Former world leaders led by ex-US president Jimmy Carter appealed Thursday for an end to impunity over a wave of anti-Muslim attacks in Myanmar.
The call came at the end of a three-day visit to the formerly military-ruled country by the group -- known as "The Elders" -- for talks with reformist President Thein Sein, religious leaders and civil society groups.
"The Elders call for an end to impunity for the perpetrators of violence against the Muslim community and for the meaningful realisation of the right to freedom of religion," they said in a statement.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway and and deputy chair of The Elders, said it could take decades to overcome "the ingrained prejudices promoted by extremist voices in parts of the country".
Violence against minority Muslims in the western state of Rakhine should "be halted as a priority," she said.
"No one can afford to ignore these senseless, destructive, repeated acts of brutality."
Religious violence -- mostly targeting Muslims -- has exposed deep rifts in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, casting a shadow over widely praised political reforms since military rule ended in 2011.
Around 250 people have been killed and more than 140,000 left homeless in several outbreaks of violence since June 2012.
Clashes in Rakhine state last year left about 200 people dead, mostly Rohingya Muslims who are denied citizenship by Myanmar.
Rights groups have accused Myanmar security forces of complicity in the violence, while anti-Muslim riots elsewhere in the country have appeared well organised.
The Elders -- founded by former South African president Nelson Mandela in 2007 -- also appealed for an end to the country's conflicts between the military and ethnic-minority rebels, and for the release of all remaining political prisoners.
"We were impressed by the pace with which reforms are proceeding. Myanmar is becoming a more open society," Carter said.
"The release of political prisoners is particularly encouraging. We trust there will be no political prisoners by the end of the year, as the president has pledged," he added.
The Elders, a group of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, led by former US President Jimmy Carter met with civil society organizations (CSOs) at the Strand in Yangon on September 26.
“They will deliberate on ways to secure nationwide ceasefire, political dialogues to bring about lasting peace and discuss obstacles in the path of political dialogues. They will also explore how The Elders can participate in the peace process”, Khun Ja from the Kachin Peace Network told Mizzima, before the meeting.
She continued, “Their objectives are the same as ours. They advocate for genuine democracy. Secondly, they will help in establishing genuine peace in conflict areas. This is why we will have discussions with them.”
They will also discuss the role of women in political dialogues, said Khun Ja.
Three Nobel Peace Prize laureates —former US President Jimmy Carter, former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaani, and former Norwegian Prime Minister and former Director General of World Health Organization Gro Harlem Brundtland—arrived in Myanmar on September 24.
During their three-day visit, they will have discussions with CSOs in Naypyitaw and Yangon, said a source close to them.
U Hla Maung Shwe from the government’s Technical Support Team told Mizzima that union-level peace talks between the Union Peace-Making Work Committee and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) will be held from October 8 -10.
“The technical teams from both sides will first discuss agenda for the meeting. Our technical team will focus on securing a ceasefire agreement. The agreement will depend on both leaders”, he added.
The two Technical Support Teams will have pre-meeting discussions on October 2 and 3.
The meeting agenda, venue of the meeting and the participants are yet to be announced. The technical teams met at the KIO technical office in Myitkyinar Towsnhip on September 16 -17. They discussed 5 key issues including resettlement of war-refugees, nationwide ceasefire agreement and military affairs.
With regard to military affairs, the technical teams have agreed to make location maps for both armies and details of the number of the army personnel in each location available to one another.
U Aung Min, Vice Chairman of the Union Peace-Making Work Committee vowed to sign nationwide cease-fire agreements by October, at a meeting with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) in Chiang Mai on September 8.
The government is yet to sign ceasefire agreements with the KIO and the PSLF (Palong State Liberation Front).
U Hla Maung Shwe said that they have planned to meet with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA) in October but they are still in the negotiation stage.
The last meeting between the government and KIO leaders was held at Myitkyinar Township, Kachin State in March 2013.
U Aye Thar Aung, Chairman of the Arakan League of Democracy (ALD), who is a member of the drafting committee of the Constitution, told Mizzima on September 24 that the new Constitution drafted by ethnic organizations will be a complete opposite of the current 2008 Constitution.
The new Constitution draft was supposed to be completed by October, however, U Aye Thar Aung informed that the law will be finalized in November. He added that the draft will not be submitted to the Parliament but at a national conference which will probably take place in a foreign country.
During the “All Ethnic Nationalities Conference” held in August, ethnic organizations including United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), made a unanimous decision to draft a new Constitution and formed a drafting committee.
“We amended the part that says that the military has to take a leading role in national politics in the 2008 Constitution. We did not amend the Constitution unfairly. It is very different from the current Constitution as we were guided by democratic principles while drafting it”, said U Aye Thar Aung.
The political parties have made efforts to amend 8 Sections and more than 400 Acts of the 2008 Constitution, apart from drafting new constitutional laws. They have also formed a committee with Union MPs to review the 2008 Constitution.
Furthermore, the report of amendments to the Constitution will be announced by the National League for Democracy (NLD) together with the ethnic organizations in November.
“We will amend and make changes only at the national conference. We presume that the task would not be easy. It is not possible to amend parts of the 2008 Constitution, on the basis of suggestions by a political party. I believe that just amending some Acts from the current Constitution would not be of much help. It has to be examined from the beginning to the end”, said U Aye Thar Aung.
“It is not very easy for parties like ours to amend the Constitution. There are obstacles before us”, said U Pu Kham Lyan, General Secretary of the Zomi Congress of Democracy, a political party that has been taking active part in the discussions on amending the Constitution with the NLD.
On September 13, the NLD Chairman Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said, “It shows that the government is not willing to reform if it does not support and encourage efforts concerning amendment of the Constitution”, referring to the report which is to be submitted to the Union Parliament at the end of the year by the commission reviewing the Constitution.
Myanmar President U Thein Sein met with visiting Elders Group comprising Ex-President of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jimmy Carter, Ex-President of Finland and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Marti Ahtisaani and Ex- Prime Minister of Norway Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland in Nay Pyi Taw Presidential Palace Wednesday, state radio and TV reported.
The delegation of the Elders Group, based in London, is led by Jimmy Carter.
U Thein Sein briefed them on Myanmar's current domestic situation, saying that nationwide peace agreements with ethnic armed groups could be signed soon and there remains political dialogues for achieving eternal peace although ceasefire agreements are in place.
They also touched upon amendment to Myanmar's constitution, socio-economic status in conflict areas and settlement on long- term coexistence of two communities in conflicted Rakhine state as well as ensuring of no political prisoners by the end of 2013.
The Elders Group also visited Myanmar's Election Commission.
The commemoration ceremony of the sixth anniversary of the 'Saffron Revolution' will be held at the Kattakkone Monastery in Mandalay, on September 26.
The monks will urge the government to return seized farmlands to the original owners at the ceremony, said Sayadaw U Kaviya, the Abbot of the monastery.
“We will urge the government to amend the Constitution and return seized farmlands to the farmers”, said Sayadaw U Kaviya.
He added, “The Saffron Revolution took place seven days after I was released from prison. When I heard the monks’ prayers I became tearful. I could feel what they felt.”
The organizing committee of the ceremony has been formed with five Buddhist monks, according to Sayadaw U Kaviya.
In Mandalay, Sayadaw U Kaviya is popularly known as Galoneni Sayadaw. He was imprisoned by the military junta for taking a leading role in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising.
During the Saffron Revolution in 2007, monks in Mandalay together with students protested against the military junta. Therefore, students’ unions will take participation in the ceremony, according to 88-generation student Nyi Nyi Kyaw.
“The main participants will be Buddhist monks, followed by students. It will not be an ordinary ceremony. We will issue a statement expressing ‘political essence’”, he said.
The term 'Saffron Revolution' has been derived from the Buddhist monks who led the mass anti-junta uprising in their saffron colored robes, in September 2007.
The organizing committee of the ‘Trust Building for Peace’ meeting has released five resolutions passed unanimously, on September 23.
The resolutions passed at the 3-day meeting held in Taunggyi, Shan State, are nationwide ceasefire, repeal undemocratic laws including Unlawful Associations Act, building a federal union based on equality, self-determination and democracy, convening a national convention on the lines of the Pinlong Conference and amending the 2008 Constitution.
Kayan New Land Party Secretary (1) Col. Saw Lwin, who is a member of the organizing committee, said that the five resolutions were not a mere expression of their stance but intended to be implemented successfully.
Commenting on the resolution to build federal union, he said, “The organizing committee is not working on building a federal union directly, but individual organizations and parties are spreading awareness among the people on the issue, and documenting their opinion and feedback.”
The ‘Trust Building for Peace’ meeting between Shans, Kayahs and Mons was attended by 21 political parties, 17 ethnic armed groups under ceasefire agreements with the government, three civil societies and observers from 31 organizations.
Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met Singapore's political leaders on Monday, on the fourth day of her first visit to the city state since released from house arrest.
Suu Kyi, who is here for a five-day official visit as chair of a lower house committee of Myanmar, called on Singapore President Tony Tan. She also met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Speaker Halimah Yacob and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the leaders of Singapore and Suu Kyi discussed the recent developments in Myanmar.
Myanmar's democracy icon again called for amendments to the current constitution of Myanmar, which is expected to hold an important election by 2015. Suu Kyi is unable to run for presidency under the current constitution.
"I would like to be president if I could be, because you could do a lot more as a president than as a leader of the opposition," she told a press conference in the evening.
Suu Kyi arrived here last Friday for a five-day official visit. She also received briefings on some of Singapore's government agencies and statutory bodies including the Economic Development Board, which is charged with attracting investment, and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.
"I am happy that although corruption is rampant in Burma, the people still in general do not think of corruption as an acceptable way of life," Suu Kyi told reporters.
She did not elaborate on the plan of her party if it is elected, but said that the rights come with responsibilities under a democracy.
The chairperson of the National League for Democracy said that she does not seek vengeance and wants to pursue national reconciliation. She also said earlier in a public speech at a business leaders' forum that what she wanted to see in the short run is an improvement in the rule of law situation and an independent judiciary.
She did not elaborate on how this can be achieved.
She also received briefings on Singapore's Education Ministry and visited a local technical education institute, telling reporters at the press conference that education is important.
Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that she exchanged views with Singapore's President Tan on the development priorities for Myanmar, "including job creation, health and education."
Suu Kyi indicated that "ensuring the employability of Myanmar's citizens was one of her key concerns," the statement said.
The Singapore prime minister "reaffirmed Singapore's support for Myanmar's chairmanship of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in 2014, and reiterated our commitment in facilitating Myanmar's development," the statement said.
Lee has said at a forum earlier that Myanmar has been left in a situation like a "time capsule" over the past decades.
Lee said that Singapore's policy is to work with the legitimate government of the country, according to local media reports.
Singapore's investment in Myanmar has been growing rapidly over the last few years, with business delegations going in to see if there are opportunities of investment.
Suu Kyi told business leaders that she would like them to continue investing in Myanmar but try to make it as responsible as possible.
However, she said it should not be worrying to see Chinese investment in Myanmar falling, citing quality over quantity.
"The fact that Chinese businesses are investing less now, I think, is less important than the possibility of Chinese businesses investing in a more responsible way, and a more responsive way to the needs of our people," said the opposition leader, who is considered to be closer to western countries.
"That would improve relations between our two countries in a way that no investment could do ... I do believe that the friendship between our two countries will be strong and enduring," she added.
Suu Kyi, who came to Singapore at the invitation of Singapore's Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam, is expected to leave on Tuesday.
Advocate U Htay Oo of the Independent Judiciary determined that it is time to free the judiciary from the Administration so that citizens can rely upon the judicial system.
U Htay Oo took the stance at the Myanmar Legal Aid Network Workshop held at the International Business Center in Yangon on September 22. He pointed out that the judiciary after 1962 has been influenced by the administration and it has to be changed immediately.
He added that every democratic nation should ensure the autonomy of the three pillars of the government and citizens' protection by rationally enacted laws so that they would have faith in the rule of law.
“The administrative departments and government officers misused the judiciary as a weapon in the name of rule of law. The same thing happened in England, India, America and in our country”, said U Htay Oo.
The 1947 Constitution states that all attorneys have to follow constitutional laws and the judiciary should be autonomous. After independence in 1948, the judiciary functioned independently without any interference from the administrative pillar. However, in 1962 the government consolidated more authority than was permitted by the law.
“At that time, attorneys had the right to grant bills legally but no one had the guts to go against the government or their projects. It was a time when no one could go against the military junta”, said another Attorney at the workshop.
“Everything was done by direct order of the government. The magistrates who went along with the government’s orders were awarded and given promotions but those who went against the orders were punished. So, the judicial system became ineffective and failed eventually”, explained U Htay Oo regarding the judicial system after 1988.
U Hla Ko from the Independence of Bar Council said that not only laws which were influenced by the administration, but also the Bar Council Law which protects and promotes the rights and welfare of attorneys should be amended.
“In United Kingdom, an attorney is not allowed to accept even a postcard from an accused. If he does, his bar license could be suspended”, said Ms. Rowan Ryrie from the Professional Ethics of Judges, Lawyer and Legal Officials.
In most countries the bar license can be applied for once a year and only lawyers whose applications are approved can practice the law. Moreover, only experienced attorneys can submit arguments to Judges. The judicial system in Myanmar follows different rules and lawyers can practice right after they pass the bar exam.
Union Parliament Speaker Thura Shwe Mann will meet leaders from Rakhine organizations on September 29 at the International Business Center (IBC) in Yangon. The Rakhine leaders will present the Natural Resource Sharing Bill for deliberations in the meeting.
Yangon regional government Ethnic Rakhine Affairs Minister Zaw Aye Maung told Mizzima on September 22 that the meeting will be attended by community leaders from 17 townships in Rakhine state, representatives of Rakhine social groups in Yangon and Rakhine political parties and MPs.
He added that they hope to get advice on parliamentary matters in the meeting.
Zaw Aye Maung told Mizzima, “There are many issues in Rakhine state but we will focus on what the Parliament can do with regard to resource-sharing between the union and states. We hope there will be a Natural Resources Sharing Bill after the meeting. The Rakhine organizations are also planning to present other matters at the meeting. We must wait and see what the Speaker has to say.”
MP Khin Saw Wai from Rathetaung constituency in Rakhine state said that delegates from most Yangon based Rakhine organizations would attend the meeting and that invitations were sent to all 17 townships in Rakhine state.
She told Mizzima, “It will be better if the meeting is attended by representatives from Buthidaung and Maungdaw, in addition to representatives from Yangon based Rakhine organizations.”
Thar Mya Kyaw, Secretary of the Rakhine Social Organization said that they would present comprehensive details of problems that plague Rakhine state, which is the most backward state in Myanmar.
The Rakhine Nationality Development Party (RNDP) said that there would be three main agendas at this meeting namely, security, stability and rule of law, electricity sector and transport sector, besides other issues such as development in the state and capacity building for youths.
Minister Zaw Aye Maung had announced in August that they would draft a natural resources sharing bill and present it to the Parliament. Under the bill, economic benefits from natural resources extracted by domestic and foreign companies in the ethnic states shall be shared between the center and the states.