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Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Trip to Nepal and Myanmar, March 28-April 6, 2013

April 8, 2013

Rosalynn, Trustee Sherry Lansing and I traveled on Trustee Richard Blum's Gulfstream and met David Pottie in Nepal and David Carroll in Myanmar. John Hardman was with us in both countries.


The Carter Center has been active in Nepal full-time since 2004, and I have returned to Nepal four times during the Maoist revolution and transition from the monarchy to a democratic republic. We have had the only international observer group there since the U.N. peace mission ended in January 2011, continuing our contacts with political, military, and civil society leaders with 12 international and 20 national observers deployed throughout the country. Our efforts have been to promote peace, democracy, and respect for human rights while being very careful to honor the customs, culture, and sovereignty of Nepal.

Unable to negotiate a constitution after five years of effort, an historic agreement has been reached for Supreme Court Justice Khil Raj Regmi to serve as acting prime minister in order to orchestrate elections this year at a date to be determined.

Goals in Nepal:

  1. To prepare for free and fair elections, accepted by all major political groups, and to observe the process;
  2. Help insure transition to a new and stable government;
  3. Help promote inclusiveness in Nepalese society; and
  4. Monitor local elections, not held for 15 years.

Nepalese political leaders have struggled with the degree of federalism to accept, how to involve different political and ethnic groups, to insure equal status for women, untouchables, and other marginalized people, to incorporate former Maoists fighters within the national army, and how to honor democratic principles in the aftermath of the historic caste system.

During our first afternoon we met with President Ram Baran Yadav, a Madhesi, former medical doctor and minister of health. I congratulated him on the great progress Nepal has made since I first came here in 1985, and he reported steady progress toward developing a comprehensive voters' list and making preparations for the next election, which is now scheduled for June but will probably be delayed until November. Serving under the acting prime minister is an adequately representative election commission. One faction of the Maoists is opposing this recently contrived political system, but the president believes the opposition can be overcome. The big question is how to form a system of federalism that represents ethnic and geographical divisions without too much fragmentation of the national system of governance. Local elections will be held after the national election while a new constitution is written by the elected parliament.

With Trustee Richard Blum we had a series of meetings to learn about the multiple projects of the American Himalayan Foundation involving preservation of native culture, education, health care, and prevention of the taking of Nepalese girls into sexual slavery.

In our meeting with Chairman Regmi, who is acting as prime minister, he emphasized his commitment to the same principles we had discussed with the president. He is willing to serve in this executive capacity until resuming duties as chief justice after a successful national election is complete, and said he will use whatever action is necessary to overcome the ongoing intimidation and violence designed to subvert the process.

From civil society leaders we learned about challenges to equality in civil, economic, and political affairs. For instance, mothers do not have the same status as fathers in assuring citizenship (and voting rights) for their children, and leaders of major political parties, all from the upper Brahmin class, have reduced the opportunity of disadvantaged people to be elected to parliament by increasing the portion to be elected by "first past the post" results instead of proportional representation from 40 percent to 50 percent.

Dalit leaders described the overt and covert obstacles placed in their path to full citizenship. They comprise 13 percent of the total population but are scattered geographically and lack both unity and effective leadership. None of the major parties now espouse their cause.

At dinner with Army Chief General Rana, he reported a successful incorporation of 1,400 former Maoist revolutionaries into the national army, with one colonel and two lieutenant-colonels. He said the military has been reduced in size, with half their helicopters grounded and in need of service.

The next day, Sunday, we made an early morning visit to the bustling Pashupatinath Hindu Temple area, where thousands of people were worshiping in the 600-acre compound. We watched the ceremonial bathing of deceased family members in a dwindling stream and the cremation of the bodies. They have an average of about 25 such ceremonies each day and are anticipating the installation of electric crematoria to replace the existing wooden pyres. We were impressed with the solemnity and enthusiasm of the crowd, which our guide said was the smallest of the week.

We then met with leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), Nepali Congress, United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Madhesi parties, indigenous groups, and the Election Commission. I also arranged a meeting with Maoist leader Baidya, who is attempting to disrupt the electoral process with protests, intimidation of voter registrars, and confiscation of computers and other material. He claimed that his opposition was peaceful in nature and promised to consult with other political leaders and to refrain from violence, but the next day they kidnapped three registrars, who were held for six hours. I told him he would either have to compromise or be restrained by police and face legal action.

Monday we went bird watching on a mountain overlooking the city and then met with Indian Ambassador Prasad and had a roundtable discussion with representatives of Denmark, the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, and Canada. At a large press conference, I outlined our impressions of the electoral process and answered questions.

Observations and conclusions:
The Carter Center enjoys widespread respect and appreciation for its long-term presence and our staff's constant visits to all parts of Nepal. The country has made great progress during our presence here since 2004, with an end of the civil war, replacement of the monarchy with a democratic republic, the incorporation of previously violent Maoists into responsible participants in government and society, and improvement of the status of women, Dalits, and other marginalized people. Their five-year effort to evolve a constitution has failed, and this contrived technocratic government of the four major parties and a chief justice appointed as acting prime minister is perhaps the best avenue to the election of a new parliament. I pointed out in my private meetings and through the news media our hope and expectation for improving the commitment to peace, a federalist democracy, improved equality for all citizens, the drafting of a new constitution, and a successful national election and local elections in the 75 districts and 4,000 villages. The Carter Center will observe and assist in all these activities as requested.

After completing a full agenda, we departed Tuesday morning for Naypyidaw, Myanmar.


Burma was renamed Myanmar in 1989 by an oppressive military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1962, until elections two years ago brought a surprisingly moderate and progressive president, General U Thein Sein, into power. He has released political prisoners, appointed a human rights commission, sought peace agreements with ethnic groups, and initiated reform measures that have earned the general approbation of the international community. The Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament have become relatively dynamic, with vigorous leadership, including Aung San Suu Kyi, liberated after more than 17 years of house arrest and now playing a strong role as leader of her NLD party. She is precluded from running for president in the 2015 elections by a provision in the constitution, but this impediment is likely to be removed. There are several strong ethnic groups struggling for equal rights, autonomy, or even independence, and this is perhaps the greatest challenge that must be overcome before the very poor nation can realize its great potential.

The constitution provides that 25 percent of parliamentary seats are allocated to the military, which gives them great influence over substantive laws and a practical veto over constitutional amendments. Both the NLD and the majority USDP party benefit from "first past the post" elections, where individual candidates with fame, party backing, or strong financing can usually prevail with a simple plurality.

Carter Center Goals in Myanmar:

  1. Support reform efforts of the government;
  2. Address serious challenges re religious conflict, especially fighting in Kachin and abuse of Muslims in Rakhine State;
  3. Determine a long-term role for The Carter Center and explore opening an office and later monitoring of 2015 elections;
  4. Assess electoral and constitutional reforms; and
  5. Discuss issues of land and economic development.

We landed in Naypyidaw, the new capital of Myanmar, and found a vast city, about 45 X 40 miles, beautifully landscaped, with 14-lane highways on which few cars and motor scooters are seen. The ministry buildings are large and ornate, widely separated, with just a few apartment buildings and other dwellings for government employees. A surprising number of hotels are under construction. None of the foreign embassies have moved here from Yangon, the former capital.

After receiving detailed briefings from Myanmar scholar Mary Callahan, we met for supper with "super" minister U Aung Min, who is in charge of all efforts to resolve the long-lasting and often violent differences with minority groups. He has been remarkably competent, and reported his top priority to be negotiating a cease-fire with the armed groups Kachin State, bordering China, where a majority are Christians. There are existing cease-fire agreements between the government and all other minority groups, but still remaining tensions. He downplayed the apparent sectarian causes of violence between Buddhists and other religions, asserting that the causes are mostly economic disparities. The Kachin issue is the most troubling of several altercations between the government and ethnic groups or among hostile groups in the same area. In Rakhine State, bordering Bangladesh, a large group of Muslims have been seriously abused. They consider themselves to be ancient citizens named Rohingya, while adversaries call them Bengalis and recent immigrants. Some in IDP camps live in dwellings subject to flooding during the coming rainy season and President U Thein Sein assured us their problem will be solved. I met with leaders on both sides and found them to be quite antagonistic, but they promised to comply with official pressures for restraint.

The neighboring Chinese are deeply involved in Kachin affairs, and have been observers during U Aung Min's negotiations. Kachin leaders want the United States, United Kingdom, and/or the U.N. to participate as witnesses, but heavy pressure from Beijing has prevented this involvement. This stalemate is preventing progress.

During the next two days we met with President U Thein Sein, both vice-presidents, speaker of the lower house of parliament, ministers of foreign affairs, health, population (who is beginning the first census in 30 years), and other key departments, the election commission, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the commander-in-chief of the military forces, General U Min Aung Hlaing. He is quite young and has the status of vice-president with enormous power, including naming 25 percent of the members of both houses of parliament.

After flying to Yangon, we met with leaders of the Myanmar Peace Center, civil society groups, ethnic political parties, the Kachin people, human rights commission, both sides of the Rakhine dispute, farmers, smaller Burmese parties, interfaith leaders, the international community, news media, and the "88 Generation." These are young human rights activists who were arrested in 1988 and imprisoned for almost 20 years. Now free, they continue to be quite vocal, and are considering forming a political party if necessary to reach their goals more effectively. Lacking cell phones and access to the Internet, they communicate mostly through BBC, Reuters, and other news media.

Early one morning we visited the beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda, which is plated with gold and surrounded by many other smaller pagodas and other ornate structures. It was claimed to be 2,600 years old, and thousands of Buddhist worshipers were there. I delivered a concluding speech the night before we departed and answered questions from a large audience.

Observations and Conclusions:
Although quite rich in oil, natural gas, forestry, rubies, jade, minerals, fertile land and surrounding seas, and blessed with remarkable tourist attractions, Myanmar is still one of the poorest countries in Asia. Especially around border areas, many people live in abject poverty without electricity, drinking water, and roads, and with low levels of education and health. They still suffer from economic boycotts by the United States and others. There are surprisingly few cell phones or opportunities for Internet access. Pervasive mistrust remains from decades of brutal military dictatorship, and there is serious friction between the dominant Buddhists and other religious groups.

Our impression of the president and other government officials (shared by all foreign diplomats with whom we met) was that they are dedicated to their reform programs and to resolving the threats to peace throughout the country. We found Daw Aung San Suu Kyi somewhat reticent about the ethnic problems and human rights issues, critical of the government reform efforts, but interested in economic development and the parliament's consideration of amendments to the constitution that will be necessary before elections can be held late in 2015. There is a general presumption that forthcoming changes will permit her to run for president, and she is extremely popular. It must be remembered that the military will be able to retain their preeminent position in the parliament and total control over the armed forces, since the elected president is not commander-in-chief.

We decided to open an office for The Carter Center and to prepare for monitoring the process of voter registration and elections for parliament and president if we gain expected approval from the government. In the meantime we hope to learn as much as possible about the country and its challenges and when appropriate to help further the notable reform process. We will comply with a request from President U Thein Sein to assist with evolving a Freedom of Information law.

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