Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Date: 27 October 2020
We have serious concerns about the human rights situation in Myanmar ahead of its general elections on 8 November. These include violations of the right to political participation, particularly of minority groups — including, disproportionately, the Rohingya Muslim and ethnic Rakhine population in Rakhine State.
While the elections represent an important milestone in Myanmar’s democratic transition, the civic space is still marred by continuing restrictions of the freedoms of opinion, expression and access to information, and the use of language that could amount to incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.
Myanmar’s discriminatory citizenship and electoral laws confer different sets of political rights to different classes of citizens, affecting most clearly the Muslim minorities who are largely excluded from citizenship. Additionally, there has been significant disenfranchisement resulting from the Union Election Commission’s announcement on 16 October that elections would not be taking place in 56 townships, including in Rakhine State. The Commission did not provide public justification for its decision – which curtails the right to political participation in areas with ethnic minority populations in a discriminatory fashion.
An internet shutdown effectively remains in place in eight townships in Rakhine and Chin states, severely limiting the ability of residents to enjoy their right to receive and impart information, including on COVID-19 and the elections. Blanket internet shutdowns may be counterproductive and contravene international law. Again, the measure disproportionately affects minority groups, including the ethnic Rakhine, Rohingya, Kaman, Mro, Daingnet, Khami and Chin communities.
While the restrictions on freedom of expression continue to mount, we deplore the unrelenting proliferation of hateful speech against Muslims on Facebook. We understand Facebook has made certain efforts to identify and remove hateful speech from its platform. We call on the Government of Myanmar to take action in line with the Presidential Directive 3/2020 of April this year to denounce such hateful language publicly and to promote tolerance, non-discrimination and pluralism in speech by public officials and electoral candidates.
We are also troubled at the intolerance for criticism against the Government or the military, known as the Tatmadaw. Over the past two months, at least 34 student activists have found themselves facing legal measures, including charges of unlawful assembly and inciting public mischief, after they called for an end to the conflicts in Rakhine and Chin states, for reinstatement of 4G mobile internet services in those areas, and for the release of other detained student activists. Four of the students have been convicted, with two of them sentenced to over six years’ imprisonment. We urge the Government to drop charges against all those facing legal action for exercising their right to freedom of expression – a right that is particularly precious in a pre-electoral context.
We also call on the Government to take measures to ensure that the right to political participation can be exercised by all, without discrimination of any kind.
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