Welcoming the recent elections in Myanmar as ‘a new chapter in the country’s history,’ United Nations Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee today reaffirmed her commitment to work with all parties in the country to improve the human rights situation there, saying “the people have expressed the will for change. There is no turning back now.” the UN News Centre reported on 16 November.
“In the new post-election environment, respect for human rights and democratic space must be ensured to protect and support those wishing to work with the new government in furthering democratic transition, national reconciliation and sustainable development and peace in Myanmar,” said Ms. Lee.
Noting that many people voted for the first time during the elections held on 8 November and ‘it was truly heartening to see thousands flock to the polls,’ she said: “The people have clearly expressed their wish for a free and democratic nation. These elections also demonstrate just how far the country has come in a few short years.”
However, Ms. Lee highlighted the human rights concerns that arose in the run-up to polls, including, the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of people, including from minority communities, the disqualification of many Muslim candidates, as well as continuing restrictions in the exercise of the rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
“These concerns are symptomatic of broader human rights challenges that will require the urgent attention of the new government. Now is the perfect time to recognize the situation and to chart the way forward to address them,” Ms. Lee said.
The expert stressed that discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, including the Rohingya in Rakhine state, as well as prevalent hate speech and incitement to hatred and violence against minority communities, should be addressed as a matter of priority.
In addition, she called for further reforms to fully guarantee the rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association and to reform numerous laws that do not comply with international human rights standards.
Ms. Lee urged the immediate cessation of arrests, convictions and harassment of civil society and journalists and called for the release of all remaining political prisoners.
“I look forward to working closely with all stakeholders in the coming months to address these and other important human rights challenges,” said Ms Lee reiterating her willingness to “work constructively and cooperatively” with all parties to improve human rights situation in Myanmar.