Vietnam Jails Six Human Rights Activists

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HANOI, Vietnam – In Vietnam, six human rights activists were sentenced to between 7 and 15 years in jail. The activists were charged for “attempting to overthrow the state” on Thursday, April 5th, 2018. The sentenced imposed on the activists is the harshest sentence in years in Vietnam. All of them will face up to five years under house arrest when they are released from prison.

Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Thursday, April 5, 2018. Photo courtesy of Lam Khanh via REUTERS.

The six activists were connected to the Brotherhood for Democracy group. They were accused of pushing multi-party democracy and receiving money from overseas. Blogger Pham Van Troi, priest Nguyen Trung Ton, journalist Truong Minh Duc, entrepreneur Nguyen Bac Truyen, and human rights worker Le Thu Ha were all sentenced on Thursday.

The Hanoi People’s Court gave Nguyen Van Dai, a human rights lawyer, the longest sentence for “trying to overthrow the people’s administration.” He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Ms Vu Minh Khanh, Dai’s wife, expressed her disappointment with the trial. She claims that “he is innocent and he pleaded innocent at the trial.”

Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the Communist Party of Vietnam has ruled the country. Although the country has been reforming its economy and its social policies, the government retains a tight grip on media censorship.

Amnesty International believes that there are around 97 prisoners being held in jail for their human rights work in the country.

On the recent actions taken by the Vietnamese government, the United States State Department stated that “the United States is deeply concerned by the Vietnamese government’s efforts to restrict these rights, through a disturbing trend of increased arrests, convictions, and harsh sentences of peaceful activists.” Moreover, the spokesperson went further by stating that “individuals have the right to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, both online and offline.”

CNN – Six activists jailed in Vietnam amid crackdown on dissent – 5 April, 2018

The Guardian – Vietnam jails six activists for up to 15 years for trying to ‘overthrow state’ – 5 April, 2018

The Straits Times – Vietnam jails human rights lawyer, five other activists – 6 April, 2018

North and South Korean Leaders Agree to Meet on April 27th

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – On April 27th, 2018, North and South Korea have agreed to their first summit in more than a decade. The two leaders will meet at the border village of Panmunjom. Since the Korean War, Kim Jong-un will be the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South.

Head of the presidential National Security Office meets with Kim Jong-un on March 5, 2018 in Pyongyang. Photo courtesy of South Korean Presidential Blue House.

Since the North’s involvement in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics last month, both countries have been negotiating for the two leaders to meet. On March 29th, 2018, senior negotiators from both countries met to decide on a date and other aspects of the meeting.

The meeting in April will be the third summit between leaders of North and South. Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, met with President Kim Dae-jung in 2000 and Roh Moo-hyun in 2007 in Pyongyang.

The South Korean Unification Minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, mentioned a potential discussion of denuclearization of North Korea at the meeting. The minister stated that “the South and North agreed on efforts to make the summit successful, sharing its historic significance in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, settling peace there and improving inter-Korean relations.”

The recent agreement was welcomed by the United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres. He stated that the meeting is “an opportunity for a peaceful solution to something that, a few months ago, was haunting us as the biggest danger we were facing.”

Although the date has not been set, the North Korean leader offered to meet with President Trump, who accepted the offer. The potential meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un will most likely occur after the North and South meet later this month. If the meeting is set, President Trump will be the first sitting United States president to meet with a North Korean leader.

According to a recent survey conducted by RealMeter, 73.1 percent of respondents welcomed the meeting. However, around 64 percent expressed that they did not trust the North’s intentions.

Al Jazeera – South Korea to host talks before inter-Korean summit – 28 March, 2018

CNBC – North, South Korea to hold first summit in years on April 27 – 29 March, 2018

The New York Times – North and South Korea Set a Date for Summit Meeting at Border – 29 March, 2018

Singapore Criticizes Human Rights Watch Report

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SINGAPORE, Singapore – Singapore’s government has responded to the 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, which alleged “creative repression” inside the city-state. The report suggested that the government is actively silencing political oppositions. Moreover, many groups have criticized the government for using laws to limit free speech.

Many people gathered to protest the new anti-fake news legislation in Singapore. Photo courtesy of Edgar Su.

In response, the Ministry of Law stated that “HRW’s stance is disappointing, but not surprising. HRW has a pattern of issuing biased and untruthful statements about Singapore.” In addition, the government discredited the report by stating that the report “cannot be taken seriously as a commentator or interlocutor on issues relating to Singapore.”

Vikram Nair, a member of the parliament, also wrote to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehood that the report “seems to advocate the use of false and fabricated allegations in political discourse… Singapore looks and feels different from many other countries. We stand out for our efficiency, the educational and social development of our population, the real freedoms that our people enjoy: the freedom from want, the freedom from deprivation, the freedom to walk around without fear of crime.”

Many believe that Singapore’s proposed anti-fake news legislation was taken into consideration. Although the details have not been finalized, the critics believe that the new law could allow the government to exert more influence over the country’s media. Reporters Without Border (RSF) also commented on the country’s already “draconian laws.”

At the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods hearing, representatives from Google, Twitter, and Facebook warned against the proposed legislation.

In comparison to 180 countries, the World Press Freedom Index for 2017 ranked Singapore at 151.

For more information, please see:

Channel News Asia – PAP Policy Forum slams Human Rights Watch report on Singapore, calls it a ‘deliberate falsehood’ – 23 March, 2018

Rappler – Human Rights Watch ‘biased’ and ‘untruthful’ – Singapore – 23 March, 2018

Asian Correspondent – Singapore calls Human Rights Watch ‘biased and untruthful’ – 26 March, 2018

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Human Rights Award Rescinded

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday, March 7th announced that it was rescinding the Elie Wiesel Award given to Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012. The Nobel laureate, who is serving as Myanmar’s civilian leader is accused of failing to intervene in the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority crisis. Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized for failing to use her “moral authority” to halt the brutality against the minority.

US Holocaust Memorial Museum strips Aung San Suu Kyi of her Elie Wiesel Award. Photo courtesy of Hein Htet.

The prestigious Elie Wiesel Award is named after the late Holocaust survivor who is also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Sara Bloomfield, the director of the Holocaust Memorial Museum stated that the organization “did not take this decision lightly.” Furthermore, the museum felt that they were compelled to act due to the mass displacements and killings of the Rohingya minority. Bloomfield continued to say that Suu Kyi’s political party “refused to cooperate with United Nations investigators, promulgated hateful rhetoric against the Rohyingya community, and denied access to and crack down on journalists trying to uncover the scope of the crimes in Rakhine State.”

Myanmar’s embassy in Washington, D.C. released the following statement in regards to the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s decision: “We immensely regret that the … Holocaust Museum has been misled and exploited by people who failed to see the true situation in making fair judgment on the situation in Rakhine State.”

Since August, more than 688,000 Rohingya refugees have left Rakhine State. Myanmar’s military continues to claim that it is combating a terrorist insurgency in the province.

In November, Aung San Suu Kyi was also stripped of the Freedom of the City of Oxford award. This was awarded to her in 1997 for “her opposition to oppression and military rule in Burma.” She studied at Oxford University, but her portrait in the university has since been removed.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – U.S. Holocaust Museum Revokes Award to Aung San Suu Kyi – 7 March, 2018

The Guardian – US Holocaust Museum withdraws Aung San Suu Kyi’s human rights award – 7 March, 2018

CNN – Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi stripped of human rights award – 8 March, 2018

China Proposes Lifting President Xi’s Term Limit

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – The legislatures open its annual session with a constitutional amendment to end the two-term limit for President Xi Jinping’s presidency. This move was predicted when President Xi did not nominate a clear successor in October. By removing the two-term limit, President Xi’s status will be elevated to president for life. Since 2012, President Xi Jinping has been tightening control over the country. Over the past five years, he has solidified himself as a father figure and cracked down on his opposition.

President Xi’s two-term limit is expected to be removed at the annual meetings of China’s top legislative bodies. Photo courtesy of Mark Schiefelbein.

The presidency in China combines the three pillars of power in China: president, party chairman, and head of the Central Military Commission. In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping established the collective leadership model. Since its formation, every leader was expected to hand the power over to its successor for a smooth transition.

Based on Xi’s rule, many analysts believe that the Chinese politics has shifted from collective autocracy to one-man rule. Xi has laid out his vision to turn china into a top innovative nation by 2035. By achieving the “China Dream,” he has proposed to fully modernize the country by mid-century. Moreover, he has lead a campaign to end corruption and end poverty by establishing the National Supervisory Commission.

Xi has also laid out his vision to eclipse the United States as the world’s largest economy and pushing it out of the Asia-Pacific sphere.

On March 4th, the spokesman for the congress defended the constitutional amendment publicly. Zhang Yesui stated that the move is “conductive to uphold the authority of the (Communist Party) Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core.”

Although the constitutional amendment is expected to pass with near-unanimous approval, the proposal has been criticized by independent political commentators.

Business Insider – Xi Jinping’s permanent presidency has terrifying ramifications for the Chinese people – 3 March, 2018

The Guardian – Eight signs that Xi Jinping was planning to cement his grip on China – 3 March, 2018

The Washington Post – Xi term-limits controversy looms at China political meeting – 4 March, 2018

Indonesia Proposes to Criminalize Same-Sex Relations

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

JAKARTA,  Indonesia – The United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein criticized Indonesia parliament’s proposal to criminalize gay sex and extramarital sex. During a three-day visit the world’s largest Muslim- majority nation, the UN chief raised his concerns with President Joko Widodo.

Man gets caning in Banda Aceh, Indonesia for having gay sex. Photo courtesy of Ulet Ifansasti.

The UN chief in a briefing stated that “the hateful rhetoric against the LGBT community that is being cultivated seemingly for cynical political purposes will only deepen their suffering and create unnecessary divisions.” He further stated that the proposal was “discriminatory.”

He told journalists that “Islamophobia is wrong. Discrimination on the basis of the religious beliefs and color is wrong. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or any other status is wrong.”

Zeid, a member of the Jordanian royal family expressed that Indonesia was among the most progressive states in the Southeast Asia on human rights.

The parliament is currently debating whether to adopt a Dutch colonial-era criminal code. This proposal would outlaw sex outside marriage, same-sex relations, and co-habitation. Except for the Islamic province of Aceh, Indonesia does not regulate homosexuality.

Last month, police in Aceh reportedly detained 12 transgender individuals at hair salons. The individuals were forced to cut their hair, beaten, and made to wear male clothing. Recently, by the request of the Indonesian government, Google removed one of the world’s largest gay dating apps from their online store.

With a largely conservative voter base ahead of presidential and legislative year elections, the proposed revisions have broad support in parliament. Although President Widodo’s officials have expressed support for the LGBT community, President Widodo has said that Indonesia’s cultural and religious norms do not acknowledge the LGBT movement.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Indonesia wants to criminalise same-sex relations – 7 February, 2018

Business Insider – Indonesia is considering making extramarital and gay sex illegal, and the UN calls it ‘hateful’ – 7 February, 2018

Channel NewsAsia – Indonesia’s plan to outlaw same-sex relationships worrying: UN human rights chief – 7 February, 2018

Reuters – U.N. rights chief slams Indonesia proposal to outlaw gay, extramarital sex – 7 February, 2018

Pakistan’s Leading Human Rights Advocate Dies

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – On February 11th, 2018, Asma Jahangir, Pakistani’s leading human rights advocate died. According to her sister, Hina Jilani, a prominent rights activist, announced that Jahangir died of cardiac arrest.

Asma Jahangir, leading human rights activist dies at the age of 66. Photo courtesy of Arif Ali/ AFP.

In 2014, Jahangir received France’s highest civilian award and Sweden’s alternative to the Nobel Prize for her rights work. She spoke out for women and minority rights throughout her life and criticized Pakistan’s rights violations. Specifically, she was critical of Pakistan’s military, intelligence and right-wing parties. The former United Nations special rapporteur was 66.

In 1983, she was arrested for pro-democracy activities. She was again put under house arrest in 2007 for opposing military leader’s removal of Supreme Court chief justice. She also co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Women’s Action Forum.  She was the first female leader of Pakistan’s Supreme Court bar association. Jahangir served as the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion and on human rights in Iran.

Some leaked documents suggested that some officers had planned to assassinate her. When the documents were leaked, she asked for an inquiry to find out “the forces who wanted to silence” her.

In the city of Lahore, thousands of people attended Jahangir’s funeral. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in a statement expressed his condolences and said that her death was a great loss. Moreover, Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner called Jahangir a “savior of democracy and human rights.” The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has paid tribute to Jahangir following her death.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Asma Jahangir: Pakistan human rights champion dies – 11 February, 2018

The Straits Times – Asia Briefs: Pakistan human rights advocate dies – 12 February, 2018

Al Jazeera – Thousands pay respects to Pakistan’s ‘human rights giant’ – 14 February, 2018

Financial Times – Asma Jahangir, 1952-2018, human rights activist and lawyer – 16 February, 2018

North Korean leader invites President Moon to Pyeongyang

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

SEOUL, South Korea – The North Korean leader, Kim Jung Un, has sent a formal invitation to the South Korean President to visit North Korea. If successful, the two countries would be meeting for the first time since 2007. The invitation was delivered by Kim Jung Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong.

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, meets President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in in Seoul. Photo Courtesy of Kim Ju-Sung.

The personal invitation was verbally delivered during a lunch hosted by President Moon Jae-in of South Korea at the Blue House in Seoul. Kim Jong Un expressed his desire to meet President Moon “in the near future.” Furthermore, he stated that he would like to meet at President Moon’s “earliest convenience.”

Upon receiving the invitation, the Blue House “practically accepted” the invitation. President Moon, through his spokesman wished to “create the environment for that to be able to happen.”

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader, joined the top delegation attending the Winter Games opening ceremony in South Korea. She is the first member of the ruling family of North Korea to visit South Korea since the war began in 1950. The delegation also included Kim Yong Nam, who served as the leader of the delegation. The 90-year-old is technically North Korea’s head of state. In addition, Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee also joined the delegation. South Korea had to seek a exemption from the United Nations for Choe’s travel as he is currently under international sanctions. There are about 500 North Koreans attending the Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

The invitation by the North was not well received by Washington. Vice President Pence, who led the U.S. delegation to South Korea intended to isolate North Korea. He has repeatedly called Kim’s regime “the most tyrannical” on Earth.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Kim Jong Un invites South Korean president for summit: South Korea – 9 February, 2018

The Washington Post – North Korea’s Kim Jong Un invites South Korea’s president to Pyongyang – 10 February, 2018

CNN – Kim Jong Un invites South Korean President Moon to Pyongyang – 11 February, 2018


Five Mass Graves Found in Rakhine

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – According to a recent report by the Associated Press (AP) news agency, many Rohingya villagers have been massacred and buried in five mass graves. AP reported that around 400 Rohingya villagers were murdered by members of Myanmar’s military.

New mass graves were found in Myanmar according to AP. Photo Courtesy of Manish Swarup.

The survivors of the massacre told the Associated Press that the killing took place on August 27. The attack happened in the village of Gu Dar Pyin. According to Noor Kadir, a survivor of the massacre, he found six of his friends buried in two separate mass graves. Kadir stated that he was only able to identify his friend by the color of his friend’s shorts.

The attack began around noon when 200 soldiers attacked the village. Based on a video that was obtained after the fact, it showed the soldiers using acid to remove traces of evidence. The survivors told the Associated Press that the Burmese military tried to cover up evidence of murder.

Previously, Myanmar had admitted responsibility for one mass grave site in the village of Inn Din. However, the government is denying the massacre that allegedly occurred in Gu Dar Pyin.

Since the attack, Myanmar has denied access to Gu Dar Pyin. Due to this reason, it is difficult to get the accurate number of deaths. However, based on the satellite images gathered from DigitalGlobe, the village is reported to be wiped out.

Myanmar is denying AP’s investigation. The government in a statement reported that 17 government officials investigated the matter in Gu Dar Pyin. When they spoke with the community leaders, they informed the agencies that “no such things happened.”

Since the conflict began, around 680,000 Rohingya minority have fled Myanmar and relocated to Bangladesh.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Evidence of Rohingya mass graves uncovered in Myanmar – 1 February, 2018

The Guardian – Myanmar: UN and US deeply troubled over new report of five mass graves – 1 February, 2018

ABC News – Myanmar government denies AP report of Rohingya mass graves – 2 February, 2018

Reuters – Myanmar denies report of new mass graves in Rakhine – 2 February, 2018

China Publicly Executes 10 People

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Officials in Lufeng, a city in southern Guangdong province, publicly sentenced 12 people to death. The city of Lufeng is about 100 miles from Hong Kong. Four days before the execution, a court in Lufeng invited the public to watch the execution. Thousands gathered at a local sports stadium to watch the sentencing.

Thousands gather to watch public executions in Lufeng. Photo courtesy of The Paper.

The 12 people were brought into the stadium on the back of police vehicles with their sirens blaring. It was reported that seven of the 10 executed were convicted of drug-related crimes. The others were found guilty of murder and robbery. According to a video from the trial, their sentences were read on a small platform. While the 10 people were executed, the local media was unsure about what happened to the other two people.

Although the exact numbers are not published to the public, according to a human rights NGO, it is estimated that China executed around 2,000 people last year. The number of people executed in China is estimated to be more than the rest of world combined.

About five months ago, eight people were sentenced to death publicly for drug-related crimes. Although public trials in China are rare, the town of Lufeng has seen such sentences carried out before. In 2014, when the town was a spot for a drug bust, around 3,000 police officers arrested nearly 180 people. During the bust, three tonnes of crystal-meth were confiscated. It was reported that around 7,000 people watched as 55 people were sentenced. In this region, the police reported that 10 tonnes of drugs were seized in 10 months. The officials further reported that over 13,000 drugs cases were solved.

The Guardian – Thousands in China watch as 10 people sentenced to death in sport stadium – 17 December, 2017

BBC – China public executions over drugs alarm web users – 18 December, 2017

Independent – China sentences 10 people to death in sports stadium as thousands watched – 18 December, 2017

Duterte’s War on Drugs in the Philippines

By Brian Kim

Impunity Watch Special Features Editor

Edited By Yesim Usluca

Impunity Watch Senior Special Features Editor

On June 30, 2016, Rodrigo Duterte was sworn in as the Philippines’ 16th president. After beating three opponents, Duterte won the presidential election by sixteen million votes with his “change is coming” message. Throughout the campaign, Duterte was referred to as “the Punisher” for his tough policies against alleged criminals and drug dealers.

When first elected to his six-year term, Rodrigo Duterte faced a number of pressing issues. Although the nation of ninety-eight million people was considered one of Asia’s best-performing economies, the sluggish growth since the end of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship was visible to its citizens. With 60% of the total labor being employed by small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), many Filipinos still faced significant financial issues. With its capital, Manila, dominating the economy, terrible traffic and deteriorating infrastructure made the city unlivable.

Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with the outgoing President Benigno Aquino. (Photo courtesy of Ted Aljibe)

Aside from policy issues, Duterte quickly formed his government to begin implementing his initiatives. He surrounded himself with a very capable economic team who could stabilize and build on the current economy. His other cabinet picks included a wide array of politicians with great records. Furthermore, he selected the national police chief who is known for his tough approach to criminality.

Although there were a number of other pressing issues facing the country, President Rodrigo Duterte was most famously elected to “eradicate” drugs, crime and corruption in six months. During his time as the mayor of Davao City for twenty-two years, although challenged by some, he is credited for turning the city from the Philippines’ most deadly into one of its safest.  In the city of 1.5 million, Duterte conducted an operation to execute suspected criminals in the street. As a candidate for the Philippines’ 2016 presidential elections, Duterte vowed to kill 100,000 criminals while in office in order to control the country’s crime problems.

At his election victory event in Davao City, he encouraged ordinary citizens to kill by saying “do it yourselves if you have guns, you have my support.” After he took office, he went further and again urged his citizens to kill drug addicts as “getting their parents to do it would be too painful.” He blatantly stated that he did not care about human rights or due process in his country if it could eliminate the drug and crime issues in the Philippines.

Since taking office, Duterte ordered his police force to eliminate criminals. By rewarding police officers who killed drug lords with cash prizes, police killings in the Philippines rose 400% nationwide.  In fact, Duterte promised to protect the police from prosecution if they killed suspected drug dealers. This began his six-month campaign to fight against the drug problems in the Philippines.

When Duterte was first elected to office, around 1,027 people were killed during police operations based on the national police report data gathered from July 1 to September 5, 2016. With over 15,000 arrests and 686,000 surrendering voluntarily to police, the war against drugs had a huge impact on its citizens from the beginning. At the time, according to records, there were at least 1,500 pending cases under the category of “found dead body, under investigation.” Despite the increased number of police killings in the country, the national survey showed around 91% of Filipinos having a “high degree of trust” with their new government.

Towards the end of September 2016, President Duterte’s government demoted a high-profile politician from serving as the head of a committee investigating Duterte’s extrajudicial killings. Senator Leila de Lima, a former Justice Secretary, had led the opposition against the government’s war on drugs. Senator de Lima had claimed that over 3,000 have been killed in the eleven weeks since Duterte was sworn into office. Among the many deaths, Maria Aurora Moynihan, daughter of British baron Anthony Moynihan, was regarded as one of the highest profile victims. She was found shot dead with a sign over her body reading “drug punishers to celebrities, you’re next.” In a recent investigation, hitman Edgar Matobato testified under oath that Duterte ordered him to assassinate criminals while serving as the mayor of Davao City. He further claimed that Duterte himself had killed an agent and that the President’s own son was a drug user.

Although Duterte’s government justified the removal of Senator de Lima by stating that she was using the committee for “personal political vendettas,” many strategists believe that it was due to the recent incident with Matobato and his testimony.

Moreover, soon after Matobato’s testimony, President Duterte released a list of 1,000 “narco-politicians” and other officials with suspected drug links. Many analysts believed that the list indicated that the anti-drug campaign would be longer than six months and that Duterte was ready to ask for an extension.

Since Senator de Lima’s removal from her post, many began to doubt the country’s democracy. Human Rights Watch stated that Senator de Lima’s removal was a “craven attempt to derail accountability for the appalling death toll from the abusive war on drugs.”

In October 2016, President Duterte gave a speech in Manila which included police statistics on his drug war operation. In his speech, he claimed that two policemen were dying everyday due to the war with illegal drugs. However, based on the official data, only thirteen police officers were killed in a three-month period. During this time, numerous reports came out claiming that Duterte was exaggerating statistics to make a claim for his campaign. In fact, on July 25, 2016, President Duterte, during his inaugural address to the nation, claimed that there were 3.7 million “drug addicts” in the Philippines. However, based on a survey conducted by the Office of the President’s Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) in 2015, the Philippines has fewer than half the number of “drug addicts” stated by Duterte. Based on DDB data, about a third of the 1.8 million drug users had taken drugs only once in the previous thirteen months. The records also showed that around 860,000 consumed drugs, such as crystal meth, or shabu, which are considered highly addictive drugs.

Rodrigo Duterte appoints Aaron Aquino as the head of the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency. (Photo courtesy of EPA)

In his address in September 2016, Duterte claimed that the number of “addicts” would rise to four million and declared that the anti-drugs operations in his country would go on until June 2017.

In addition, a booklet handed out by Duterte’s government in September 2016 at a regional summit in Laos stated that 75% of the country’s “heinous crime” is drug-related. However, per the booklet, the definition of heinous crimes include murder, rape, human trafficking and treason, not drug crimes.

Keeping his promise, the anti-drug campaign extended into 2017 and the Philippine police released additional statistics. According to newly obtained information, the government performed over 40,000 anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to January 7, 2017. During this time, over 2,000 drug abusers were killed and around 44,000 people were arrested for drug-related offenses.

Furthermore, the police visited six-million houses during this period to persuade suspected abusers to submit themselves to a drug rehabilitation program. Based on these visits, over one-million people surrendered. The police further recognized that over 4,000 suspects were killed by vigilante-style killings, which is considered the most controversial feature of Duterte’s campaign. Finally, around thirty police officers and three soldiers were killed during the six-month period.

Many supporters of President Duterte and his campaign viewed these statistics as positive figures as the country vows to turn its tide on drug related crimes. However, many human rights organizations raised serious concerns over how the campaign was being carried out in the country.

The campaign came to a brief halt in January 2017 when rogue officers killed a South Korean businessman, Jee Ick-joo. Following the death of Mr. Ick-joo, President Duterte stated that he was “embarrassed” that the officers engaged in kidnapping which led to the South Korean’s death. Duterte’s police chief, Ronald de la Rosa stated that the police “will dissolve all anti-drug units in the police.” Although the killings did not stop entirely, around sixty-nine people were killed in March, which is at a much slower pace than previous rate of killings.


After the killing of Jee Ick-joo, President Duterte has tapped the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to lead the anti-drug campaign. Since the agency took over the campaign, Duterte was reported to take a “hands-off” approach when dealing with the drug war. He went even further and instructed the agency to not provide reports to him and left it completely up to the agency to execute the operation.

Despite the brief pause, President Duterte solidified his campaign in September 2017. In a vote of 119 to 32 in the country’s congress, the Philippines government reduced the annual budget of the Commission on Human Rights from $17 million to just $25.

The opposition members believed that this was the government’s retaliation against the Commission on Human Rights for being critical of President Duterte’s war on drugs. Phelim Kine, deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, accused the government of attempting to eliminate independent institutions from investigating President Duterte’s possible examples of abuse of power. Congressman Edcel Lagman, who opposes the budget cut, stated that the President is “virtually imposing the death penalty on a constitutionally created and mandated independent office.”

As President Duterte’s anti-drug war continued, in September 2017, the President’s eldest son, Paolo Duterte appeared before the Senate and denied any connection to a seized shipment of $125 million worth of drugs from China. Many opposition members alleged that Paolo Duterte assisted in easing the entry of the drugs, but the President’s son denied the allegations. President Duterte has repeatedly stated that he will resign as president if any of his family members were involved in corruption.

The international community has been critical of President Duterte’s war on drugs. Recently, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) called upon Duterte’s government to end all extrajudicial killings in the country. The organization cited “several credible reports and documentation” showing that many extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests, and internal displacements were occurring. Moreover, as an organization with a consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council, the group cited that “the number of individuals suspected to be involved in illegal drugs who apparently fell victim to extrajudicial or summary killings during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte ranges from 8,000 to 12,000 dead.”

In addition, earlier in November 2017, many human rights experts at the United Nations released a joint statement insisting Duterte’s government to cease any attacks and killings under the president’s war on drugs.

Conversely, President Duterte was also vocal in the international stage. At the 31st Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in November 2017, Duterte shared harsh words with Canada’s Justin Trudeau for commenting on his war on drugs campaign. Duterte characterized the comments made by the Canadian prime minister as “insulting” and said that “I only answer to the Filipino. I will not answer to any other bullshit, especially foreigners. Lay off.”

Last year, Duterte made headlines for insulting former President Barack Obama when he raised serious concerns about Duterte’s campaign and its human rights violations. After the comments were made by the former president, Duterte announced that he would break all ties with the United States. However, since President Donald Trump took office, the relationship has regained its strength.

President Donald Trump and President Duterte met during a bilateral meeting at the ASEAN Summit. During the visit, President Trump did not mention Duterte’s drug war. Instead, Trump praised Duterte’s hospitality. The White House stated that the meeting primarily focused on ISIS, illegal drugs, and trade. However, the Philippines government stated that the two leaders talked at length about the Philippine’s war on drugs. Unlike former U.S. leaders, President Trump did not mention human rights issues. The two men spoke previously over a phone call where President Trump commended Duterte on his anti-drugs operations. Moreover, during the call, Trump allegedly criticized his predecessor, President Barack Obama, and stated that he “did not understand” the drug issues facing the Philippines.

The recent reports out of the Philippines still showed a strong support for President Duterte’s war against drugs. Since the beginning of his pledge to control drugs and crime in the country, international human rights organizations reported that around 13,000 people have died from extrajudicial killing in the country. However, Duterte remains a very popular figure in the country as most are not impacted by his campaign. Statistics show that seven out of ten Filipinos still support Duterte’s war on drugs. Many believe that it is because the killings are happening in the poorer parts of the country.

President Rodrigo Duterte and President Donald Trump holds a bilateral meeting at the ASEAN Summit. (Photo courtesy of New York Times)

In an address to his country, Duterte instructed the Philippine National Force to stop all operations related to the campaign. Although the killings have not stopped completely, it is seen as a positive step towards stopping extrajudicial killings in the country. Following the recent changes, President Duterte appointed a new chief to the Philippines’ anti-drug agency, PDEA, Chief Aaron Aquino. Since Chief Aquino began his position, only one suspect had been killed in 1,341 operations.

Under Chief Aquino’s leadership, the agency vowed to wear body cameras when conducting operations to show that they are following the law. In a recent statement, he stated that he hoped the operations would be transparent and asked “the media to join in on the operations so they will see everything from the very start of the operations to the end.”

The PDEA has stated that they have arrested more than 400 people in the month of October and apprehended around $1 million worth of illegal drugs. Although the Philippines National Police (PNP) withdrew from leading Duterte’s anti-drugs operations, Chief Aquino noted that the PNP is still being consulted on “high level” operations. This is partly due to the shortage of officers available to PDEA as the PDEA has around 2,000 officers compared to the country’s 165,000 police officers.

President Duterte recently stated that if the drug problems worsen, he is willing to put the PNP in charge of the operations once again.


For more information, please see: 

ABC – Philippines: Commission on Human Rights budget cut to almost nothing amid Duterte’s drug crackdown – 13 September, 2017

ABS CBN – Int’l lawyers’ group urges Philippines to end killings, rights abuses – 30 November, 2017

Al Jazeera – Philippines: Inside Duterte’s killer drug war – 8 September, 2016

BBC – Duterte drug war: Philippines cuts rights body’s budget to $20 – 12 September, 2017

BBC – Philippine anti-drug agency chief vows ‘rule of law’ – 23 November, 2017

CNBC – Doubts grow over democracy in the Philippines after Senator Leila de Lima’s ousting – 22 September, 2016

CNBC – Trump does not publicly rebuke Duterte for drug war killings – 13 November, 2017

CNN – Rodrigo Duterte inaugurated as Philippines president – 30 June, 2016

The Diplomat – Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’ in the Philippines: By the Numbers – 9 January, 2017

The Guardian – Rodrigo Duterte calls Justin Trudeau’s questions about war on drugs an ‘insult’ – 14 November, 2017

The Guardian – Thousands dead: the Philippine president, the death squad allegations and a brutal drugs war – 2 April, 2017

Huffington Post – Duterte Deploys Questionable Data To Justify The Philippines’ Drug War – 24 October, 2016

The Independent – Philippines cuts its human rights budget to £15 – 13 September, 2017

NPR – Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte Sustains Support For Deadly War On Drugs – 13 November, 2017

Time – Rodrigo Duterte Has Been Sworn In as President of the Philippines – 30 June, 2016






Pope Francis Visits Myanmar as Rohingya Crisis Looms

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Pope Francis visited Myanmar for four days as the country deals with Asia’s worst humanitarian crisis in decades. At the Yangon sports ground, Pope Francis delivered his first public mass in the country. Tens of thousands of people gathered to listen to his speech where the Pope demanded “respect for each ethnic group.” In his homily, Pope Francis talked about forgiveness and ignoring the desire to revenge.

Pope Francis travels to Myanmar for a four-day trip before heading to Bangladesh to meet with Rohingya refugees. Photo courtesy of Lauren DeCicca.

However, during his trip, Pope Francis did not publicly speak about the persecuted Muslim minority. The authorities believe that as many as 620,000 have fled to Bangladesh to avoid persecution in Myanmar. During his homily, he did not directly reference violence against the Rohingya.

The recent events in Myanmar has led the international community to accuse the country of ethnic cleansing. In Myanmar, the term Rohingya is rejected, and the people are labeled as “Bengalis.”

Although many Rohingya activists did not blame the Pope directly, they voiced their concerns to his advisors who appeared to have persuaded the Pope to avoid bringing up the Rohingya issue in a public setting.

On Wednesday, November 29th, in response to many criticisms, a papal spokesman stated the moral authority of the Pope “still stands.” He further stated that people can “criticize what is said or not but the Pope is not going to lose any moral authority on this question here,” referring to the Rohingya crisis.

Whether the Pope should address the Rohingya issue has been debated fiercely within the Vatican. Among many voices, the most vocal was Charles Maung Bo, Myanmar’s first cardinal. He has been very vocal about defending the Rohingya and condemned those who have persecuted them. However, before the Pope’s visit, he advised the Pope to refrain from using the word.

Pope Francis is scheduled to fly to Bangladesh where he will meet Rohingya refugees on Thursday, November 30th.

For more information, please see:

ABC – Pope heads to Bangladesh with Rohingya crisis looming large – 29 November, 2017

BBC – Pope in Myanmar: All or nothing for the Rohingya – 29 November, 2017

The Guardian – Pope Francis disappoints Rohingya by failing to condemn persecution – 29 November, 2017

Secretary Tillerson calls Rohingya Crisis ‘Ethnic Cleansing’

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – The Trump administration on November 22 announced that Myanmar’s Rohingya minority crisis constituted “ethnic cleansing.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Myanmar last week and stated that he witnessed “horrendous atrocities” by the military. He went to say that “after careful and thorough analysis of the facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine State constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.” Although Secretary Tillerson did not call for an international investigation, he asked for a “credible, independent investigation.”

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since late August. Photo courtesy of Adam Dean.

This announcement allows for long-anticipated sanctions against Myanmar and further pressures its civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The United States government is planning to issue “targeted sanctions,” but is ruling out additional sanctions against Myanmar’s government as it goes through a delicate transition to democracy.

The legislation in Congress requires the United States to eliminate all ties to the Myanmar’s military. Numerous lawmakers on capitol hill commended Secretary Tillerson’s announcement. In addition, the announcement was also praised at the United Nations.

Although the situation is not completely under her authority, Aung San Suu Kyi is facing harsh criticism over its response to the Rohingya crisis.

Since the crisis began, over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine state to Bangladesh. According to the United States delegation to Myanmar and Bangladesh, there were numerous reports of rape and murder of family members of the Rohingya Muslims. Furthermore, many news sources have heard of massacres, killings, and rape.

The announcement from the United States government comes shortly before the Pope’s arrival to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Myanmar on November 26th and visit with General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military chief, and Aung San Suu Kyi.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Rohingya crisis: US calls Myanmar action ‘ethnic cleansing’ – 22 November, 2017

NYT – Myanmar’s Crackdown on Rohingya Is Ethnic Cleansing, Tillerson Says – 22 November, 2017

Reuters – U.S. calls Myanmar moves against Rohingya ‘ethnic cleansing’ – 22 November, 2017

China Banned Travel to North Korea Ahead of Trump Visit

Brian Kim
Impunity Watch 
Reporter, Asia 

BEIJING, China – On Tuesday, November 7th, the Chinese government banned tourism to the North Korean capital Pyongyang. This order was issued right before President Donald Trump’s first official visit to China.

The statues of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang. Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty Images.

Based on numerous sources, Chinese tour groups based out of the border city of Dandong have been ordered to stop all trips to Pyongyang. The companies were also ordered to run only one-day trips to the North Korean city opposite of Dandong called Sinuiju. Previously, the Chinese tour companies were allowed to run three-day or longer trips to North Korea.

The government did not provide a reason for this recent ban. Although some believe that it is because there aren’t many people traveling to Pyongyang, many believe that it is connected to increasing sanctions against North Korea.

With 80 percent of all foreign visitors to North Korea coming from China, the experts believe that it will have an impact with the North Korean economy. Currently, tourism is one of few ways North Korea is able to earn hard currency. Moreover, a think-tank in South Korea has reported that tourism generates around $44 million in annual revenue for the North. In 2012, around 237,000 Chinese visited North Korea.

During his two-day trip to China, President Trump discussed with Xi Jinping on a number of issues. Most importantly, the two leaders discussed North Korea’s nuclear missile tests.

Earlier this year, the United States banned all travel to North Korea after the death of a 22 year-old student, Otto Warmbier. The University of Virginia student was held in North Korea for more than a year and died soon after arriving back to the United States.

For more information please see:

Reuters – Exclusive: China curbs tourism to North Korea ahead of Trump visit – 7 November, 2017

Independent – China ‘bans tourism to North Korea’ day before Trump visit – 7 November, 2017


Supreme Court of Cambodia Dissolves Opposition Party

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The Supreme Court of Cambodia, on Thursday, November 16th, dissolved the main opposition party. The ruling banned the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), a 118-member party, from politics for five years. With elections coming up next year, Cambodia’s highest court eliminated the most viable challenger to the current administration.

Heavy security was present outside the Supreme Court when the ruling was made. Photo courtesy of Tang Chhin Sothy.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has alleged that the CNRP has colluded with foreign countries to overthrow the current administration. Mr. Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for 32 years.

The chief judge of the Supreme Court, who is a high-ranking member of the governing party, stated that the opposition party has committed a serious crime and that “the party will be dissolved according to Article 38 of the Law on Political Parties.” The chief judge is also known to be close to Prime Minister Hun Sen. The opposition party is unable to appeal the decision.

In early September, Kem Sokha, leader of the CNRP, was jailed on charges that he conspired with the United States government to overthrow Mr. Hun Sen’s government. He could spend 15-30 years in prison. Moreover, Sam Rainsy, former CNRP leader, fled to France in 2016 after being charged with defamation. Since then, forty-four of the opposition party members have fled Cambodia.

Furthermore, in August, organizations such as, the National Democratic Institute and Radio Free Asia were shut down.  Both were run by organizations in the United States.

This recent action by the Supreme Court of Cambodia is seen by many as an end to Cambodia’s democracy.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – Cambodia Supreme Court dissolves opposition CNRP party – 16 November, 2017

NYT – Cambodia’s Top Court Dissolves Main Opposition Party – 16 November, 2017

BBC – Cambodia top court dissolves main opposition CNRP party – 16 November, 2017

The Guardian – ‘Death of democracy’ in Cambodia as court dissolves opposition – 16 November, 2017