Tens of thousands of minorities in Myanmar remain without the right to vote, while access to information has been hampered due to internet restrictions and the coronavirus lockdown, rights groups told the United Nations in Geneva on Wednesday, saying the situation raises questions about the integrity of Myanmar’s November election.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) called on the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur to Myanmar to “safeguard the integrity” of the poll and ensure that political rights are respected.
The newly-designated UN human rights investigator Thomas Andrews said earlier that the elections would fail to meet international standards because hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims had been disenfranchised.
As well as the Rohingya, thousands of other people from ethnic minorities have been forced from their homes because of armed conflict between the Myanmar military and armed rebel groups, including in Chin and Rakhine states, where the internet remains cut off.
ICJ, a human rights watchdog, called on Myanmar’s election body to consider “appropriate alternatives” to in-person voting to avoid voters risking their health to cast their ballots amid the pandemic.
Myanmar has been rocked by a surge in coronavirus cases since mid-August and a “stay home” order began this week in the Yangon region. Officials reported 334 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday night, bringing its total to 7,292. Some 130 people have died from the disease.
“Stay-at-home orders have compelled voters and electoral candidates to rely on social media for political campaigning,” the statement noted.
Earlier, UN Special Rapporteur Andrews said that the upcoming elections could not be free and fair because of the exclusion of Rohingya of voting age living in western Rakhine and in refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.
“The results of an election cannot accurately reflect the will of the people, when the right to vote is denied because of a person’s race, ethnicity or religion,” he told the Geneva forum.
“And, I have seen no evidence that the government is willing or prepared to facilitate the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of voting age Rohingya located in Rakhine state or in refugee camps in Bangladesh,” he said.