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UN Expert Calls for Free, Inclusive Myanmar Elections

FILE - Yanghee Lee, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, says freedoms of expression, assembly and association have been stifled in the country.

The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar called Thursday for the upcoming general elections to be inclusive, free and credible.

“The elections, which will take place in a short time, will be an important milestone in the democratic transition process,” Yanghee Lee told reporters.

Myanmar will hold its first general elections in 25 years on November 8.

Thursday, an opposition rally in Yangon was interrupted by several men with knives or machetes. A local lawmaker, running for a seat in the regional assembly, was hospitalized, and two other men were injured.

Lee expressed concern that universal rights such as the freedoms of expression, assembly and association have been stifled. “Genuine elections cannot be achieved if these rights are curtailed,” she said.

Lee said it was worrying that persons trying to exercise these rights had been arrested and some had been convicted.

Muslims excluded

Lee also addressed religious discrimination, saying many Muslim voters and candidates were being excluded, including some who already held seats in parliament.

She said in her report that the highest number of disqualified candidates were from Rakhine state, with many Muslim candidates among them. Among voters, Lee said, nearly 800,000 people who had the right to vote in the 2010 and 2012 elections have had their temporary registration cards declared expired and cannot vote in November. This includes many people of Chinese and Indian origin, but mainly Rohingya in Rakhine state.

The special rapporteur also warned that large numbers of people in conflict-affected Kachin and Northern Shan states and in flood-affected Chin state might be excluded from the vote, which could lead to further feelings of disenfranchisement after the election.

Lee said four years of reform had “undeniably improved” the human rights situation in Myanmar, but that human rights must continue to be a priority in the reform process.

Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the U.N.’s Human Rights Council to report on specific human rights issues.