerned, Myanmar stands to gain much from engaging meaningfully with the United Nations.  To be able to convey this message clearly and directly at the highest level of Myanmar’s leadership is a rare chance for the international community to be heard.

Here, as has been observed, what is more important is not so much what I came back with, but what I left behind with the authorities.  I have made clear my expectation and that of the international community that the Government needs to deliver on the promise to make the 2010 elections inclusive, free and fair and to take necessary steps on my specific proposals in the very near future.  In this connection, Senior General Than Shwe has pledged to make the elections free and fair.  But I said then, and reiterate today, that it is up to the Myanmar authorities to translate this into concrete action, to ensure the inclusiveness and credibility of the process and to demonstrate concretely Myanmar’s commitment to cooperate with the international community.  Like all Member States, the more Myanmar works in partnership with the United Nations, the more it affirms its sovereignty.

Before leaving Myanmar, I had the chance to publicly reiterate all my messages in a keynote speech to a large and diverse audience in Yangon.  This was an unprecedented opportunity to ask openly the question that is before Myanmar’s stakeholders today:  How much longer can Myanmar afford to wait –- and at what cost –- for national reconciliation, democratic transition and full respect for human rights?  My message -– addressed to the international community as much as to the Government and people of Myanmar –- was twofold:  First, while Myanmar has a unique and complex history, the challenges it faces as a country in transition are neither exceptional nor insurmountable.  Second, none of the challenges facing Myanmar today -– political, humanitarian, development –- can be addressed on its own, and failure to address them with equal attention could undermine the prospects for durable peace, democracy and prosperity. 

This address was also an opportunity to stress my commitment to continued engagement, and that of the importance for the international community as a whole, I clearly stated that Myanmar was not alone.  In Myanmar as elsewhere, the United Nations works for the people -– their rights, their well-being and their dignity.  It is not an option, it is our responsibility.  We cannot give up. 

Your continued support to my good offices efforts and your encouragement –- particularly that of neighbouring and ASEAN countries –- to the Myanmar authorities have therefore become even more important and necessary.  I welcome the continued support given to my efforts by the G-8 leaders last week and their statement that they are "prepared to respond positively to substantive political progress undertaken by Myanmar".  I also welcome the reiterated strong support extended to my good offices and personal engagement by the Group of Friends on Myanmar.

Now that I have conveyed in the clearest terms what is expected of Myanmar’s leaders, it is up to them to respond positively in their country’s own interest.  As I mentioned in my speech, ultimately, it is the people of Myanmar who will bear the cost of any lack of engagement and cooperation by their Government with the United Nations and the international community.  That is why Myanmar’s leaders have a responsibility, not only towards their own people, but also towards you as members of the international community, to respond to the proposals I made on your behalf.  The choice for Myanmar’s leaders in the coming days and weeks will be between meeting that responsibility in the interest of all concerned, or failing their own people and each one of you.  The world is now watching closely whether they will choose to act in the best interest of their country or ignore our concerns and expectations and the needs of their people.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.