Thai Lawyer Faces Up To 150 Years in Prison for Insulting Royal Family

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BANGKOK, Thailand – A Thai human rights lawyer appeared in court on May 3 where he was charged with 10 counts of royal defamation. If convicted, Prawet Prapanukul faces up to 150 years in prison. His case is the most number of charges for the crime brought against an individual in recent history.

A portrait of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej is see on the building of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Photo courtesy of EPA.

Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté law makes it a crime to threaten, insult, or defame the king, queen, heir-apparent, or the regent, as enshrined in Article 112 of the country’s criminal code. There is no definition of what constitutes such an insult to the monarchy, and lèse-majesté complaints can be brought by anyone, against anyone, and are always required to be formally investigated by the police.

In addition to 10 counts of insulting the monarchy, Prawet is accused on three counts of breaking section 116 of Thailand’s criminal code, which covers sedition. Human Rights Watch has warned that the laws are being used by military authorities to curb the opposition.

It is still not known what Prawet might have written or said that led to his arrest and charges. A spokesperson for the military government declined to comment on the case. Thailand’s military seized power from an elected civilian government in a spring 2014 coup. Since the government was overthrown, the junta has detained hundreds of journalists, activists, and politicians for alleged protests and anti-junta activities.

It is unclear what will happen in Prawet’s case, but the Thai junta have made it clear that it is unaccepting of any acts in violation of Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Thai lawyer faces 150 years in jail for royal insult – 4 May, 2017

The Telegraph – Thai rights lawyer faces up to 150 years in prison for royal insult – 4 May, 2017

Jurist – Thailand human rights lawyer charged for insulting royal family – 4 May, 2017

Asian Correspondent – Thailand: ‘Missing’ lawyer appears in court, faces 150 years’ jail for royal insult – 4 May, 2017

RT News – Top Thai human rights lawyer faces 150 years in prison for ‘royal insult’ – 4 May, 2017

BBC News – Thailand’s lese-majeste laws explained – 3 December, 2016

North Korea Welcomes UN Human Rights Expert

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

North Korea is once again hitting headlines in the international media, this time on a positive note. The autarkic country has invited a United Nations representative to visit and assess the rights of the disabled. U.N. special rapporteur Catalina Devandas-Aguilar will be visiting North Korea for six days to collect information on the conditions of disabled persons in the country.

The UN will send human rights expert Catalina Devandas-Aguilar to North Korea to assess the conditions of persons with disabilities living in the state. Photo courtesy of the United Nations.

Devandas-Aguilar spoke on her upcoming visit, saying that the visit represents an important opportunity to learn firsthand about the country’s realities, policies, programs, and laws regarding the rights of people with disabilities. Devandas-Aguilar is also concerned with the shortcomings and challenges disabled persons face in the country. The trip will take place between May 3 and May 8.

The visit also marks the first U.N. sponsored trip to North Korea since 2004, when the U.N. Commission on Human Rights sent an investigator to report on North Korea’s human rights situation. Devandas-Aguilar is scheduled to visit the state’s capital, Pyongyang, as well as South Hwanghae Province.

North Korea ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities in December 2016.

Devandas-Aguilar plans to hold a press conference in Pyongyang at the end of her visit. Her official findings will be submitted to the United Nations next year.

For more information, please see:

Deutsche Welle – UN disabilities representative announces observer visit to North Korea – 27 April, 2017

Independent News – North Korea agrees to visit from UN human rights expert for first time – 27 April, 2017

Reuters – North Korea opens door a crack to welcome U.N. disability expert – 27 April, 2017

UPI News – U.N. disabilities rapporteur to make observation visit to North Korea – 27 April, 2017

Tensions Rise with North Korea as Another U.S. Citizen is Detained

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

Tensions are rising with North Korea as Kim Jong Un continues to threaten the United States. North Korea has actively begun a campaign to grow its nuclear weapons supply and develop means to convey those weapons further than has ever been possible for the autarkic country. Last week, the country put on a display of its power in a military parade through the capital. A few days later, the North Korean government tested its long-range missiles, which failed almost immediately.

North Korea paraded its missiles in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. Photo courtesy of Associated Press.

This week, North Korea has stated it is “ready to sink” a U.S. aircraft carrier headed its way. The aircraft carrier was dispatched by President Donald Trump amid warnings that U.S. patience towards North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has come to an end.

Even more troublesome is the detention of a third U.S. citizen in North Korea. On April 21, 2017, Korean-American Tony Kim was detained as he attempted to leave the country. Kim had spent a month teaching an accounting course at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. His arrest is the third arrest of U.S. citizens trying to leave the country.

The human rights implications of North Korea’s actions are vast. It is unclear what conditions U.S. prisoners face in North Korea. Additionally, North Korea’s willingness to use nuclear weapons is a major national security concern for every nation on Earth. It is unclear what lies ahead, but it is clear that measures need to be taken to ease tensions between North Korea and the U.S.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – North Korea detains third U.S. citizen – 23 April, 2017

CNBC – North Korea reportedly detains US citizen as rhetoric, tensions ramp up – 23 April, 2017

Sydney Morning Herald – North Korean threats will leave alliance countries little choice – 24 April, 2017

BBC – North Korea ‘ready to sink’ US aircraft carrier Vinson – 23 April, 2017

 

Human Rights Organizations Warn Against Vietnam’s Human Rights Offenses

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

HANOI, Vietnam – The Vietnamese government is receiving international criticism for its human rights offenses. According to a study which measures global levels of human rights offenses, Vietnam is considered one of the world’s most authoritarian police states. Activists are concerned that too little attention is paid to the human rights abuses in Vietnam, despite the fact that its neighboring states are often criticized for their offenses.

Protesters hold signs calling for justice in the trials of dissident blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and land protection activist Can Thi Theu in Hanoi, Vietnam in September 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

One major human rights offense propagated by the Vietnamese government is the imprisonment of anyone voicing political opposition to the communist state. Amnesty International reports that Vietnam detained 91 prisoners for their political beliefs in 2016, eight of which were journalists.

Amnesty International has also called attention to Vietnam’s execution rate, as it is the third largest executioner over the last three years. The government executed 429 people between August 2013 and June 2016, the human rights organization reported. The high death toll raises questions about the victim’s cases, legal proceedings, as well as the nature of their crimes. The government, however, has yet to release answers to such probes.

Vietnam is a communist country, so the government is able to control much of society, culture, and political philosophy. Recently, citizens have begun to act out in protest against the government and in favor of more rights and liberties. Villagers in a Hanoi suburb are holding twelve police officers and more than a dozen others hostage over a land dispute. The government attempted to seize land for official use, but villagers were unhappy with the stipend they were paid in turn. Activists are applauding the effort and encourage more to speak out against oppressive state action.

For more information, please see:

The Diplomat – Vietnam’s Quiet Human Rights Crisis – 17 April, 2017

Foreign Policy – This Village In Vietnam Is Holding A Dozen Police Officers Hostage – 17 April, 2017 

Asian Correspondent – Vietnam’s ‘conveyer belt of executions’ condemned by human rights watchdog – 11 April, 2017 

Radio Free Asia – Detained Vietnamese Human Rights Attorney to Receive Award For His Work – 4 April, 2017

Two Men Face Caning for Gay Sex in Indonesia

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Human Rights watch has called on the Indonesian government to immediately and unconditionally release two men detained in Aceh province under a local ordinance that criminalizes homosexuality. On March 28, 2017, unidentified vigilantes forcibly entered a home and brought two men therein to the police on allegations of homosexual relations. The two men have been detained under Islamic Sharia law in Banda Aceh, the capital of the province.

A Sharia law official whips a man convicted of adultery with a cane in Banda Aceh, Indonesia in March 2017. Photo courtesy of AP.

The chief investigator at the facility indicated that both men have confessed to being gay and have been detained for sentencing. Under Islamic Criminal Code, the two men face up to 100 lashes for their behavior. This form of punishment constitutes torture under international human rights law.

Aceh’s Sharia law has been vehemently enforced, and the province’s police have previously detained lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual people. In October 2015, Sharia police arrested two teenage girls on suspicion of being lesbians for embracing in public. Aceh’s parliament has gradually adopted stringent Sharia-inspired ordinances that criminalize activity like a woman’s failure to wear a hijab, gambling, alcohol, and extramarital sexual relations, all of which can be legally enforced against non-Muslims.

Aceh is the only one of Indonesia’s 34 provinces that may adopt bylaws derived from Sharia law. Under Indonesian federal law, the national home affairs minister has the authority to review and repeal such local bylaws. However, in June 2016, the Minister backtracked on his announced commitment to abolish any forms of Sharia law in the county.

Though international media and human rights organizations are speaking out against the government on this issue, Indonesian officials have yet to act on the matter.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Indonesia: Release Gay Men at Risk of Torture – 9 April, 2017

ABC News – 2 men in Indonesia’s Aceh province face caning for gay sex – 8 April, 2017

The Guardian – Indonesia: gay men facing 100 lashes for having sex – 11 April, 2017

Deutsche Welle – Two men may get 100 lashes after gay sex in Indonesia – 8 April, 2017 

Taiwan Bans Slaughter and Consumption of Dogs and Cats

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan has joined Hong Kong as one of the first Asian country to outlaw the sale of dog and cat meat for human consumption. Parliament passed legislation on April 11 to outlaw the consumption, purchase, and possession of dog and cat meat. The fine for violating the law can get as steep at 8,170 U.S. dollars.

Dogs wait to be slaughtered in cages for sale as food in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

The legislation is a direct response to the growing social pressure calling for improvements in animal welfare and increased protections against animal cruelty. The new legislation includes a provision raising the penalty for killing or abusing animals to a maximum of two years in jail and a fine of NT$2 million in Taiwanese currency.

Similar legislation had already been passed in Taiwan in 2001, which like the new legislation, prohibited the slaughter of pets and the sale of that meat. The 2001 legislation, however, failed to include a penalty for violations of the law. The new law includes strict provisions on the care and treatment of animals, as well as minimum and maximum fines and jail sentences for those found guilty of violating the law.

Rights activists are thrilled at the new measure, calling the new legislation a momentous step in the right direction for ensuring stronger animal protections. In the past, these activists argue, legislation has been too lenient on individuals accused of animal cruelty. The new law aligns to a greater global social movement for increased animal rights and protections. However, some activists warn that this measure is not enough to ensure the safety and well-being of other animals, as the legislation applies strictly to cats and dogs.

For more information, please see:

The China Post – Taiwan becomes first country in Asia to ban eating of cat and dog meat – 11 April, 2017

PRI – Taiwan bans eating dogs and cats but the meat trade is still big business in Asia – 12 April, 2017

Hong Kong Free Press – Taiwan bans the consumption of cat and dog meat – 11 April, 2017

BBC – Taiwan bans slaughter of cats and dogs for human consumption – 11 April, 2017

Thailand Facing New Controversy Over Death of Teen Activist, Despite Dropping Defamation Suits

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – The controversy surrounding the death of teenage activist Chaiyaphum Pasae, who was shot and killed by Thai soldiers during a drug raid, continues to grow. Conflicting accounts of what happened leading up to Pasae’s death are adding to the uproar warning of intimidation and manipulation by Thailand’s military.

Chaiyaphum Pasae, ethnic rights activist, was shot and killed by the Thai military on March 17, 2017. Photo courtesy of FrontLineHRD.

Accoring to the military, Pasae was travelling in a car when he was stopped at a routine checkpoint. While the car was being searched for drugs, the military says, Pasae ran from the scene and into a nearby jungle. He was about to throw a hand grenade when one soldier intervened and shot Pasae in self defense. Eye witnesses, however, report a very different unfolding of events. Eye witnesses are claiming that the group of soldiers physically assaulted Pasae at the checkpoint, and as he attempted to escape, he was shot by one of the soldiers.

Human rights organizations have long warned of the lack of protections for activists in Thailand. The United Nations warned that groups like human rights defenders, women, and other vulnerable groups are most susceptible to such abuses. The UN report notes that hundreds of individuals have been jailed since the 2014 military coup for exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly.

In early March, the Thai military took a small but significant step in ending government intimidation by dropping frivolous defamation suits against three prominent activists. In 2016, rights lawyers Somchai Homlaor, Pornpen Khongkachonkie, and Anchana Heemmina published a report citing 54 cases of alleged military abuse and torture of prisoners in military custody. The Thai Internal Security Operations Command responded by filing a criminal complaint against the lawyers, accusing them of defamation and breaches of the Computer Crimes Act.

Thailand has a long way to go when ensuring the equal protection of human rights, and human rights organizations will continue to keep an eye on the government and its actions.

For more information, please see:

Asian Correspondent – Thailand: Pressure grows for transparency in probe on teen activist’s death – 31 March, 2017

Asian Correspondent – Activists, women and ethnic minorities lack protection in Thailand – UN – 29 March, 2017

VOA News – Activists Welcome Thai Decision to Drop Charges Against Rights Report Author – 8 March, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Thailand: Defamation Cases Dropped Against Activists – 7 March, 2017

Japan Increases Surveillance of North Korea Nuclear Weapons Program

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TOKYO, Japan – Ken Kato, director of Human Rights in Asia and a member of International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea, has made allegations that a scientist with ties to North Korea is working for a Japanese University. More specifically, the scientist is working with technology required to achieve miniaturization of nuclear warheads.

North Korean soldiers look toward Kim Jong Un in 2013 as they march with packs marked with the nuclear symbol. Photo courtesy of AP.

Paragraph 17 of UN Resolution 2270, legislation meant to ban specialized nuclear and missile-related teaching or training currently applies only to individuals who identify as DPRK nationals. Under the current regulation, Kato argues, North Koreans living in Japan who sympathize with the North Korean regime are exempt from the ban.

Kato has addressed the UN Security Council on the matter, warning of North Korean “nuclear spies” operating in Japan. Kato singled out an assistant professor at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute. Dr. Pyeon Cheol-ho is “closely linked to the North Korean regime” and received “grants from the Kim Man Yu Science Foundation for research on nuclear testing in 1997 and 1999,” according to experts speaking to Japanese media.

North Korea’s nuclear agenda is not a new threat to international security. Japan recently launched a surveillance satellite meant to keep an eye on North Korea’s nuclear development program. Japan’s Radar 5 was brought into orbit atop the H-IIA rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center on March 17. The new satellite is meant to replace an existing surveillance satellite, nearing the end of its time in commission.

Increasingly, international cooperation is crucial to monitoring the development of North Korea’s nuclear missile program.

For more information, please see:

Deutsche Welle – Are ‘nuclear spies’ in Japan providing Pyongyang with weapons technology? – 4 April, 2017

The Japan Times – Japan launches new spy satellite to keep eye on North Korea – 17 March, 2017

NASA – Japanese H-IIA rocket launches latest IGS spy satellite – 16 March, 2017

International Business Times – Eye in the sky: Japan launches spy satellite to watch North Korea amid rising nuclear threat – 18 march, 2017

Thailand’s Voice TV Suspended for Airing Criticisms of Military Junta

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand’s media regulator has reprimanded a television station for airing comments which criticized the nation’s military. On March 27, 2017, Lt. Gen. Peerapong Manakit of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) announced the decision to suspend Voice TV, a private television station. The week long suspension is the government’s direct response to the station’s criticism of military rule. The complaints were filed by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) military junta, which accused Voice TV of broadcasting inaccurate and biased stories.

Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha salutes army officers at Thailand’s Army Headquarters in Bangkok on September 30, 2014. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

Human Rights Watch has criticized the decision to punish Voice TV for the content of its broadcasts. The organization warns that the military junta is simply bullying the media into becoming a mouthpiece for its own advantage. Such regulation will stop the media from reporting on important issues like human rights violations, investigations of official misconduct and government abuse of power.

The controversial statements made by Voice TV related to the raid on Dhammakaya Temple, the army’s killing of a teenage ethnic Lahu activist, the controversial construction of a casino on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, as well as the arrest of anti-government groups for allegedly possessing weapons in a plot to assassinate high-profile politicians.

This is not the first time Voice TV has been punished for reporting uncensored and independent stories. In 2016, the station was sanctioned over 10 times for its controversial reports critical of the junta.

Independent media is crucial to inform the public of rights violations and the honest, uncensored development of news stories. Human rights organizations are therefore calling on Thailand’s government to put an end to the censorship and make a commitment to uphold media freedom.

For more information, please see:

The Nation – Voice TV banned for 7 days – 28 March, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Thailand: Drop Suspension on TV Station for Criticizing Army – 30 March, 2017

Bangkok Post – Media must be wary of losing its voice – 31 March, 2017

Global Voices – Thai Junta’s Media Regulator Suspends Voice TV for ‘Unreasonable Criticism’ and ‘Biased Content’ – 28 March, 2017 

Singapore Couple Receives Short Jail Sentence for Starving Housekeeper

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PULAU UJONG, Singapore – A Singapore couple was sentenced this week for starving their Filipino house maid. The case sheds important light on an issue that is, according to human rights organizations, fairly common.

Chong Sui Foon & Lim Choon Hong, charged for starving their Filipino domestic worker, arrive at the State Courts in Singapore. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, age 40, weighed only 65 pounds in April 2014, after having been given too little to eat for about 15 months. Gawidan was given two to three slices of plain white bread and packets of instant noodles by the couple who employed her. The diet lacked any source of critical vitamins and proteins, leaving the worker frail and with major health risks. She also had to ask for permission before drinking water, upon which she was only ever given tap water.

The husband, Lim Choon Hong, received a jail sentence of only three weeks and a $7,200 fine while his wife received a sentence of three months with no fine. The presiding judge told the couple that the court accepted that they did not intentionally starve the housekeeper.

The head of the research team for human rights group Transient Workers Count Too, told Reueters that cases of domestic aids being given inadequate amounts of food “happen with alarming regularity.”  Singapore’s courts are seeing rising numbers of lawsuits regarding domestic aid abuses.

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MoM) has since permanently denied the couple the ability to employ foreign workers. The Ministry released a statement stating that it has a zero tolerance policy for abuse and mistreatment of workers. Ministry rules state that employers must provide adequate and acceptable accommodations, food, and medical treatment to their employees. Despite these ideals, human rights organizations warn that there is still a lot of progress to be made in protecting such worker’s rights.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Singapore couple jailed for starving Philippine maid – 27 March, 2017

Reuters – Singapore jails couple for starving Filipino domestic helper – 27 March, 2017

The Straits Times – Jail and fine for couple who starved maid, causing her to lose 20kg – 27 March, 2017

Gulf News – Singapore jails couple for starving Filipino domestic helper – 27 March, 2017 

China’s Government Forced to Address Water Pollution

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BEIJING, China – As World Water Day just passed, it seems fitting to address the water pollution and water shortages plaguing southeast Asia. China has a particular difficulty with pollution and has begun to take action to counteract its consequences. Many Chinese towns and cities rely on polluted water sources, and the pollution’s effects have begun to materialize.

A severely polluted Shaying River in Henan Province, China. Photo courtesy of Dengjia/CNN.

Residents of Dawu, located in China’s Henan province, say that they are being killed by their water supply. A major water source for the region is the Ying River, which has been heavily polluted for over a decade.

The river’s poisoned water has, over time, spread its toxins to underground water sources including those used for irrigation. A villager by the name of Wu Zongjun claims to personally know twenty individuals diagnosed with cancer in his village since 2010. In 2013, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report which confirmed the correlation between the water pollution and increases in cancer diagnoses in the region.

Unfortunately, the water crisis extends far beyond the Dawu village, as many Chinese towns and cities face significant water pollution. Moreover, cities and towns, including the nations capital, suffer from frequent water shortages.

Other governments around the globe face similar difficulties in supplying clean water sources. Nearly one third of the people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have a safe drinking water supply. The World Water Council has called on governments to invest adequate amounts of their budgets towards clean water projects. World Water Day has reminded global citizens of the importance of spreading awareness to try and make a difference. There is still much to be done to supply all in need with clean water.

For more information, please see: 

CNN – Can China fix its mammoth water crisis before it’s too late? – 21 March, 2017

ABC News – African governments urged to spend more on clean water – 22 March, 2017

Inter Press Service – Asia’s Water Politics Near the Boiling Point – 21 March, 2017 

Eco-Business – Fighting China’s war on pollution – 20 March, 2017

H&M Factory Uprising Prompts Renewed Probe at Labor Rights

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – In early February, workers demanding better conditions, wages, and benefits held a violent protest in a Chinese-owned factory which produces clothing for fashion label H&M. The workers of the factory, which is located in Myanmar, damaged company property and physically attacked store managers, prompting the company to temporarily halt further production in the facility.

A young woman works at a major garment factory. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

The dispute arose out of strikes which began in January 2017, after the leader of a labor union got fired. The incident speaks to the importance of protecting such labor unions, as many workers are generally unaware of their rights and protections while at work. Few large-scale garment factories are unionized, as union leaders and activists are often dismissed and blacklisted, which prevents them from finding other employment.

The labor dispute extends past the incident at the Chinese-owned H&M factory. Bangladeshi authorities have been accused of harassing and intimidating garment workers following demonstrations for higher wages. The garment industry in Bangladesh is a multi billion-dollar industry, which allows incredible opportunity for companies and factories to undermine worker’s rights and protections.

Labor rights activists are now calling on the international community to act by increasing pressure on corporations like H&M to ensure good working conditions and fair wages. The trouble in doing so is that companies like H&M often have little say in the implementation of those kinds of policies at the production phase. Likely, the most effective means of ensuring such protections are for local governments to pass stricter laws and regulations. There is little that the international community or activists can do to force such a measure, though an increased discourse on the issues certainly may help.

For more information, please see:

Deutsche Welle – Pressure mounts on Bangladesh over garment workers’ rights – 23 February, 2017

Reuters – H&M factory in Myanmar damaged in violent labor dispute – 7 March, 2017

Asia Times – Mixed Prognosis for Myanmar garment sector – 14 March, 2017

The Guardian – H&M supply factory in Myanmar damaged in violent labour protest – 7 March, 2017

EU Calls for International Fact-Finding Mission to Myanmar

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – The European Union called on the United Nations to send an international fact-finding operation to Myanmar on March 16. The EU recommends that the UN investigate allegations of torture, rape, and extrajudicial killings by the military against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

A Rohingya refugee cries at Leda Unregistered Refugee Camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh on February 15, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

In October 2016, Myanmar’s military began a security operation after Rohingya insurgents attacked border police, killing nine. Since last October, 75,000 people have fled the Rakhine state to Bangladesh in fear of persecution by Myanmar forces.

The EU draft resolution strengthened the language of an earlier draft which had failed to include a demand for an international probe into the alleged human rights atrocities. If the Council were adopted, it would “dispatch urgently” a mission “with a view to ensure full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.” The recommendations to the Myanmar government are meant to help improve the welfare of the people living in the Rakhine state.

Both the UN and international human rights organization Amnesty International believe that the actions of Myanmar forces in the Rakhine state constitute crimes against humanity. According to the organizations, the Myanmar government lacks the independence and impartiality necessary for a thorough investigation of the alleged criminal behavior and subsequent justice for the victims. They hope that an international investigation will be enough to return accountability to the region and protect the welfare of all of Myanmar’s residents.

For more information, please see:

Straits Times – EU calls for international probe of Rohingya abuses in Myanmar – 16 March, 2017

Amnesty International – Myanmar: Act now on Rakhine Commission report – 17 March, 2017 

Asian Correspondent – Burma: Rights group urges prompt action over Rakhine state report – 17 March, 2017

Human Rights Watch – US: Call on Burma to Cease Persecution of Rohingya – 17 March, 2017 

Deutsche Welle – EU calls for UN fact-finding mission to Myanmar to probe rights abuses – 16 March, 2017 

Humam Quader Chowdhury Released After 7 Months in Secretive Detention

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Humam Quader Chowdhury was released on March 2, 2017 near his family home in Dhaka. Chowdhury was taken by unmarked men on August 4, 2016 and allegedly held in secret detention by Bangladeshi authorities. Chowdhury is one of two other men who were taken in separate incidents last August, though the others have yet to be released.

Bangladesh security officers stand in front of the central jail in Dhaka in 2013. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

All three men are sons of prominent opposition politicians, who were tried and convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal meant to prosecute war crimes as a result of Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence. The men have been denied access to lawyers and communications with their families.

In early March, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances called on the Bangladesh government to reveal the whereabouts of the men. Though Chowdhury’s release is a step in the right direction, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both voiced concerns regarding the welfare of those remaining in captivity and urge the government to either charge or release the detainees. The government denies any responsibility, though family members of the victims cite several sources confirming a connection between the takings and Bangladeshi security forces.

Humam Quader Chowdhury cannot remember where he was held, family members have reported. Human rights organizations warn of the government’s practices, as these are not the first allegations of government sponsored disappearances. The international community is keeping an eye on the status of the other two detainees.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Bangladesh: Man Released From Long Secret Detention – 2 March, 2017

Amnesty International – Bangladesh: Man Released From Long Secret Detention – 2 March 2017

Dhaka Tribune – Hummam Quader cannot remember anything about abduction – 3 March, 2017

Aljazeera – UN demands Dhaka action on enforced disappearances – 24 February, 2017

Amnesty International Recognizes Six Women for Human Rights Advocacy

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MANILA, Philippines – Amnesty International has warned of the human rights violations being committed in South Asia. The organization is reporting that the rights of journalists and activists have been increasingly disregarded over the past few years. According to the organization, LGBT activists, Hindus, Christians, Sufi Muslims, and scholars have all become targets after the 2015 murders in Bangladesh, where five bloggers were killed in separate attacks.

Leila de Lima faces three separate criminal charges after speaking out against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo courtesy of: Reuters.

The region has become hostile towards mass media and journalism, as new laws have been invoked against online critics and colonial-era laws are being unleashed against government critics. However, in light of International Women’s Day, Amnesty International recognized six women for their extraordinary efforts in human rights advocacy.

The group of women, comprised of lawyers, activists, and a former justice secretary, were each commended for their dedication to taking stands against injustices, despite the grave danger they faced by doing so. In Thailand, Sirikan Charoensiri, a lawyer who regularly defends clients investigated and prosecuted for peacefully defending human rights, faces 15 years’ imprisonment under charges of treason and a local ban on political assembly of five or more persons.

Similarly, in the Philippines, Senator Leila de Lima, former justice secretary and chair of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, has been arrested under politically-motivated charges in response to her criticism of Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte.

Human rights organizations are working to raise awareness of the injustices faced by advocates, critics, and journalists in the region. These organizations are now trying to protect the human rights which local governments are choosing to ignore.

For more information, please see: 

Amnesty International – Southeast Asia: As governments fail on human rights, women stand up – 7 March, 2017

Amnesty International – Human rights violations endemic in South Asia – 28 February, 2017

Jakarta Post – Six Southeast Asian women recognized for advocating for human rights – 8 March, 2017

Asian Correspondent – Amnesty names 6 women leading human rights activism in Southeast Asia – 8 March, 2017