The UN Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia on Tuesday (25 Aug) urged the Myanmar Government to embrace the opportunity of a looming national election to take a new and fully inclusive democratic path, and to address the root causes of violations and abuses suffered by ethnic minorities.
On 25 August 2017, Myanmar’s military launched a wave of brutal “clearance operations” against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine state that resulted in mass killings, rape, burned homes, and mass displacement. Meanwhile, a new conflict has flared between security forces and the Arakan Army (AA), which has negatively impacted civilians throughout central and northern Rakhine State, including the Rohingya.
“Three years after the outbreak of violence that forced more than 720,000 ethnic Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh, conditions inside the country have deteriorated and little has been done to create viable conditions for their safe return,” said James Rodehaver, a senior official with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bangkok.
National elections scheduled for November provide Myanmar the opportunity to restore political rights to the Rohingya, who were able to participate in all votes until 2010. However, they were excluded from the 2015 ballot, and at least four Rohingya politicians who sought to stand in the upcoming vote have had their applications rejected. This continuing process of disenfranchisement effectively prevents Rohingya from enjoying their fundamental rights.
“It is crucial if the vote in November is to be inclusive, free and fair that Myanmar respect the right of all its people to participate fully and equally in the electoral processes and in all aspects of public life. The Government should take immediate steps to ensure that the Rohingya can meaningfully participate in the forthcoming election, both as candidates and as voters,” noted Mr Rodehaver.
While the Government has focused its attention more on fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic than prosecuting local conflicts in recent months, it has repeatedly rejected calls for a ceasefire in Rakhine State and it failed to invite the AA to peace negotiations this past weekend.
In January, the International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar’s Government to take “all necessary measures” to prevent the killing of Rohingya. Yet, the conflict has since resulted in 144 civilian deaths and 399 injuries, including 25 Rohingya dead and 46 wounded.
Furthermore, the Government has bulldozed or burned several remaining Rohingya villages, it has failed to implement transparent and fully independent accountability measures for serious human rights violations and possible international crimes, and it has further marginalized the Rohingya community.
Witnesses from Rakhine have also reported that the ongoing conflict has led to the displacement of thousands of local residents, serious constraints on humanitarian access and freedom of movement, and severe limitations on internet services and freedom of expression.
“Myanmar must demonstrate its real commitment to the process of returns for displaced Rohingya and take necessary measures to address the root causes that led to the crisis, including amending the 1982 Citizenship Law to restore their nationality and ensuring accountability for crimes committed against them,” Mr Rodehaver remarked.