The leader of the Myanmar delegation and Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor,U Kyaw Tint Swe, delivered a statement at high-level General Debate on the fifth day of the74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly held on 28 September 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters.
In his statement, the Union Minister apprised the Assembly of the Government’s efforts on poverty eradication, quality education, climate action, democratization, constitutional reform, peace and reconciliation and addressing challenges regarding the situation in Rakhine State.
The Union Minister stressed the need of multilateral institutions to uphold the sovereignty of nations, working in concert for a greater good, ensure equality of actions and scrupulously avoid double standards and ‘exceptionalism’. He reiterated that Myanmar holds the view that issues between neighbours can and must be resolved bilaterally in an amicable and friendly manner, and called on Bangladesh to faithfully implement the bilateral agreement.
He also reaffirmed Myanmar’s position on the reports of Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) (Darusman reports), the establishment of Independent Investigative Mechanism (IIM), the jurisdiction of International Criminal Court (ICC) over the issue in Rakhine State and the Rosenthal report regarding the involvement of United Nations in Myanmar.
The Union Minister highlighted the Government’s commitment to build a society that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms, where all citizens can attain peace, prosperity and freedom from fear.
The Myanmar delegation leader’s full statement is as follows:
I would like to congratulate you on your election as President of the 74th session of the General Assembly. We are confident that under your able leadership this session will achieve fruitful results. I would also like to convey our deep appreciation to Her Excellency Maria Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador, for her stewardship of the 73rd session.
Myanmar considers this year’s theme, “Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion” to be most timely. These count amongst the most daunting challenges the world faces today which can only be overcome through the coordinated efforts of the entire international community.
Eradicating poverty in all its forms is the greatest global challenge, and a sine qua non for sustainable development. In Myanmar, we pursue a careful balance between economic and social development on one hand and environmental protection and sustainability on the other. The government is resolute in its commitment to address poverty. To this end, we have developed a range of strategies which go beyond simply stimulating economic growth. Our efforts are bearing fruit, with poverty in Myanmar halved from 48.2 percent in 2005 to 24.8 percent in 2017.
As a member of the community of nations, the Government of Myanmar has confirmed its commitment to the 2030 Agenda. To attain the Sustainable Development Goals, we have developed a comprehensive social, economic and environmental policy reform agenda which we call the ‘Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP)’. Myanmar has experienced rapid growth in recent years, becoming one of the region’s fastest growing economies with an annual growth rate of 6.5 % in 2018-2019. As Myanmar opened its economy, investment and trade have grown significantly. In keeping with this trend, trade and investment policies continue to be revised in line with national and global commitments and in accordance with liberal inclusive principles.
Myanmar fully recognizes that equitable access to quality education is foundational to a country’s development. Our National Education Strategic Plan (NESP) recognizes that our education system must undergo a major transformation over the coming years, if we are to meet the life-long-learning and career aspirations of our students, adults and youth.
CLIMATE ACTION AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The adverse impacts of climate change pose significant obstacles to poverty reduction and threaten hard-won progresstowards achieving sustainable development. Indeed, climate change could be considered as the defining issue of our time. Urgent action is required to halt and reverse environmental degradation if we are even to have a chance of achieving SDGs. In this connection, I welcome the convening of the Climate Action Summit, and wish to underscore the urgency of responding to climate change, and the importance of implementing both the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol.
To realize our country’s full potential, we must protect and manage our natural environment. In this regard, Myanmar is gradually transforming itself into a climate–resilient, low-carbon society that is truly sustainable, prosperous and inclusive. Myanmar has promulgated a new Conservation of Biodiversity and Protected Areas Law, followed by a new Forest Law in 2018, in line with the SDGs and other international commitments. Furthermore, this year, we launched two new policies, the National Environmental Policy and the Myanmar Climate Change Policy, which shall guide government’s decision-making on environmental management.
The United Nations is at the heart of multilateralism on which we place our hopes and aspirations. This said, our world is facing the challenges of transition and geopolitical shifts. The UN and other multilateral institutions need to recognize the disconnect between the expectations of peoples and nations and the responses of institutions and policies. Such a disconnect creates mistrust in international system and institutions as is evidenced by the increase in nationalism and populism. Discontent with globalization, the imbalanced distribution of wealth, the danger of terrorism and anxiety over immigration feed the growth of unilateralism.
Some nations, which once shared unifying priorities and visions, are now drifting apart politically and economically. The structure of international politics has also been transformed. Countries are coming to the realization that in the new geopolitical order it is getting harder to find a common thread that ties their members together.
The UN should take a stern look at how it is evolving. It must avoid the mistake of allowing unwieldy mandates or unilaterally extending its powers with no corresponding due diligence as to impact and assurance of quality. Multilateral institutions should never be used as a tool to target member states. They should uphold the sovereignty of nations, working in concert for a greater good, ensure equality of actions and scrupulously avoid double standards and ‘exceptionalism’. Left unchecked, the UN as a beacon of peace and security may end up with huge deficits of trust. This cannot be allowed to happen as there are critical issues that can only be addressed through multilateral efforts. No nation should be made to feel that its value in the UN is decided by the degree of material wealth and political influence it can muster.
Myanmar is undergoing a process of democratization and in doing so it has embraced the culture of political dialogue as a means of solving internal conflicts by peaceful means. The achievement of durable peace is integral to Myanmar’s journey towards sustainable and inclusive development. We regard rule of law as a fundamental principle of democratic governance. The government and the legislature are seeking to make our laws more transparent and in keeping with the interests of all our people to ensure that each and everyone is equal before the law. Steps are also being taken to combat corruption, to enhance the independence of courts, and to ensure that trials are open and fair that harmony and justice prevail throughout the nation.
To attain progress in these and many other areas, we need a constitution that can truly protect and advance the democratic rights of the people. In this regard, the Hluttaw (Parliament) has taken a bold initiative towards the amendment of a number of provisions in the Constitution. To that end, the Joint Committee on Amending the 2008 Constitution was established. The Committee has compiled more than 3,700 recommended changes from various political parties and intends to draft an amendment bill based on its findings. Our democratic endeavours and associated reforms are continuous and vibrant.
PEACE AND RECONCILIATION
Myanmar is a multi-ethnic society with a history of protracted insurgencies. The achievement of national reconciliation and peace is our government’s topmost priority. We have convened 3 sessions of the Union Peace Conference and adopted a total of 51 basic principles to be included in the Union Peace Accord; an accord that will lead to a Democratic Federal Union which guarantees security, prosperity, peace, and national harmony. A total of ten Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) have already signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
Despite the recent successes in broadening the Agreement’s coverage, there is still a long way to go before all remaining non-signatories are on board. Notwithstanding challenges, negotiations continue. A successful outcome calls for flexibility, a spirit of accommodation, and patience on all sides, as well as the continued encouragement and help of our friends. We are determined to resolve differences through dialogue, negotiation and peaceful means and thus build mutual trust and understanding.
THE SITUATION IN RAKHINE STATE
Let me now touch upon recent developments in Rakhine State. Our democratic transition is still young and as yet incomplete. As we struggle to step out from poverty’s shadow, while striving for inclusive development and peace, we must overcome a range of challenges, from imperfect Constitution to continued conflicts. The situation in Rakhine State, an issue that has deep and historical roots, counts amongst these challenges.
We fully share the concern of the international community over the violence that affects communities in Rakhine State. In fact, the government’s efforts to bring peace and stability predate the violent attacks by the ARSA terrorist group in 2016 and 2017 that triggered off the current humanitarian crisis. Since assuming office in 2016, the elected civilian government has placed the highest priority on addressing the situation in Rakhine State. To find a lasting solution, we established a Central Committee for the Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development in Rakhine State, chaired by our State Counsellor and the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State headed by Dr. Kofi Annan. Our aim was to find long-term, durable and practical solutions to these delicate and sensitive issues of Rakhine State.
The issue in Rakhine is one of the complex challenges faced by Myanmar on its path towards democracy. The government has been striving through a holistic approach for long term stability, security and sustainable development in the State. Our priority now is to expedite repatriation and to create a more conducive environment for verified returnees. To this end, we are cooperating with Bangladesh, UNDP and UNHCR, ASEAN, friends and well-wishers.
Myanmar is aware of the many obstacles, including destructive movements in the camps aimed at preventing repatriation and exploiting the plight of displaced persons that need to be addressed. Smooth and successful repatriation requires genuine political will, and committed efforts as well as strict adherence to the signed Agreements.
The displaced persons now in Cox’s Bazar who had been resident in Rakhine State have different legal status. We are willing to repatriate them in accordance with the bilateral agreement signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh. The agreement calls for the issuance of identity cards to the returnees. Those who qualify for citizenship under our Citizenship Law will be issued with citizenship cards. The rest will be issued with National Verification Cards (NVC). NVCs are similar to the “green card” much sought after by immigrants in the United States.
Myanmar strongly holds the view that issues between neighbours can and must be resolved bilaterally in an amicable and friendly manner. The current issue of displaced persons in Cox’s Bazar can and must be resolved bilaterally, particularly as Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed a bilateral agreement to address this issue since November 2017. There have been persistent calls to put pressure on Myanmar. There is also a call to set up a “Safe Zone” inside Myanmar. Such a demand is neither warranted, nor, workable. Despite obstacles, including killings and threats by ARSA, some 300 people from camps in Cox’s Bazar have returned under their own arrangement and of their own volition. They have resumed their lives in conditions of safety and dignity.
We call on Bangladesh to faithfully implement the bilateral agreement, which is the only feasible way to resolve the issue of the displaced persons. We also call on Bangladesh to allow the speedy repatriation of those who have long expressed their desire to return, including some 400 people of Hindu faith. Grand standing, introducing new elements, putting forward new conditionalities will be a futile exercise. The people of Myanmar are pragmatic and resilient. We value friendly relations with all nations but we do not respond well to coercion that is removed from the fairness and consideration due to a sovereign independent member of the family of nations.
On the 15th of this month, Myanmar’s Hluttaw (Parliament) celebrated the International Democracy Day, where Politicians from various political parties made statements. I wish to highlight one of the statements on Rakhine by the Member of Parliament from an ethnic minority. He said in regard to the external pressure exerted on Myanmar “they are flouting our territorial integrity and national sovereignty. Only peoples of sovereign independent nations can enjoy the true essence of Democracy.”
The Government of Myanmar sympathizes sincerely with all those who have been affected by the problems in Rakhine State.
Myanmar is not opposed to accountability for any wrong doing related to the large outflow of displaced persons to Bangladesh. We firmly stand for principles which are the cornerstones of the international legal order.
On 30 July 2018, President U Win Myint activated a special investigation procedure pursuant to which the Independent Commission of Enquiry is currently preparing its report, with recommendations for further action. Like some other member states of the United Nations, Myanmar has a military justice system, provided for in our 2008 Constitution. A military investigation into Rakhine-allegations is currently being undertaken by the Office of the Judge Advocate General. A recent announcement suggests that there will soon be a court martial. The integrity of these independent investigations should not be compromised by international actors.
On 4 July 2019, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court requested a pre-trial chamber to authorise an investigation into Rakhine-allegations. Independent scholars have already identified the request as problematic in that: it excludes alleged crimes committed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) with deliberate omission of the undisputed fact that their actions precipitated the displacement; that she relies heavily on human rights reports that contain factual errors with regard to both international and Myanmar law; and that her request mischaracterizes the criminal justice system of Myanmar. This critique is all the more serious when we consider that Myanmar is not a party to the Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Government’s position remains that the Court does not have jurisdiction over alleged crimes in our country.
The ICC Prosecutor is focusing on the outflow from Rakhine State to Bangladesh, while she is silent on the broader picture of the various reasons, immediate as well as long-standing, that brought about the displacement, and the various actors who were involved.
This silence widens the divide between the International Criminal Court and the people of Myanmar who have been made to feel that their concerns are of less import than the perceptions of influential nations and organizations acquainted but superficially if at all with the true situation on the ground.
Myanmar was a British colony for nearly one hundred years. During this period, the colonial power transferred hundreds of thousands of civilians from British India to the then Burma to propel the rapidly expanding rice production and export. In 1927 alone, there were more than 480,000 such transfers into occupied colonial Burma. The Burmese were reduced to a minority in their own main city, Rangoon (Yangon). The British census of 1872 reported 58,255 Muslims in Akyab District (modern Sittwe). By 1911, the Muslim population had increased to 178,647. The waves of migration were primarily due to the requirement of cheap labour from British India to work in the paddy fields. Immigrants from Bengal, mainly from the Chittagong region, “moved en masse into western townships of Arakan”. As in other colonized territories across the world, our local population had no say whatsoever with regard to the seismic demographic transformation of their lands. Nevertheless, Myanmar accepts it as part of the chequered legacy for which we assumed responsibility when we won our independence in 1948.It was only in 1949, with the adoption of the fourth Geneva Convention, that international law expressly prohibited the transfer of civilians into occupied territories. But there was no recognition of the troublesome consequences of such operations.
If the international community passes fundamentally different judgments on occurrences of one and the same practice albeit at a different time, perceptions of double standards will grow. If left unaddressed, such perceptions will undermine respect for international criminal justice and fuel the danger of extreme polarisation.
As this General Assembly Session is focusing on the galvanization of multilateral efforts for inclusion, we should reflect on the relationship between root causes of violent conflicts, accountability, social cohesion, and polarisation. International actors should turn every stone to contribute to the strengthening of national accountability capacity, and at the same time ensure that they themselves uphold the highest standards of quality control in their international human rights and criminal justice efforts.
Myanmar has objected to the formation of the Fact Finding Mission since its inception because of our serious concern over its composition and mandate, as well as its capacity for fairness and impartiality. Events have proved that our concerns are justified. Darusman Reports, without exception, are biased and flawed, based not on facts but on narratives. The latest reports are even worse.
We cannot help but conclude that these were prompted more by hostility towards the democratically elected government and the peace loving people of Myanmar than by a genuine desire to resolve the challenges of RakhineState. Therefore, we also reject the establishment of the new Investigation Mechanism (IIM) set up to bring Myanmar to tribunals to which we object strongly. These include the International Criminal Court (ICC). Our position on the ICC is abundantly clear. The ICC does not have jurisdiction over Myanmar.
We are also disappointed by the Rosenthal Report. The facts presented are inaccurate, distorted and lack professional objectivity. The methodology is technically flawed and highly biased, based on pre-conceived ideas.
The report excludes significantly relevant initiatives undertaken by the State and civil society of Myanmar as well as various support programmes provided under bilateral and multilateral arrangements.
We request the members of the United Nations to differentiate motives behind the actions in this Assembly: a genuine will to protect human rights or to hijack human rights issue for political purposes.
As we address the delicate issue of Rakhine, we need truth, fairness and constructive support. Exertion of discriminatory scrutinization and political pressure with malicious intent, will not contribute to our efforts in resolving the problems.
In this regard, we, the government and people of Myanmar, truly appreciate the support rendered by many friends and partners and their constructive cooperation based on genuine goodwill. It benefits not just people of Myanmar but peoples all over the world who value justice and fair play for all nations, both great and small.
The people of Myanmar have waited decades for the emergence of democracy in our country. Transformation from authoritarianism to a democratic system is a daunting challenge. But it is a challenge that our government and our people have taken on with faith and determination. Our peace process, based on an inclusive framework for political dialogue with all ethnic armed organizations, will continue. We will use the platform of the 21st Century Panglong, the Union Peace Conference, to create the Democratic Federal Union to which our people aspire. We will strive to build a society that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms, a society where all citizens can attain peace, prosperity and freedom from fear. We invite the international community to join hands with us, in a constructive way, to ensure that democracy takes firm root in Myanmar.
Thank you Mr. President.