New York

29 September 2015

Secretary-General's remarks at the meeting of the Partnership Group on Myanmar [as prepared for delivery]

Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,

Thank you for your participation.  I especially welcome His Excellency U Wunna Maung Lwin, Union Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar, and his delegation.  

I want to begin with my deep condolences for the tragic loss of lives and damage caused by Cyclone Komen.  The United Nations will continue to strongly support relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Excellencies,

As I mentioned in my meeting with President Thein Sein on 3 September, the upcoming elections represent a milestone in Myanmar’s transition to democracy. 

It is crucial that these proceed in a fair, inclusive and transparent atmosphere. This responsibility rests with the Government, the Union Election Commission and the Army, but also all sections of Myanmar society.   

The public commitment by the Army leadership to ensure a free election and to respect its results must be honoured.  Although the Parliament did not approve proposed constitutional changes, the decision by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD to contest the elections is a positive step. 

Likewise -- though recent leadership changes within the ruling party have raised concerns -- it is essential that the Government ensure a free and unfettered process for candidates and voters.

While debate is more open, freedom of expression and press must be strengthened. The same holds for the right to peaceful assembly and association. Civil society needs space to carry out its work – and actions against media and activists as well as arbitrary arrests and detention must stop.

The authorities must ensure that all those who were able to vote in previous elections retain those rights. 

The revocation of white cards is a step in the wrong direction.  I am deeply disappointed by this effective disenfranchisement of the Rohingya and other minority communities. 

Barring incumbent Rohingya parliamentarians from standing for re-election is particularly egregious.  
  
While differences may emerge on the campaign trail, the polarization between peoples and communities along ethnic or religious lines and incitement to violence or hate speech must be avoided at all costs.

Parties must conform to the law and observe the electoral code of conduct in both letter and spirit.  I urge all leaders to act responsibly and help maintain a calm and stable atmosphere before and after the vote. 

Ultimately, the credibility of the elections will depend on whether its outcome finds broad acceptance among the political leaders as well as the populace. Only this can ensure a smooth transfer of power. The UN will continue to cooperate with all stakeholders towards this end.

Excellencies,

The peace process in Myanmar has come a long way.

With the finalization of the draft Nationwide Ceasefire Accord in March, President Thein Sein confirmed the Government’s readiness to guarantee a political dialogue and establish a democratic federal union. 

Some key differences with the ethnic armed groups remain, especially on the issue of “inclusiveness”, however I am convinced that political will and imagination on all sides can overcome the conflict that is nearly as old as the United Nations itself.

Any decision to move ahead with the agreement must bring together all the important stakeholders and provide sufficient assurance to them that they will continue to be actively involved in the next stage of negotiations. 

While the present government is expected to follow through the preliminary phase of the political dialogue, a new government will have to take the process forward in cooperation with the army.

The UN remains fully prepared to contribute to the next stage of the process in accordance with the expectations of all stakeholders. Meanwhile, humanitarian agencies must be provided unimpeded access in the areas impacted by recent fighting.

Excellencies,

In Rakhine, I am appalled by the humanitarian conditions of the Rohingya and Kaman communities.  I am disappointed that the authorities have so far not been able to summon the political will for decisive action on the broader issue of citizenship. 

Stability will not be assured – and Myanmar’s standing in the international community will be affected -- unless the Rohingya are granted a fair chance of access to citizenship, basic dignity and human rights.

As the world has seen in the Andaman Sea, desperate conditions have compelled many to make perilous sea journeys, often falling victim to smuggling gangs.  More such movements are possible with the end of the monsoons.

It is deeply troubling to see the rise of chauvinist sentiment among the majority community and strident anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar as well as antagonism against international organizations, including the United Nations. 

I renew my call to all the leaders of Myanmar to do more to stop hate speech, promote co-existence and end incitement to violence by ultra-nationalist elements.

Regrettably, recent steps by the Government risk to further fan the flames of the communal divide. These include the enactment of the four so-called “race and religious protection bills,” which are discriminatory and may be used to curb the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

It is encouraging to constructive action for interfaith dialogue by grassroots youth and civil society initiatives as well as the government -- including those undertaken by the Center for Diversity and National Harmony.  These should be encouraged and urgently multiplied.

I wish to reiterate the importance of the early establishment of an OHCHR office with a full mandate in Myanmar. 

The international community must also do its part to help address the longer term developmental needs of all vulnerable communities and help Myanmar build a genuinely multi-ethnic and diverse democracy.  Our coordinated efforts will be crucial during this electoral period and immediately thereafter.

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. 

Thank you.