Dateline Irrawaddy: ‘Aung San Suu Kyi Did Her Best to Address Allegations on the International Stage’
By The Irrawaddy 31 December 2016
Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! Since this is the last week of 2016, Irrawaddy news crew members will summarize and discuss political, economic, social, ethnic, and other key issues from this year. Ko Kyaw Kha, Ko Moe Myint, and Ma Zue Zue will join me for the conversation. I’m Irrawaddy English editor Kyaw Zwa Moe.
For our country, 2016 has been a significant year, because the elected government of the National League for Democracy [NLD] was able to take power peacefully. But at the same time, many challenges are facing the NLD government. One of the key challenges is national reconciliation, and how the army and civilian government are still building up a relationship. Continued clashes and escalating tensions between ethnic armed groups and the army are also a stiff challenge to the NLD government. So we’ll discuss to what extent the NLD government will be able to overcome them. And, many things also took place regarding the country’s peace process. Ko Kyaw Kha, what is your summary of the entire peace process?
Kyaw Kha: In the pre-election period, the NLD described ethnic issues and peace as top priority in its election manifesto. And they have firmly focused on those issues after coming to power in March. Then they worked towards the 21st Century Panglong Conference. They formed a preparation committee for the conference, as well as the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), chaired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to continue the peace process. I found that the new government worked consistently and seriously. What was significant about the 21st Century Panglong Conference was that when U Thein Sein’s government held the Union Peace Conference in January, ethnic armed groups that had not yet signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement [NCA] did not attend. And they also didn’t join discussions about the framework for political dialogue, saying that they didn’t have a say in the decision-making process. But then, NCA non-signatories joined the peace conference initiated by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and they could discuss the framework for political dialogue, too. There are increased opportunities compared to the past, and their discussions have become more lively and positive.
But speaking of negative developments, the Northern Alliance troops consisting of the KIA [Kachin Independence Army], TNLA [Ta’ang National Liberation Army], MNDAA [Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army [MNDAA], and AA [Arakan Army] launched joint offensives on Nov. 20 in northern Shan State. This led to increased fierce clashes with the army, and has made it quite difficult for them to meet [for peace talks]. So, the peace process is [also] showing negative signs at present.
KZM: We have witnessed social and public security problems like rising commodity prices and an increase in crimes this year. Ma Zue Zue, how badly have those urban problems or criminal activities become? And what issues need to be addressed as a priority?
Zue Zue: Yes, crimes have increased significantly this year. The crime that caused public outcry and outrage was child rape cases. There were over 1,000 child rape cases from 2014 to 2016, mainly in Irrawaddy, Rangoon, Mandalay, Magwe and Sagaing divisions. Police records reveal that child rape cases increased in 2015 and 2016. There were over 500 rape cases this year, and only about 200 of them have been settled so far, and in those cases, sex offenders were given jail sentences ranging from one year to a maximum 20 years. Only a few were given 20-year jail sentences, with most of them being handed only a few years in prison.
KZM: What reasons are people suggesting [for the increase in crime]?
ZZ: Police pointed out that the increase in rape cases was related to the increased abuse of drugs and easy access to porn videos [on the internet]. But women rights activists have said that it was related to behavioral changes in people, that they have become more aggressive. And it was found that in most of the cases, the victim belongs to a family of low social status. Such families are more vulnerable, as the two parents leave their child to neighbors when they go to work.
KZM: Another pressing issue is conflict in Arakan State. The Foreign Affairs Ministry of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as well as the army have to handle this carefully. Ko Moe Myint, what is your review of the events from this year, and what are the latest developments?
Moe Myint: The investigation commission led by Vice-President U Myint Swe is investigating the case. And they have implied recently that the attacks [against border police] were intentional, that the militants launched attacks only after they underwent adequate training provided by international terrorist organizations. And it was different from the inter-communal conflicts that happened in 2012. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did her best to address allegations on the international stage. For example, she did things like appointing Kofi Annan [to head the Arakan State Advisory Commission], which gave [Burma] ground [to counter allegations] in the international arena. And it is really a good move that [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] met Asean foreign ministers a week or two ago. It is fair to say that the meeting was quite productive.
KZM: Isn’t it fair to say she had to do so because she as well as her cabinet and information ministry failed to handle the problem in a timely manner? The international community and UN agencies have even called the issue a genocide. Is the government weak in its response?
MM: It is true that they have been weak. They did constantly release information about the incident since it first broke out. But then, they didn’t manage to reject allegations with strong evidence. For example, in the cases of [houses being set on] fire, many houses were reduced to ashes, but then the government only spoke of the issue after allegations [of human rights abuse] broke. They should have reported on rape cases and so on before international organizations made allegations public.
KZM: Ko Kyaw Kha, let’s go back to the topic of peace. 2016 is ending and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has talked about resuming the 21st Century Panglong Conference in 2017 and holding talks with stakeholders that she thinks should participate in the peace process. So how will the peace process turn out since clashes have never actually ended?
KK: [The second round of] the Panglong Conference will be held in February 2017. But it seems that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will continue with the conference with NCA signatories even if non-signatories do not participate. Tensions remain between two sides because of continuous clashes. Dialogue between the two sides is still uncertain. So it is unlikely that NCA non-signatories will join the second round of the conference. It is still difficult for them. But if both the army and ethnic armed groups were to make concessions, stop clashes, and started face-to-face dialogue, then the situation would change. But if they don’t, it will remain difficult to achieve peace.
KZM: We have seen increased reports of crimes like child rape and daytime robberies. What are concerned agencies and persons doing to handle child rape? What are the Parliament and judicial officials doing?
ZZ: Female lawmakers have asked in Parliament if the government could impose harsh penalties on offenders. And Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement U Win Myat Aye replied that the 1993 Child Law did not carry penalties for molesting minors, but it was being amended to be a child rights law and carry a jail term of a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of 20 for child molesters. Apart from the government enacting such a law, lawyers, judges, and police engaged in the judicial system should have a thorough knowledge of the law and apply it to the letter when administering justice. Finally, the government needs to widely educate the public about how they can participate in fighting against child rape.
KZM: Thanks for your contributions. Reviewing the politics of our country, our country now has a democratic government. But there are many problems ahead. The government is short on time [to focus on other issues] as it has been kept busy trying to solve problems dating back to 1962, when the military regime took power in Burma. My view is that the civil-military relationship is critically important because the Constitution has granted the army rights such as 25 percent of seats in the Parliament, and it continues to have a grip on three key ministries as well as other constitutional rights. If we assess Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, because she is the key player, it seems that she is focusing her efforts on national reconciliation as her top priority—to reconcile with the army leadership. She has come under severe criticism for this. Ethnic groups criticize her for not standing by them. And the international community criticizes her because she has kept silent about human rights issues, despite the fact that she is a Nobel laureate. So it is a tough situation for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to navigate.
There will be similar challenges for the government in 2017. It has been nine months since the government took power in April. By now we have seen the performance of ministers—which ones are productive and which are not. As the leader of our country, it is time for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to make an appraisal of the capacity of her cabinet members, especially since there have been criticisms from some lawmakers and commentators in this regard, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ought to think about how to effectively run her government for the next four years.
Thank you for your contributions. And Happy New Year!