Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Date: 27 October 2020
Subjects:(1) Myanmar(2) Côte d’Ivoire(3) Tanzania(4) Cameroon1) Myanmar
We have serious concerns about the human rights situation in Myanmar ahead of its general elections on 8 November. These include violations of the right to political participation, particularly of minority groups -- including, disproportionately, the Rohingya Muslim and ethnic Rakhine population in Rakhine State.
While the elections represent an important milestone in Myanmar’s democratic transition, the civic space is still marred by continuing restrictions of the freedoms of opinion, expression and access to information, and the use of language that could amount to incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.
Myanmar’s discriminatory citizenship and electoral laws confer different sets of political rights to different classes of citizens, affecting most clearly the Muslim minorities who are largely excluded from citizenship. Additionally, there has been significant disenfranchisement resulting from the Union Election Commission’s announcement on 16 October that elections would not be taking place in 56 townships, including in Rakhine State. The Commission did not provide public justification for its decision – which curtails the right to political participation in areas with ethnic minority populations in a discriminatory fashion.
An internet shutdown effectively remains in place in eight townships in Rakhine and Chin states, severely limiting the ability of residents to enjoy their right to receive and impart information, including on COVID-19 and the elections. Blanket internet shutdowns may be counterproductive and contravene international law. Again, the measure disproportionately affects minority groups, including the ethnic Rakhine, Rohingya, Kaman, Mro, Daingnet, Khami and Chin communities.
While the restrictions on freedom of expression continue to mount, we deplore the unrelenting proliferation of hateful speech against Muslims on Facebook. We understand Facebook has made certain efforts to identify and remove hateful speech from its platform. We call on the Government of Myanmar to take action in line with the Presidential Directive 3/2020 of April this year to denounce such hateful language publicly and to promote tolerance, non-discrimination and pluralism in speech by public officials and electoral candidates.
We are also troubled at the intolerance for criticism against the Government or the military, known as the Tatmadaw. Over the past two months, at least 34 student activists have found themselves facing legal measures, including charges of unlawful assembly and inciting public mischief, after they called for an end to the conflicts in Rakhine and Chin states, for reinstatement of 4G mobile internet services in those areas, and for the release of other detained student activists. Four of the students have been convicted, with two of them sentenced to over six years’ imprisonment. We urge the Government to drop charges against all those facing legal action for exercising their right to freedom of expression – a right that is particularly precious in a pre-electoral context.
We also call on the Government to take measures to ensure that the right to political participation can be exercised by all, without discrimination of any kind.2) Côte d’Ivoire
We urge the Government of Cote d’Ivoire to ensure accountability in relation to reports that at least 20 people have been killed in inter-communal clashes and in confrontations between security forces and supporters of opposition parties in several localities of Côte d’Ivoire in the run-up to the 31 October elections.
Inter-communal clashes occurred in the towns of Bongouanou in the east and in Dabou in the south-east of the country, between 17 and 21 October. In various opposition demonstrations in other towns and in the capital Abidjan, unidentified individuals assaulted, threatened and intimidated protestors using machetes and knives with apparent impunity. On some occasions, voting stations were damaged, people’s voting cards destroyed, and private businesses were looted.
To prevent recurrence of such events, it is crucial that the authorities conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all human rights violations and abuses, regardless of the political affiliation of the alleged perpetrators. We understand that a number of individuals have been arrested in relation to the violence in Dabou.
Also deeply worrying is the persistent use of hate speech -- or language amounting to advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination and violence on the basis of ethnic and political affiliations -- both online and offline, and the manipulation of ethnic differences for political ends.
Given the history of electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire, we appeal to all parties to refrain from using discriminatory and provocative language along ethnic affiliations that could lead to more divisions in society and, ultimately, to violence.
We call on the authorities to protect the right to political participation in accordance with international standards, and to ensure its exercise without discrimination, fear or reprisals. The authorities must ensure respect for the right to peaceful assembly and protect participants against attacks from third parties. We appeal for calm in the lead up to the election and in its aftermath, and for differences to be resolved through dialogue.3) Tanzania
We have been following with concern the shrinking of democratic space in the country, with worrying reports of intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests and physical attacks against political opponents, journalists, women human rights defenders and other activists.
This repression of dissenting voices intensified in the lead up to the elections, when the rights to freedom of expression and political participation should be upheld, not repressed. The elections take place tomorrow.
We are particularly alarmed by reports that three people were reportedly killed last night and others injured on Pemba Island in the Zanzibar archipelago where police fired live ammunition in clashes with opposition supporters. We urge the authorities to ensure prompt, transparent, independent investigations into the incident and urge all actors to refrain from any acts of violence.
We call on all relevant actors to ensure that the elections take place in a peaceful, inclusive and participatory manner, with people being able to cast their votes free of fear and intimidation.4) Cameroon
The population continues to pay a heavy price in the ongoing crisis in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon. Serious human rights violations and abuses continue to be reported, involving both security and defense forces and armed separatist groups amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest vile, merciless attack on a school on Saturday perpetrated by a group of men armed with guns and machetes resulted in the killing of at least six children between the ages of 9 and 12. The attack on Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy in Kumba, in the South-West, left another 13 children injured, of whom seven are reportedly in critical condition.
We strongly condemn the attack. The killing and maiming of children as well as attacks on educational facilities constitute serious violations of international law and the perpetrators must be held accountable with due regard for international human rights standards. We remind the authorities of their obligation to protect access to education.
We have also received numerous other reports of serious human rights violations and abuses by separatist groups and security forces. Difficulties in accessing the affected areas makes it very hard to verify the reports, including reports of extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual and gender-based violence and abductions. We have urged the Cameroonian authorities to ensure independent and impartial investigations and prosecution of all serious violations and abuses, including acts of gender-based violence, by State and non-State actors, and to ensure the right to a remedy for victims including by guaranteeing their access to justice and reparations.
We stress the urgent need for an inclusive dialogue to carve out a durable resolution to this crisis.