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Elders Statements

The Elders keep an empty chair for Aung San Suu Kyi

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The Elders express their solidarity with Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi and say that the elections planned for later this year cannot deliver credible results. The group calls for UN-led national dialogue between the government, opposition and ethnic and religious minorities.



Eminent global leaders say election process in Burma/Myanmar cannot deliver credible results and call for UN-led national dialogue.

The Elders – a group of eminent global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela – say that restrictions on political activity in Burma/Myanmar make it impossible for elections later this year to deliver credible results.

The Elders are also aware that the opposition in Burma is divided between those who think participation in the elections is wrong, and those who are trying to make the best of a flawed situation. They are deeply sympathetic to the difficult decisions the people face – and pay tribute to the ordinary citizens who are bravely trying to improve their country’s future.

To mark the 65th birthday of their fellow Elder, Aung San Suu Kyi, on 19 June, the Elders call on ASEAN and the international community to assist the government, opposition, ethnic minorities and religious groups of Burma/Myanmar to begin a UN-led process of reconciliation.

Elders’ chair Desmond Tutu said: “National processes in Burma have been usurped by the military government – they do not serve the people. The elections due later this year will not be any different. With such deep fractures in society, the country needs an avenue for dialogue. Without a way to talk and reconcile with one another, the people will never achieve the peace and prosperity they deserve.”

Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Laureate said: “Neighbouring countries have already experienced the effects of conflict in border areas and have the greatest interest in trying to prevent future instability. The international community should also make every effort to help Burma/Myanmar’s divided peoples to find a peaceful and prosperous way forward.”

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma’s National League for Democracy, has been detained in her home in Rangoon/Yangon by the military government for almost 15 of the past 20 years – ever since her party won elections in 1990. She was made an honorary Elder by Nelson Mandela when he formed the group in 2007 and the Elders always keep an empty chair for her and for Burma’s thousands of political prisoners at their meetings.

In recent months, highly restrictive provisions in political party law have forced the NLD to disband. Laws in Burma/Myanmar forbid prisoners to be members of political parties. The NLD therefore decided not to register as a political party for the election, as key members remain incarcerated. The party has ceased to have legal status and cannot operate politically in any meaningful way. These laws also annulled the NLD’s 1990 election victory.

Jimmy Carter, former US President, said: “Aung San Suu Kyi is a global symbol of moral courage in the face of repression. As she spends yet another year in captivity, we urge the world, and especially Burma/Myanmar’s partners in ASEAN, to recognise that it is an oppressive and misguided regime that excludes her and thousands of other political activists from playing a part in their country’s future.”

Commission of Inquiry

The Elders have also announced their support for the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry into allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against civilians in Burma/Myanmar. The establishment of a Commission was proposed by the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said: “My fellow Elders and I believe it is time to document systematically the crimes allegedly being committed against the people by the military government.”

Humanitarian and donor assistance

The Elders wish to emphasise that donors should increase humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma/Myanmar. The government devotes less than US$1 dollar per person per year to basic health care and education, and one third of children under the age of 5 are malnourished. Burma/Myanmar receives less aid than most of the poorest countries in the world – only $4 per person compared to $50 per person for Sudan.

Ela Bhatt, founder of India’s Self Employed Women’s’ Association (SEWA) said: “Poverty is one of the greatest forms of violence inflicted on any society. We must not forget that political freedom in Burma/Myanmar cannot occur without freedom from poverty.”


About The Elders

The Elders include Nobel Peace Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Other members are Norway’s first woman Prime Minister Gro Brundtland who was also Director General of the World Health Organisation, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Their fellow Elders, Ela Bhatt and Graça Machel, are globally recognised leaders at the forefront of the struggle against oppression and poverty, and Lakhdar Brahimi is one of the UN and the Arab world’s most respected and effective diplomats.

Nobel Peace Laureates Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi are honorary Elders.

Having retired from public life, Mandela no longer participates in Elders’ meetings or activities. Suu Kyi is under house arrest in Burma/Myanmar, imprisoned by the military regime that denied her party’s election victory in 1990.


Notes to editors:

  1. Photo of The Elders with an empty chair for Aung San Suu Kyi available in hi-resolution.
  2. BBC World Service Radio will broadcast a 30 minute documentary about Aung San Suu Kyi on 18 June 2010


Media contact:

Katy Cronin
Communications Director
Tel: +44 (0207) 031 1707
Email: [email protected]


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