The Elders' position
The Elders condemn the military coup that took place on 1 February 2021. They are calling for a return to democratic transition and the establishment of civilian rule in Myanmar, as well as the immediate release of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
They are alarmed about the escalating civil conflict and risk of state failure in the country, as well as the serious health, humanitarian and economic crises that are devastating the lives of the Myanmar people.
In April 2021, leaders of the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) agreed to a five-point plan with priorities to address the crisis in Myanmar. The Elders urge the military leadership to fulfil its responsibilities and immediately implement the commitments in the plan in full, starting with a cessation of violence.
They believe that ASEAN and the UN should work in close partnership to resolve the current crisis. The UN and ASEAN Special Envoys should both be given unhindered access to visit the country and meet with all parties to open up dialogue and seek a resolution.
The Elders' visits
There were three Elders’ visits to Myanmar between 2012-14. The visits were 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).
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.
Martti Ahtisaari and Gro Harlem Brundtland travelled to Myanmar for the third time in December 2014 alongside 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.
The Elders' work
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.
They 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.
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 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.