Myanmar election app goes offline, has been criticized over label for Rohingya

Myanmar election app goes offline, has been criticized over label for Rohingya
A man wearing a protective face mask walks on the street amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, in Yangon, Myanmar, October 2, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 October 2020

Myanmar election app goes offline, has been criticized over label for Rohingya

Myanmar election app goes offline, has been criticized over label for Rohingya
  • The mVoter2020 app labels at least two candidates belonging to the Rohingya ethnic group as “Bengali”
  • The term implies they are immigrants from Bangladesh and is rejected by many Rohingya

YANGON: A smartphone app produced for Myanmar’s Nov. 8 election with help from international organizations appears to have been removed from circulation and may be amended after criticism over its use of a label for Rohingya Muslims that the Rohingya view as derogatory.
The mVoter2020 app, launched on Tuesday and aimed at improving voter awareness, labels at least two candidates belonging to the Rohingya ethnic group as “Bengali”, a term that implies they are immigrants from Bangladesh and is rejected by many Rohingya.
The app was not available to download for mobile and a web version was inaccessible on Friday, bringing up an error message that read “Server is temporarily closed.”
Marcus Brand, the country director of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), which is based in Stockholm and helped develop the app, said he understood it had been removed while discussions were ongoing but did not have further details.
Brand said the group was advising the removal of contentious words used to identify candidates’ ethnic background.
“We are advocating the electoral authorities to remove this information from the app in order to ensure candidate security and… increase the integrity of the process,” he told Reuters, adding he hoped the app would go back online soon.
The app was developed by Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC), with support from STEP Democracy, a European Union-funded project implemented in Myanmar by International IDEA, and the US-based Asia Foundation.
Pierre Michel, public diplomacy adviser to the EU’s Myanmar mission, told Reuters the EU “should have been warned about the inclusion of discriminatory data” in the app and was “considering all options” as to how to respond.
The UEC and Asia Foundation did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
Brand said International IDEA’s role was to digitize candidate registration forms for a database and that it did not have “technical nor editorial control” over the app’s content. The UEC requires applicants to submit citizenship documents that classify them by their race and religion.
“We do not generally think that advertising the ethnic and religious identification of candidates is advisable in the Myanmar context,” Brand said.
Activist group Justice for Myanmar said in a statement on Wednesday that the app risked “inflaming ethnic and religious nationalism during the election”.
Aye Win, one of the Rohingya candidates, told Reuters he was informed by the UEC on Friday that he was being disqualified, although it was not clear if this was related to the app.


US says China committed ‘genocide’ against Uighur, minority groups in Xinjiang

US says China committed ‘genocide’ against Uighur, minority groups in Xinjiang
Updated 40 min 1 sec ago

US says China committed ‘genocide’ against Uighur, minority groups in Xinjiang

US says China committed ‘genocide’ against Uighur, minority groups in Xinjiang
  • Rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking Muslims are incarcerated in camps

WASHINGTON: The US declared Tuesday that China is carrying out genocide against the Uighurs and other mostly Muslim people, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dramatically raising pressure over Beijing's sweeping incarceration of minorities on his last full day in office.
“I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“We will not remain silent. If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will be emboldened to do to the free world, in the not-so-distant future,” he said.
Pompeo's vociferous criticism of Beijing has been a hallmark of his tenure but he has earlier danced around directly alleging genocide, saying repeatedly that the treatment of Uighurs was reminiscent of Nazi Germany's policies.
Pompeo urged all international bodies including courts to take up cases over China's treatment of the Uighurs and voiced confidence that the US would keep raising pressure.
Rights groups believe that at least one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking Muslims are incarcerated in camps in the western region of Xinjiang.
Witnesses and activists say that China is seeking to forcibly integrate the Uighurs into the majority Han culture by eradicating Islamic customs, including by forcing Muslims to eat pork and drink alcohol, forbidden by their faith.
China denies wrongdoing and contends that its camps are vocational training centers meant to reduce the allure of Islamic extremism in the wake of attacks.
Unlike many decisions by Pompeo seen as boxing in President-elect Joe Biden, the genocide declaration could be welcomed by the new administration.
Biden himself had accused outgoing president Donald Trump of not doing enough on human rights in China, with his campaign in August using the term genocide when describing the “unspeakable oppression” of the Uighurs and other minorities.
Pompeo's declaration means that the Biden administration could stand by the genocide declaration while potentially finding areas of cooperation with China without facing Beijing's anger for issuing the statement.
Janet Yellen, Biden's nominee to be treasury secretary, in her confirmation hearing Tuesday vowed to use the “full array of tools” against China of trade and other purported abuses.
The Trump administration has already taken a number of steps to pressure China over its treatment of the Uighurs, including blocking all imports of cotton from Xinjiang -- one of the major global producers of yarn used in textile manufacturing.
Successive US administrations have been cautious about using the term genocide, mindful of legal implications at home and abroad.
George W. Bush's administration described Sudan's scorched-earth campaign in Darfur as genocide, while Barack Obama's administration said likewise about Daesh extremist group's mass killings, rape and enslavement of Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities.
Lawmakers across the political spectrum have called on the US to declare that China is carrying out genocide against the Uighurs, saying that evidence was increasingly clear.
Representative Michael Waltz, a Republican, praised Pompeo's declaration as acknowledging reality and said it “serves notice to the rest of the world in how they should deal with the Chinese Communist Party.”
In a study last year, German researcher Adrian Zenz found that China has forcibly sterilized large numbers of Uighur women and pressured them to abort pregnancies that exceed birth quotas. China denied the account, saying that Uighur women were breaking free from “extremism” by using contraception.
Pompeo in his statement called on China to “abolish its system of internment, detention camps, house arrest and forced labor” and “cease coercive population control measures, including forced sterilizations, forced abortion, forced birth control, and the removal of children from their families.”
He also urged China to “end all torture and abuse” in custody and allow Uighurs and other minorities to emigrate.