Statement on the elections in Burma/Myanmar

6 November 2015

This Sunday, 8 November, Burma/Myanmar will hold its first democratic elections in 25 years. While the move away from military dictatorship is to be celebrated, the elections will be neither free nor fair, with the government deliberately excluding ethnic Rohingya from the process. The government has also cancelled voting in nearly 600 village tracts in conflict areas.

Rohingya Muslims, numbering an estimated one million people, face institutionalized discrimination and persecution in Burma/Myanmar. Marginalized and misrepresented as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Rohingyas have been denied citizenship since 1982, along with many of their fundamental human rights.

After forbidding Rohingyas the ability to self-identify on the March 2014 national census, in February this year the government invalidated the identification cards held by most Rohingya and rendered them ineligible to vote in the election. In August President Thein Sein also signed into law the last of four Protection of Race and Religion Bills, that place restrictions on fundamental religious freedoms and systematically violate the reproductive and marital rights of women and non-Buddhists.

This election is a pivotal moment for Burma/Myanmar. But ongoing democratic reforms, initiated after President Thein Sein was elected in 2011, have not translated into any meaningful improvement in the living conditions for Rohingyas. Instead, their plight has worsened, with the government pandering to the extremist Buddhist chauvinism of the Race and Religion Protection Organization, or Ma Ba Tha, and the 969 Movement. Hate speech and sporadic violence against Rohingya and other Muslim minority communities has exacerbated ethno-religious divisions in the country, with approximately 139,000 Rohingya corralled in displacement camps.

The Responsibility to Protect, unanimously endorsed by all UN member states in 2005, requires that states protect all populations within their borders from mass atrocity crimes, not just recognized citizens. The Burma/Myanmar government is failing to uphold its responsibility to protect. Institutionalized discrimination and ongoing persecution poses an existential threat to the Rohingya community.

Facing ongoing abuses, as well as social and political exclusion, thousands of Rohingyas have attempted to flee the country, only to be turned away by some neighboring governments or exploited by human traffickers. The persecution of the Rohingya is producing an asylum-seeker problem throughout the region that will only worsen if Burma/Myanmar does not revoke the Race and Religion Bills, end the persecution of the Rohingya, and take immediate measures to prohibit hate speech and incitement against ethnic and religious minorities.

Burma/Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya not only violates international law and compromises the legitimacy of the elections, it also poses a threat to the future of the country. Democracy and lasting peace in Burma/Myanmar cannot be built while the persecution of the Rohingya and other minorities continues.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

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