Speech by H.E. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor and Union Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar at the International Parliamentarians Conference

 (4th May 2017, Rome)

Mrs. Pia Locatelli, Coordinator of the Group on Global Health & Women’s Rights

Mrs. Laura Boldrini, President of the Chamber of Deputies,

Mrs.Linda Lanzillotta, Deputy President of Senate,

H.E. Mr. Paolo Gentiloni, President of the Council of Ministers,

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to attend this International Parliamentarians Conference. I was happy to come for many reasons. First of all, because it is a parliamentary conference, and I think that parliamentis very important for the development of democracy. In my country, democracy is very young, and still yet incomplete. We look to friendsfrom all over the world to help us in our journey forward. And I would like to take this opportunity particularly to thank Albertina Soliani for being a good friend to us. We’re here of course to discuss problems. When conferences like these are convened, it’s hugely to discuss problems. But the best way to resolve problems is by talking to friends, listening to them, and coming to a conclusion together.

The issue of migration is something that has been with us almost assume as we emerge onto our two feet to start to thinking because we were able to think that we have this concept of greener pastures to which we could move is where if our homelandis inadequate. My country is a country of much diverse strength. Diversity is something that we are proud of, the richness of it is something that we would never like to let go. But building unity out of diversity is a great challenge. In my country, there are officially 135 ethnic groups. And after years of dictatorship, it is still a fractured society. We have still to build a nation in which all can live together in peace and harmony because all feel secured. I’ve always made a point of sayingthat “Security and Freedom” have to be given in the right balance if our people are to understand benefits of democracy.“Security and Freedom”, “Rights and Responsibilities”, these all have to go together.

As we go forward in our journey towards democracy, as I said we’re still yet on the road we have not achieved our goal. But we are ready to assume all the responsibilities that we must as a government that has been chosen by the people, even if we do not have all the rights that will normallybe given to a government, which is chosen by the people. It is for this that we accept those responsibilities of resolving problems in our country including that of migration. We have many experiences of migration in our country. They are economical and social migrants who have left our country to find a better place, somenot just to better their lives, but for the very sake of survival.

We also have people who are internally displaced because of conflicts and because of the lure of natural resources. For example, we have many people gravitating to the jade mines and those who have hoped to make their lives better by working there are found themselves victims of drug abuse and other crimes and their lives have not become better but much worse.

We also have the problem that there are many internally displaced persons’ camps, IDP camps, where there are few men but many women and children. So the question of protecting our women who have been displacedfor various reasonsis one that we have to deal with practically and on an everyday basis. It is sad, but we have to accept the fact that these internally displaced people will not have been able to return to their homes too soon. So, in the meantime, what we are concentrating on now is making sure that the health and education of their children are takencare of. And that also the women themselves are empowered to take control of their own lives. Often, the men are either involved in the conflicts themselves or fleeing from the conflict areas, in case they are drawn into conflicts against their will. So, it is left to the women to take care of their children and to chart out the map of the future.

We, as a country that is not rich and a country that is, onlynow, starting to take responsibility for itself.I do not think any country that lives under dictatorship can be said to be taking responsibility for itself, because dictators, I won’t say they take all the responsibilities,but certainly they take all the power, and that means that nobody is giving a chance to map out their own future. We are now trying our very best to bring about national reconciliation. National reconciliation in different fields and different levels,between different ethnic groups,between different communal groups, between people of different political ideas,for example, there are those who still think that democracy is an alien concept, which is not suitable for our country. We have had tried very hard to explain that democracy may be a foreign word. We say “de-mo-cracy” in Burmese. We don’t have our own native expression for it. And often we have to explain what it means. So, democracy is still, to many of our people, an alien concept. But at the base is the belief that the people together can do better than a small dictatorship at the top of a nation. It is the beliefin the people, respect for the people, a willingness to listen to the voice of people. That is the basis of democracy. And out of that, we have to try to resolve our problems.

Today we’re talking about the problem of women in migration. Migration, particularly, with regard to the problems that brings to women. The speaker before me has gone into much detailed about the way in which women and children are exploited when they are caught up in the migration waves. They are exploited because they’re vulnerable, because they are weak, and because there are not enough institutions to protect them, but it’s although we have many people migrating, going out of our country in search of the worldwe accept that we are responsible for them.

I think we have to start with the recognition of responsibility. It is a responsibility of each government to do its best to give security to its people. Material security, political security, social security all of these we must try our best to give to our people. And already I have said, we are not a rich country, and we are very young with regard to democratic practices. We are ready to take on this responsibility. And we would like to do it in consultation with like-minds who believe in respecting the people and trying to build better lives for them.

We would like to invite our friends here to come to my country to see for themselves how the problems are on the ground, and that we are facing them with the best of the wisdom that we can curl from our people, and in the most practical way. Democracy has to work on a practical basis. It cannot just be a theory that government of the people is necessarily the best government. We have to prove that the governments for the people, by the people, of the people areactually best for the people, and to prove that we have to offer them many various ways in which they can build up their own lives and initiate that is satisfactory for them. We cannot all live inthe same way.

Why do our people migrate? Why are there so many workers, migrant workers from my country, for example, in the neighbouring country of Thailand, there are nearly 3 million migrant workers from our country. I would like them to come back home but only if we can offer them something. They will not come back to nothing. They will not want to come back to nothing. It is not enough just to have camps for them. People do not want to live in camps ever. We have camps inside our country for internally displaced people. We do not want our migrant workers to come back and find that they are without homes; they are without jobs; their children are without school; and that they are without hospitals to take care of their health. So we have to build up a society, which is ready to welcome back our people when and if they feel like coming back. At the same time, I appreciate the difficulties of the host country. And our policy is to establish good relations with the host country of our migrants and to work out the problems together because the host country has its problems too. And we have to recognize that. We have to recognize that we play a part in this migration problem because our country was unable to provide adequately for our people, the migration started. So this is the problem that we have to work at together. It is not something that we can resolve by trying to apportion blame, but to try to find ways of co-operatingin order to meet these challenges one at a time. We can’t do everything at once.

Earlier before we came to this conference, we were discussing the rule of law. The rule of law is a very new concept in my country. Many people do not even understand what law isfor. I was saddened when I met some law students, just a couple of years ago;I asked them what they thought the law is for, and they said they thought the law is to punish people. This is not a very happy answer. I have tried to explain it to them. Ideally laws are there to create harmony and security in society. Sowe can all live in peace with one another. This is a base to make our people understandthat we want them to have all the rights that democracy allows, but at the same time, they must assume all the responsibilities as well.

And in the way which we meet the challenge of our migrants, we take the same attitude. We are prepared to take all the responsibilities that we possibly can. And we would like all our people to be involved in shouldering theseresponsibilities. And we would like to liaise and to be on good terms with the host country of our migrants. So we can come to an understanding and as the best way in which migration will be able to positively contribute towards the happiness and well-being of all the countries concerned.

Human trafficking is something that we have to deal with on everyday basis. This is not easy for a country like us where we have less than 50 percent of the police force that we really need. We are right at the beginning of the ladder when it comes to affluence and prosperity,but when it comes to problems;we are right at the top. So there is a big gap that needs to be filledup, the needs of our country and the means at our disposal. But we are confident that if our people understand what it is that we need to do together, we will be able to resolve the problem.

With regard to migration also, I would like to appeal to all our friends, to look at it as a common problem that we can resolve together by adopting positive values, and always concerned when the first instinct is to apportion blame rather than to find truesolution. Apportioning blame never works. We can blame previous government for what is happening in our country now. But I do not believe in that because when we decided to contest the elections two years ago, we knew what the problems were. Therefore, we must be prepared to face them now. And if we didn’t know what the problems were, we shouldn’t have contested the elections. But we did know what the problems were. We contested free elections, and we prepared to take these on.

So, I’d like to appeal all our friends all over the world to give to the problem of migration, the same concern that you would give toproblems within your own country, not just problem of migrants, but the problem of balancing rights and responsibilities, the problem of respecting the people, but at the same time, making them understand that they have their obligations as well, and or learning to work together with different communities.

I do not know whether there are actually just 135 ethnic groups in our country. This is theofficialfigure, andsome have questioned it. But certainly, we have so many ethnic groups that for us all to get together and build a truly democratic and united country is a day-to-day challenge that we have to meet all the time. But my experience has taught me that if you speak to people honestly and openly, they respond the same way. Throughout these years, as we struggled for democracy, it’sabout 30 years now, exactly 30 years next year it will be, we have found that the best way to make people understand what we think or to be done, is by listening to them, to find out how they think problems can be resolved. And I think you will be amazed to find that very(very) simple people, whom you may consider very far away from political issues, have a deep and instinctive understanding ofthe needs of our society.

We have to go back to the root of the problem which means that we have to go back to the country where the migrants come. Why do migrants leave their homes? People do not like to leave their homes. I’m very happy to be here in Italy,but I can’t wait to get back home actually. Nowhere is the same as home. And you can imagine what it must be like for migrants who can never say to themselves that I am tired of this place and going back home. It’s not a choice. And if the people do not have a choice, their lives become very (very) difficult. So if host country and the countries of origins of migrants could work together in greater understanding and greater trust of one another, I think there are too much suspicions in these days, too much of the feeling that somebody or the other is trying to get the better of you, and if we could all learn to trust each other better, and talk over our problems and accept, if each country would accept its responsibilities, and we prepared to do it best, we would be able to decrease the problem.

I don’t think it will go away over night. I doubt that theproblem of migration will ever go away because the world will always be moving. It will always be on the move for different reasons. So, the world on the move, we should look at the world that is moving towards more positive values, moving towards progress, towards integration. This is why I say I invited you to my country to see what it is like, to try to build unity out of diversity, a diversity of ethnicity, a diversity of religion, a diversity of political ideas, a diversity of levels of education, that all comes a lot.

Education is crucial if we are to address the root of any problem. Our people have to understand why the problems have risen and how to resolve them. We say in my countrythat, to be educated, is to be able to look at a problem and analyze it correctly, and to find the correct answer. That is the education. It’s not a stream of degrees, but the ability to resolve problems in the right way.

So the problem of migration and gender equality, we can only resolve by looking at issues as aninternal. What is right in Italy may not be right in France; what is right in France may not be right in Estonia; what is right in Estonia may not be right for us, in Myanmar. We each have to resolve our problems in our ownway but recognizing that there are universal human values which we must never forget. And if we work on the basis that universal human values must always be respected, then the problem of migration whether it arises from conflict, which is the worst kind of migration, orfrom economic deprivation, which is also bad or social inequality or sometimes it will make just the instinct to try to better one’s lives, which is not a crime. We have many people leaving our country, many educated people to try to make better lives for themselves elsewhere. But we do not think that is a crime. What we do is we are trying our best to welcome them back whenever they can, for as long the time as they can to help our country to get back their feet because I think that they have many contributions to make. In the same way, I’m sure that, I would like to be sure that the host country also feels that our migrants have contributions to make to their society that we’re giving them something that they have not been able to achieve by themselves.

Some of our very best doctors, for example, havespread all over the world. But do we have enough doctors in our country? No, we don’t. But at the same time, I do not want to forceany of our doctors abroad to come back. I’m just giving as an example because our doctors are particularly good. I don’t want to force themto come back. I just want them to come back to their home, looking upon at their home trying to make whatever contribution they can. But I always say to them you must be loyal to the country that has given you a refuge. If you’re a national of another country now, you must be loyal to that country. And you must appreciate what it has done for you. But you don’t have to forget us. I always say that home country is like the parents’ home, and the country that you choose later is like a marriage home. It doesn’t mean that because you have married and moved away from your parents, you may never look back at them. Sometimes because marriage is not going so well, you can run back to the parents. And the parents always welcome their children because your children will be your children for all of their lives and all of your lives. In this way, we look upon our migrants as always belonging to our country, for as long as you wish,you will be welcomed. But we know that we have responsibilities to ascertain conditions in our country as such they will be able to live in security and freedom.

And I would like to take the opportunity now to say to the many countries which have offered homes to our migrants, I thank them, I appreciate what they have done for them, and if there are problems, we would like to resolve themtogether. And I look forward to the day when our people can come back to our country, in security andfreedom, with full appreciation of everything that has been donefor them by the host country.

And in conclusion, I would like to thank Albertina and all our friends in the Italian Parliament for the consistent support they have given us, and our struggle, and for the fact they realizethat struggle is not yet at an end. We need still a hand of friendship, along with many (many) hands of friendship held out to us are those of both men and women. And while I understand that this conference is particularly about women, I have to say that we have been helped by a lot of men, too.

Thank you.