Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar

12 November 2014

Secretary-General’s Remarks at Press Conference

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to be back in Myanmar to co-chair the Sixth ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-UN Summit and to attend the Ninth East Asia Summit. I congratulate the Government of the Union of Myanmar for successfully hosting these meetings.  I thank ASEAN’s leaders for their commitment to cooperation with the United Nations.

The leaders of ASEAN and East Asia have gathered in Nay Pyi Taw at a time of test for the international community.  The world faces multiple crises.  The region faces major challenges.  I would like to highlight three issues of particular importance for Asia and, indeed, all humankind.

First, I am concerned that historical tensions and competing territorial claims in the region could hold the region back.  I am encouraged by recent steps to enhance dialogue, and hope that this will prevent any needless escalation.  Leaders have a responsibility to resolve their disputes peacefully, through dialogue.  An Asia that can overcome legacy issues and look to a shared future will be even better placed to advance prosperity for all.

Second, here in Myanmar, the process of democratization is at a defining moment.  An inclusive and transparent election next year will be crucial for the country’s future.  Earlier today I had meetings with senior officials from the Myanmar Government, including Vice President U Sai Mauk Kham. Tomorrow morning, I will have a meeting with President Thein Sein. In my meeting this morning, I commended the Government’s efforts to implement an ambitious reform agenda.  I also expressed my concern about the Rohingya population, who face discrimination and violence.  I encouraged the leaders of Myanmar to uphold human rights, take a strong stance against incitement and ensure humanitarian access to Rohingya living in vulnerable conditions.  At a time of rising extremism and intolerance in many countries, progress on this front in Myanmar would keep that country’s transition on track and send a positive message to the world.

Third, the world needs to do even more to address the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.  The rate of new cases is showing encouraging signs of slowing in some of the hardest-hit parts of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The international strategy is working.  At the same time, people are dying every day.  I thank the many countries, including some of those here, that are contributing to the response.  But I also encourage them to fill the huge gaps in funding, equipment and medical personnel.  We are on the right track.  But we must speed up efforts to get the crisis under control and bring it to an end.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The leaders of ASEAN and their partners represent more than half the world’s population. 
I urge them to use this opportunity to take real steps that will enable people to enjoy stability, prosperity, democracy and human rights.

But before taking your questions, I want to commend President Xi Jinping of China and President Barack Obama of the United States for their leadership on climate change that they demonstrated today in the joint announcement agreed to in Beijing.

The decision on their post-2020 action on climate change, notably the commitment to increase their level of commitment on reducing CO2 emissions, is an important contribution to the new climate agreement to be reached in Paris next year. 

I urge all countries, especially all major economies, to follow China and the United States' lead and announce ambitious post-2020 targets as soon as possible, but no later than the first quarter of 2015.

I thank you for your attention.

Q: Recently, the opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the international community has criticised Myanmar for the reform process led by President U Thein Sein as flawed. Do you agree with them or not? What is your opinion? And the second question is: On the Bengali or so-called Rohingya issue, our Myanmar people feel that the international community, including the United Nations, has never considered our people [inaudible]. What is your opinion?

SG: Let me go back to your second question, first of all. The Myanmar authorities are carrying out a verification exercise in Rakhine to process the granting of citizenship to people in Rakhine. While the process has been carried out in accordance with national law, it should also be in line with international standards and guidelines. The affected population, referred to as Bengalis by the Government of Myanmar but known as Rohingya in the United Nations and much of the international community – the United Nations uses that word based on the rights of minorities. I also urge the authorities to avoid measures that could entrench the current segregation between communities. It may unnecessarily create some additional negative emotions between the communities. Efforts must be made to foster interfaith dialogue and harmony to bring the communities closer together. I am not aware of what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has criticized about this. I am going to have a meeting with her. I hope I will have an opportunity of getting more information on that.

Q: I am from the Myanmar News Agency. A few months ago, INGOs have resumed operations while MSF is [inaudible] in Rakhine State, and also the UN is following suit. Rakhine State Government is in the process of immunization as was planned now, so let me know your final view on whether progress is making or not in Rakhine State.

SG: It’s a very important and serious issue. I am urging that the human rights and human dignity of people in Rakhine should be respected. As this process of granting citizenship is now going on, I know that the Government must have [its] own criteria to determine whether one is eligible for citizenship. That is why then, whoever is eligible to be given citizenship, I think they should be given citizenship equal to Myanmar people, without any discrimination. Then, for those people who may not meet the criteria, it is important that their human rights and human dignity must be fully protected. That is the message which I have conveyed to Myanmar Government authorities. And that is what I will emphasize again when I meet President Thein Sein tomorrow morning. And, at the same time, there is a serious humanitarian issue: IDPs, internally displaced people. The United Nations is mobilizing all the necessary resources to help them, to deliver humanitarian assistance. At the same time, I have been asking to have easy access to Rakhine State so that the United Nations agencies will be able to freely move around. Thank you.

Q: [inaudible question on freedom of expression]

SG: Let me tell you that Myanmar is now going through a very important transition, a transformation.  This transformation and transition towards a full democracy is to be recognised and appreciated.  I know that there are still more challenges to overcome, but generally speaking I think that Myanmar is making progress in strengthening its democratic institutions and achieving rapid economic development and also national reconciliation.  In the course of that, when they have a political reform process, I have been asking the leaders to fully guarantee the freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly, is the basic principle of human rights enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. The international community must continue to support the Government and people of Myanmar as they move toward a truly universal reform process where everybody’s human rights, including the freedom of expression, will be fully guaranteed. This is what, I believe, the international community continues to encourage the Myanmar Government.  Thank you very much.

Q: I just wanted to follow up on the previous question. The United Nations and the international community accept “Rohingya”. Here in Myanmar, most of us know as “Bengali”. So their name is one of the problems of the conflict. And some politicians suggest to have a DNA test, whether Rohingya or Bengali, which is scientific. What’s your opinion on this?

SG: I think I have answered your question already. I know that the Government is addressing them as “Bengalis” and people in Rakhine, they call themselves “Rohingya”.  The United Nations has been using “Rohingya”, based on the continuing principle to recognize the rights of minority people.  I hope that this should not create any additional problems.   I don’t think this is a necessary one.  And I am urging the Myanmar Government to make accelerated process to grant citizenship to all those who are eligible, according to their national laws.

Q: The Commander of NATO spoke to reporters in Sofia and expressed concerns about the border between Eastern Ukraine and Russia being totally open now.  And there are indications in Kiev that troops in Ukraine are preparing for combat. What’s the latest information you have on the situation and do you think there needs to be more intervention from the international community?

SG: The situation in Ukraine has been a source of continuous concern of the international community.  As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have been urging the parties to resume all the pending issues through dialogue, rather than military use or other violent means.  And I believe, and I’m urging again, that all these issues should be resolved in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum.  This was agreed between the parties.  This should be the guideline by which all the pending issues should be resolved.