Tag Archives: Asia Society

Meeting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

26 Sep

(Me and Suzanne DiMaggio co-moderating the Q and A session. Photo Courtesy of Asia Society/Joshua Roberts)

It was such an honor to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi last week and co-moderate the question and answer session that followed her remarks at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). She is an inspirational woman who epitomizes the strength of peace, tolerance and dignity.  I was most struck by her comment that it is when we seek to help others, that we have the chance to help ourselves.  In essence, she was saying that when we endeavor to help others, it gives us the opportunity to shine a mirror and reflect upon ourselves, and where we can strive to improve ourselves, in the process.

I am cross-posting below an article from the USIP website on the event and our work in Burma/Myanmar.  The full link is: http://www.usip.org/publications/burmamyanmar-democracy-activist-daw-aung-san-suu-kyi-calls-us-support-easing-sanctions-

Burma/Myanmar Democracy Activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Calls for U.S. Support, Easing of Sanctions at USIP

September 2012 | News Feature by Thomas Omestad

September 18, 2012

(From left to right: Me, Suzanne Di Maggio, Jim Marshall, Aung San Suu Kyi, Hillary Clinton, Henrietta Fore & Tom Freston)

Longtime democracy champion Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, appearing at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) on September 18 at the beginning of a 17-day visit to the United States, called for continuing U.S. support on behalf of the Southeast Asian nation’s transition to democracy and for a further easing of the U.S. economic sanctions that remain in place following decades of military dictatorship.

“I do not think that we need to cling on to sanctions unnecessarily, because I want our people to be responsible for their own destiny and not to depend too much on external props,” she told an audience in USIP’s Carlucci Auditorium and watching on the web. Burma, also known as Myanmar, will need external support from its friends, she said, but “in the end, we have to build our own democracy for ourselves.”

Suu Kyi, who is now a member of Burma’s parliament and chair of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), thanked Americans, “who have stood by us through our hard years of struggle for democracy,” and sketched out the challenges remaining to “rebuild our nation in a democratic mold.” She cited as reform priorities establishing the rule of law across Burma’s executive, legislative and judicial branches; ending the country’s ethnic conflicts with a commitment to mutual respect and human rights; and instituting amendments to Burma’s constitution.

The event was jointly sponsored by USIP and the Asia Society, the lead partner in USIP’s initial efforts to assist Burma in its political transition. The Institute is working with the Asia Society and the Blue Moon Fund to share information and experiences on issues identified by Burmese related to the rule of law, religion and peacemaking, democratic governance, conflict resolution and the capacity of Burma’s media to promote conflict-sensitive approaches.

Suu Kyi was welcomed by USIP’s new president, Jim Marshall, and by Henrietta Fore, the Asia Society’s co-chair. She also accepted the 2011 Global Vision Award from the Asia Society after her address at USIP.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who met with Suu Kyi at the State Department earlier in the day, called the event “an extraordinary, auspicious occasion” and introduced Suu Kyi as “someone who has represented the struggle for freedom and democracy, for human rights and opportunity, not only in her own country but seen as such around the world.” Suu Kyi spent most of the past two decades—until late 2010—under house arrest as the leader of Burma’s leading democratic opposition party. “Suu Kyi’s courage and moral leadership never wavered,” Clinton said.

The secretary of state noted that Burma’s government under President Thein Sein has released hundreds of prisoners of conscience (including some this week), legalized opposition parties, reduced restrictions on the press and on freedom of assembly, expanded workers’ rights and negotiated ceasefires in some of the country’s ethnic conflicts. The United States has already begun easing sanctions and allowed American companies to invest in Burma. However, she also noted that political prisoners remain, ethnic violence continues and “some military contacts with North Korea persist.” The reforms are “still a work in progress,” she cautioned, while describing ongoing consultations with the Burmese government and others allowing the United States to “provide the help and support that is necessary and appropriate.”

Suu Kyi acknowledged the difficulties that remain. “We are not yet at the end of our struggle but we are getting there,” she said.

A Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Suu Kyi reviewed decades of Burmese-U.S. relations that eroded dramatically after Burma’s military established dictatorial rule in 1962. Her NLD was allowed to vie for seats in parliamentary by-elections in April, and the party won 43 of the 45 seats that were up for election. She credited Thein with prompting the country’s political changes: “I believe that he is keen on democratic reforms, but how the executive goes about implementing these reforms is what we have to watch” she said. Burma and the United States need to continue working “to establish a strong, healthy relationship,” she said, adding, “Now, it is time for you to be friends with our whole country…to be able to help us realize our aspirations.”

Suu Kyi made reference to the dissatisfaction some opposition activists felt with her decision to lead the NLD into parliament and ty to work within the existing political system. “We’re finding our way,” she said. “We are beginning to learn the art of compromise, give and take, the achievement of consensus.”

She focused particular attention on Burma’s need to establish the rule of law and to peacefully address the ethnic conflicts that have seized parts of the country for years. “Without rule of law, you cannot have the kind of economic reforms that will lift our people out of poverty,” she said. On the longstanding communal tensions in such areas as the states of Rakhine and Kachin, Suu Kyi said the opposition did not seek to capitalize politically but urged that respect for human rights and rule of law were essential to “build up ethnic harmony in our country.”

USIP this year has hosted Track II-style dialogue sessions on Burma’s political transition out of authoritarianism with representatives of the Myanmar Development Resources Institute (MDRI), senior advisers to Burmese President Thein and U.S. experts. Institute specialists in the areas of rule of law, inter-religious coexistence and media development have also met in Burma with Burmese in and out of government to assess where USIP might provide democratic transition assistance, and its Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding has started training Burmese specialists participating in courses on governance, building institutional capacity, economic reconstruction and addressing societal trauma from conflicts.

Suu Kyi’s trip will include meetings with other U.S. officials and lawmakers, journalists, university audiences and Burmese American communities. In addition to Washington, D.C., she is scheduled to visit New York, Kentucky, Indiana and California. On September 19 at the U.S. Capitol, she will receive the Congressional Gold Medal. It was awarded to her in absentia in 2008.

Explore Further

Here is the event announcement:

(Link: http://www.usip.org/events/burmamyanmar-in-transition-conversation-aung-san-suu-kyi)

Burma/Myanmar in Transition: A Discussion with Aung San Suu Kyi

After decades of stagnation under military rule, Burma/Myanmar finds itself in a particularly fluid and fragile transition. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been at the fore of her country’s transition, helping reshape its political development path.

Aung San Suu Kyi returned to Burma/Myanmar from Britain in 1988 to care for her mother. Shortly after, she became leader of the largest uprising in Burma/Myanmar’s history. In 1990, Suu Kyi’s party, National League for Democracy (NLD), won Burma/Myanmar’s first free elections in 30 years by a landslide. The country’s military junta refused to cede power, and Suu Kyi was forced into house arrest for nearly 15 years. During this time, she remained the Chairperson and General Secretary of the NLD and continued to push for justice and sound rule of law. She was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 2011, a new, quasi-civilian government took power and boldly began to implement democratic reforms, which continue today. This April, Aung San Suu Kyi was elected into Burma/Myanmar’s parliament and continues her work to transform her country into a just and democratic state.

In her first visit to the United States in more than 20 years and her first public event, the United States Institute of Peace and the Asia Society were honored to host Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for an engaging discussion on the democratic transition in Burma/Myanmar, the challenges that lie ahead, and the potential for a promising future.

Speakers:

  • Aung San Suu Kyifeatured speaker
    Member of Parliament, Burma
    Chairperson and General Secretary, National League for Democracy
  • Hillary Rodham Clintonintroductory remarks
    Secretary of State
    United States Department of State
  • Jim Marshallopening remarks
    President
    United States Institute of Peace
  • Henrietta Foreopening remarks
    Co-chair
    Asia Society
  • Tom Frestonpresenter of Asia Society Global Vision Award
    Trustee
    Asia Society
  • Suzanne DiMaggioco-moderator
    Vice President, Global Policy Programs
    Asia Society
  • Colette Rauschco-moderator
    Director, Rule of Law Center
    United States Institute of Peace

Explore Further

Start Date:

September 18, 2012 – 12:30pm

End Date:

September 18, 2012 – 1:30pm

Location

United States Institute of Peace
2301 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20037

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Democracy is a Process — and a Journey: Burmese delegation visits Capitol Hill

13 Jul

Yangon, Burma

Here is a blog I wrote that was posted on the USIP Olive Branch post so I am cross-posting it here.  Here is the link to the blog on the USIP website: http://www.usip.org/publications/democracy-process-and-journey

Democracy is a Process – and a Journey

Burmese delegation visits Capitol Hill

July 2012 | Olive Branch Post by Colette Rausch

Together with our partner the Asia Society, USIP hosted representatives of the Myanmar Development Resources Institute (MDRI) and legal advisers to Burma’s president to Washington, DC. Their visit was part of an informal dialogue process between experts from the U.S. and Burma to explore opportunities to advance relations between the two countries.

In addition to learning about issues related to the rule of law, the Burmese delegation was keen to understand the hallmarks of our democratic system of governance, forged over 200 years. As part of that exploration, the delegation visited the U.S. Congress.

As we walked the Capitol’s hallowed halls, I found myself reflecting on our history and the principles that our country was founded on. As director of the Rule of Law program at USIP, I have always held closely the principle that we are a “nation of laws, not of men.” As I stood in the rotunda surveying the paintings depicting different stages of our nation’s development, I found myself in awe of our system and reflecting on the foresight and vision of our founders.

During our visit, we met with a group of congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle who answered questions our Burmese delegation posed to them. They were just as eager to learn first-hand about developments in Burma as the Burmese were to learn from them.

I had wondered how the current example of our country’s partisan divide would be perceived by our Burmese guests. As if reading my mind, one of the congressional staffers pointed out the fact that ours is a system where tension and differences between ideas is nothing new, and, in fact, built into our democracy to ensure fairness, thoughtful debate and cautious deliberation.

One staffer told us how it took him some time to adjust to the duality of cooperating with a colleague across the aisle on one measure and then having to oppose him or her on another – in the same day.

And to prevent tyranny, our government has been divided into three equal bodies, none supreme over the other – their shared goal to not create a perfect union, but a “more perfect union.” The Burmese delegation was particularly interested in how the balance of power worked in practice between our three branches of government.

As part of their visit to Congress, the delegation was invited to sit in the first row of the confirmation hearing of Derek Mitchell, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Burma. Here, the Burmese were able to witness first hand our bi-partisan congress in action, as senators expressed common wishes for the success of Burma’s embrace of democracy, and the varying and occasionally opposing perspectives from which each party viewed Burma’s democratic transition.

I was grateful for the opportunity to experience our democracy through the eyes of the Burmese legal advisers as they set out to create a new system of governance based in part upon the lessons from their visit.

If there was one lesson the Burmese came away with that day – that we’d be wise to never lose sight of ourselves – it is that democracy is a process and a journey, and not a single culminating event.

Colette Rausch is the director of USIP’s Rule of Law department.

In the Capitol Rotunda (Photo courtesy of Debra Eisenman)


Continuing Burma’s Transition to Democracy

26 Apr

Here is a news article posted on the United States Institute of Peace website today on a roundtable we held this week on Burma and our Track II dialogue process:

April 2012 | News Feature

April 26, 2012

The Asia Society and the U.S. Institute of Peace on April 25 co-hosted an invitation-only roundtable that brought together representatives of the Myanmar Development Resources Institute (MDRI) and U.S. experts as well as policymakers to exchange views on the current situation in Burma. The meeting is part of an informal dialogue—an ongoing channel of communication—between experts from the United States and Burma to explore opportunities to advance U.S.–Burmese relations during a fragile period of transition in the Southeast Asian nation.

The meeting came on the same day that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell testified before Congress on U.S. policy toward Burma.

Expectations for significant change in Burma—a country run for decades in autocratic fashion by military-dominated governments—were low after its November 2010 elections and the establishment of a new government in March 2011.

Yet, several months after taking office, President Thein Sein introduced a series of political and economic reforms, and the parliament began debating wide-ranging legislative reform—all of which has spawned cautious optimism in Burma and abroad.

“The country has expressed an eagerness to rejoin the world community through democratic reform and resolving its internal ethnic conflicts,” says Colette Rausch, director of USIP’s Rule of Law Center.

In January 2012, an Asia Society delegation visited Burma to engage in Track II dialogue with MDRI, a new and independent think tank based in Yangon whose advisers provide policy advice on political, economic and legal affairs to Burma’s president.

The delegation included Suzanne DiMaggio, Asia Society’s vice president of global policy programs; Priscilla Clapp, former U.S. chargé d’affaires in Burma; Rausch of USIP; Ji-Qiang Zhang, vice president of programs for the Blue Moon Fund (an environmental foundation based in Charlottesville, Va.); Debra Eisenman, assistant director of gobal policy programs at the Asia Society; and Billy McCarthy, program assistant for Blue Moon Fund.

In concert with lead partner Asia Society and the Blue Moon Fund, USIP plans to continue its involvement in the Track II dialogue with MDRI advisers with the aim of assessing and then assisting the needed reforms identified by the Burmese people, which may include rule of law, democracy building, environmentally sustainable development and people-to-people exchanges.

As Demand for Reform Grows in Burma, the U.S. Opens a Door

18 Jan

I returned from Burma a few days ago.  It was an amazing trip.  The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) posted my write up on the trip.

http://www.usip.org/in-the-field/demand-reform-grows-in-burma-the-us-opens-door

As Demand for Reform Grows in Burma, the U.S. Opens a Door

(NYT PHOTO)
January 14, 2012

USIP’s  Colette Rausch, director of the Institute’s Rule of Law program, is in Burma at a historic time. The U.S. on January 13 announced it would send an ambassador to Burma after the military-led government agreed to free political prisoners and implement other reforms just the day before. This effectively ends the U.S. isolation of the Burmese government. Around the same time, the Karen rebels agreed to a ceasefire, potentially ending decades of fighting. Just prior before these major developments, Rausch filed the dispatch below from Yangon, the former capital of Burma.

Yangon, Burma

This past year, Burma saw significant changes designed to transform it from a country in total isolation and under complete military rule to a budding democracy. Since his election in 2010, President Thein Sein has introduced positive, yet incremental reforms on the political, social and economic fronts. With these reforms, public skepticism is slowly diminishing and in its place is cautious optimism. Contributing to this optimism is Aung San Suu Kyi’s willingness to join the still imperfect political system in support of President Sein’s efforts to reform. She will be running for a vacant seat in the parliament in the April 1 elections. Though there is a long road ahead to democracy, and the potential for reversal remains, many are beginning to believe that the positive change underway must be nourished and reinforced by institution-building in order to make it more difficult to turn back. The key challenge is how to carry the transition safely over the hurdles presented by Burma’s decades-long isolation and totalitarian history.

I have been in Burma for the past week as part of a delegation led by the Asia Society to engage in Track II discussions with representatives from a newly created, independent research institute that provides policy advice to Burma’s president. The goal of the dialogue is to establish an ongoing channel of communication and explore opportunities for cooperation to advance relations between the U.S. and Burma. Discussions focused on issues related to environmental sustainability and economic development, rule of law, democracy building and people-to-people exchanges. During our meetings in Yangon and Burma’s capital Naypyitaw, we also met with government officials, representatives of the business community and civil society.

The years Burma spent in isolation has left it without the tools for managing modern political and economic life. There is an urgent need for exposure, awareness and capacity building to develop the systems and structures needed to foster an emerging democracy. During our trip to Burma this month, a common refrain from those we met was: “we lack awareness, knowledge and capacity. Without these, we cannot build our democracy.” As one person declared, “We have been hibernating for so long. We are starved for information and capacity building. Only a small handful in the country have capacity and that is not enough.” Accordingly, training is needed in all sectors: public, private, government and civil society. There is recognition that their lack of capacity is debilitating and they welcome assistance. “We need everything. You name it, we need to reform it,” one person said.

Further, Burmese business, government and civil society representatives with whom we met were very humble and welcoming of assistance, specifically from the U.S. The new government’s reform element believes in an urgent need to move reforms forward and to do it properly, inclusively and in line with democratic principles. Those we met with:

  • Seek to stimulate economic growth but with sustainability and environmental factors integrated
  • Recognize the need for the government to show timely and concrete deliverables to the Burmese people
  • Understand that the country is stymied by economic sanctions compounded by a lack of human and institutional capacity to deliver on needed reforms

With the desire for change growing, the government faces the precarious task of balancing the need for immediate changes with the need to make good reform decisions and to maintain stability. Despite the incremental nature of the actual changes on the ground so far, it is certain that the new government contains a strong reform element that is giving the Burmese people new hope and even respect for the government, especially the president. But it will be critical to deliver tangible positive outcomes for the people soon.

Our delegation included Suzanne DiMaggio, Asia Society’s vice president of Global Policy Programs; Priscilla Clapp, former U.S. chargé d’affaires in Burma; Dr. Ji-Qiang Zhang, vice president of Programs for the Blue Moon Fund (an environmental foundation based in Charlottesville, VA); Debra Eisenman, assistant director of Global Policy Programs at the Asia Society; and Billy McCarthy, program assistant for Blue Moon.

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