GENEVA (02 November) – Myanmar’s government and its military, the Tatmadaw, should stop persecuting opposition supporters, including journalists and student protestors, ahead of the general election on 08 November, a UN human rights expert said today.
“I applaud the Myanmar government for setting a laudable standard for the upcoming election – that they be free, fair, and reflect the will of the people,” Tom Andrews, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said today.
“But this cannot happen as long as it is enforcing laws that undermine the very lifeblood of democracy, and the right to vote is denied based on race, ethnicity of religion as it is with the Rohingya.”
He said the army “is using the Penal Code, enacted by the British in 1861, to lock up journalists, students and others for exercising their basic right to free expression. Their crime? Their willingness to criticize the government and military.”
Other laws, such as the Peaceful Assembly Act and Telecommunications Law are being enforced in a way that infringes on the rights to freedom of expression, association and freedom of the press, he said.
The election campaign, “is providing a clear and compelling illustration of why and where reforms are needed to move democracy forward in Myanmar,” Andrews said.
He said the government should lift its censorship of candidates seeking access to state media – one of the few options available to reach voters in light of COVID-19 restrictions.
“Messages conveyed to voters through state media must be approved by the government – including messages that are critical of the government,” said Andrews. “I have heard from opposition political parties that they are being denied access to state media and their messages are being censored for criticizing government policies. This is unfair and denies voters information that they need to make informed choices on election day.”
He also criticized a voter information app provided by the Union Election Commission. One of the few remaining sources of information for voters is the app mVoter2020 that identifies the race and religion of candidates and refers to Rohingya candidates by the derogatory term “Bengali.” The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar determined that this term is used as a tool of “systematic oppression and persecution.”
“This is not only wrong, it is dangerous,” said Andrews.
He criticised the Union Election Commission for cancelling elections for more than a million Myanmar voters over security concerns. “The lack of transparency of the Commission’s process, and its apparent failure to consider alternatives, has predictably led to charges that their decision was more about politics than security. Independent observers have warned that this will have a significant, detrimental impact, particularly in Rakhine, an area that cannot afford to have more fuel added to an already escalating fire.”
Andrews delivered his first report on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to the UN General Assembly last week.
Because of the global pandemic, Andrews has not been able to travel to Myanmar, and expressed his gratitude to human rights defenders who had taken risks and overcome many obstacles to give him an understanding of the human rights challenges people in Myanmar face.
“We must be prepared to stand with the people of Myanmar during this critical time as we work with them to advance the principles and values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Andrews. “They deserve nothing less.”
Mr. Thomas Andrews (United States of America) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. A former member of the US Congress from Maine, he has a Washington DC based consulting practice, Andrews Strategic Services. He has worked with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and parliamentarians, NGOs and political parties in Cambodia, Indonesia, Algeria, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine and Yemen. He has been a consultant for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and the Euro-Burma Network, has run advocacy NGOs including Win Without War and United to End Genocide, and is a Robina Senior Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Comprising the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, Special Procedures is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar
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