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Myanmar: Upcoming elections an opportunity to take a new inclusive democratic path

According to James Rodehaver, Senior Human Rights Officer based in the OHCHR South-East Asia Regional Office, three years after the violence that forced over 700,000 Rohingyas from their homes in northern Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh, “conditions inside the country have deteriorated and little has been done to create viable conditions for their safe return.” 

Meanwhile, a new conflict has flared between Myanmar’s security forces and the Arakan Army, which has negatively impacted civilians throughout the country’s central and northern Rakhine state, including the members of the minority Rohingya community. 

“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,” Mr. Rodehaver said in a news release. 

Ensure meaningful participation in elections 

The November elections also offer the chance to restore political rights to the Rohingya, who were able to participate in all votes until 2010, said the news release. 

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. 

“The Government should take immediate steps to ensure that the Rohingya can meaningfully participate in the forthcoming election, both as candidates and as voters,” said Mr. Rodehaver. 

The OHCHR official also called on the authorities demonstrate real commitment to the process of returns for displaced Rohingya and to 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. 

A complex refugee crisis 

The complex Rohingya refugee crisis erupted in August 2017, following attacks on remote police outposts in northern Myanmar by armed groups alleged to belong to the community. These were followed by systematic counter attacks against the minority, mainly Muslim, Rohingya, which human rights groups, including senior UN officials, have said amounted to ethnic cleansing.  

In the weeks that followed, over 700,000 Rohingya – the majority of them children, women and the elderly – fled their homes for safety in Bangladesh, with little more than the clothes on their backs.  

Prior to the mass exodus, well over 200,000 Rohingya refugees were sheltering in Bangladesh as a result of earlier displacements from Myanmar. 

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