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

Child Rapist Convicted in Pakistani Court

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – On 17 February 2018, Imran Ali was found guilty of rape an murder of Zainab Ansari, a 7 year old girl.  He received life imprisonment with the death sentence on four counts.

Protests spark after the rape and murder of Zainab Amin. Photo Courtesy of Mohsin Raza.

Ali confessed to raping 9 girls in total and killing 7 of them over 18 months. DNA evidence provided by the police from eight girls, including Zainab Ansari, matched Ali’s. He will sit trial for the other cases at a later point.

Zainab was declared missing on 4 January 2018 after leaving her house. She was on her way to her Aunt’s house, 30 miles away, where she was to partake in lesson on the Quran. Just 4 days later her body was found lying on a trash dump near her home.

The prosecution team provided the court with substantial evidence. Over 50 witnesses testified. The DNA matches were entered as evidence against Ali. There was also video footage from security camera show Zainab walking off with a man.

Police discovered that Ali was a neighbor of Zainab’s family. He was a construction worker and known for his pious demeanor. He was arrested two weeks after he killed Zainab.

The discovery of her body sent people into the streets to protest the government’s delayed response to bring justice to Zainab and her family. The case has also sparked debates on sexual abuse and how to protect women and children from sexual assault.

While her parents are “thankful to the chief justice” for the respect and sensitivity in the case, emotions are still tense as her mother said, “I want him hanged where he threw Zainab’s body. And he should be stoned. Hanging him is just ordinary for him. Everyone should take part in stoning him. And this thing about four hangings, one hanging, two hangings, what difference does it make? I want him hanged where he killed my girl.”

For more information, please see:  

The Guardian – Pakistan court sentences man to death for rape and murder of girl,7 – 17 February 2018

 The New York Times – Pakistan Serial Killer Sentenced to Death for Murder and Rape of Girl, 7 – 17 February 2018

Al Jazeera – Kasur rapist-murderer sentenced to death in Pakistan – 17 February 2018

Detained Migrants Face Forced Repatriation to China

By: Katherine Hewitt
News Reporter, Asia 

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A group of 11 migrants are detained in Malaysian custody.  It is probable that these 11 are a part of a group that escaped from a Thailand immigration detention center back in November of 2017. Originally, a group of 200 were found in Thailand’s Sonskhla province.  They were detained while authorities verified their nationality.  A group of 20 escaped and 11 of them are these migrants now detained in Malaysia.

Uyghur in Turkey protesting the Chinese. Photo Courtesy of Lefteris Pitarakis.

The group identifies themselves as Turkish citizens.  However, China claims them as members of an ethnic group called Uyghurs who are a Muslim Turkish minority living in Western China.  While China demands them back, the migrants have asked to be sent to Turkey.

Many Uyghurs have fled China as a result of the authoritarian governance in the region.  The Chinese government conducts house aids and restricts islamic practices, culture, and language.  Through the years several Uyghurs have been forcibly deported back to China.  Upon their returns, they face threats of imprisonment and torture.  China rationalizes this state behavior by blaming the group for ‘terrorist’ attacks.

Malaysia and China have tightened their relationship over the past years. China has been pushing Malaysia to return the migrants.

International Customary Law holds Malaysia accountable to not send those in custody to a place where persecution, torture, and other human rights violations are a risk.

Human Rights activists like Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch want Malaysia to “allow these individuals access to a fair process to determine their refugee claims, not ship them to China based on Beijing’s demands.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Malaysia: Don’t Send 11 Detainees to China – 9 February 2018

Radio Free Asia – China Demands Return of 11 Uyghur Escapees Caught in Malaysia: Officials – 8 February 2018 

The New York Times – Exclusive: Uighur Thai Jail Escapees Detained in Malaysia and China Wants Them Back-Sources – 8 February 2018

Workers File Human Rights Complaint, Case Brought Against Them

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BANGKOK, Thailand – A trial against 14 workers in Thailand was brought to court on February 7, 2018. The workers are charged with criminal defamation.

A worker at a chicken farm in Thailand. Photo Courtesy of Sukree Sukplang.

In July 2016, 14 workers filed a complaint against their employer with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand on violations labor conditions. They accused Thammakaset Co. Ltd. of requiring 20-hour work days, making them work 40 days straight, forcing them to work overtime, paying below minimum wage, restricting movement, and holding onto identity documents.

While the Labor Ministry Officials mandated the company to pay 1.7 million Baht (48,600 USD) as workers compensation, the 14 have yet to receive the money. Thammakaset Co. Ltd. appealed this action in court.

Following this, Thammaskaset filed their criminal defamation case in October.   They defend that they have done no wrongdoings and that case hurts their company image.  The legal code in Thailand, in respect to criminal defamation, allows companies to take steps against those that accuse them of labor rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch and others have called for the government to oppose the criminal defamation charges against the 14 workers. The Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha has previously stated Thailand’s commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and “actions, including enforcing a labor protection legislation that ensures fair treatment of workers and protects them from abuse and mistreatment.”

The first day of the trial witnesses of the prosecution spoke. On the following two days the workers gave their testimony.  If the 14 workers are found guilty, they could spend up to a year in jail and be fined up to 20,000 Baht (600 USD).

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Thailand: Burmese Workers on Trail for Reporting Abuses – 7 February 2018

Reuters – Myanmar workers go on trail for accusing Thai Chicken farm of abuse – 7 February 2018

Fortify Rights – Thailand: Drop Criminal Defamation Lawsuits against 14 Myanmar Workers – 6 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

 

Death Toll in Philippine Drug War Increases Under New Measures

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

MANILA, Philippines – Since December, the National Police of the Philippines said officers killed 46 people in relation to drug use and dealings. In December President Rodrigo Duterte reinstated the police force as the body in charge of the war on drugs.   Since then, there have been 3,253 raids that cumulated in the deaths. Several arrests of “high-value targets” also occurred.

Police Officers visiting homes under the new regulations. Photo Courtesy of Edd Gumban.

In previous statements President Duterte announced that he would work to decrease the number of deaths in his policy to fight illegal drugs. A presidential spokesman said that the police learned from the past and would try their best to decrease the death toll.

The Chief Director of the Philippine National Police (PNP) is hesitant to agree that there will be less bloodshed. He is quoted to have said, “we also have to protect ourselves, preserve our own life and the life of the stranger. Now, tell me who among the police commanders can do it… That’s impossible,” of the issue.

This new resurgence comes with new rules and regulations in an attempt to cut down on deaths. Raids can only occur during the day and not on weekends. Activists and members of the Catholic Church will accompany unarmed officers. Although, depending on neighborhoods entered, armed back up units will be available.

Officers involved in this round of raids will undergo a vetting process to eliminate corruption.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Philippine Police Resume War on Drugs, Killing Dozens – 2 February 2018

Philippines Star – PNP Chief Dela Rosa: ‘Bloodless drug war impossible’ – 30 January 2018

Business Standard – Philippines police resume anti-drug raids – 29 January 2018

Pakistan Shuts Down News Agency Office

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – On January 19, the Interior Ministry of Pakistan released an order to close the Radio Mashaal office in Islamabad. The Inter-Service Intelligence revealed the news station broadcasted programs that are “against the interest of Pakistan,” that reflect a “hostile intelligence agency’s agenda”, and that portray “Pakistan as a hub for terrorism.” The report went on to say that Radio Mashaal accuses Pakistan of harboring terrorists and of being a failed state.

Radio Mashaal was closed recently by Pakistani authorities. Photo Courtesy of Noorullah Shirzada.

Radio Mashaal is the Pashto-language part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).   RFE/RL is funded by the U.S. Congress. It is made possible by the bipartisan federal Broadcasting Board of Governors agency that oversees all international broadcasting.  Radio Mashaal was created to provide “an alternative to extremist propaganda in the tribal regions of Pakistan’s border.”

Amin Mudaqiq is the head of Radio Mashaal which broadcasts out of Prague. He denies that fact that Radio Mashaal is a part of foreign intelligence. He also stated that Pakistani intelligence had been questioning the integrity of the news produced for a while.

The president of RFE/RL said,” Radio Mashaal is an essential source of reliable, balanced information for our Pakistani audience.” The Coordinator of the Asia Program at the Committee to Protect Journalists, Steven Butler said of closure, “The order to close Radio Mashaal’s office in Islamabad is a draconian move by Pakistani authorities and a direct threat to press freedom in the country.”

For more information, please see:

Committee to project Journalists – Pakistan orders closure of US-funded Radio Mashaal office in Islamabad – 19 January 2018

Voice of America – Pakistan Orders Closure of US-funded RFE/RL Bureau in Islamabad – 19 January 2018

Reporters Without Borders – RSF decries Pakistan’s closure of Radio Mashaal bureau – 23 January 2018

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – Watchdog Condemns Pakistan’s Move Against RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal – 20 January 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

Forced Labor on Thai Fishing Boats Persists

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – Despite reforms in the fishing industry of Thailand, there has been some resistance regarding the acceptance of new regulations. Migrant workers from neighboring countries continue to be trafficked into the fishing industry.

Fishing Boat in Port. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Murphy.

There are restrictions regarding movement between employers, delays in payment, withholdings of contracts and workers information, and reductions in wages to levels below minimum wage. Employers keep employment cards, known as ‘pink cards’, to prevent laborers from leaving. Interviews also told of 16-hour work days. One man reported leaving the port at 6 am and returning to land after sunrise the next morning, only to sort the fish.

Thailand has yet to create an effective monitoring and inspection protocol for the fishing industry. In contrast to investigations carried out by Human Rights Watch, Thai investigations declared no cases of forced labor or poor working conditions. Human Rights Watch conducted interviews in every major fishing port in Thailand. Within 34 groups, there were 20 forced labor cases. Another investigation carried out by the International Justice Mission reported that more than 1/3 of fishers are trafficking victims.

The representative of Thailand’s National Fisheries Association, Mongkol Sukchararoenkana, noted in an interview, “There is no exploitation like in the past. The consumers of the USA and Europe can eat our seafood. Everything is fine. Every problem has been fixed by the current government. The boats are correct and the workers are correct. There is no more forced labor.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented, “… there has been significant improvement in the labour situation in the fishing industry in many areas. Disappointedly, the Report of HRW contains many outdated references… [and] does not take into consideration the current progress and efforts made by Thailand in solving labor problems.”

Human Rights Watch acknowledges the attempts as improvements but notes that numbers have not changed from 2012, when 1 in 5 fishers worked in some variation of forced labor conditions. 

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Thailand: Forced Labor, Trafficking Persist in Fishing Fleets – 23 January 2018

CNN – Abuse of migrant workers ‘rampant’ in Thai fishing fleets, rights group says – 25 January 2018

Thomson Reuters Foundation – ‘It was torture’: Grim tales in Thai fishing sector despite reforms – 23 January 2018

Japanese Citizens Petition Human Rights Court to Prosecute North Korean Leader

 By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

TOKYO, JapanRoughly 16 years after North Korea openly admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, families of the victims hope to bring an International Criminal Court (ICC) case against Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea.

Kim Jong Un waves to onlookers at a military parade on April 15, 2017. Photo courtesy of Damir Sagolj, Reuters.

While Pyongyang says only 13 Japanese citizens were kidnapped, Tokyo officially reports 17 abductees. The U.N. believes the number is closer to 100. Moreover, the Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea quotes 470 disappearances related to North Korean kidnappings.

During negotiations in 2002 about the kidnappings, North Korea returned 5 Japanese citizens. They reported that the rest had died. However, Japan believed that the information provided to confirm the deaths was insufficient and suspicious.

Eight Japanese citizens will travel to the ICC in The Hague. Several members of this party had families members taken.  They believe that their family members are still alive and are severely repressed.

Their goal is to petition the ICC to open a case against Kim Jong Un for crimes against humanity. The charge is for not providing adequate information regarding the deaths of the kidnapped Japanese. The petition calls for an investigation of more than 100 kidnappings. Yet, these events happened under Kim Jong Un’s father and grandfather.

The representatives hope this decision (and ensuing criminal case) will bring an international focus to the kidnappings.   

For more information, please see:

Straits Times – Families of missing Japanese to urge prosecution of North Korea leader Kim Jong Un at Hague court – 19 January 2018

The Japan Times – Abductees’ kin will urge ICC to prosecute Kim for human rights abuses – 19 January 2018

Newsweek – WILL KIM JONG UN GO TO JAIL? RELATIVES OF JAPAN KIDNAPPING VICTIMS ASK COURT FOR JUSTICE – 19 January 2018

Afghan Military Units Accused of Child Rape Receive U.S. Aid

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, AfghanistanIn a report released on January 18, 2018, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction noted ‘gross human rights abuses’ by the Afghan military. Several of these included child sexual assault, though the full scope of the sexual abuse is unclear as a result of a lack of resources and access.

Of a total of 75 incidents recorded from 2010-2016 by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, “7 involved child sexual assault, 46 involved other gross violations of human rights, and 22 were classified at a level above Secret because of the sensitivity of the information or the sources and methods used to obtain the information.” However, the U.S. Military personnel reported 5,753 human rights violations for the same time span.

Afghan Military Units continue to receive U.S. Military Aid despite child sex abuse cases. Image courtesy of Ghulamullah Habibi.

The cases of child sexual abuse by members of the Afghan military frequently refer to widespread practice of bacha bazi (boy play), where underage boys are kept as sex slaves for Afghan commanders.

According to the Leahy Law, U.S. military aid cannot be given to foreign military involved in human rights violations. However, U.S. aid has continued to flow to the Afghan military despite the 5,753 reports and 75 confirmed incidents. Additionally, many of the U.S. servicemen have seen negative consequences (even death) as a result of reporting child rapes and sexual abuse.

How does the U.S. military evade the Leahy Law? There is a loophole called the “notwithstanding clause” that states the Afghan military should receive aid no matter what. In this manner, 14 Afghan units continued to be supported despite allegations of child rapes against them.

A U.S. Senate committee hopes that this report will be a step forward to closing the legal loophole.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Afghan Pedophiles Get Free Pass From U.S. Military, Report says – 23 January 2018

The Washington Examiner – Senate targets loophole Defense Department used to support Afghan forces accused of human rights abuses – 23 January 2018

The Washington Post – Pentagon and watchdog at odds over efforts to prevent sexual abuse of children by Afghan troops – 23 January 2018

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction – (U) Child Sexual Assault in Afghanistan: Implementation of the Leahy Laws and Reports of Assault by Afghan Security Forces – 18 January 2018

The Guardian – US military fails to tackle sexual abuse of children by Afghan allies, report finds – 24 January 2018 

Myanmar and Bangladesh Agree to Repatriation Timeline

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – With more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims having fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh since October 2016, Bangladesh has been overwhelmed with refugees. An initial agreement between the two countries was signed in November of 2017, though an official implementation timeline was only recently established.

Image of Rohingya Refugee Camp. Photo Courtesy of Roger Arnold.

The agreement lays out that Myanmar will take 1500 Rohingya refugees back each week, with 300 per day and with all returning within two years. This begins on 23 January 2018.  However at this rate it will take closer to 10 years to repatriate all 740,000 refugees.   Bangladesh sees the goal of 300 persons each day as a starting point and hopes that the numbers will increase as time goes on. Bangladesh strives to send families back together as well as orphans and “children born out of unwarranted incidence.” This deal is only applicable to those who fled between the October 2016 violence and the latest round in 2017.

In preparation Myanmar plans to build two transport camps. One can accommodate up to 30,000 people.   Bangladesh will build 5.

As a result of the violence, 350 Rohingya villages burned down.   While Myanmar rebuilds, little attention is given to the Rakhine state. Myanmar’s foreign secretary U Myint Thu stated that there are plans to build new villages for the Rohingya. The plan is that “the returnees will build their homes by themselves.” It is a cash-for-work program in which the Myanmar government “will give them both money and jobs.”

The repatriation act is not without its critics. Little has been done to rectify the repression of Rohingya in Myanmar, and human rights activists are concerned that there can be no safe returns if grievances aren’t addressed. For a community leader in a Rohingya Refugee camp, the “first priority is, they have to grant us citizenship as Rohingya. Secondly, they have to give back our lands. Thirdly, our security must be ensured internationally. Otherwise, this is not good for us.” Restrictions on Rohingya movement have not been waived either.

The UN High Commission for Refugees encourages refugees to only return if they feel safe. The statement from the U.S. reads that the timeline was of less importance compared to the safety of the people. While the reparation is voluntary, most refugees say they will only return if their safety is assured, their homes rebuilt, and their land returned to them.

For more information, please see:

The BBC – Rohingya crisis: Bangladesh and Myanmar agree repatriation timeframe – 16 January 2018

Reuters – Bangladesh agrees with Myanmar to complete Rohingya return in two years – 16 January 2018

The Washington Post – Bangladesh, Myanmar aim to finish Rohingya return in 2 years – 16 January 2018

Cultural Custom in Nepal Leaves Woman Dead

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KATHMANDU, Nepal – On January 8, 2018, Ms. Gauri Bayak, age 21 of Nepal, was found dead inside a smoke-filled hut by her sister-in-law. She lived in a village in Achham, a western district of Nepal. She had been banished to sleep in a shed as a result of menstruation.

It is custom in Nepal to force women who are menstruating to sleep outside the house. The community sees menstruating women as impure, contaminating the home, and angering the gods. They are barred from touching food, men, cattle, and religious icons. Thus, they are excluded from the house and forced to sleep outdoors in small sheds or huts. This practice is known as chhaupadi. It is believed that not following this practice will lead to bad fortune such as death or sickness of family members or livestock.

Image of a Menstruation hut. Photo courtesy of Navesh Chitrakar.

These huts are often poorly insulated and unheated. During the winter temperatures can drop below freezing in Nepal, thus the necessity to build the fire that ultimately lead to Bayak’s death. Additionally, there have been reports of wild animal attacks on the women sleeping in these menstruation huts. Married women typically spend only a few days from home while unmarried women will remain away from home for a week.

The practice was officially banned in Nepal in 2005, but many remote villages still practice this ritual. In 2017, the Nepali government passed a second legislation that criminalized chhaupadi. As a result anyone caught to have forced a women to go through with chhaupadi will face three months in jail and a 3,000 rupee fine.

Traditions have been slow to change as chhaupadi is a deeply rooted religious and culture practice in Nepal. Aid workers have found success with reducing the number of days menstruating women spend secluded outside as well as with promoting the use of secluded rooms inside the home.

The district’s Women’s Rights official said that women’s families should ‘take responsibility and stop this practice’ to protect women’s rights.

 For more information, please see:

The Strait Times- Nepali woman sent to ‘menstruation hut’ dies of suspected smoke inhalation – 10 January 2018

The Guardian – Woman in Nepal dies after being exiled to outdoor hut during her period – 12 January 2018

Times of India – Nepali woman suffocates in ‘menstruation hut’ – 10 January 2018

Pakistan put on U.S. ‘Special Watch List’

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – “The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries,” said a U.S. State Department official in response to releasing a “Special Watch List” for religious freedom violations. Pakistan was one of 10 nations placed on the list.

This designation comes after a 2017 report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. The report found issues with the blasphemy law under which at least 40 people are serving death or life sentences. The Pakistani government reportedly failed to protect terrorist and societal violence against Ahmadis and Shia Muslims, Hindus, and Christians. There are concerns over forced religious conversions for women.

However, the report did mention that the Pakistani government was taking some “encouraging gestures toward religious minorities.” The full report can be read here.  The U.S. government also found issue with Pakistan providing safe havens for terrorists.

Pakistan’s officials reject the placement of their country on this list. They believe that the placement is based on objective criteria as they have spent $120 billion over 15 years fighting terrorism. They will proceed forward by requesting a clarification on the rationale and implications.  Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. hopes that the two countries can continue constructively talking through this confusion to prevent instability in the region.

Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry of Pakistan. Photo courtesy of Natalie Liu.

In the meantime, the U.S. will decrease the amount of aid and suspend security assistance in the amount of $255 million to Pakistan

Tensions have been increasing between the two countries of late. Some analysts suggest that this timing is ‘very ominous.’ Bharath Gopalaswamy of Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center says, “…this is a reflection of the overall frustration of the United States with Pakistan.”

For more information, please see:

Voice of America – US Places Pakistan on ‘Special Watch List’ for Severe Violations of Religious Freedoms – 5 January 2018

Reuters – U.S. places Pakistan o watch list for religious freedom violations – 4 January 2018

Al Jazeera – US places Pakistan on religious-freedom watch list – 5 January 2018

U.S Department of State – Designations Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 – 4 January 2018

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – Pakistan – 2017 

Myanmar Arrests Two Reuters Journalists

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – On 12 December 2017 two journalist from Reuters were arrested by the Myanmar government.  The two journalists are Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27. Alongside of the them, two police officers were arrested as well. The two reporters have been formally charged with obtaining state secrets, after investigating the existence of a mass grave in the Rakhine state.

Photo of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, arrested. Photo courtesy of Myanmar’s Ministry of Information.

The situation is considered to be related to the wider Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. Lone and Oo have been working on stories related to the Rohingya. On 12 December, the two planned to meet two police officers over dinner. The officers had returned from a supervising job in the state of Rakhine.

Two days after the arrest, the Myanmar Ministry of Information released a statement, on their Facebook, in conjunction with the arrests. The post mentioned that two journalists and two police officers arrested were charged under Section 3.1 of the 1923 Official Secrets Act for “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media.” Officials say the two journalists forced the police officers to disclose the information. It has been revealed that the officers have not been charged. However, the two journalist could face up to 14 years in prison, if found guilty.

The international community has been supportive in calling for the release of the journalists. The British remarked, “We will make it clear in the strongest possible terms that we feel that they need to be released at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Many believe that these arrests represent a crackdown on freedom of speech and press freedom. The Swedish Foreign Minister said the arrests threatened “democratic and peaceful development of Myanmar and that region.”

While the United States called the arrests “highly irregular,” this is not the first case of journalists being arrested.   Eight journalist and affiliated staff have been arrested this year in Myanmar for just doing their job—reporting.

 For more information, please see:

 Fortify Rights – Myanmar: Release Wrongfully Arrested Journalists, Protect Press Freedoms – 14 December 2017

Reuters – Myanmar faces mounting calls for release of Reuters journalists – 15 December 2017

The New York Times – Reuters Reporters Are Charged In Myanmar With Obtaining State Secrets – 10 January, 2018 

The New York Times – Arrests of Reuters Reporters in Myanmar Add to Fears About Press Freedom – 13 December 2017