I am pleased to be here with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her capacity as State Counsellor and new Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Before I say a few words, let me express my deepest condolences for the earthquake which struck your country on August 24 with losses of lives, injured people and destruction of infrastructures, particularly the destruction of many valuable historical monuments, including many pagodas.
I hope that under the leadership of President U Htin Kyaw and the State Counsellor, your people will be able to reconstruct as soon as possible from this.
As you remember, we have been in close contact, I have been in close contact with the people and Government of Myanmar during my tenure as Secretary-General, almost ten years now – I am completing my mandate as Secretary-General.
It has been a great honour to work with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, particularly now, even for a limited time. But it is a great honour and pleasure to work with her in her official capacity in the Government.
The United Nations has consistently supported Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle for democracy, through successive resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly; through the appointment of my Special Adviser, Mr. Vijay Nambiar; and also through the appointment of Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council, and through my own visits and engagement with Myanmar authorties.
This is the fifth opportunity I have had to spend [time] in your wonderful country.
I first visited, as you may remember, Myanmar immediately following the devastation left by Cyclone Nargis in 2008 to mobilize international assistance. In 2009, I encouraged the military leadership to open its doors to democratic change.
On my third visit, 2012, one year into the reform process, I had the honour of being the first global leader invited to address your parliament at a time when the dramatic changes sweeping Myanmar were inspiring the world.
In 2014, I was here to participate in the very successful ASEAN Summit under Myanmar’s successful Chairmanship.
Today, I am very pleased and honoured to be back to witness the latest phase in your transition, marked by the peaceful, dignified and enthusiastic participation in the elections last November.
Taking this opportunity, I would like to acknowledge personally the leadership of former President U Thein Sein in helping the country move steadily on this path of reform towards a harmonious, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and prosperous democracy.
I commend the new Government for its emphasis on dialogue, cooperation and reconciliation between military and civil society leaders and political and economic stakeholders.
However, the Government also faces great challenges. The steps you have taken towards peace and national reconciliation will need to be further strengthened, broadened and consolidated. This is the real expectation of the international community.
In that regard, the Twenty-first Century Panglong Conference is a promising first step. I congratulate all participants for their patience, determination and spirit of compromise.
Today, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and I agreed that the people of Myanmar, whatever their ethnicity, religion or economic status, want better social and economic opportunities, in an environment where everyone is free, equal and secure.
We also discussed the latest developments in Rakhine state. The situation is complex, and the Government has assured me of [its] commitment to addressing the roots of the problem. I conveyed the concern of the international community about the tens of thousands of people who have been living in very poor conditions in IDP camps for over four years. Like all people everywhere, they need and deserve a future of hope and dignity.
This is not just a question of the Rohingya community’s right to self-identify. The broader issue is that all of Myanmar’s people, of every ethnicity and background, should be able to live in equality and harmony, side by side with their neighbours.
People who have been living for generations in this country should enjoy the same legal status and citizenship as everyone else.
As the new Government addresses these challenges, its friends across the world fully understand the need for patience and respect for national ownership.
We are happy to see the encouraging steps you have taken, including the establishment of a Commission chaired by my distinguished predecessor, Mr. Kofi Annan, to look at the overall issues in Rakhine. He telephoned me in fact before he assumed his post and I assured him that the United Nations will provide full support and I strongly advised him to work very closely with the State Counsellor and also meet as many stakeholders as possible.
For my part, as Secretary-General, I assure you that the United Nations will continue to work constructively with you.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the people of Myanmar for their commitment over many decades to bring their country on to this new path.
My Special Adviser, Mr. Vijay Nambiar, the UN Country Team, led by Resident Coordinator Renata Lok-Dessallien and I are all proud to stand with you as you move towards peace, prosperity and human rights for all.
Question on the assessment of the situation in Rakhine State.
SG: There are many complex issues of many different dimensions. First of all, the people are living in a backward situation, economically and socially. There are many thousands, tens of thousands IDPs who have been living there a long time and who need humanitarian assistance. And there is some sort of terminology [issue], on how to call them.
On all this, the State Counsellor, as a new leader in this new Government, has stated her positions and the United Nations first of all to mobilize all necessary humanitarian assistance and also to help this peace process. At the same time, we engage all other actors to be able to arrive to some good solutions on all other matters.
Question on the United Nations’ role for peace in Myanmar.
SG: I agree with your point that the United Nations, together with many other supporters, friends of Myanmar, have been working very closely. Sometimes, we express our serious concerns, sometimes frustration, and sometimes we really pushed hard for further democratization so that all the people of Myanmar could enjoy their freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. That means human rights and human dignity.
I appreciate that the new Governments, since the beginning of the previous Government under President U Thein Sein, have been taking progressively some measures, by releasing political prisoners and by allowing more freedom of assembly and speech – and with the new Government, they also released many political prisoners and also students who had been participating in demonstrations.
I know that there is a lot to be done – the expectations of the international community are so huge. Therefore, I told the State Counsellor that since she assumed this post as State Counsellor, there is much stronger and heightened expectations that this Government will make much much faster and further progress.
That may be a challenge, that may be a challenge... You have still many complex issues, many complex issues which have to be solved through patience, endurance, with a strong support from the international community.
I think both the international community, led by the United Nations, and Myanmar’s Government should work together to address all these pending issues.
In that regard, I highly commend and congratulate this 21st Century Panglong Conference which will be held from tomorrow.
That is why I am here: to strongly support and to express the United Nations’ visions. My message is simple and clear: the United Nations will always be with the people of Myanmar to help their democratization process and also socio-economic development, where nobody will be left behind.
It involves many issues, like human rights issues, humanitarian issues, freedom of speech and development and good governance. I am sure that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and His Excellency President U Htin Kyaw will really make great leadership.