Jimmy Carter ‘Deeply Concerned’ by Sectarian Violence and ‘Hate Speech’

By Paul Vrieze 6 April 2013

RANGOON—Former US President Jimmy Carter on Friday voiced “deep concern” over the recent inter-communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims, and the use of “hate speech” by some leaders. Burma should embrace religious tolerance, he said, or risk damaging its international reputation.

In a pithy 15-minute speech in Rangoon followed by a question and answer session, Carter set out his thoughts on Burma’s reform efforts towards establishing democracy, respect for human rights and peace and reconciliation.

“I am deeply concerned about the recent religious violence and tensions,” he said. “I am also disturbed by frequent reports I heard since I’ve been here about hate speech; where some prominent people, even religious leaders, speak hatefully about people who disagree with them about how to worship.”

“The recent violence risks damaging the reputation that you have gained for your country just as you are trying to rebuild it,” warned Carter.

From March 20-28, Muslim minority communities in 11 townships in central Burma suffered attacks at the hands of Buddhist mobs, often incited by unidentified groups of thugs. About 13,000 people were displaced and 43 people died.

He also urged respect for the rights of displaced Muslim Rohingyas in Arakan State, where about 125,000 people live in camps since sectarian violence broke out last year. The government has been criticized for blocking aid to displaced Rohingyas, who the state does not recognize as citizens.

“No people should ever be treated as inferior by the government or by other citizens,” Carter said. “It’s important for the government to allow freedom of movement and to support all displaced persons to return to their former homes.”

The 2002 Nobel Peace Prize laureate visited Burma as part of his work for the Carter Center, a long-running NGO that promotes human rights, peace, health and education. It has monitored 94 elections worldwide.

Carter met with many key figures, including President Thein Sein, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, 88 Generation Students activists and ethnic minority representatives.

He praised the ethnic armed groups and the government for reaching ceasefires in recent years, but added that achieving peace and reconciliation should be based on building trust between the country’s various political forces.

“Everyone I asked, what is the biggest problem in Myanmar? You know what they answered? A lack of trust,” he said.

Carter also took a moment to urge Burma to remain steadfast in its reforms when the process encounters expected setbacks.

“In a political transition process there is an early optimism that sweeps reforms along very rapidly at the beginning, but then as the transition continues and new challenges arise, the reform process slows down,” he said.

“In order to ensure continued success of the reform process it’s important for everyone to speak honestly and directly about the serious challenges that still exist,” Carter said.