Myanmar Elections - Free and Fair?
On 8 November the people of Myanmar will vote in what is being called the country's first "free and fair elections" following five decades of military rule and an imposed civilian government that was established in 2010. Over 6,000 candidates from 91 registered political parties will be running; but the two perceived front runners – the ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi – are drawing most interest. Should Suu Kyi's party win, however, she would be unable to legally become the country's leader as a constitutional provision bars any individual with foreign children from holding office. Suu Kyi, the mother of two British-born children, has however stated that if her party wins the election, she will be the leader of the government, even if she is not the president. She declared that the constitution "will have to change to allow civilian authorities to have the necessary democratic authority over the armed forces."
While the presence of 150 EU election observers and hundreds of international journalists should increase the transparency and credibility of the elections, there are many issues raising alarm for the electoral process and its outcome. With regards to the political parties themselves, a 3 November report released by the Worldwide Movement for Human Rights found that the majority of the 91 parties have failed to prioritize or commit to human rights issues within their platforms. Arguably the most undemocratic aspect of the elections is the disenfranchisement of a half million Muslim Rohingya civilians and the “purge” of Rohingya electoral candidates. In addition, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Ms. Yanghee Lee, has raised concerns about restrictions in place on freedom of expression, assembly, and association.
The ongoing conflict in various regions of Myanmar between rebel groups and government forces further jeopardizes the fairness of the upcoming elections. Civilians in these regions will not be able to access polling stations, and thus will not be able to participate in the elections. On a similar note, civilians in Karen state expressed concern about a potential win by the USDP out of fear of a return to violence in the region at the hands of government forces. Of further alarm is the release of two academic reports by the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London, which allege evidence of a campaign of genocide against the Rohingya community by the government of Myanmar.
Many United Nations officials have expressed concern about the upcoming elections, and have called on the government of Myanmar to take all measures possible to ensure an environment of peace. The Secretary-General raised his concern with regards to the use of hate speech, and the "provocation of communal hostilities and the abuse of religion for political purposes." His Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, in a statement released on 4 November, noted similar concerns, including with regards to the politicization of ethnicity and religion which has led to increased "advocacy of religions hatred against Muslim minority" by religious leaders. The Advisers also noted their concern that the electoral process has increased marginalization, particularly of the Rohingya population. It is hoped that such concern and calls for the government of Myanmar to take all possible action to ensure peaceful elections will result in efforts to provide the opportunity for civilians to freely participate in the democratic process. As Special Rapporteur Lee stated, "the credibility of the elections will be judged by the environment in which they are conducted and the extent to which all sectors of Myanmar society have been allowed to freely participate in the political process."
Three men with machetes attacked U Naing Ngan Lin, the opposition candidate for the NLD for Dakhinathiri Township in Naypyitaw, and his convoy - he was in serious but stable condition.
The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement was signed on October 15th but the deal has been criticized for being “broken before it began” with various ethnic groups reporting continued fighting leading to displacement.
Burundi’s President Nkurunziza gave the armed opposition, which is against his third consecutive term as president, an ultimatum this week to lay down weapons by the end of the week and surrender with amnesty or face anti-terrorism legislation. Sections of Bujumbura have been temporarily barricaded following the deaths of four people in violence between police and “insurgents.” Residents are reportedly fleeing these sealed off areas in fear of what will happen after Nkurunziza’s deadline to lay down arms passes.
Over the weekend, retaliatory attacks between armed groups in Bangui resulted in the death of three people, 22 people injured and more than 100 houses burnt down as thousands fled their homes. Parliamentary and presidential polls originally postponed to 13 December, currently seem unlikely as violence continues to escalate.
Despite criticisms last week, the UN Secretary General congratulated President Ouattara’s reelection and stated that “the successful conduct of these polls confirms that Côte d’Ivoire is returning towards lasting peace and stability.”
Democratic People's Republic of Korea:
ICRtoP member, Human Rights Watch, and eight other NGOs urged the Security Council to hold another formal session on the DPRK to reiterate that the country's human rights record remains a priority for the international community.
Fourteen of sixteen NGO aid workers abducted by unknown rebels in eastern DRC over the weekend are still being held for ransom, increasing fears that the North Kivu province may again be ripe with rebels, smugglers, and cross-border raids indicative of the larger political crisis of the nation.
Amnesty International urged the Israeli military to immediately take steps to protect Palestinian civilians from attacks by Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank and ensure effective investigation of all attacks, including the killing of a Palestinian teenager in Hebron by an Israeli civilian which took place on October 17th.
Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian near the West Bank settlement Gush Etzion on Thursday. Reportedly, the Palestinian man had ignored calls to stop and then attempted to attack an Israeli soldier at a crowded bus stop.
Women aligned with the opposition, Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), led a demonstration in Conakry against “human rights violations” targeting UDFG militants.
The UN Special Regional Envoy to West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, urged newly re-elected President, Alpha Conde, to form a “wide consensus government in the interests of peace” after the opposition party did not recognize the outcome of the vote. Guinea's Constitutional Court on Saturday formally confirmed Conde's win, dismissing the claims of election fraud.
ISIL militants and a suicide bomber killed four civilians and wounded 15 others in a rare attack in Iraq’s northern Kurdish province.
Libya's General National Congress (GNC) threatened to flood Europe with migrants if the European Union would not recognize the GNC as the official government.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the UNSC on Thursday that Libya’s incessant conflict and political division may soon come to an end because significant progress is being made towards achieving peace and stability in the country. The UNSMIL mission is making important steps to encourage promotion of the rule of law, protection of civilians and end impunity for atrocity crimes.
The National Human Rights Commission in Nigeria set a goal to “ensure that 80 per cent of Nigerians are aware of their fundamental human rights by the end of December 2015.”
A new rebel group calling itself Tiger Faction New Forces (TFNF) announced in a statement that its forces would lay down weapons and accept negotiations if the government nullified its unconstitutional order to expand the current number of states from 10 to 28 in the face of a recently signed peace deal. Later in the week, despite the increasing internal and international pressure, the South Sudanese government rejected the proposal to reverse the order expanding the number of recognized states to 28.
Medecins Sans Frontieres described the conditions in the Unity State as an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, detailing that the civilian population is subjected to repeated and targeted violence and lack access to basic needs.
After researching 77-firsthand accounts of rape victims in Darfur, the UK-based human rights organization, Waging Peace, reported that sexual violence in the conflict area is rampant and expansive. Victims, if they survive, receive no physical or psychological supports, while less than a quarter of total cases documented are reported officially and even less are acted upon by police.
The US government extended sanctions for another year against the government of Sudan. The Sudanese government dismissed the reasons for the sanctions and claimed that it is in fact making constructive efforts to achieve security in the region.
Last Friday, US President Barack Obama announced that “several dozen” Special Operations troops will be sent to Syria in what will be the first “open-ended mission” by US ground forces in the Syrian conflict.
Also on Friday, Syrian government airstrikes killed at least 61 people and injured over 100 when they struck a marketplace in the Damascus suburb of Douma. An additional series of Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes killed at least 80 people in about 25 different areas of Aleppo province on Friday.
World leaders including US Secretary of State John Kerry and Rusian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Vienna over the weekend to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria but failed to reach an agreement on the future of President Bashar al-Assad. However, it was decided that further talks will be held in two weeks.
Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir declared that Russia and Iran must agree on a date and method by which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will step down and foreign forces will withdraw from Syria. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also stated that disagreements on Assad's future should not delay a humanitarian ceasefire or a deal to end the Syrian war.
ISIL gained territory in central Syria, taking the town of Maheen from the regime forces late on Saturday through the use of two suicide car bombs, killing or wounding an estimated 50 government soldiers.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that six civilians including two children and a woman died in regime warplanes missiles fired on Bustan Al Qaser neighborhood in Aleppo on Tuesday.
A new report by Amnesty International condemned the Syrian State and allied militia for the abduction and detention of tens of thousands of people since civil unrest against the regime began in 2011.The report highlights that state officials profit from the disappearances.
ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch denounced the practice of Syrian rebel groups who are detaining both regime supporters and soldiers, putting them in metal cages and placing them around the Eastern Ghouta region as a means of deterring indiscriminate government attacks.
On Friday the UN World Food Programme (WFP) appealed for safe access to the besieged city of Taiz where fighting has blocked food supplies and left thousands at risk of famine. The last food aid to reach Yemen was five weeks ago when food was delivered to nearly 240,000 people. The WFP urged that access is needed in order to “prevent a humanitarian tragedy” that threatens the lives of thousands. Late this week a Russian plane reportedly carrying 23 tons of humanitarian aid arrived at Houthi-controlled Sanaa airport.
Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition on Sunday killed dozens of Houthi rebels as clashes between the rebels and pro-government forces spread across several southern provinces, leaving 19 Houthi and 14 Popular Resistance fighters dead.
UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said he expects peace talks between Yemen’s warring parties to begin by November 15th at the latest. The opposing forces have already agreed to implement Security Council Resolution 2216 calling on Houthis and their allies to withdraw from main cities and surrender arms captured from Yemeni government forces, but they will not do this until after UN talks. On the other hand, Yemeni and Saudi-coalition forces want the Houthis to withdraw before talks begin.
What else is new?
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer issued an “unprecedented joint warning” on Saturday for states to prevent conflicts, abide by international law and help refugees. Mr Maurer said the world is in a new era where combatants ignore the most fundamental rules of war in conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
A multidisciplinary panel discussion open to the public on “Global Security, Justice and Governance” with the World Federalist Movement’s President Lloyd Axworthy and other notable participants, including William Pace of WFM-Institute on Global Policy and Fernando Iglesias of the Creation of Latin American and the Caribbean Criminal Court against Transnational Organized Crime, will take place on Friday November 6th, from 4:30pm-6:00pm in the United Nations Church Center, 10th Floor, 777 UN Plaza, NY, NY 10017.
The “10th anniversary of Responsibility to Protect: A Focus on Prevention” panel will be held on Thursday, November 19th from 11:00am-1:00pm in the Palais Des Nations including panelists such as Dr. Jennifer Welsh, UN Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Mr. Volker Turk of UNHCR, Mr. Davide Rodongo of the Graduate Institute, Ms. Elisabeth Decrey Warner of Geneva Call, among others. The event is organized during Geneva Peace Week by the Permanent Missions of Australia, Ghana, Hungary, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uruguay, with the support of the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and the Graduate Institute.To RSVP, click here.
Gareth Evans released his latest op-ed entitled “Indonesia’s Forgotten Genocide,” in which he describes how October marked the 50th year anniversary of the Indonesian military launching one of the worst and least talked about mass murders. 500,000 members of sympathizers of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) were systematically killed across Central and East Java, Bali, and northern Sumatra. A new bout of censorship by the Indonesian government threatens the prospect of bringing the massacre into public discourse.