Ahead of the upcoming national elections, the government of Myanmar should ensure all voting-age Rohingya, including the forcible displaced Myanmar nationals in Bangladesh, have the right to vote, said Fortify Rights on Friday.
“Rohingya voted in past elections, and they should have the right to vote in November,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights. “Mass absentee voting is possible. The government has ample time to ensure the upcoming elections are free and fair.”On July 2, the Myanmar Union Election Commission announced that national elections are scheduled for November 8.
Citizenship is a requirement for voting in Myanmar, and the government of Myanmar has long denied Rohingya access to full citizenship rights—most recently through the National Verification Card (NVC) process.
However, the lack of citizenship did not prevent Rohingya in Myanmar from voting in past elections, including in 2010.
The government currently has access to multiple forms of documentation of Rohingya, including household lists dating back to the 1990s, NVCs, National Registration Cards, White Cards, White Card receipts, and other previous government-issued and UN-issued identity documents.
In collaboration with international humanitarian organizations, the Government of Myanmar and the Embassy of Myanmar in Bangladesh could use these forms of documentation as well as alternative forms of evidence, such as testimonial evidence, to determine eligibility to vote in November’s election and as evidence to restore Rohingya citizenship, Fortify Rights said.
On July 2, the Union Election Commission announced that Myanmar nationals living abroad could cast advanced ballots in this year’s general election. The government also provided absentee voting in the 2010 and 2015 elections.On May 3, the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights—a Rohingya-refugee-led civil society organization in Bangladesh—wrote an open letter to the Union Election Commission of Myanmar asking for “voter registration and the voting process” to be “carried out in the refugee camps.”
Refugees elsewhere in the world have voted in home-country elections through voting stations in refugee camps and absentee ballots. For instance, in 2004, approximately 850,000 Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and Iran voted in Afghanistan’s first presidential election on October 9 with the assistance of international humanitarian organizations.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled Myanmar military-led attacks in 2016 and 2017, as well as those who fled to Bangladesh prior to those attacks, are unable to return to the country to participate in the election process.
On June 30 at the 44th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the situation in Rakhine State has not improved and the conditions for a “safe, dignified and sustainable return from Bangladesh are still not in place.”
“We will not go back as long as we are forced to accept the NVC there,” a 40-year-old Rohingya refugee woman originally from Maungdaw Township told Fortify Rights. “If we accept the NVC, we will become people of Bangladesh.”
In her remarks to the Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet also cited the NVC as a factor inhibiting refugee returns to Myanmar, saying, “Myanmar continues to impose National Verification Cards on the Rohingya—a document which denies their citizenship, leaving them stateless and restricting their access to basic services or free movement.”