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Politics

Myanmar's Rohingya excluded from November elections

Muslim politicians 'disqualified' by election commission from parliamentary bids

Kyaw Min, the leader of Democracy and Human Rights Party, was barred from running in the November elections.   © AP

YANGON -- Three years after a massive exodus from Myanmar to Bangladesh of over 700,000 Rohingya, the country's Buddhist majority is set to exclude members of this Muslim minority from running in the Nov. 8 election.

As political parties gear up their campaigns, it has become clear that the Rohingya are not able to participate. There remains an estimated 600,000 Rohingya in the country, but most are not recognized as citizens under laws promulgated under military rule in the last century. Some that do are also unable to run.

In mid-August, the election authority ruled that Kyaw Min, leader of the Rohingya-affiliated Democracy and Human Rights Party, cannot run in the election. The authority said he had failed to prove his parents were citizens at the time of their birth -- a requirement under the constitution.

Out of seven candidates from the same party, three others were barred for the same reason. All of the rejected were planning to run from constituencies in Rakhine State, where most of the Rohingya population lived before the exodus.

On Tuesday, James Rodehaver, a senior UN human rights official in Bangkok said in a statement: "It is crucial if the vote in November is to be inclusive, free and fair that Myanmar respect the right of all its people to participate fully and equally in the electoral processes."

Until the 2010 election, any Rohingya who had a temporary registration certificate were able to vote. The certificates were, however, nullified before the 2015 election.

Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan's foreign minister, visited the capital Naypyitaw on Monday and met State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of government. He also met with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief. Motegi said at both meetings that the Japanese government expects an investigation of the 2017 exodus and related prosecutions to proceed in a transparent manner.

In August 2017, Myanmar's military conducted a ferocious security sweep after an attack by an armed Rohingya group.

The International Criminal Court in January ordered the Myanmar government to implement all measures necessary to prevent further attacks on the Rohingya, and mandated reports be sent to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague in the Netherlands every six months.

In April, the government ordered all official organizations, including the military, to respect the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The following month it submitted its first report to the ICJ.

However, the prosecution of the military has made little headway so far. The military said in June that three soldiers were found guilty of committing human rights violations in one of the villages in northern Rakhine, but did not provide details.

Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun told the Nikkei Asian Review that "these security personnel made mistakes while they were protecting the country."

Foreign governments and international organizations had expected Suu Kyi to stand up for the Rohingya, but she has not shown herself to be an ardent defender. Around 70% of Myanmar's population, including Suu Kyi, belongs to the Burman Buddhist majority.

Suu Kyi's elected civilian government is avoiding friction on this issue with the military, which still holds considerable political clout under the constitution. Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, is expected to retain the largest number of seats in parliament in November, but has shown itself unwilling to expend political capital on the Rohingya.

Rohingya refugees live in harsh conditions in the camps in Bangladesh. The World Health Organization reported that as of Aug. 23, only 88 there were confirmed positive with COVID-19, but Japanese aid workers have found that many are afraid to be tested in case they end up in quarantine. Actual cases may, therefore, be higher.

Western countries have not hesitated to condemn Myanmar's military for human rights violations but are not likely to impose economic sanctions. They fear pressure on Myanmar would push it more into China's orbit.

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