Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has used her first speech in parliament to call for laws protecting the
rights of the country’s impoverished ethnic minorities.
Suu Kyi called on Wednesday for an end to discrimination against ethnic minorities as part of the “emergence of a
genuine democratic country”.
“To become a truly democratic union with a spirit of the union, equal rights and mutual respect, I urge all members of parliament to discuss the enactment of the laws needed to protect equal rights of ethnicities,” she said.
Suu Kyi’s comments came in support of a motion by a ruling-party legislator from the ethnic Shan state on upholding ethnic minority rights. She referred to soaring poverty rates in Chin, Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states, noting that protecting minority rights required more than just maintaining ethnic languages and cultures.
“The high poverty rates in ethnic states clearly indicate that development in ethnic regions is not satisfactory – and ethnic conflicts in these regions have not ceased,” she said during her brief speech.
Suu Kyi did not mention last month’s communal violence in western Myanmar between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that left at least 78 people dead and prompted a strong government crackdown.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has long championed the rights of ethnic minorities, including the Shan, Karen and Kachin, but has been criticised by rights groups for not offering stronger support for the Rohingya.
Most Myanmar people consider the Rohingya to be Bangladeshi exiles. An estimated 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and at least 200,000 more in Bangladesh. They are not recognised by either country.
Myanmar has long faced tensions with many of its ethnic minorities, and the new government has agreed to a ceasefire with many of the groups.
President Thein Sein recently told the UN that the solution was either to send millions of Rohingya to another country or to have the UN look after them.
During decades of military rule, many of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities were suppressed.
Suu Kyi won her first seat in parliament in historic April by-elections.