Former Diplomat, Junta Apologist to Lead Powerful New Ministry

By Tin Htet Paing 12 May 2016

RANGOON — A career diplomat, and past defender of Burma’s dire human rights record under military rule, has been chosen to head the powerful new Ministry of the State Counselor’s Office under Aung San Suu Kyi.

Win Htein, a senior member of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), confirmed to The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the name of Kyaw Tint Swe, a former ambassador and permanent representative of Burma to the United Nations during the military regime, would be submitted to the Union Parliament on Friday.

The creation of the new ministry was approved on Tuesday in the Union Parliament. President Htin Kyaw has defined the ministry in broad terms—implementing the “missions of national reconciliation, domestic peace, national development and the rule of law”—suggesting a powerful if unclear role within Burma’s new balance of executive power.

The ministry relates to the position of state counselor, created for National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi the previous month, to the chagrin of the military. The position guarantees Suu Kyi access to Parliament and all branches of government, and a mandate to shape policy at the highest level. Suu Kyi was barred from the presidency by a clause in the military-drafted 2008 Constitution disqualifying those with foreign spouses or children.

The 71-year-old Kyaw Tint Swe joined Burma’s Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1968 and worked in Burma’s embassies in Israel, Malaysia, Germany, Thailand and Japan, according to a UN website. From 2001 to 2010 he served as Burma’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Representing Burma in several international conferences, Kyaw Tint Swe countered allegations of the Burma Army’s violation of human rights and abuses against civilians in conflict zones. He claimed that Burma was “a victim of a systematic disinformation campaign,” according to a 2012 report by Burma Partnership, a Thailand-based pro-democracy group.

“I reiterate that these allegations were maliciously fabricated by two well-funded NGOs,” Burma Partnership quoted from Kyaw Tint Swe’s statement to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in 2003.

Until 2013, Kyaw Tint Swe also served as vice chairman of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC), a body founded in 2011 under former President Thein Sein. The MNHRC has been harshly criticized by human rights advocates as lacking independence, transparency and effectiveness in safeguarding the fundamental rights of Burmese citizens.

Kyaw Tint Swe also worked alongside Suu Kyi on the Letpadaung Investigation Commission, which in 2013 produced a controversial report on the Chinese-backed Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division—recommending that mining should proceed if certain environmental and social safeguards are met—prompting fury from local farmers who had lost their land to mine.

The NLD’s pick for Suu Kyi’s State Counselor Office’s ministry has put to bed widespread speculation that her close ally and longtime personal physician, Dr. Tin Myo Win, would take the position. Tin Myo Win has also been tipped to assume a leading role in negotiating peace with Burma’s ethnic armed groups.