Myanmar's human rights record matter of 'grave concern,' says Ban

4 July 2009
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with residents of Kyon Da  in the Delta, Myanmar

Myanmar's future must be rooted in respect for human rights, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, voicing his deep disappointment that the South-East Asian nation's Government refused his request to meet with Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar was one of the first United Nations Member States to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but “unfortunately, that commitment has not been matched in deed,” Mr. Ban said in Yangon, at the end of his two-day visit to the country. “Myanmar's human rights record remains a matter of grave concern.”

He called on authorities to release all political prisoners – including Ms. Suu Kyi – without delay.

The Secretary-General said that Senior General Than Shwe's refusal to allow him to meet with Ms. Suu Kyi, whose trial is pending, shows that the Government “has lost a unique opportunity to show its commitment to a new era of political openness.”

He added that “allowing a visit to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would have been an important symbol of the Government's willingness to embark on the kind of meaningful engagement that will be essential if the elections in 2010 are to be seen as credible.”

Myanmar's authorities have laid out stability, national reconciliation and democracy as their goals, and next year's polls, the first in two decades, must be “inclusive, participatory and transparent,” Mr. Ban stressed in his address today to diplomats, UN agencies, and international and non-governmental organizations.

“Sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity are legitimate concerns for any government,” he said.

“Opening and broadening the political space is the best way to ensure that each group and each individual becomes part of the greater collective project,” added Mr. Ban, who met with leaders of Myanmar's registered political parties, including Ms. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), and with former armed groups observing a ceasefire during his time in the country.

The Secretary-General's last visit to Myanmar was in the wake of last May's devastating Cyclone Nargis, which killed almost 130,000 people. During this visit, he visited the Kyon Da Village in the Irrawaddy delta to see the results of recovery and reconstruction work first-hand.

In his speech today, he lauded the “unprecedented” cooperation between Myanmar, the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) through the Tripartite Core Group which he said showed that humanitarian imperatives and the principle of sovereignty do not conflict.

“Humanitarian assistance – in Myanmar as elsewhere – should never be held hostage to political considerations,” he emphasized. “We can and must work together to ensure access to humanitarian and development assistance to all those in Myanmar who need it.”

Mr. Ban, who met with Senior General Than Shwe yesterday and today, as well as Prime Minister Thein Sein, also urged Myanmar to lift millions of its citizens out of poverty by unleashing its economic potential.

“The people of Myanmar need jobs, they need food security and they need access to healthcare,” he said, calling on the country to “take advantage of the opportunities that the international community is prepared to offer.”

Myanmar, the Secretary-General said, can only benefit from engagement and has stated many times that cooperation with the UN is the cornerstone of its foreign policy.

“We ask it to match deeds with words,” he said. “The more Myanmar works in partnership with the United Nations to respond to its people's needs and aspirations, the more it affirms its sovereignty.”

Speaking to reporters in Bangkok, Thailand, after leaving Yangon, Mr. Ban stressed that the authorities' refusal to allow him to visit Aung San Suu Kyi “should not be seen as the only benchmark for success or failure of my visit.”

During his time in the country, he was able to “very frankly and directly” convey the international community's concerns, as well as its readiness to help Myanmar's people achieve their “legitimate aspirations,” to Senior General Than Shwe and his Government, he said.

While in the Thai capital, the Secretary-General said he met with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, and also told reporters that his Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, will shortly convene the so-called Group of Friends on Myanmar, a gathering of countries supporting greater dialogue in the Asian country.

From Thailand, Mr. Ban is scheduled to travel to Switzerland, Ireland and Italy.


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