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Public Address by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter

Parkroyal Hotel, Yangon, Myanmar

Introduction by H.E U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell

AMB.DEREK MITCHELL: President Carter has been a hero of mine since I was all of 12 years old, when my mother and I stuffed envelopes in 1976 for my first presidential campaign in my home state of Connecticut.

I am really pleased that everyone is here today.

I often quote President Obama and his speech at Yangon University when he was here, when he said the most important job in a democracy is not being parliamentarian, not being president even, but being citizens.

Jimmy Carter's life, in partnership with his remarkable wife, Rosalynn, who is here with us today, embodies that truth about the responsibility we all have as citizens. And I mean not only as citizens of one's country, but as citizens of the world.

I can't list everything that President Carter has done in his life. And knowing him, I suspect that he would deeply dislike it even if I had the time.

But suffice it to say he has dedicated his life to what we call "the good fights," to fighting discrimination and intolerance of all kinds, whether based on gender, race, or ethnicity, as well as promoting human rights, human dignity, peace, and well-being for people at home and all around the world.

For more than 30 years, The Carter Center has been dedicated to these causes through activities related to conflict resolution, democracy promotion, and global health. How many people can claim that they have virtually eradicated an entire disease from the earth, as President Carter and his team are doing with Guinea worm in Africa.

For all this and more, Jimmy Carter received the Noble Peace Prize in 2002.

And of course, that's all in addition to having served as the 39th president of the United States.

So let me just say that after his speech he will take questions, and I know many of you have submitted questions by cards, and they will be read by his team who will be off to the side. So thank you to those of you who have submitted questions.

Without further ado, it is my great honor and distinct privilege to introduce to you Jimmy Carter.

JIMMY CARTER: First of all, I want to thank Derek for that good introduction.

I might tell you a few other things about us. My wife and I live in a little village in Georgia of 600 people. We still are farmers. We grow cotton and peanuts and corn on land that has been in our family for seven generations.

My wife and I have been married almost 67 years. I've only had one wife. And we have four children and 19 grandchildren. And we have two more coming this month. And both of them will be boys. So that completes my introduction of myself.

I would like for my wife to stand up, if she doesn't mind.

Let me say it is a great honor and pleasure for Rosalynn and me to be coming here to Myanmar, a country that we have wished to visit for many years.

I have been eager to learn more about your country's ongoing transition policies and the process toward democracy, peace, human rights, and economic development for all citizens.

During my visit, I have had the opportunity to chance with many people. I have met with your President U Thein Sein. I have met with the speaker of the lower house of Parliament, the Union Election Commission and all its members, the members of the cabinet, the commander in chief of the Armed Forces, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and other leaders of political parties and ethnic communities representatives, former political prisoners, the National Human Rights Commission, civil society organizations, farmers, the media, and religious leaders.

The rest of the time we have been resting and looking at the beautiful places here in your country.

I am grateful to all of these people for sharing their thoughts with me – their aspirations and hopes for the future and their concerns about the challenges that your great country is still facing.

I am filled with admiration for your nation's political leaders.

President U Thein Sein and his government have implemented a far-reaching reform process that has included freeing political prisoners, the forging of ceasefires in most areas of the country, the establishment of a Human Rights Commission that I mentioned, and the successful by-elections of 2012.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues of the National League for Democracy and the leaders and members of other democratic and ethnic political parties, civil society, and private citizens all have played key roles in this transition process.

The Parliament has been active and, I think, engaged, with its members addressing some of these most difficult problems. And parties that were formerly in extreme opposition to one another now sit together in harmony and discuss how best to move forward.

I also would like to express my admiration and respect for ethnic nationality leaders who are working for peace by signing ceasefires with the government and engaging in further political discussions to bring an end to the decades-long conflicts. There are still some conflicts that concern me very deeply.

Progress has been substantial. But there remains an enormous amount of work still to be done.

I have just come from Nepal, where they have had similar achievements, but the challenges they are facing also are very numerous, and they are not easily resolved.

As you all probably know, 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 process can slow down, and sometimes heavy criticism comes forward to the government from its own people and even sometimes from foreigners.

In order to ensure the continued success of the reform process, it is important for everyone to speak honestly and directly about the serious challenges that still exist.

It is a mistake to try to cover up the problems or challenges that we have.

The first of these challenges I want to address is the field of human rights.

I am deeply concerned by the recent religious violence and the tensions that have taken place in Meikhtila and other parts of the country.

I echo the remarks of President U Thein Sein that mutual respect, compassion, tolerance, open-mindedness, and empathy are the basis for a democratic society, including the right of all citizens to worship freely.

I also am disturbed about frequent reports I've 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.

I also am heartened and very pleased to know some people who are neighbors in one faith are protecting their neighbors of other faiths, sometimes at great risk to themselves.

Respect for human rights must be a cornerstone of Myanmar's political transition process.

The international community now stands with you in support of a Myanmar that is tolerant, diverse, multiethnic, and multireligious. The recent violence risks damaging the reputation that you have gained in your country just as you are trying to rebuild it once again.

The violence in Rakhine State last year resulted in over 100 deaths and more than 100,000 people displaced.

No people should ever be treated as inferior by the government or by other citizens.

It is important for the government to allow freedom of movement and to support all displaced persons to return to permanent homes.

As the rainy season is nearly upon us, there is a great urgency to address the immediate humanitarian needs of the IDPs that may result from flooding. Millions of them live in dwellings now that are in the lowlands and when the rain comes, they might be wiped out.

The second area that is critical to the success of the transition process, in addition to human rights, is peace.

I commend your political leaders for their recognition that peace is a prerequisite to achieving their goals.

I want to congratulate the leaders of all the cease-fire groups on the agreements that have been concluded to date.

I've been saying that Minister U Aung Min, about whom almost everyone is speaking favorably, has been doing a great job, and his efforts deserve full support from the military and also from all citizens.

It is critical to move beyond the ceasefires into substantive political negotiations, to address the key grievances and aspirations of this country's ethnic nationalities, such as the Shan, Mon, Karen, Kachin, Rakhine, and the Chin. I hope these efforts can be successful in the coming weeks and months.

I was saddened to hear of the renewal of conflict in Kachin State and northern Shan State, and also the significant escalation of fighting that took place there in the last six months.

There have been several rounds of negotiations recently to reduce the fighting, and this should continue.

Both sides must halt all offensive operations and make compromises for peace.

Any restrictions on humanitarian aid to the victims of the conflict should be lifted, so that those most in need are receiving vital assistance.

The third area I would like to address is equitable economic development.

I commend the government on its Framework for Economic and Social Reform.

It is important to ensure that the economic benefits of the transition are widely spread across the public at all levels. This is no simple task. My own country has seen this difficulty as the gap between the rich people and the poor people continues to widen despite our efforts.

I have heard many concerns about the "land grabs" that come from many people, and large development projects, some of which are notable; but the people who own the land should be protected legally if they have lived there for many years.

Speaking from my own experience as a farmer and from observing transitions around the world, I know that secure land tenure and ownership is essential to economic progress.

I would like to mention the international community, of which The Carter Center is a part.

After a long period in which your country was not able to engage fully with my country, the United States of America, and all the other nations, you are now receiving a surge of interest, I would say, and approval and support of other people.

Remember though that your country is a sovereign nation, and all the decisions about its future are in your hands. However, you should utilize fully the great desire around the world to support this process. That time may not continue indefinitely.

At the same time, the international community must ensure that our efforts are coordinated and support the goals and priorities of your nation's leadership.

All economic embargoes and restraints, Mr. Ambassador, should be removed.

I also hope that the attention you are now receiving continues over the long term, so that your friends in the international community are with you not just for the good times, but also the hard times that are sure to come.

There are exciting days ahead for all of you. Over the next year, your country will hold the World Economic Forum on East Asia, host the Southeast Asia Games, and chair ASEAN. These are events that were hard to imagine just a short time ago.

I also have spoken with many people about the elections planned for 2015. Following the successful by-elections in 2012, this will be an important demonstration of continued progress in the democratic transition process.

Decisions about the electoral system, which are now being considered by a committee in the Parliament, should be made as soon as possible in order to ensure sufficient time for the Union Election Commission to implement any changes before the election time comes.

Rosalynn and I and The Carter Center have observed over 90 elections around the world. The last one we was Kenya. It was our 94th election.

If we are invited, I hope that we will be back with you in 2015, along with a team of other international observers to support the process.

In closing, I would like to repeat my respect and admiration for the people and leaders of this great country as you move forward along a difficult and contentious transition path.

I hope that all citizens will respect human rights at the forefront. I would like to see you become a regional and global leader in this commitment to human rights.

I urge the government and the leaders of ethnic communities to reach an inclusive and just peace and a political solution to ethnic conflict. That is where the worst concerns still remain in this country. This will ensure harmony and prosperity for all citizens.

This is truly an historic period for your country's history. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Thank you very much.

Now I'll be glad to answer questions.

DR. DAVID CARROLL, CARTER CENTER: I have three similar questions here that I'll read all together. "What do you think about the current conditions in our country?" "Do you think our country has changed?" And, "What is your personal impression about the current socioeconomic and political changes in our country?"

PRESIDENT CARTER: Well, I did not know what to expect when I came here. And I was filled with some doubt and trepidation about whether the good reports I had received were true.

But after I met with your president, and after I met with the speaker of the Lower House, after I met with the military commander in chief, after I met with some of the cabinet members who are working for peace, after I met with the election commission and saw their determination to have a free and fair and open and safe election process, and after I met with people on the street and visited your beautiful historical sites, and after I came here, Yangon, and met with leaders of political parties and met with young people who had been in prison in the past for as much as 15 or 20 years and were now free; and when I met with the members of the election commission and also the members of the human rights commission that was established by your president….all these things have convinced me that not only the political leaders of Myanmar but also the civic leaders and the young people are determined to make sure that this commitment to freedom, to democracy, to human rights, and to economic equality of treatment will be honored. And so I am very pleased at what I have learned since I have been here.

But I wanted to repeat my warning when I made my speech that this early stage of promise and achievements is not going to continue in an interrupted path. You are going to have to be prepared for some setbacks and some difficulties. But I can assure you that the rest of world, including my own country, are all eager to help you achieve success. And I have confidence that together as partners, you and the rest of us in the world will achieve those goals that we have set. I am very proud of you and have complete confidence that the future will bring rich benefits to all citizens of this great country.

SARAH LEVIT-SHORE, CARTER CENTER: President Carter, I have two related questions: "What would you like to suggest for the peace process in Myanmar?" And, "How would you suggest to solve the conflicts facing the Kachin people?"

PRESIDENT CARTER: I think the … Perhaps the biggest problem that you have not yet overcome is the conflict between so many ethnic groups and the government and also some conflicts within the regions between ethnic groups who are neighbors. And this is a very serious problem if it's not solved.

However, I mentioned the minister, the peace leader with whom we met, Minister U Aung Min. We questioned him quite thoroughly about his own efforts to bring peace in those regions that you mentioned and to have a final cease-fire with the last remaining group, but also to move forward on existing ceasefires, some of which have been in place for 10 or 15 years but have not yet been fully implemented by on the ground achievements and harmony by the people themselves and between the people and the government.

And whenever I asked, "What is the biggest problem in Myanmar?", do you know what they answered? The lack of trust. A lack of trust. I think when the government and the people begin to trust each other completely, and when neighbors who worship differently trust one another, that is when the biggest problem will be overcome.

And I believe there's a determination to do that and with determination among good people who are free, success is almost inevitable. I believe we'll see success. Thank you.

DR. CARROLL: I have two questions that are similar to what you have just addressed, but I will ask them anyway. "What are the roots of intolerance and how does the society start to change, to become more tolerant?" And, "Do you believe that we can find a way to overcome religious and racial intolerance in our country?"

PRESIDENT CARTER: You heard a list of the people with whom we have met, even since we have been here, in Yangon. The most unpleasant meeting we had was when we had leaders of the Christian and Muslim and Buddhist religions in the same room. The arguments between them were disturbing to me.

And I have noticed that all the government leaders, when I asked them the question, said no, there's no religious differences, it is just a difference in economic status and so forth. But I think the religious differences are very serious.

I reminded leaders who I was listening to, from the three great religions, that they should remember that whether you are a Muslim or whether you are a Buddhist or whether you are a Christian or whether you are other religious believers, all of us share the same basic principles to which we are committed, and that is peace and justice and compassion for people in need and forgiveness and harmony. Those are the principles of a great religion. So if all of these people who now are criticizing each other would just remember what their own religions teach, then I think this real blight that still exists in some cases would be removed.

I have mentioned the hate talk, the hate speech, that really creates violence, but I also mentioned the fact that I have been encouraged by hearing about neighbors who have different religions but who protect and defend each other, even though it may not be convenient for them.

So this is a problem not unique to Myanmar. It exists in many countries where we have been. And it has been known to create wars between people very seriously down through the ages. So it's serious, but I feel that this great country can overcome this problem.

MS. LEVIT-SHORE: Mr. President: "How can your visit to Myanmar support the possibility of young people to affect the society positively during the transition process?"

PRESIDENT CARTER: We have met with the 88 Generation leaders who do not have a political party but have played a strong role in bringing about some of the reforms. These two young leaders with whom we have met are the ones that I mentioned who have been in prison for 15 or 20 years. One of them said he had been tortured while he was in prison.

But when you look at young people who have been in prison for 20 years, I say what about your children? Your children are now college students. And they assured me that young people now in universities are as excited as they are about the recent changes that have taken place in this country, and they want to be deeply involved in the political process and the economic development and the changes that are going to take place in the future in a relationship between people, as are the seniors and younger people.

So I think the young generation coming along needs special attention. I understand from your leaders that you have 162 universities here. So you have a great opportunity for educating these young people, and this will be a very great asset for your country to have the capability of educating young people.

And now there is more freedom on the university campuses than there has been in the past when these 88 community leaders were put into prison because they demonstrated for human rights. Now, of course, with freedom of speech, the young people will have a much greater chance to change society for the better.

Another thing that needs to be done in Myanmar that I have noticed is to have more access to cell phones and to the Internet. This is taking place in countries much poorer than yours. Almost every country in Africa has cell phones in almost every house. That has not yet happened in Myanmar.

But when that comes, so that the young people, and adults as well, can communicate with each other, can share ideas of a higher nature, inspire one another and cooperate, it adds vigor and excitement and dynamism and pleasure to the process as it takes place even in commerce and also obviously in entertainment and in education.

This has isolated farmers. I met with a farmer today who has a small rice farm. He was one of 10 children, so when his parents died, he just inherited a small area of rice. I talked to him at length. It (the Internet) would give him a chance to make sure he could sell his rice when the market was at the highest price. He told me something - I do not know if it is true or not - that when farmers weigh their rice, it weighs 100 kilograms. But when they deliver to the merchant, it only weighs 92 kilograms. If that is true, I hope the merchants will change their scales because that is not fair to the farmers.

Also, when a poor farmer only has one hectare on which to support his family, when his rice harvest is taken, he has to sell it to pay his expenses. But if he had a cell phone interchange, he could tell when the market was going to increase and wait a few weeks at the harvest time to get a better price for his produce.

So I think the implanting of more communication and more access to the outside world and more access to each other in this country through cell phones and the Internet will be a great boon to the country that many of you still have not yet had a chance to experience.

So that is one of the things that I think we can do to make your country better in the future and more enjoyable as well. Also I would like to be able to call some of you on my cell phone when I get home.

DR. CARROLL: President Carter, a question about the rights of a minority in democracy: "If a majority of people deny the rights and existence of a minority ethnic group, can we say it is democratic and fair because it is a majority decision?"

PRESIDENT CARTER: No, you cannot. Democracy has two features in it. One is that the people can elect their own leaders and participate in the government, and the leaders have to be responsible to the people for their actions and for their performance.

The other thing is that a majority of people in a community cannot persecute the minority. That is not democracy. A democracy means that every citizen in a country has equal rights under the law and deserves the respect of the government and deserves the respect of neighbors who have a different social status or economic status or worship in a different way. Equality of treatment as well as the freedom to choose your own leaders through democratic principles is obligated foundations for any democracy.

MS. LEVIT-SHORE: President Carter: "What role does health and education play in our ongoing transition process?"

PRESIDENT CARTER: The Carter Center, as the ambassador mentioned, has a major project around the world of giving better health care to the very poorest people on earth. We have programs in about 35 countries in Africa, for instance, and there, there are hundreds of millions of people afflicted by diseases that are no longer in your country or in India or other countries as well; they're certainly not in Japan or in the United States or in Europe.

So health care and education, I think, go very closely together. We have found, for instance, that when a mother is educated, she is much more likely to make sure that her children have good health care, because she is able to know what to do to keep them healthy.

And of course, a healthy government and healthy people are obviously much more likely to have funds and resources and also the ambition to educate themselves. So I do not think that there is any way to separate the two. And this is another place where the communication system can be very helpful. People living in remote areas, like farming areas that are very poor, will have access to information about how to take care of themselves not only in their own business and learning about the world, but also how to earn a better income.

So I would say that good health and good education are two of the foundations for any kind of economic progress and also the foundation for sustaining the democratic principles and human rights principles that you have adopted.

DR. CARROLL: Do you have time for two more questions?


DR. CARROLL: Mr. President: "During the time of transition to democracy, what is the appropriate role of political parties and what is the role of individual interest?"

PRESIDENT CARTER: Well, my hope is that people who have a special interest in participating in the political process either join a party, or if you have ambitions, run for parliament in the state or in the national Parliament. But I don't think there's any doubt that individual citizens can demonstrate their commitment to democracy by participating in the electoral process.

And as you go through the census that is now taking place, which will be the first one, I understand, in more than30 years, this will give every citizen in this country the chance to identify themselves and be recognized by the government permanently as worthy of address. And a lot of the information that goes into those census data can be shared with election officials when the registration comes.

In your country, the voters will be registered on the list by polling officials going from one house to another. And as they go into the house to register you, I hope that you will register to vote and that you will participate when the election comes along.

And also I hope that all of the smaller parties in Parliament will be treated fairly. Earlier today, I met with representatives of several of the smaller parties - some of which had as many as 16 members of Parliament in the various legislatives bodies; one brilliant, bright party leader said that his party did not have anybody elected to Parliament, but that they tried but didn't get anybody elected, and he was defeated himself in Parliament. But I think participation in the democratic process is not only an exciting thing, an unpredictable thing, as I found out t myself, but it is also a gratifying thing, just to be part of a community that's trying to bring about democracy and freedom.

Let me say in closing that I appreciate a chance to be with you tonight. You have been very gracious to come and listen to my comments, and I want to remind you that we have only been here for a few days. But my wife and I have visited more than 140 countries in the world, and I would say that this has been one of the most pleasant and challenging and I would say encouraging visits I have ever had. I wish you well and no matter how you worship, I am a Christian, and I pray that you will be successful in all your efforts. Thank you very much.

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