GENEVA - A U.N. official documenting the human rights situation in Myanmar warned that the country's national election on November 8 will be neither free nor fair, and will not accurately reflect the will of the people.
The report, presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, set off protests from Myanmar and its supporters.
Myanmar would not grant a U.N. special rapporteur entry into the country, but he was able to conduct his investigation remotely. Thomas Andrews said testimony from human rights defenders, members of Myanmar's civil society, and graphic material indicate that even before a single vote is cast, the election will not be credible.
"The results of an election cannot accurately reflect the will of the people, when the right to vote is denied because of a person's race, ethnicity or religion," he said. "And, I have seen no evidence that the government is willing or prepared to facilitate the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of voting age Rohingya located in Rakhine State or in refugee camps in Bangladesh."
Andrews said holding an election during a raging armed conflict, while combating the coronavirus, is immensely challenging. Besides restrictions on movement imposed by the pandemic, he said the government's shutdown of the internet and social media has made it difficult for citizens to get their messages across.
"On the other end of this spectrum is the danger that candidates and political parties will choose to use bigotry and hate speech as political weapons," he said. "The people of Myanmar know that this poison not only can impact an election but can ignite violence. There should be no place in elections for these incendiary messages, be they on campaign posters or on the internet."
The U.N. investigator showed graphic images of what he called poisonous campaign material. That set off dissenting rumbles from Myanmar, Venezuela, China, Belarus and Cuba. They argued the visual material was manipulative, had not been approved by the council beforehand and should not be shown.
But Council President Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger said all legal requirements had been met.
"We received this visual material two or three days ago," she said. "It was shared with the bureau who agreed that it could be shown under condition that the face of the person we have just seen was made unrecognizable, which we did. So, the bureau agreed that this material could be shown."
Australia, Japan and members of the European Union voiced their support for a motion to allow visual, satellite and other images to be shown. After a roll call vote in favor of the motion passed, the U.N. investigator was allowed to proceed with his presentation.