PRESS CONFERENCE ON MYANMAR
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
5 September 2007
Speaking to correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this morning, Ibrahim Gambari, Special Adviser on the International Compact with Iraq and Other Issues, reiterated, on the Secretary-General’s behalf, the call on Myanmar’s authorities to release political detainees, including those arrested during recent peaceful demonstrations.
Mr. Gambari said that recent disturbing events in Myanmar were all the more disappointing as they not only called into question the authorities’ stated commitment to democratization and national reconciliation, but also made it more difficult to maintain international support for engagement with Myanmar at a time when the country needed assistance in addressing numerous pressing challenges.
He also referred to the completion yesterday, after 14 years, of the National Convention process. Opened in 1993, the Convention was supposed to be the first step on the Government’s road map to democracy, laying down basic guidelines to draft a new constitution.
While acknowledging the conclusion of the process, he expressed concern over the inclusiveness of the process to date, as well as reports of the provisions adopted at the Convention, which were seemingly contrary to the objectives of national reconciliation and democratization. There should be opportunities in the period ahead to improve on the outcome of the document of the Convention in ways that would be more inclusive, participatory and transparent, he said. After all, the Constitution was supposed to be a document to guide the nation for hundreds of years. It was thus very important for those who were presently excluded from the process that had produced the current outcome to be given an opportunity to present their input.
He said that the United Nations was the only international actor to maintain face-to-face dialogue with Myanmar’s top leadership and with Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s detained opposition leader, about the need for national reconciliation, democracy and respect for human rights and was keenly aware of its responsibility and the expectations riding on it.
As to how the Organization’s current efforts were different from those of his predecessors, he said that the United Nations was moving to line up support from the international community, recognizing that all key interested countries needed to work together. The initial consultations that he had been involved in were now complete, following his visits to Washington, DC, Beijing, New Deli, Tokyo, Moscow, Paris, the European Union in Brussels, and London, as well as neighbouring countries, whose role was critical. Everywhere, his interlocutors had expressed concern about the situation in Myanmar and strong support for the Secretary-General’s good offices. They had also expressed a readiness to proactively consider ways of working with one another, Myanmar and the United Nations to get concrete results. Thus, for the first time, all the key actors were now mobilized and the international community was moving in a single direction.
Given the complexity of the situation and the diversity of the challenges in Myanmar, the Organization was now taking a more comprehensive approach, he continued. Its focus would be such as the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, the cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access and progress in implementing the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in the areas of education and health. The broader the agenda, he added, the higher the likelihood of finding common ground “in order to make progress where progress can be made and demonstrated”. The Government’s agreement with the International Labour Organization (ILO) in February to address a forced labour complaint was a good example of what could be done when the authorities in Myanmar engaged seriously with the United Nations in addressing a pressing concern. There was also certainly a greater openness to the United Nations across a range of other topics, which had been seen during his own two visits to the country in the past year, as well as those of the Deputy Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs and a June visit by Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict.
While serious changes were needed, only very modest steps had been taken on certain “big-ticket issues”, and he was not going to proclaim otherwise, he said. At the same time, it was important to keep in mind that, for almost three years, there had been no opening at all for dialogue between the international community and Myanmar. Therefore, it was necessary to continue to explore where the current relative openness could lead in terms of real cooperation, engagement and concrete results for the people of the country. His own next step would be to return to Myanmar as soon as possible to continue conversations with key players and deliver the Secretary-General’s message as his Special Envoy to the country. He expected that trip to take place some time in mid-October.
In conclusion, he said that, with all his interlocutors, he had emphasized that good offices were not an event, but a process, which needed to be translated into tangible results on multiple fronts. The expectations of the United Nations and the international community were very clear and required concrete results from Myanmar, and he would continue to carry that message.
Asked about the position of China, he said that he was not prepared to share what the Chinese had said privately, but he knew that they had facilitated contact and communication between the United States and Myanmar. In expressing their support for the good offices of the Secretary-General, they had also sent an appropriate message to the authorities of Myanmar to cooperate fully with them and to help ensure that the next visit would produce results.
To numerous questions regarding the role of the Security Council in relation to Myanmar, he said that the Council had decided to place Myanmar on its agenda, but when efforts had been made to move to the next step, which was to have a resolution, “I think you know the results.” It was up to the members of the Council to decide what they wanted to discuss and how they wanted to discuss it. Of course, if they asked the Secretariat to brief them, it would do so. In fact, he had briefed the Council on three different occasions.
The good offices of the Secretary-General had been mandated by the General Assembly and not the Security Council, he continued. The Security Council had its own agenda and could decide what and when it wanted something.
Asked if the United Nations was the right venue for dealing with human rights issues in Myanmar, he said that isolation and sanctions had not worked so far, and the Security Council resolution might not have worked, but that did not mean that Security Council action might not be helpful. The Secretary-General had a role under the mandate from the General Assembly to find ways of building international support for his action, so that the authorities would address the issues he had mentioned. Those efforts should be given a chance, because those countries that had voted against a resolution of the Security Council, while recognizing that there were problems in Myanmar, did not think that the Security Council was the appropriate forum to act on them. They had mentioned the Human Rights Council, in that regard. Under those circumstances, the Secretary-General’s good offices should be used as a means to get the results required.
Asked about the role of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), he said that a recent meeting of ASEAN Ministers had agreed in principle to establish a human rights mechanism. That was an important step, because Myanmar had gone along with that, fully aware that once that mechanism was established, it would look at human rights records of ASEAN Member States. He hoped all ASEAN countries would cooperate in the work of such a mechanism.
Asked about the Secretary-General’s answer to Mrs. Bush’s letter regarding Myanmar, he said that the response had been hand-delivered to the White House on 19 June. The Secretary-General supported Mrs. Bush’s efforts to draw attention to the situation in Myanmar and pledged to work with her and others towards the goals of democratization, human rights, cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access and freedom for all political detainees. In a subsequent conversation, Mrs. Bush had asked the Secretary-General to exert pressure on Myanmar, and the interlocutors had pledged to maintain contact.
A correspondent commented said that there appeared to be two Myanmars in the world: one where the human rights situation was atrocious and the one that Mr. Gambari was describing. He wondered if it was Mr. Gambari’s role to be “a chief international apologist for the system” that allowed Myanmar to continue along its line at the moment.
In response, Mr. Gambari said that there was no question of apologies for any regime. He had described precisely what the Secretary-General was doing, what were the limits of his authority, what were the limits of the tools available to him. Within that, it was important to continue the best efforts to bring about concrete results. “How do you bring about change in the attitude of a regime?” he asked in that connection. “You can either change the regime, which is not an option available to us, or achieve change … by allowing international forces, particularly those that have influence on the regime, to bring it to be, and we have decided to take the second option.”
Regarding the economic situation in the country, he said that it was dire, and the decision to increase the price of petroleum had only exacerbated it. In that context, it was important to address the root causes of the present situation. While it was necessary to address the issue of arrests and detentions, it was also important to focus on basic issues of economic management and meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Also important were the problems of fair distribution of the resources available to the country. That was what the UNDP was doing.
The aspect that did not seem to interest the press corps related to the spread of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, he continued. It was indicative, in that regard, that some of the countries that had been most critical of Myanmar’s human rights record had put together a fund of almost $100 million over the period of 10 years, because they recognized that those diseases had no boundaries and it was the people of the country that were suffering from it. Myanmar authorities’ cooperation on those issues was encouraging, and the United Nations was pushing them to extend the same cooperation to other areas, including the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need. In the absence of “big sticks”, it was important to build on every opportunity.
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For information media • not an official record
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