The Elders

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Encouraging progress towards peace and inclusiveness in Myanmar

Ahead of a crucial year for Myanmar’s transition, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Martti Ahtisaari, Lakhdar Brahimi and Hina Jilani travelled to Myanmar and Thailand in December 2014. Meeting with members of the government, armed forces, parliament and civil society, the Elders encouraged all parties to help bring about a fair and inclusive society.

The Elders began their visit in Chiang Mai, Thailand in December 2014, where they held discussions with the Myanmar ethnic organisations and civil society groups based in the city.

In their meeting with representatives of the Women’s League of Burma (including Joint General Secretary Naw Wah Khu Shee, pictured above with Gro Harlem Brundtland), the Elders heard about the issue of sexual violence in Myanmar’s conflict-affected areas and discussed the need to increase women’s involvement in peacebuilding efforts.

In Myanmar, the Elders travelled to the capital city of Nay Pyi Taw for meetings with the government.

Over dinner, the Elders had a relaxed and productive conversation with Union Minister U Aung Min, the Myanmar government’s lead negotiator in the peace process with the country’s ethnic armed groups. The Elders have spoken at length with the Minister (pictured above with Thant Myint-U, right) on each of their visits.

The Elders learned about the latest developments in the process, including the prospect that the then-stalled peace talks would shortly resume.

The Elders again met with Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces (Tatmadaw).

Prime among the topics of conversation was the government’s ongoing peace process with the ethnic armed groups. They discussed the challenges of reaching a national ceasefire accord (NCA), the signing of which has been repeatedly delayed. Sr General Min Aung Hlaing assured the Elders of his wish to reach a national ceasefire by March 2015.

With less than a year remaining before Myanmar’s pivotal general election – expected to take place in late 2015 – the Elders were pleased to have the opportunity to meet with U Tin Aye, the Chairman of the Union Election Commission (pictured above with Martti Ahtisaari).

Joined by his fellow commissioners, U Tin Aye told the Elders about the preparations being made for the forthcoming elections. The Elders were encouraged by these steps and urged the Chairman to facilitate the participation of local and international election observers.

Meeting for the third time in just over a year, the Elders and President U Thein Sein had a productive and wide-ranging conversation. They discussed the government’s peace talks with the country’s ethnic armed groups as well as the work underway to prepare for the 2015 general election.

The Elders raised the importance of promoting and protecting the human rights of all peoples in Myanmar, including ethnic and religious minorities. They voiced their concern about draft laws that would place restrictions on interfaith marriages.

Lakhdar Brahimi later said:

“During our visit, we were concerned to hear some disturbing reports of intolerance and discrimination. Equality and tolerance are the hallmarks of a stable society, as I know Myanmar to be. With their proud history and rich variety of cultures, the peoples of this remarkable country could one day present a shining example to the world of harmonious co-existence.”

The Elders then returned to Yangon, where they had a warm and open discussion with Aung San Suu Kyi at her home.

They discussed a range of issues, including the upcoming general election and the challenges of concluding a national ceasefire agreement. The Elders reiterated their hope that the various reform processes will bring about a sense of reconciliation and inclusiveness for all in Myanmar.

The Elders concluded their visit to the region with a press conference on the evening of 18 December, their final day in Myanmar.

Before answering questions from journalists, Gro Harlem Brundtland delivered opening remarks about the key findings of their visit. While underscoring the challenges still to overcome in this period of change, she emphasised that the people of Myanmar had a “historic opportunity to build a new state, one in which all groups live harmoniously together on the basis of equality.”

Looking ahead to 2015, Gro Harlem Brundtland cautioned that efforts must be taken to avoid intensifying inter-communal tensions during the election period:

“In any country, including our own, elections are often a time of heated emotions and even divisions. As your next elections are now less than a year away, we are concerned there may be renewed outbreaks of violence against minority communities unless everyone – I stress everyone – takes great care to avoid inflammatory language and other steps that could increase inter-communal tensions.”

 

Thailand photo: Sarawut Klayklueng | The Elders

Myanmar photos: Kaung Htet | The Elders

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