In August 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi invited Kofi Annan to chair an independent Commission to assess the situation in Rakhine State, including the Rohingya community. The Commission published its final report in August 2017 and put forward recommendations to surmount the political, socio-economic and humanitarian challenges that currently face Rakhine State.
On publishing the report, Kofi Annan said: “Unless concerted action – led by the government and aided by all sectors of the government and society – is taken soon, we risk the return of another cycle of violence and radicalisation, which will further deepen the chronic poverty that afflicts Rakhine State.”
The Elders supported Kofi Annan in this role, which he undertook in his own capacity.
At their October 2017 board meeting, The Elders issued a statement expressing their deep dismay and concern at the wave of violence and destruction that swept through Rakhine State from August 2017, displacing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims. Those responsible for the crimes should be held to account. They called on Myanmar’s government and military leaders to allow displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh and other countries to return, and for their human rights and safety to be protected.
Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi, Ricardo Lagos and Mary Robinson also discussed the situation in Myanmar with Pope Francis in November 2017, before his visit to the country.
The Elders visited Myanmar three times between 2012-14 to support the democratisation process in Myanmar and efforts to resolve conflicts between the military and ethnic armed groups. They welcomed the election of a civilian-led government in November 2015 after the victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
The Elders have been concerned about Myanmar since the group was formed in 2007 and have long called for meaningful change towards an inclusive and democratic society. The group spoke out against the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and pressed for the release of all other political prisoners in the country.
The Elders have also drawn attention to the conflicts in Myanmar, as well as the humanitarian and human rights situation. In response to the opening up of the country initiated by the Thein Sein Government, in 2011 The Elders supported the gradual lifting of sanctions imposed by foreign governments against the former military regimes.
A delegation of Elders made a first visit to Myanmar in September 2013: Martti Ahtisaari, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Jimmy Carter met with President U Thein Sein, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, parliamentarians, former political prisoners, civil society organisations and religious leaders to hear a broad range of perspectives on Myanmar’s future.
Martti Ahtisaari and Gro Harlem Brundtland returned to the region in March 2014, travelling to Nay Pyi Taw and Myitkyina, Kachin State, in Myanmar and to Mae Sot and Chiang Mai in Thailand. They deepened their relationships with the Government, Parliament and the Armed Forces (Tatmadaw), meeting President Thein Sein and Speaker Thura Shwe Mann and the Commander-in-Chief. The Elders also met a wide range of civil society organisations, focusing in particular on representatives of the country’s ethnic minorities.
During their visit, the Elders encouraged the government to strive for greater inclusiveness, to overcome decades of mistrust within society and reflect the full diversity and talents of the population.
Ahead of a pivotal year for Myanmar, Martti Ahtisaari and Gro Harlem Brundtland travelled to the region for the third time in December 2014alongside their fellow Elders Lakhdar Brahimi and Hina Jilani. During their one-week visit to Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw in Myanmar and Chiang Mai in Thailand, the Elders continued their efforts to encourage sustained progress in Myanmar’s transition process. They concluded their visit by calling on the warring parties in Myanmar’s 60 year-long conflicts to seize the opportunity to end the fighting and start to build a new and inclusive federal state.