71st UN Day Commemoration at the Yangon University

Photo: RCO/Ko Ko Latt

Let me begin with expressing my sincere appreciation to the august Rector and staff of the University of Yangon for hosting this event. We are honored to commemorate the partnership between the United Nations and Myanmar in this esteemed institution, so imbued with history. If walls could talk we would be here for days and months in wrapped attention listening to them!

Today we are commemorating the creation of the United Nations, born 71 years ago, in the wake of two horrendous world wars. After these wars a profound yearning arose across the world, a powerful feeling of “never again”. Never again to world war.

This lofty yearning for peace continues to be at the heart of the United Nations’ work.  It takes many forms including preventive diplomacy to avoid the escalation of tensions, the brokering of negotiated settlements to end conflicts, the deployment of blue-helmeted peacekeeping troops to protect civilians and support the implementation of peace agreements, and peacebuilding programmes that help societies rebuild after the fighting ends. 

Over time, the work of the United Nations gradually expanded to help UN Member States address a wide range of challenges including extreme poverty and neglect; social injustice; deaths from treatable diseases; gender-based violence; violence against children; the destruction of the environment and extinction of species, to name a few.

In November of last year, 193 of the UN’s Member States endorsed a framework that brings all these strands of work together under a clear set of global objectives: the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.  The SDGs are 17 specific goals to eradicate poverty, eliminate hunger, provide education, ensure gender equality, work with clean energy, address climate change, establish peace and justice and more.   The target date is 2030.  It will not be easy to achieve these goals, and there is much to be done in the years ahead.  But what could be more important than leaving a better world for our children?  Strive we must. And the SDGs provide us both with the vision and with a sense of collective urgency to do the right thing for the next generation.

Myanmar has a longstanding partnership with the UN which began on 19 April 1948 when Myanmar became the 58th UN Member State, a few short months after the country’s independence. During its sixty-eight years of membership, Myanmar has made many significant, and sometimes extraordinary contributions to the UN. Myanmar offered the UN its third Secretary-General, U Thant, who steered the world though an historically important period, from 1961-1971, leading and facilitating the resolution of multiple international crises. The UN benefited not only from the leadership of a skillful mediator and diplomat, but also from a man of great wisdom, vision and a profound understanding of human nature. U Thant’s huge portrait hangs on the wall at UN HQ and his astute and humane stewardship of the UN is deeply treasured.

Ever since, Myanmar’s cooperation with the United Nations has been at the core of Myanmar foreign policy. Over the years, this partnership has evolved, along with the country’s needs and circumstances. Today, the partnership has many dimensions, with Myanmar contributing to, and benefiting from, cooperation with the United Nations and its Member States.

The UN’s work is guided by the universal principals of equality and impartiality, and our support is provided regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation.  We place special attention on the most vulnerable, be they victims of natural disaster, armed conflict or otherwise living in difficult socio-economic or other circumstances.   

In Myanmar, the UN’s support to the people and government to achieve the SDGs is carried out through the work of 17 specialized UN agencies, with over 2,000 staff, and more than 60 offices spread across all of the nation’s States and Regions.  I am proud to say that the majority of our staff are Myanmar nationals.

The UN’s work here focuses on Myanmar’s own national priorities and needs. Our assistance therefore takes different forms. The UN provide humanitarian assistance.  This includes the provision of food, shelter and basic services to families affected by flooding or other natural disasters or displaced by fighting. In 2015, the UN-coordinated humanitarian activities worth almost $90 million from diverse donors.  

The UN provides development assistance.  The value of this support has been about $300 million annually in recent years. But much more important than the financial resources, is the UN’s substantial assistance in the form of technical expertise from around the world on a broad range of development issues covering education and health, social-economic development, good governance, elections and many other areas.   

The UN provides support for Human Rights. This work has many dimensions including support to end forced labour and use of child soldiers, combatting human trafficking and child labour, promoting labour standards, and ensuring that children are protected, including have access to basic documentation such as birth certificates.   

The UN supports peacebuilding and Myanmar’s peace process. The UN Special Advisor to the Secretary-General has accompanied the peace talks between the Government and Ethnic Armed Organizations for many years.  At the same time, the UN agencies on the ground have worked on peace related issues such as mine risk education, promoting dialogue in conflict-affected areas, support to IDPs and refugees and their return, and more recently supporting implementation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, through the ceasefire Joint Monitoring Commission (JMC).

The UN is also proud to support Myanmar in introducing international standards and norms, providing advice to the drafting of national policies and laws. Since joining the UN, Myanmar has signed more than 60 UN treaties and conventions, and in doing so, made an important contribution to strengthening international norms and principles.  Recently, in the State Counsellor’s visit to the UN General Assembly, the Government of Myanmar ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, demonstrating Myanmar’s firm commitment to global peace and security, and to the UN as the custodian of these international standards and norms.  

Myanmar’s partnership with the UN has been aided by our long-standing presence in the country, including during the long years of isolation when we remained engaged working with the people of Myanmar under difficult conditions.  By our presence in country, and through our national staff, we are able to better understand Myanmar, and we are also able to help the bigger global UN and its Member States to understand Myanmar, her people, their hopes and dreams, so that all of us are better informed and able to assist this great country.

Ladies and gentlemen, since the country’s reform process began in earnest, the speed of Myanmar’s transformation has never ceased to amaze. Major socio-economic, and political reforms are happening simultaneously, creating a dizzying pace and scope of change that is sometimes difficult to comprehend. Amidst such change it is important to note the many important milestones that have been reached along the way.  These include the holding of the 2015 elections and subsequent peaceful transfer of power to a new government, the signing of the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement by eight Ethnic Armed Organizations and convening of the recent Panglong for the 21st Century Conference that included NCA signatories and non-signatory organizations. Equally important the nation has seen an important increase in democratic space, and this has fostered press freedom, use of social media and robust public debate on a wide range of issues.   

I would put to you that the central challenge for Myanmar, supported by the United Nations, is to find ways to steer all the processes of national transition in a direction that ensures Myanmar meets the Sustainable Development Goals for all its people.

At the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals is the promise to leave no one behind, and the founding principles of respect for human rights, inclusion, sustainability and equity.   

The SDGs remind us that we live in an integrated and indivisible world, where the dimensions of development are large in scope and scale, and impact not only us humans, but also the beautiful planet we inhabit. To translate these multi-dimensional priorities into concrete actions, the SDGs must be tailored to local contexts and must be approached in an integrated way.

Experience tells us that rapid economic growth, for example, can provide great benefits. New and expanding businesses, growing salaries, technological innovations can all improve society.  At the same time, we must be aware that rapid growth can also create heightened inequalities in society.   Myanmar must strive to ensure that growth is not contained within Yangon and a handful of urban centres, but rather distributed and balanced to bring benefit to all of its peoples.  Marked economic inequality is frequently a source of criminality and social unrest, and can also have negative impacts on long-term economic growth – and is to be avoided.    

At the same time we must also balance economic growth with the need to protect the environment.  This requires careful planning and regulation of industries and activities that can contaminate soil, water or air.  To not do so can have potentially harmful effects on people, and on children who will inherit the long-term consequences of the decisions and policies we make today.  

So you can easily see how economic issues connect to environmental issues, and how they also connect to rule of law and peace issues as well.  Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals is no simple matter, and every nation including Myanmar grapples with complex decisions and difficult trade-offs as part of the process.  

Ladies and gentlemen, On the occasional of the UN’s 71st anniversary, I would like make clear that it is our hope that Myanmar’s leaders and people will look on the United Nations as its true and trusted partner in this journey.  There can be no doubt that it is up to the people of this great nation to chart their own course, but the United Nations can be of humble service in providing global knowledge, insight, and resources, to help.  We stand ready to continue to assist and are grateful for the opportunity to be part of this remarkable moment of opening up, of hope in the country.

With this commemorative event of the UN’s 71st anniversary, and armed with the SDGs, let us all reaffirm our commitment to a better and brighter future for all.  

On behalf of the UN System here in Myanmar, I extend our sincere gratitude to the Government and people of Myanmar, for their support to the United Nations. I also wish to express our deep appreciation to Yangon University for organizing this event, symbolizing the strong and fruitful partnership that we share. And special thanks to all of you students for your interest in international relations and the role of the UN therein.
Thank you – Kyay zu tin bar deh.