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

Cambodia to Shut Down Cambodian Center for Human Rights

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Phnom Penh – The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) is a leading human rights organization in Cambodia. It was created in 2002 by Kem Sokha to promote International Human Rights Law and to provide free legal aid to victims. Kem Sokha is also the leader of the opposition party and was recently jailed by the Prime Minister.

On 26 November 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the Center for Human Rights to be closed down. He accused foreigners of creating the center to push their agendas. He went further to accuse the CCHR of taking orders from foreigners. Sen said that if the CCHR had been created by a person of the Khmer nationality there would be no issue with the organization.

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo Courtesy of Samrang Pring. 

The Center for Human Rights believes that this is just a stunt pulled by Prime Minister Hun Sen to hold onto power; however, acts like this just draw criticism from the Cambodian people. The director also feels that citizens do not believe the accusations as many people are in favor of the Western political alignment.

The Director put out an official statement that read: “CCHR calls upon the Royal Government of Cambodia to enter into a meaningful dialogue with CCHR representatives in relation to these allegations, in the firm belief that any misperceptions about the nature of CCHR’s work and neutrality could be clarified, and the matter resolved.”

The CCHR indicated that any neutral and impartial investigation would find no evidence of wrong actions.

For more information, please see:

 Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Hun Sen Seeks to Shut Major Rights Group – 27 November 2017

Voice of America – Cambodian Rights Group Next in Long Line – 27 November 2017

Reuters – Cambodia’s Hun Sen calls for closure of rights group founded by rival – 26 November 2017

Vietnamese Student Sentenced to Jail for Anti-government Post

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HANOI, Vietnam – On 25 October 2017, Vietnamese student, Phan Kim Khanh went to trial for spreading propaganda against the Vietnamese government under article 88 of their penal code. He was arrested in March 2017. While his trial only lasted half day, he will be serving 6 years in jail followed by 4 years probation.

Picture of Phan Kim Khanh. Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch/ private. 

Khanh owns two blogs titled “Vietnam Weekly” and “Newspaper of Anti-Corruption.” He also manages several social media accounts and a YouTube channel. The main purpose of these was to expose corruption not to spread propaganda. He pleaded that he didn’t realize that was a crime. Human Rights Watch reported that the Vietnamese Government vaguely interprets many of the countries security provisions to target critics.

The evidence provided in court against Khanh was vague and groundless. The Court accused him specifically of promoting multiparty democracy and press freedom.

Kahn is a well-distinguished university student with multiple honors from both his university’s student association and the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League of the Thai Hanoi section. He is also a member of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.

This is not the first ‘crackdown’ of dissent in Vietnam. More than 100 people are in jail for freedom of expressions violations. The only crimes that Phan Kim Khanh and the other committed were expressing a political opinion that differed from the government of Vietnam. Human Rights Watch Asia Director says that these claims of propaganda are just “ designed to silence peaceful critics of the Vietnamese authorities.”

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Vietnam jails student activist six years for propaganda against the state – 25 October 2017

The Washington Post – Vietnam jails student activist for anti-state propaganda – 25 October 2017

Human Rights Watch – Vietnam: Drop Charge Against Student Activist – 24 October 2017

U.S. Stops Funding for Demining in Cambodia

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Years after the Vietnam War, Cambodia remains littered with mines. Cambodia is ranked as one of the highest countries with unexploded ordnances. Approximately 2 Cambodians die or are injured every week from encountering hidden mines.  A large portion is of U.S. origin.

Sight of a mine in Cambodia. Photo Courtesy of Tang Chhin Sothy/ AFP.

However, on 7 November 2017 the United States announced that it will be cutting $2 million in grant money to Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC). This will go into affect next year.  For the moment this years efforts will not be affected.  No reason was given for why the funding was recalled.

The Director General of CMAC was not aware of any dispute between them or the U.S. Government in how matters were being handled.   Even during meetings held in July and early fall with the State Department over the 2018 budget, there were no mentions of cuts. The Director general finds this decision rather disappointing as the U.S. has “a moral obligation and goodwill obligation because they dropped a lot of bombs on the Cambodian people.”

Finding new donors in time to fund next year’s work shall be tricky as this was a last minute decision. The Cambodian Government does not appear to be concerned about the cut in funding for de-mining processes. Hun Sen, the current Prime Minister pledges to support CMAC’s efforts.

This lack of funding will have a huge impact on the work that CMAC does. Up to 300 mine clearing employees could have their jobs impacted. Additionally, this will affect the number of mines that CMAC can reach next year. Which means that less people can be taken out of the way of danger in their day-to-day life. A second issue is that farmland will continue to be rendered useless because of the presence of mines. This means that farmers are limited in the crop size they produce for market. More than 80% of Cambodians rely in this land for their survival.

For more information, please see:

Voice of America – US Demining Cut Provokes Cambodia – 7 November 2017

Reuters – U.S. cuts $2-mln funding to Cambodia’s mine removal effort amid crackdown – 7 November 2017

The Phnom Penh Post – US cuts funding to CMAC amid government’s war of words with superpower – 7 November 2017

North Korean Soldier Shot Defecting Across DMZ

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – On 13 November 2017, an unarmed, low-ranking member of the North Korean military attempted to escape to South Korea.  He did so through the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  He drove to the border through what is known as a ‘peace village’ until a wheel fell off his vehicle.  From there he proceeded on foot.  The North Korean military opened fire on him, totaling 40 rounds.  He was hit in the shoulder and the elbow.  He managed to take cover behind a South Korean structure inside the DMZ.  Later, U.S. and South Korean soldiers crawled out to rescue him.

He was air lifted to a hospital, where doctors began work immediately.  While his injuries are critical, doctors believe his life will be saved.  There are also reports of severe intestinal damage.  Doctors identified enormous numbers of parasites in his body that complicate the man’s recovery.  The doctor reported that he had never seen anything like this during his career spanning 20 years.

Hospital where North Korean Soldier is being treated. Photo Courtesy of Hong Ki-won.

This is the first defection to occur across the DMZ this year and the third to ever occur since the end of the Cold War.  Most defectors cross the border with China, as the security is less intense.  The North Korean military has been increasing border control recently, and South Korea has seen a reduction of defectors coming in.  So far this year, 780 North Koreans fled to South Korea.

North Korea has yet to release a statement or say anything about the event.  South Korea broadcasted, over the loudspeaker in the DMZ, that doctors were treating the soldier.

This is also the first time that North Korean soldiers fired shots in the direction of the South.

For more information, please see:

The Times – Lousiana Man Arrested After Trying TO Cross into North Korea for ‘Political Purposes’-  13 November 2017

BBC – North Korean soldier shot while defecting at DMZ to South – 13 November 2017

BBC – North Korean defector found to have ‘enormous parasites’ – 17 November 2017

Reuters – Defecting North Korean soldier critical after escape in hail of bullets – 14 November 2017

Rights Activists Threatened in Turkmenistan

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ASHGABAT, TurkmenistanIn one of the world’s most repressive nations, two female journalists were verbally and physically attacked on the 14th and 15th of November 2017.   These were not isolated attacks but rather just one attempt in a long string of attacks to silence these two journalists, among others.

Soltan Achilova is an independent journalist who works for Radio ‘Azatlyk’, a service of Radio Free Europe|Radio Liberty.   On 14 of November two men followed her in a car as she made her way to the US Embassy Information Center. On the same day, while photographing people in line at a grocery store, a man came up to her and grabbed her, yelling, “I will take a rock and hit you on the head. If you ever use a camera again, I will smash it together with you! Go home and never go out again. Otherwise you will die.” She was also followed back to her house by men in a car.

Achilova working. Photo Courtesy of azathbar.com.

Earlier in the year, men also broke into Achilova’s son’s car in an attempt to get to her. This is the fourth attack against her this year.

Galina Kucherenko is a human rights activist.  On 15 November police called her demanding that she sign a police summons and report to the police station. The reasoning was that another activist had filed a complaint against her.  After the phone call, men knocked on her door, demanding that she sign the police summons. She did not let them in.  However, they hung around her building for another 25 minutes before leaving. Kucherenko is continuously watched by surveillance agents, and has had her internet and phone services cut off.

Men have been stationed outside these activists’ homes in plain clothes.  They follow them in broad daylight whenever the activists leave. The surveillance men try to avoid having their imaged captured, though, turning their backs to cameras or stepping back.

Human Rights activists are concerned that the back-to-back attacks indicate an increase of journalist repression. International Partnership for Human Rights director says that these attacks underline the extreme extent that the government goes to create an atmosphere of nonexistent free speech.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Turkmenistan: Activists Threatened – 21 November 2017

Chronicles of Turkmenistan – Journalists and activists in Turkmenistan again subjected to surveillance and assaults – 19 November 2017

Chronicles of Turkmenistan – Correspondent Soltan Achilova again assaulted in Turkmenistan – 17 November 2017

International Partnership for Human Rights – Turkmenistan: Activists threatened- Space for freedom of expression shrinks – 22 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

Newsweek – CHINA BANS NORTH KOREA TOURISM ONE DAY BEFORE TRUMP ARRIVES – 7 November, 2017

Potential ICC Investigation Into the Actions of the Taliban, the United States, and Afghanistan Authorities

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan – On 3 November 2017 Fatou Bensouda, a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), put forth a request to start an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan. Her investigation will focus on crimes committed since 1 May 2003 in Afghanistan as well as others linked to the armed conflict since 1 July 2002.

Fatou Bensouda, ICC Prosecutor. Photo Courtesy of the ICC.

She completed a preliminary examination of the events in Afghanistan and believes that all requirements, stated in the Rome Statute, to develop a case are present. The analysis began more than ten years ago.

In order for a case to develop in the ICC, a prosecutor must bring forth a case with evidence to a Pre-Trail Chamber. After listening to the case and reviewing the evidence provided from the preliminary investigation, the ICC can approve or deny the request for a formal judicial investigation.

Bensouda identified three categories of actors that would be involved in ICC investigations. She believes abuses were committed by the Taliban, U.S. Soldiers/Central Intelligence Agency officials, and Afghanistan government officials. The Rome Statue, which governs the actions of the ICC, states that anyone can be prosecuted for crimes that happened within a country that signed the Rome Statue. Therefore, despite the U.S. not being a signatory of the ICC, U.S. officials could still be tried in court.

Human Rights supporters applaud this movement. Many crimes have gone unnoticed and unpunished in Afghanistan over the past 10 plus years. They hope that this investigation will shed light on what has been happening as well as bring justice to the victims.

 For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Inching Closer to Justice in Afghanistan – 3 November 2017

International Criminal Court – Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, regarding her decision to request judicial authorisation to commence an investigation into the Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – 3 November 2017

The Washington Post – ICC seeks investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan since 2003 – 3 November 2017

International Criminal Court – Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2016 – 14 November 2016

Religious Discrimination in Indonesia Creates Adoption Issues

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BINJAI, Indonesia – The adoption rules and religious differences in Indonesia mix together to prevent providing children better lives. Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim nation with Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist religious minorities among other traditional religions.

Islam is the majority religion in Indonesia. Photo Courtesy of Y.T Haryono.

There are several religious laws that prohibit freedom of practice of religion in Indonesia. The “Religious Harmony, Empowering Religious Harmony Forums, and Constructing Houses of Worship” decree is one such law. Religious forums must be created in each province favoring the religious majority in the area.  It restricts constructions of houses of worship, requires a list of at least 90 attendees, letters of support from 60 people, and recommendations from the local religious forum. There is also the Blasphemy law, which sentences people to jail for 5 years for deviations from one of the 6 officially protected religions.

Religious laws even infiltrate into adoptions. A 2014 law states that, “Adoptive parents should have the same religion as the child.”

This came into contention when a Christian woman tried to adopt an orphaned baby. Indonesian law states that “In cases in which the origin of the child is unknown, then the child’s religion is conformed to the religion of the majority of the local population.” The child was to be assimilated into the Muslim faith not the Christian faith, thus the woman could not adopt the child.

Ida Maharani Hutagaol, a policewomen in Binjai found the child almost dead in a cardboard box . She was part of the team that brought the child to the hospital. Since then she had become attached to the child, visiting him frequently.

She had filed the paperwork, met the requirements for income, health, and family background. The child was even to be listed as her sole inheritor. However, the Social Service rejected her.

This law, while discriminating against religious beliefs, also hinders child development of orphans in Indonesia. It makes it difficult for qualifying homes and families to adopt abandoned children because they are assimilated into the Muslim faith. The child is still reported to be in the orphanage.

The Social Services report that if the policewoman is still interested in adopting a child it is easy to do so if she visits an orphanage of her faith.

 For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Indonesia’s Religious Minorities Denied Adoption Rights – 23 October 2017

Coconuts – Viral photo of policewoman, unable to adopt abandoned baby because she’s not from ‘majority religion’, pulls heartstrings in Indonesia – 10 October 2017

The Jakarta Post – Adoption rule strips kids of right to family life – 12 October 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

Religious Leaders Convicted in Myanmar Court

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Two religious figures in Myanmar who were arrested in late 2016, received their sentences in court on 27 October 2017.

Dumdaw Nawng Lat, 67, is an assistant pastor with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC).  He is a member of the Kachin minority in Myanmar. He received a sentence of 4 years and 3 months in jail.

Langjaw Gam Seng is a KBC youth leader.  He is 35 years old and is also a member of the Kachin ethnic minority.  He will be serving 2 years and 3 months in jail.

Image of Dumdaw Nawng Lat (L) and Langjaw Gam Seng (R). Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Asia, Myanmar Military Photo.

Both were convicted under the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act. The court convicted them for aiding a rebel army, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).   However, sentences under the Act can include convictions for operating an unlicensed motorcycle under the Export/Import Act.  Nawng Lat received an additional charge under the Penal Code, section 500 as a result of sharing information with Voice of America about the military’s airstrikes. It is reported that the defense attorney is preparing for an appeals court case.

In 2016, Nawng Lat and Gam Seng accompanied journalist documenting airstrike damages around a Catholic Church and civilian structures in Muse. The photos were published in December 2016. Kyaw Myo Min Latt of Myanmar Army Battalion 99 summed both to the compound on 24 December 2016, where they were promptly arrested. They stayed at the Kalaya 123 military base for close to 30 days incommunicado.

The military handed over Nawng Lat and Gam Seng to the police on 20 January 2017 after international outcry over the whereabouts and treatment of the two men. According to reports, the two had been interrogated by the military. Signed statements that the two were involved with the KIA were also released to the police.

Fortify Rights and Human Rights Watch produced joint statements on the arrest and court verdict of Nawng Lat and Gam Seng. The two religious figures from the Kachin minority were arrested for simply exposing crimes of the Myanmar military.

The Myanmar military has been involved in several incidents of violence across the country including the recent attacks against the Rohingya Muslims in the North.   This is one more event in which the Myanmar government and military are avoiding accountability for state related crimes and instead defer blame to a small minority.

Human Rights Watch Deputy Director of Asia, Phil Robertson, says, “Myanmar’s government should be prosecuting military personnel who are responsible for serious abuses – not activists who are bringing those abuses to light. Myanmar’s military has for decades violated the rights of the country’s ethnic minorities without ever having to fear being brought before a court.”

For more information, please see:

Radio Free Asia – Kachin Baptist Leaders Sent to Prison on Association, Defamation Charges – 27 October 2017

Fortify Rights – Myanmar: Drop Case Against Kachin Religious Leaders – 27 October 2017

Voice of America – Myanmar Court Convicts Ethnic Kachin Religious Leaders – 27 October 2017

Human Rights Watch – Myanmar: Drop Case Against Kachin Religious Leaders – 27 October 2017

Cambodian Government Files Case to Dissolve Opposition Party

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Next year, Cambodia is set for a presidential election. For the most part the country has a two party system- the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).  There are a handful of other smaller political parties, but they do not hold any seats in Parliament nor do they have popular backings.

The current political party in control is the CPP under the direction of Prime Minister Hun Sen. He is a former member of the Khmer Rouge, the violent Communist group that was in power from the late 1960s to 1979. Hun Sen has served as Prime Minister since 1989.

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo Courtesy of Samrang Pring.

In 2013, the CPP only narrowly won the election over the CNRP. During the local elections this past June the CPP lost ground. Polls suggest that the CNRP is gaining more support and will likely win the Presidential elections next July.

As a response, Prime Minister Hun Sen is cracking down on the opposition party in Cambodia. A new law was passed that allows the government to abolish any political parties while leaders face criminal charges. This poses a threat to the CNRP as the current government accuses the leaders of plotting a coup. Accordingly, on October 6, 2017 the current government filed a case to dissolve the CNRP.

In September the leader of the CNRP, Ken Sokha, was arrested on the charge of treason. In early October Sen threatened further arrests on the same charge. A government official leaked to the deputy President of the CNRP that she was also targeted for arrest. She has since fled the country. Many other CNRP parliament members have done so as well.

Prime Minister Hun Sen states that he is trying to protect Cambodia from outside influences and preserve peace and stability in the country.   In particular he believes that the U.S. is interfering in the internal affairs of Cambodia via backing the CNRP coup.

The group denied the allegations calling them politically motivated and an attempt to end democracy in Cambodia.  Deputy President of the CNRP, Mu Sochua, is calling for international sanctions on Sen and his ‘cronies.’  She believes that other nations should take a stand on democracy and human rights to demonstrate to Sen that his behavior is not acceptable and must change.

She says, “The time for statements has passed. It’s time for sanctions, targeted sanctions. Also suspension of technical aid to the government of Cambodia.  Time is up for democracy.”

There are 8 months until the elections in Cambodia.  Socha hopes the sanctions will push Sen to ensure free and fair elections or risk not being a recognized government.

For more information, please see:

AlJazeera – Cambodia moves to dissolve opposition party CNRP – 6 October 2017

BBC – Cambodia opposition politician Mu Sochua ‘feared arrest’ – 6 October 2017

Reuters – Exclusive: Cambodian opposition leader calls for sanctions on leadership – 4 October 2017

President Trump Did Not Visit DMZ

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – President Trump did not visit the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea during his trip to Asia from November 3 to 14. Every president since Ronald Reagan has visited the demilitarized zone with the exception of George W. Bush.

President Trump is scheduled to visit five countries during this trip to Asia. Photo courtesy of STR/AFP/Getty Images. 

The demilitarized zone was created in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. The zone is around 1 ¼ miles in each country, and it is near the 38th parallel. Since there has never been a peace treaty after the war, the demilitarized zone is seen as a symbol of hostility between the North and the South.

Instead of visiting the demilitarized zone, the White House had chosen to visit Camp Humphreys and stated that this visit “would make more sense in terms of the President’s message.” Camp Humphreys is a joint US-South Korean military base about 40 mile south of Seoul. The White House further stated that visiting the demilitarized zone is “cliché.”

The White House in their report stated that the visit would allow the president to address U.S. and South Korean troops and relay his message on sharing the burden with the South Korean government.

Because of recent tensions with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, the White House reported that North Korea would be at the top of the president’s agenda.

Previously, Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have all visited the demilitarized zone.

During his trip to Asia, President Trump visited South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

For more information, please see:

ABC – President Trump will not visit Korean demilitarized zone, official says – 31 October, 2017

Reuters – Trump will not visit DMZ during Asia trip: official – 31 October, 2017

CNN – White House says Trump will not visit DMZ – 31 October, 2017

Newsweek – TRUMP WON’T VISIT DMZ ON ASIA TRIP BECAUSE IT’S BECOMING “CLICHE” – 31 October, 2017

Xi Becomes Most Powerful Leader in China Since Mao

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – At the political summit led by the Chinese Community Party, Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, declared a “new era” for the country. Although this every five-year event is meant to declare the new Chinese leader to the world, the ceremony that was held in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People focused on displaying Xi Jinping’s power.

Xi introduces the new members of the China’s Politburo Standing Committee at the Great Hall of the People. Photo courtesy of Ng Han Guan.

During the ceremony, Xi introduced five of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee. The committee is considered to be the inner core of the Chinese government. It was noted during the ceremony that none of the men selected to be on the committee were considered to be Xi’s successor as it did not include a younger leader who would be groomed to take over the presidency.

The sources believe that the lack of possible successor to Xi was seen as a sign that he intends to stay beyond his next five-year term.

At the end of the ceremony, Mr. Xi was elevated to the same status as the country’s founder, Mao Zedong. Xi’s name and his political policy are both now enshrined in the Chinese constitution.

The political summit also allowed Xi to assert additional power over the military. Many of the top leaders in the military were replaced with Xi’s generals. By initiating these changes, Xi has stated that he intends to make China a world power by 2050.  Currently, China has the world’s biggest military with more than 2 million troops, but he is hoping to modernize the military.

Xi announced his economic plan for the next 30 years during the meeting as well. With his new plans to improve China’s socialism and bolster the country’s economy, many experts are describing this move as the beginning of the third era of Communist rule in China.

For more information, please see:

NYT – Xi Jinping Unveils China’s New Leaders but No Clear Successor – 24 October, 2017

Variety – Xi Jinping Emerges as China’s Unquestioned No. 1 Leader – 25 October, 2017

ABC – Chinese President Xi Jinping takes absolute control of armed forces in military shake-up – 26 October, 2017