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On Myanmar Election Excluding Rohingya, US Kerry Offers Muted Praise

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 8 -- After Myanmar's election, excluding Rohingya, US Secretary of State John Kerry on November 8 issued this:

"The United States congratulates the people of Burma on the November 8 election and commends all of the people and institutions in the country who worked together to hold a peaceful and historic poll.  Millions of people from around the country, many of whom were voting for the first time, seized this opportunity to move one step closer to a democracy that respects the rights of all--a testament to the courage and sacrifice shown by the people of Burma over many decades. 

While these elections were an important step forward, we recognize that they were far from perfect. There remain important structural and systemic impediments to the realization of full democratic and civilian government, including the reservation of a large number of unelected seats for the military; the disfranchisement of groups of people who voted in previous elections, including the Rohingya; and the disqualification of candidates based on arbitrary application of citizenship and residency requirements. 

The United States, along with the domestic and international observers, has closely monitored the electoral process.  We will continue to watch the vote counting process, and encourage all parties to help ensure the tabulation is transparent and credible and any complaints are addressed promptly, transparently, and appropriately. 

Today’s election has the potential to be an important step towards greater peace, prosperity, and democracy for the people of Burma.  We encourage the political leaders in the country to work together in the spirit of national unity and democratic reform to seek what is best for the country.  A peaceful post-election period is crucial for stability and maintaining the confidence of the people in the credibility of the electoral process and the overall political transition.  The United States remains committed to supporting the people of Burma in their pursuit of democracy, development, and national reconciliation going forward."

  Human rights and freedom of expression in Myanmar were the topics of UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee's UN press conference on October 29. Inner City Press asked her of reports of possible genocide against Rohingya, of Aung San Suu Kyi's relative silence on the issue, and if she works with UN “Good Office” envoy Vijay Nambiar, also relatively quiet about rights.

    Yanghee Lee answers were highly diplomatic -- too much so, some might say, if it is a genocide that's coming. She said that word is too strong; she praised Aung San Suu Kyi's statements about the rule of law. She said she works closely with Nambiar. Video here.

   Her approach can be contrasted with that of Marzuki Darusman, for example, on North Korea. Does the difference spring from different personalities, or from the positions of major member states, many of whom have been claiming a human rights win in Myanmar as in Sri Lanka, what ever the facts on the ground? We'll have more on this.

On October 22 when UN Rapporteur of Freedom of Expression David Kaye held a press conference before his appearance before the UN's Third Committee, his topic was whistleblower protection, on which the UN itself is particularly weak.

 When called on, Inner City Press asked Kaye about retaliation against UN official Anders Kompass for blowing the whistle on alleged child rapes by French troops in the Central African Republic. Video here and embedded below.

  Kaye said he would avoid speaking about individuals cases, but said that the UN suffers from a lack of transparency. He should know that while UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous is listed in the Kompass ruling(s) of the UN Dispute Tribunal as trying to get Kompass fired, Ladsous has refused to answer on his role, other than a terse “I deny that.”

 Likewise, Ladsous has claimed the right to refuse to respond to ANY Press questions, in which the UN Spokesperson's Office has taken to backing him up. (When Ladsous did speak, he linked the peacekeepers' rapes to “R&R,” here.)

  Earlier this month, Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access asked if UN Peacekeeping's MONUSCU mission had any comment or action on Burundian journalist Egide Mwemero being silenced then arrested in Eastern Congo. So far, none. These are cases Kaye could work on.

  Free speech ironies at the UN were on display right in Kaye's press conference. The representative of the UN Correspondents Association, which among other things took funds from now-indicted David Ng's South South News and then give it an award, and gave Ng a photo op with Ban Ki-moon at Cipriani, demanded to ask the first question, even claiming that the UN Department of Public Information has granted this “right” in writing. Where?

  In fact, UNCA leaders tried to get the Press thrown out of the UN, with missives to DPI, one of which (from Voice of America) was released under the US Freedom of Information Act, another of which Reuters' bureau chief has gotten Banned from Google on the claim that his anti-Press complaint was copyrighted. Is this is whistleblower? UNCA has become the UN's Censorship Alliance. We and the new Free UN Coalition for Access will have more on this, and on free speech issues through the UN system.


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