From the Archive

Madeleine Albright Applauds Burma’s ‘Long Overdue’ Reform

By The Irrawaddy 25 March 2022

In June 2013, Madeleine Albright, a former US secretary of state who was at that time the chairwoman of US democracy-building NGO the National Democratic Institute, visited Myanmar in a high-profile demonstration of Western support for the political reforms then being implemented under the U Thein Sein government. During her trip she met with Vice President Nyan Tun, then-opposition and democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and other political and ethnic leaders. In a speech in Yangon, Albright drew favorable comparisons between Myanmar at that time and the “despotism” she had witnessed during her first visit to the country 18 years earlier. While urging political leaders to do more to curb ethnic violence, she stressed that “my desire is not to criticize your country but to encourage your democracy to grow.” To mark Albright’s death on Wednesday at the age of 84, we revisit this report published at the time of her visit.

RANGOON — Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is in Burma for the first time since 1995, on Tuesday congratulated the country’s move toward democracy and urged its leaders to stem religious and ethnic intolerance.

“Yours is not only a beautiful country, but also a hopeful one—full of energy, committed to reform, and preparing to resume its rightful place in the community of nations,” Albright said during public remarks at Rangoon University’s Diamond Jubilee Hall.

“For what you have done in the past to help your country move from despotism into a new era of hope, I congratulate you. For what you are doing now and will do in the future to create a robust and durable democracy, I applaud you,” she added.

Albright recalled back to her last visit in 1995, when she said the country was a place of fear, intimidation and economic stagnation, at a time when other countries in the region were moving forward. She noted the contrast with the Burma she returned to last week.

She praised the country’s reform process, including the appointment of a new president, the release of many political prisoners, a reduction in censorship, last year’s parliamentary by-elections and the planned general elections in 2015.

“The changes that have taken place are long overdue, but also necessary and important,” she said. “The most important, and often the hardest, is the need for patience. A successful democracy is not possible without trust between the Parliament and president, among different political parties, and between the people and governing institutions, including the military.”

Albright also addressed the recent communal violence in the country, describing the unrest as “disturbing incidents.”

“This kind of abuse against any group based on religion or ethnicity is unacceptable. The people responsible must be prosecuted. Vulnerable populations must be kept safe,” Albright said.

She said the leaders of every party and faction should endeavor to avert any religious- or ethnically based strife, which over the last year has seen religious buildings, schools and homes torched, and more than 150,000 people displaced.

“In emphasizing these issues, my desire is not to criticize your country but to encourage your democracy to grow,” she added.

Albright is the current chairwoman of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), an organization created by the US government to promote democracy in developing countries.

In her five-day visit to Burma, she met with Burmese political parties, ethnic leaders and civil society organizations in Rangoon to discuss the country’s political environment and ongoing reform process. She met with opposition leader and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw as well.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that Albright also met Burma’s Vice President Nyan Tun, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Thant Kyaw, and Deputy Minister at the President’s Office Aung Thein in Naypyidaw, where she reportedly held talks to boost ties between the United States and Burma. NDI has pledged to assist Burma in its democratic transition.

She also met Tin Aye, chairman of the Union Election Commission, with their discussion focusing on procedural matters as Burma gears up to hold elections in 2015.

Albright, the first women to become a US secretary of state, was part of a US diplomatic contingent that once delivered tough talk to Burma’s generals, warning that the country would face continued isolation if the leaders of the military junta did not take steps toward greater political freedom and democracy.

She met in 1995 with military intelligence leader Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt and other government officials, as well as Suu Kyi.