Promoting a Culture of Democracy and National Harmony in Myanmar

Chairperson,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

Mahatma Gandhi once wrote that: “Democracy must in essence […] mean the art and science of mobilizing the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources of all the various sections of the people in the service of the common good of all.”

In other words, democracy is a journey of transformation towards inclusive, people-centered, and sustainable development, guided by the principles of human rights, freedom from want, from fear, and from all forms of discrimination – as articulated by the Charter of the United Nations.

I would like to thank Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing for his presentation and the Government of Myanmar for choosing as the theme of this session – promoting a culture of democracy and national harmony, because the paths towards more democratic institutions such as free elections, human rights, corporate governance, and the rule of law, must be accompanied by changes to mindsets and behavior, in both the public and the private sector.

To survive and thrive, democratic economies, societies and systems of governance, in the public and private sectors, must have strong foundations in shared cultural values of tolerance, justice, freedom, rights, and shared responsibilities that deliver well-being for people.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Address Poverty & Inequality to Strengthen Democracy

In practice, democracy, national harmony, and reconciliation are best achieved when poverty and inequality are urgently addressed, when prosperity is shared, and when communities are empowered and engaged to have a voice and representation in decision-making and public life.

For real reconciliation we must get to the roots of grievances, which are often based on development-, rights-, and dignity-deficits. Decent productive jobs, food security, proper housing, good working conditions, access to healthcare and education – these are the cornerstones of stability and the guarantors of human dignity. In other words, democracy, peace, and harmony cannot be separated from development – and vice versa. There is no development without peace and democracy.

As the international community continues to ease sanctions on Myanmar, it is critical to focus national development policies, private sector engagement, investment strategies and the efforts of all development partners on addressing the gaps that remain. These are the gaps between urban and rural areas, between men and women, and between ethnic communities.

We need to accelerate the implementation of inclusive development to promote peace-building, reconciliation, and national harmony, especially in recent conflict and cease-fire areas. We need to develop ‘quick wins’ in the improvement of people’s lives in these areas.

The United Nations, and our Asia-Pacific Member States stand ready to assist Myanmar in all of these efforts, which is why initiatives such as the 5-day ministerial-level knowledge-sharing mission to Singapore last month, headed by His Excellency U Soe Thane, the Union Minister in the President’s Office, are so important. That mission was organized jointly by the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) – and forms parts of our South-South cooperation and regional development learning from ASEAN and beyond.

It would be difficult to overstate the value, in addressing these needs, of the empowerment and agency of people, especially of women and youth. When conflict ends and reconciliation begins, the culture of democracy, the strengthening of the rule of law, and inclusive and sustainable development with a pro-poor focus, can help people to move on. The economic, social and political fabric of communities need to be rebuilt and invested in. A common sense of belonging, of trust and shared identity has to be forged, through inclusive dialogue, participation and development.

Women bring particular strengths and perspectives to these processes – which is why the role of women in peace-building and state-building has been formally recognized by the United Nations. Similarly, young people need to be empowered through education, through ICT, and through access to opportunities, to take leadership in helping to shape the future direction of the country. They can be the drivers and implementers of the reform and peace agendas.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Accelerating Gains Already Made

In his historic address to the Union Assembly last year, the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, proposed a four-point Agenda for Action to advance the democratic transitions already underway in Myanmar. He pointed to the need for job creation and poverty alleviation; greater development assistance; accelerated reconciliation; and a new discourse to develop an inclusive democratic culture based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.

We therefore welcome the reforms already undertaken, and the commitment of the Government to the process of transformation, as embodied in H.E. President U Thein Sein’s identification last week of pluralism and the peaceful coexistence of diverse ideas as one of Myanmar’s major political achievements in 2012. This has also been demonstrated by the increasing space for political activity, speech and the press, including the abolition last year of direct media censorship – a key reform given the importance of press freedom to building democracy and national reconciliation.

It is also promising that ceasefires with various groups and ethnicities have been agreed in record time, but to be sustained and to benefit all parts of the country, including Rakhine and Kachine, the negotiations need to be comprehensive, based on mutual respect, and driven by the genuine will to include all in the development of Myanmar.

The further releases of political prisoners have also contributed to the promotion of reconciliation. Together with initiatives such as the establishment of the Myanmar Peace Center; the Government’s intensified engagement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; and increased humanitarian access, there have been significant gains which must now be acknowledged and supported by the international community.

The United Nations will continue its assistance in realizing the goals of development, democracy and peace. We will also focus our support on the preparations for the 2015 general elections and the important 2014 household and population census. ESCAP is actively supporting this census and is represented on the international technical advisory board convened by UNFPA. This board provides advice and shares experience with the Government to conduct the census according to international standards.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Conclusion

In conclusion, Myanmar is a country of great spirit and even greater promise. It has already shown bold and courageous leadership at many levels. As it rapidly regains its place and stature in the international community – taking on the Chairmanship of ASEAN next year for example – it is time for the international community to support the country so that it can fully implement its reform agenda.

As the Secretary-General said in his message on the International Day of Democracy last year: “Democracies are not born overnight, nor built in a year…[r]eform must be real…[i]nclusive dialogue is critical. Diversity is a strength.”

In essence, promoting a culture of democracy and national harmony is about building trust, mutual respect and understanding - starting from the shared needs and common interests of all, to create peace and shared prosperity. This is what I wish for Myanmar.

I thank you.