The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 1 November 2015 expressed deep concern at the continuous resort to hate speech, provocation of communal hostilities and the abuse of religion for political purposes, incited by “extreme element among the majority community in Myanmar”.
“With the approaching elections on 8 November, he urges all concerned in Myanmar to eschew any kind of pressure, intimidation, dissemination of hatred or violence against individuals or organizations based on their ethnic identity, gender, religious persuasion or political views,” said a statement issued by Ban’s spokesperson in New York.
Ban noted the antagonism displayed in certain quarters against international organizations, including the United Nations.“He is concerned that continued impunity for such behavior could gravely damage the international image of the country,” said the statement.
Additionally, the UN chief deplored the particularly the vulgar remarks recently directed, not for the first time, against the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Yanghee Lee, for carrying out her mandate.
“The Secretary-General has addressed a letter to President U Thein Sein expressing his full confidence in and support for the important work being done by Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee,” the statement concluded. (Source: UN).
Leaders of four main religious groups call for tolerance
In the light of upcoming elections in Myanmar and amid reports of rising religious intolerance, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on 21 October 2015 welcomed a joint statement by the leaders of four main religious groups in the country calling for tolerance and respect of religious freedom as essential conditions for every child to grow and develop to their full potential.
“Religious leaders play an important role in advocating for children’s rights and earn public trust among their respective faiths,” explained Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Representative to Myanmar, in a press statement.
According to UNICEF, the call comes after reports of endorsing religious divides have been attempted for political gains in the 2015 elections in Myanmar.
The statement was released by Interfaith for Children, an inter-faith group that has insisted on putting children’s needs and rights at the centre of the elections.
UNICEF also said that the joint declaration by Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim leaders of the country reminded the public and politicians that children represent around one third of the country’s population.
The religious heads urged the public and politicians to put children and harmony first and that the efforts made for them now ‘will have a marked effect on their future.’
“Much of Myanmar’s future depends on what the Myanmar society will be able to do for children now. The coming elections are the perfect moment not only to commit to new policies, goals and resources for children, but also to emphasise the values of peace and tolerance which are so essential to their harmonious development”, added Bainvel.
The UN agency also added that the religious groups have urged parents and guardians of any faith to bring peace, harmony, understanding and cooperation without discrimination towards any race, religion or culture.
UNICEF added that this is the first statement issued by Interfaith for Children since April 2014, when the religious leaders from four different faiths came together for the first time in Myanmar’s history in support of child protection, survival and education.
Lastly, the agency reaffirmed its support of the Interfaith for Children and Ratana Metta Organizations (RMO) and reiterated its commitment to the realization of children’s rights and a tolerant society respectful of religious and ethnic diversity. (Source: UN).
1.8 million children not covered by the ceasefire accord
While the recent ceasefire agreement between the Government of Myanmar and representatives of eight ethnic armed groups marks an historic step for children in Myanmar who have suffered from some of the longest running civil conflicts in the world, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) remains concerned for an estimated 1.8 million children who are not covered by the accord.
In a statement on 19 October 2015, UNICEF welcomed the signed agreement that gives high priority to the protection of children in armed conflict, noting that the agreement is “opening the door for a favorable environment in which children can grow and develop, and benefit from the same opportunities as other children in Myanmar.”
According to UNICEF, it particularly calls on parties to stop grave violations against children, including their use and recruitment in the armed forces, attacks on schools and rights to receive humanitarian assistance.
“The ceasefire agreement provides a useful framework that will help accelerate all actions to protect children in armed conflict, making all signatories more accountable and, thus, serving as a game-changer for children living in the areas affected by conflict between the signatories and the Tatmadaw,” said UNICEF.
The lives of millions of children in Myanmar have been affected by these conflicts with the disruption of basic services, such as immunization and education, as well as increased risk of recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups.
However, the agreement does not cover all children, particularly those living in violent situations in Kachin and northern Shan, where continuing conflicts prevent them from accessing basic services.
UNICEF urged all parties still engaged in hostilities to “make every effort to end conflict and promote peace and development so that every child, wherever they live, can grow up in a united, peaceful and prosperous Myanmar.”
The agency has been working with the Government and people of Myanmar since 1950. In partnership with the Government and the civil society, its current focus of work aims to reduce child mortality; improve access and quality of education; and protect children from violence, abuse and exploitation.