The UN human rights body has expressed serious concerns over the human right situation and called on the government of Myanmar to take measures to ensure that the right to political participation can be exercised by all, without discrimination of any kind.
"We have serious concerns about the human rights situation in Myanmar ahead of its general elections on 8 November," said Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani in a statement issued from Geneva on Tuesday.
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, said Shamdasani.
The leading entity on human rights said 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, said the UN right body.
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, Shamdasani said.
"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," said the Spokesperson.
The UN rights body called 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.
"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," said the Spokesperson.
The UN rights body said they 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, said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
"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," said the Spokesperson.
A powerful bomb blast ripped through an Islamic seminary on the outskirts of the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday morning, killing at least seven students and wounding 112 others, police and a hospital spokesman said.
The bombing happened as a prominent religious scholar during a special class was delivering a lecture about the teachings of Islam at the main hall of the Jamia Zubairia madrassa, said police officer Waqar Azim. He said initial investigations suggest the bomb went off minutes after someone left a bag at the madrassa.
TV footage showed the damaged main hall of the seminary, where the bombing took place. The hall was littered with broken glass and its carpet was stained with blood. Police said at least 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of explosives was used in the attack.
Several of the wounded students were in critical condition, and hospital authorities feared the death toll could climb further. Authorities said some seminary teachers and employees were also wounded in the bombing.
Initially police said the bombing killed and wounded children but later they said almost all of the students were in their mid-20s.
Shortly after the attack, residents rushed to the seminary to check up on their sons or relatives who were studying there. Many relatives were gathering at the city’s main Lady Reading Hospital, where the dead and wounded students were brought by police in ambulances and other vehicles.
Some Afghan students studying at the seminary were also among the wounded persons, officials said.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the bombing and asked authorities to ensure the provision of best possible medical aid to the victims.
From his hospital bed, a wounded student, Mohammad Saqib, 24, said religious scholar Rahimullah Haqqani was explaining verses from the Quran when suddenly they heard a deafening sound and then cries and saw blood-stained students crying for help.
“Someone helped me and put me in an ambulance and I was brought to hospital,” he said.
Saqib had bandages on both arms but he was listed in a stable condition.
Another witness, Saeed Ullah, 24, said up to 500 students were present at the seminary’s main hall at the time of explosion. He said teachers were also among those who were wounded in the bombing.
A video filmed by a student at the scene showed the Islamic scholar Haqqani delivering a lecture when the bomb exploded. It was unclear whether the teacher was among the wounded.
Mohammad Asim, a spokesman at the Lady Reading Hospital, said seven students died and they received 70 wounded persons, mostly seminary students. A separate hospital was treating 42 others.
The attack comes days after Pakistani intelligence alerted that militants could target public places and important building, including seminaries and mosques across Pakistan, including Peshawar.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Peshawar which is the provincial capital of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan. The province has been the scene of such militant attacks in recent years, but sectarian violence has also killed or wounded people at mosques or seminaries across Pakistan.
The latest attack comes two days after a bombing in the southwestern city of Quetta killed three people. The Pakistani Taliban have been targeting public places, schools, mosques and the military across the country since 2001, when this Islamic nation joined the U.S.-led war on terror following the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Since then, the insurgents have declared war on the government of Pakistan and have carried out numerous attacks, including a brutal assault on an army-run school in the city of Peshawar in 2014 that killed 140 children and several teachers.
South Korea's health authorities decided on Monday to continue its flu vaccination program across the country as the suspected deaths after getting flu shots were found to have very little link to inoculation.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in a statement that there was a very little possibility for any link between flu vaccination and deaths, noting that it will continue its nationwide flu vaccination program.
A total of 59 people, mostly those in their 70s and 80s, have died after receiving flu shots this year. The number of those who have reported side effects was 1,231.
An investigation into 46 deaths found no direct link to the inoculation, while a probe into the remaining 13 deaths was underway.
Out of the total deaths, no case has been relevant to anaphylaxis shock, or a fatal allergic reaction from vaccination.
The government has been pushing for a free flu inoculation program to vaccinate about 19 million people, including the elderly people and teenagers.
Out of the combined 14.68 million flu shots the South Korean people have received this year, 9.68 million flu shots have been given under the free vaccination program.
The program came as a part of efforts to prevent the so-called "twindemic" of COVID-19 and flu during the winter influenza season.
Public concerns recently mounted here over the safety of flu vaccines as some of vaccine vials for the free vaccination program were exposed to room temperature while being transported.
The health authorities said there was no safety issue as the exposure time was short.
Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar held extensive talks with visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday evening, hours after the latter and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in this country in the first leg of a five-day Asia trip aimed at bolstering strategic ties amid increasing Chinese influence in the region.
"Pleased to welcome @SecPompeo. Taking our Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership forward," Jaishankar tweeted moments before the one-to-one meeting with his US counterpart at the iconic Hyderabad House in the heart of the national capital.
On Tuesday, Jaishankar and Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh will hold a joint summit -- the third edition of 2 + 2 Ministerial Dialogue -- with Pompeo and Esper. Later that day, both the visiting American leaders will call on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to an itinerary released by the Indian External Affairs Ministry.
At the summit, India and the US are likely to ink the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA). “The two (Defense) Ministers have expressed satisfaction that an agreement of BECA will be signed during the visit,” the Defense Ministry has said in a statement.
Quoting unnamed sources privy to the development, a media report said that under the pact, India will gain access to precision data and topographical images on a real-time basis from the US military satellites. A maritime information agreement is also under discussion between the two countries, another report said.
The visit of the two top President Donald Trump's emissaries comes a week before the American presidential election slated for November 3.
Before boarding the flight to India, Pompeo had tweeted: "Wheels up for my trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. Grateful for the opportunity to connect with our partners to promote a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific composed of independent, strong, and prosperous nations."
Last week, the US said it was keeping a close watch on the India-China standoff in Ladakh, and expressed its desire in de-escalating the situation along the Line of Actual Control -- an ill-defined, 3,440km-long disputed border.
Both the countries are competing to build infrastructure along the border, which is also known as the Line of Actual Control. The main trigger for the June border clash between India and China was the former's construction of a new road to a high-altitude air base. The clash had left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead.
Thailand’s Parliament began a special session Monday that was called to address tensions as pro-democracy protests draw students and other demonstrators into the streets almost daily demanding the prime minister’s resignation.
As Speaker of the House Chuan Leekpai began the session, only 450 of the total of 731 members of both houses had signed in for the meeting.
The demonstrations by student-led groups in the Bangkok and other cities have three main demands: that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha step down, the constitution be amended to make it more democratic and reforms be made to the monarchy to make it more accountable.
Public criticism of the monarchy is unprecedented in a country where the royal institution has been considered sacrosanct, and royalists have denounced the protesters for raising the issue.
“The only way to a lasting solution for all sides that is fair for those on the streets as well as for the many millions who choose not to go on the streets is to discuss and resolve these differences through the parliamentary process,” Prayuth said last week.
The non-voting session of Parliament is expected to last two days.
The protesters have little confidence in the parliamentary path, declaring the government’s efforts insincere.
They noted the points of discussion submitted by Prayuth’s government for debate dealt not with the protesters’ concerns but were thinly disguised criticisms of the protests themselves.
They concern instead the risk of the coronavirus spreading at rallies, the alleged interference with a royal motorcade by a small crowd earlier this month, and illegal gatherings and the destruction of images of the royal family.
The protesters allege Prayuth, who led a coup in 2014 as the army chief, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s election because laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. The protesters also say the constitution, written and enacted under military rule, is undemocratic.
Parliament in September was scheduled to vote on six proposed constitutional amendments but instead set up a committee to further consider such proposals, and then recessed.
Constitutional changes require a joint vote of the House and the Senate, but the proposals lack support in the Senate, whose members are not elected and are generally very conservative and hostile to the protesters.
Instead of confronting lawmakers and counter-protesters on Monday, the pro-democracy protest organizers have called for an afternoon march to the German Embassy, apparently to bring attention to the time King Maha Vajiralongkorn spends in Germany.
Germany’s foreign minister, questioned in Parliament by a member of the Green Party, recently expressed concern over any political activities the king might be conducting on the country’s soil.
Protesters’ criticism of the royal institution has roiled conservative Thais. Self-proclaimed “defenders of the monarchy” mobilized last week online and in rallies in several cities, in many cases led by local civil servants.
A small group of royalist demonstrators were outside Parliament on Monday morning, saying they were there to let lawmakers know of their opposition to any changes in the status of the monarchy.
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