UNITED NATIONS - Regretting Myanmar authorities refusal to grant her access to Rakhine state during a just-concluded trip to the country, a U.N. human rights expert called for addressing the “institutionalized discrimination” faced by the Rohingya Muslim community in that strife-torn region.

In an end-of-mission statement, Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar,  said “some serious human rights violations have occurred” in Rakhine state, while expressing particular concern over restrictions on the freedom of movement of the Muslim community, such as lacking access to basic health care, education and livelihoods. “More must and can be done to address the legal status of the Rohingya and the institutionalized discrimination faced by this community,” she said, adding that improving education opportunities and access to higher education is a priority.

Lee’s visit was reduced by the Government from 10 days to five, with sudden cancelations of some requested meetings and visits. Despite her frustration on the changes, the human rights expert recommitted her engagement with the government and all stakeholders, the statement said.

Dealing with the situation in elsewhere in Myanmar, she expressed concern over curbs to free expression and possible voter disenfranchisement, ahead of upcoming elections in November, and urged the government to “reconsider its fear and opposition to critical and independent voices,” which are “partners” not “threats.” “Civil society actors, journalists and ordinary citizens exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association are not threats; instead they are the voice of different communities and interests in Myanmar,” Lee said.

As a key milestone in Myanmar’s transition to democracy, at the end of her visit to the country, Lee said that the forthcoming elections will be an opportunity to reaffirm and consolidate the reform process. However, the possible disenfranchisement of civil society actors, refugees living in conflict zones, and previous temporary registration cards holders is of great concern, the human rights expert noted during her visit.

“To be truly free and fair, the elections must be inclusive and must truly reflect the will of the people,” said Lee, adding that “they play a vital role in contributing to and sustaining a robust democracy, and in advocating for the promotion and protection of human rights.”

As the ongoing conflict is holding off inclusive and peaceful elections, Lee emphasized the significance of fully integrating human rights issues, as well as engaging women in all stage of the peace process.