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Human rights must be at the heart of historic election period in Myanmar - UN expert

NEW YORK/GENEVA (29 October 2015) – UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, called on all those in positions of authority in Myanmar to ensure that respect for the human rights of all must be at the core of the historic elections due to take place in 10 days’ time.

“This is a watershed moment in the democratic transition of Myanmar and I urge everyone involved to ensure that respect for human rights is front and centre in the run up to the elections, during the elections and following the elections,” Ms. Lee said. “It is vital that the elections are conducted in an environment that encourages participation from all sectors of society. In the same vein, it is crucial that divisions and tensions are not manipulated for political purposes.”

The Special Rapporteur said that the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are indispensable ahead of a democratic election and must be ensured.

“I have observed worrying trends that have been undermining the democratic space in Myanmar. The arrests, convictions and harassment of civil society and journalists should immediately cease. Independent voices are vital and must be included in public debate,” said Ms. Lee.

Ms. Lee also expressed concern about the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of individuals from across society, many of whom are from minority communities. She also expressed concern about the disqualification of many Muslim candidates from standing for election.

The UN expert highlighted the increasing influence of extreme religious nationalist movements in the political process. She also noted an apparent lack of action taken against disturbing public statements from religious leaders and members of political parties that could amount to incitement to hatred against minorities.

Speaking on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York, Ms. Lee also addressed the human rights impact of the continuing conflict across parts of the country; the continuing institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya community and the restrictions to freedom of movement in Rakhine State; as well as the prevalence of land grabbing, land confiscations and forced evictions.

“With the recent signature of the nationwide ceasefire agreement and the elections to come, the extent to which human rights are respected and protected in this critical period will greatly impact the future of Myanmar,” she added.

She expressed her dismay at the adoption of four discriminatory laws aimed at ‘protecting race and religion’, which she stressed do not conform with Myanmar’s human rights obligations.

“There is a clear need for continued legislative and constitutional reform to bring the country’s legal framework in line with international human rights laws and standards,” she said.

The UN Special Rapporteur urged the international community to remain constructively and critically engaged on human rights. “Now, more than ever, it is critical for all actors to work together to support further reforms in Myanmar,” she said.


(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report to the General Assembly (A/70/412):
Read the Special Rapporteur’s statement to the General Assembly:
Ms. Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. Ms Lee served as member and chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003-2011). She is currently a professor at Sungkyunwan University, Seoul, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Ms Lee is the founding President of International Child Rights Center, and serves as Vice-chair of the National Unification Advisory Council. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/MM/Pages/SRMyanmar.aspx
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, 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: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

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