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UN denounces restrictions on freedoms and rights in Burma ahead of elections

Criticizes the arrest of more than 30 activists in two months and the “hate speech” against minorities

The UN Office for Human Rights has expressed “serious concern” about the situation of rights and freedoms in Burma ahead of the general elections on November 8, for which it has demanded that measures be taken to guarantee the participation of all, “without discrimination of any kind”.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has warned that the elections, called to be “an important milestone in the democratic transition” of the Asian country, are preceded by “restrictions” on freedoms. of opinion, expression and access to information, as well as a language that “could amount to inciting discrimination, hostility and violence.”

The office fears the “disproportionate” effects of these restrictions on certain groups, such as the Rohingya minority or the population of Rakhine state, an area burdened by constant episodes of violence. In the case of Muslim groups such as the Rohingya, their statelessness excludes them from any possible participation in the process.

The spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, also recalled that the state of Rakhine has been one of those that have been affected by the decision of the Electoral Commission to cancel the holding of the vote in 56 localities, without providing “justification” for a measure. that “restricts the right to political participation in areas with ethnic minorities in a discriminatory manner.”

In addition, eight areas of Rakhine and Chin State remain without Internet access, which “severely limits the ability of citizens to enjoy their right to receive and share information”, both about the elections and about the evolution of the pandemic. of COVID-19.

Shamdasani has also lamented the “proliferation” of a “hate speech” against Muslims on Facebook and has asked the social network to intervene. She also recalled that the Government of Aung San Suu Kyi promised in April to “promote tolerance, non-discrimination and pluralism” during the electoral process.

Burmese authorities have been questioned in recent years, among other reasons, for the role of their Armed Forces, to which UN researchers attributed a “genocidal intent” when they launched a repressive campaign against the Rohingya in August 2017 in the Rakhine state.

More than three years later, Bachelet’s office continues to perceive an “intolerance of criticism” against the Government or the Armed Forces. In the last two months, at least 34 activists have been charged with calling for an end to the conflicts in Rakhine or Chin or for demanding the reopening of the Internet.

Four of these activists, students, have been convicted, two of them with sentences exceeding six years in prison. “We urge the government to drop charges against all those who face legal action for exercising their right to freedom of expression, a right that is especially precious in a pre-electoral context,” Shamdasani said.

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