North Korea Conducts its Sixth Nuclear Test

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Korea on Sunday, September 3rd, carried out its sixth nuclear test. It is reported that the explosion was heralded by a 6.3- magnitude earthquake near the nuclear test site. The tremor was felt near the Chinese border in Yanji.

North Korean media releases a photo of Kim inspecting the new bomb. Photo courtesy of CNN.

The North Korean officials claimed that it has tested a hydrogen bomb that can be loaded on to an intercontinental ballistic missile. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released a photo of Kim Jung Un inspecting the weapon and stated that North Korea has “succeeded in making a more developed nuke.”

The South Korean officials estimated the blast to yield at between 50 to 60 kilotons. In a later report released by the South Korea’s parliamentary defense committee, the blast was as high as 100 kilotons which equates to 100,000 tons of TNT.

The regime’s sixth test is reported to be five to six times stronger than their September test. The officials estimated the fifth test to have been about 10 kilotons.

Since the test, many countries in the region have condemned North Korea and their actions. President Moon Jae-in of South Korea called the test “utterly disappointing and infuriating.” Furthermore, China strongly condemned the test and Japan asked an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. In a joint statement released from the European community, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and President Emmanuel Macron of France also condemned North Korea’s recent test.

The North Korean leader has repeatedly used American holidays to test its missiles. It is reported that the timing of the Sunday’s test was purposefully scheduled for the American Labor Day weekend. Saturday is also the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean government.

Although hydrogen bombs and atomic bombs both involve detonating nuclear energy, hydrogen bombs are more powerful due to the usage of a second stage that increases the chain reaction.

President Trump is reported to be in conversations with world leaders and relying on similar strategy his predecessors have used.

For more information, please see:

NYT – North Korea Says It Tested a Hydrogen Bomb Meant for Missiles – 2 September, 2017

CNN – North Korea says it can make new bomb in volume – 3 September, 2017

The guardian – North Korean nuclear test confirmed in major escalation by Kim Jong-un – 3 September, 2017

Violence Erupts in India after Guru is Sentenced to 20 years for Rape

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India – On Friday, August 18th, India’s spiritual guru was sentenced to 20 years in prison. India’s Central Bureau of Investigation announced that Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted of raping two of his followers. Two women accused Singh of rape at the headquarter of his sect. In India, the minimum sentence for rape is seven years.
Singh’s followers are protesting their leader’s 20 year prison sentence in northern India. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Singh, leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, has an immense following in Haryana and Punjab states. He is an influential figure in the country as thousands consider him as a cult icon. Also known as “the guru of bling,” he is the star of five films and many popular music videos. He currently has 3.75 million Twitter followers and claims to have 60 million worldwide followers. On his website, Singh’s work is described as a “social humanitarianism and selfless services to others.”

On the day of his sentencing, thousands of troops were deployed to control Singh’s supporters. Since the conviction, 30 people were killed and 200 were injured when clashes occurred across northern India. Many followers came out to the streets and smashed cars, torched buses and attacked police officers. An army officer stated that the troops were deployed because “the police couldn’t control the situation.”

His followers mostly sit at the bottom of the social hierarchy in India. They have relied on Singh and his sect for basic needs, such as food, medicine, and a sense of equality.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reminded the Indian people on his monthly address that India was the home of “Gandhi and Lord Buddha.” He went on to condemn the violence.

Singh is also facing murder charges in connection with the death of a reporter.

NYT – Violent Protests in India Turn Deadly After Guru’s Rape Conviction – 25 August, 2017

The Guardian – Indian states in lockdown for guru’s rape sentencing after deadly protests – 27 August, 2017

CNN – Indian guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh sentenced to 20 years for rape – 28 August, 2017

NPR – After ‘Guru Of Bling’ Sentencing, Indian State Stays On Alert For Violence – 28 August, 2017

Hong Kong Jails Three Young Activists

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

HONG KONG – On August 17, 2017, three Hong Kong activists were sentenced to prison. Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow led a pro-democracy protest in 2014. The three were among a group of students who occupied Hong Kong’s legislative headquarters in 2014. The forcible removal of these students from the premise angered the public.

Joshua Wong, a pro-democracy activist, led a demonstration in 2014. Photo courtesy of NYT.

After the incident, the activists were convicted of unlawful assembly.

They were originally sentenced to community service and a suspended jail term, but in a rare move by the Hong Kong government, an appeal was filed to reconsider their “lenient” sentences.

A Hong Kong court recently sentenced Joshua Wong to six months in prison, Law was sentenced to eight months, and Chow was sentenced to seven months. In Hong Kong, one is ineligible to run for local elections for the following five years if they were sentenced to more than three months in jail.

After the ruling, Amnesty International referred to the appeal for jail terms as a “vindictive attack” on freedom of expression. Many other organizations have condemned the authorities.

However, the government stated that “there is absolutely no basis to imply any political motive.” The authorities went further by stating that freedom of speech is guaranteed in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule under a “one country, two systems” principle. Although this governing principle assured a degree of autonomy, the public has been skeptical as the Chinese government has been asserting their power.

For example, the Chinese government removed seven dissident lawmakers from Hong Kong’s citywide elections last year. Nathan Law, who was the youngest-ever legislator, was removed last month.

For more information, please see: 

CNN – Joshua Wong and two other Umbrella Movement leaders jailed in Hong Kong – 17 August, 2017

NYT – Joshua Wong and 2 Others Jailed in Hong Kong Over Pro-Democracy Protest – 17 August, 2017

BBC – Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong jailed for six months – 17 August, 2017

Violence Continues in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Members of the Rohingya minority group stormed 30 police stations on August 25th. Around 150 fighters, armed with guns and machetes, attacked Myanmar security forces. The officials believe that around 60 of the insurgents and 12 Myanmar security forces were killed. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for the attack.

Myanmar police are heavily patrolling parts of Rakhine. Photo courtesy of BBC.

This conflict occurred soon after the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, released the long-awaited report.

The commission was established last year to evaluate the situation in Rakhine State. Soon after the report was released, Annan stated that “unless concerted action – led by the government and aided by all sectors of the government and society – is taken soon, we risk the return of another cycle of violence and radicalization, which will further deepen the chronic poverty that afflicts Rakhine State.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, stated that the attacks were deliberately planned to coincide with the release of the Advisory Commission’s report.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, requested that the commission evaluate the conflict in Myanmar last year. However, many humanitarian groups have been critical of her leadership and expressed their disappointment.

Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director publicly stated that since the report has been published, “the ball is now in Suu Kyi’s court.”

Because of the ongoing chaos, Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing to Bangladesh by the thousands. However, the Bangladeshi officials have been turning people back at the Ghumdhum border area. The officials estimate that around 3,000 Rohingya have found refuge in Bangladesh since the attack.

Reuters – At least 71 killed in Myanmar as Rohingya insurgents stage major attack – 24 August, 2017

Fox News – Myanmar: Attacks on police, border guards kill at least 12 – 25 August, 2017

CNN – Police killed in new violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State – 25 August, 2017

BBC – Myanmar Rakhine: Thousands flee to Bangladesh border – 28 August, 2017

Maldives Tries to Resume Execution in 60 Years

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

MALE, Maldives – The Maldives is planning to carry out its first execution since the mid-1950s. The last execution in the country was carried out during the British colonial rule which ended five decades ago.

Maldivian President Yameen Abdul Gayoom is photographed with his wife, Fathimath Ibrahim. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Chronicles.

As the Maldives government plans to carry out its first execution in 60 years, many human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development have expressed concerns about the recent decision. These organizations have sent a letter to President Abdulla Yameen about human rights violations. According to these organizations, three prisoners who are on death row did not receive fair trials.

Currently, Hussain Humaan Ahmed, Ahmed Murrath, and Mohammed Nabeel are believed to be at risk of execution. All three were convicted of murder since 2009.

In 2014, Mr. Yameen’s administration reintroduced the death penalty. After the military coup removed then president Mohamed Nasheed, Mr. Yameen’s government worked towards restoring the death penalty in the Maldives.

The South Asia director for Amnesty International, Biraj Patnaik, stated that the talks of executions were a “feeble attempt to look tough and distract attention” from the current political climate against the president.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has been working to stop the Maldivian government from conducting planned executions. In their recent letters, the committee stated that “should your government go ahead with the executions, it would violate Maldives’ obligations under international law, including to protect the three men’s right to life.”

For more information, please see: 

Financial Times – Maldives set to restore death penalty as political crisis deepens – 7 August, 2017

San Francisco Chronicle – Rights groups alarmed over planned executions in Maldives – 10 August, 2017

ABC – Rights groups alarmed over planned executions in Maldives – 10 August, 2017

U.N. Security Council Votes in Favor of New North Korean Sanctions

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

PYONGYANG, North Korea – On August 6th, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to pass Resolution 2371 to impose new sanctions on North Korea. The resolution received 15 votes in the affirmative by the member states as North Korea continues to test its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capabilities. North Korea’s actions are in clear violation of United Nations resolutions.

Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, met with North Korea’s foreign minister in Manila at the ASEAN Regional Forum. Photo courtesy of BBC.

After difficult negotiations with China, Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, stated that the newly imposed sanctions will cut North Korea’s annual export revenue by $1 billion. Ambassador Haley went further to state that the sanctions are “the strongest sanctions ever imposed in response to a ballistic missile test.”

Although China has protected North Korea in the past by using its veto power on the United Nations Security Council, Beijing voted in favor of the resolution. Liu Jieyi, the Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations, was also cautious of the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea by the United States. Both Russia and China have expressed their discomfort in THAAD and warned against disturbing the regional security.

The United States Secretary of State stated that the United States does not hope for a regime change in North Korea. As Secretary Tillerson attends the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in the Philippines, the conversation is expected to heavily focus on North Korea.

The ASEAN foreign ministers were divided on a proposal presented by the United States on suspending North Korea from the ASEAN Regional Forum.

Secretary Tillerson will be meeting with his Japanese counterpart and South Korean counterpart on Monday to discuss the issue further. The South Korea’s foreign ministry stated that “the three foreign ministers will share their assessments of situations caused by the series of provocations by North Korea and discuss necessary future countermeasures.”

For more information, please see: 

NBC – Tillerson Says North Korea Can Show Interest in Talks by Ending Missile Tests – 7 August, 2017

BBC – North Korea: China urges neighbour to stop missile tests – 6 August, 2017

CNN – UN Security Council imposes new sanctions on North Korea – 6 August, 2017

Supreme Court of India Modifies Anti-Dowry Law

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

NEW DELHI, India – The Supreme Court of India stated that the anti-dowry law is being misused in the country. Until dowry harassment charges can be verified, the court has ordered the authorities to stop arresting the accused.

Many have been protesting against the tough anti-dowry law. Photo courtesy of BBC.

Under the dowry system in India, the bride’s family transfers property or money to her husband as a condition of the marriage.

The practice of dowry, a long tradition in the Indian culture, has been banned since 1961. The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 implemented a tough anti-dowry law in the country. The law allows for immediate arrest of the accused but many have argued that it allows for women to file false cases. The original intent of the law was to help women, but many critics of the law stated that it is being used as “a weapon by disgruntled wives.” Although not many are convicted under this law, thousands of people are arrest every year.

To combat these issues, on July 27th, 2017, the Supreme Court of India ordered the states to establish family welfare committee to address dowry related problems. The court further established that all complaints received by the authorities must be given to the family welfare committee for its review. It is noted that no action can be taken against the husband and the in-laws until a full report is released.

In 2015, the Indian government’s data estimated that around 7,634 women were killed due to dowry-related issues. The centuries-old tradition of dowry continues to be an issue in India. Many anti-dowry proponents have argued that the tradition leaves women vulnerable to material issues which sometimes leads to violence and event death.

For more information, please see: 

BBC – India top court orders changes in anti-dowry law to stop misuse – 28 July, 2017

India Times – SC Stops Misuse Of Anti-Dowry Law By Women, No Arrest Can Be Make Until Charges Are Verified – 28 July, 2017

The Times of India – No arrest in dowry cases till charges are verified, says Supreme Court – 28 July, 2017

Tough New Orders to Combat “Narcotics Emergency” in Indonesia

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

JAKARTA, Indonesia – President Joko Widodo of Indonesia imposed a new order against drug dealers and traffickers as he attempts to fight the drug issues he is facing in the country. The new shoot-to-kill order is his call for tougher action against drug traffickers in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has implemented tough rules to combat the country’s “narcotics emergency”. Photo courtesy of ABC.

At an event in Jakarta on July 21, Mr. Wido warned against a potential national emergency due to the drug situation. He stated that “if they resist arrest, just gun them down, show no mercy.”

His recent comments have been compared to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines as Mr. Duterte has issued controversial anti-drug laws in his country. Since the beginning of his campaign to stop drug trafficking in the Philippines, Mr. Duterte’s police force has killed around 7,000 Filipinos. His actions have been condemned by the international community.

In 2015, Mr. Widodo’s government executed two Australian drug smugglers despite the Australian Government’s plea for a stay of execution. With its already tough laws against drugs, Mr. Widodo has been heavily criticized for ordering executions for drug offenses.

The new order was implemented after a Taiwanese national was shot dead for being involved with a drug smuggling operating around Jakarta. The man was reported to be a part of a group trying to smuggle one tonne of crystal methamphetamine into Indonesia. The man was shot for resisting arrest.

Indonesia is one of 33 countries that use capital punishment for drug-related convictions and since 2013, 18 people have been executed by the firing squad. Currently, the government estimates around 1.2 million drug-abusers in the country. Ecstasy, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine are widely used in Indonesia.

General Tito, the Indonesian National Police chief, stated that imposing the death penalty against drug offenders is a good way to deter people from committing drug-related crimes.

However, General Tito’s comments drew strong condemnation from the international community and from Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia, Mr. Phelim Kine. Mr. Kine was recently quoted in saying that General Tito’s should “denounce the Philippines’ war on drugs.”

For more information, please see: 

ABC – Indonesian President tells police to shoot foreign drug dealers who resist arrest – 22 July, 2017

Reuters- Joko Widodo: Police should shoot suspected drug dealers – 22 July, 2017

The Straits Times – Jokowi issues order to shoot drug traffickers – 23 July, 2017

Aljazeera – Joko Widodo: Police should shoot suspected drug dealers – 23 July, 2017


Nobel Prize Laureate Dies in China

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BEIJING, China – Chinese Nobel Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, died on July 13th from multiple organ failure. Liu was a prominent Chinese dissident who participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.

Supporters mourning Liu Xiaobo’s death in Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of CNBC.

In 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his work with crafting “Chapter 08,” a manifesto calling for political reform in China. The Chinese government sentenced him to prison for “inciting subversion of state power.”

While serving his time at Jinzhou Prison in 2010, Liu was named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for “his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” However, the Chinese government did not allow him to travel to accept the award and attempted to block the news inside the country. The Nobel organizers placed his award on an empty chair during the award ceremony in his honor.

Due to his illness, Liu was transferred to a hospital in the city of Shenyang to receive treatment. Despite facing much pressure from the international community, China refused to allow Liu to travel abroad to receive treatment.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee recently condemned the Chinese government for not allowing Liu Xiaobo to receive medical treatment abroad. Berit Reiss-Andersen, the leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee stated that “the Chinese Government bears a heavy responsibility for his premature death.”

Many people, including Amnesty International’s Nicholas Bequelin, described his death as “one of the most crude, cruel and callous political show(s) I have ever witnessed.”

Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest and has not been allowed to communicate with the outside world since Liu Xiaobo received the award. Since his death, thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong to hold a vigil for Liu and asked the Chinese government to free Liu Xia.

Carl von Ossietzky, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was the last winner to die under government surveillance. He died in Berlin in 1938.

For more information, please see: 

CNBC – Struck by liver cancer, Chinese Nobel Peace Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo dies – 13 July, 2017

Alijazeera – China’s Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo dies: official – 14 July, 2017

CNN – Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, the unwitting martyr – 14 July, 2017

Reuters – Chinese Nobel laureate’s ashes scattered at sea – 14 July, 2017

Myanmar Denies Human Rights Violations Against Rohingya Muslims

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Myanmar’s government stated that it will not allow members of the United Nations to enter the country to investigate potential human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, led the National League for Democracy party to a majority win in 2015. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

The United Nations Human Rights Council report which was prepared in February stated that thousands of civilians are getting killed and raped by Myanmar’s soldiers. Then in March, three legal experts and human rights advocates were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to lead the operation to investigate the alleged violations.

Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, denied the Council’s request to investigate in May and stated that it is not in keeping “with what is actually happening on the ground.” She further denied “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims and stated that “ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening.” The government has previously denied human rights violations by stating that it was “propaganda.”

Aung San Suu Kyi has been condemned for failing to protect more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine. Historically, Myanmar has not recognized Rohingya Muslims as an ethnic group and treated them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The Rohingya Muslim minority suffers from discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.  In 2012, around 140,000 – mostly Rohingya – were forced to leave their homes.

Myanmar officials maintains that a domestic investigation is being conducted under the leadership of the former lieutenant general and Vice President, Myint Swe. He has stated that the United Nations fact-finding mission will not contribute to their current internal investigation.

For more information, please see: 

Independent – Burma says it will not let outside world investigate Rohingya ‘genocide’ claims – 30 June, 2017

AP – Myanmar to bar UN human rights investigators from entering – 30 June, 2017

Reuters – Myanmar says it will refuse entry to U.N. investigators probing Rohingya abuses – 30 June, 2017

Top Vietnamese Blogger Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

HANOI, Vietnam – Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, one of Vietnam’s top bloggers, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of distributing propaganda against the government. Otherwise known as “Mother Mushroom,” Ms. Quynh is an activist raising awareness of social injustice and environmental issues in Vietnam. She first started the blog in 2006 and is known for her famous tagline, “Who will speak if you don’t?”

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, one of Vietnam’s top bloggers, was charged with distributing propaganda against the government. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Ms. Quynh was arrest in October when she visited a fellow activist in prison. Since her arrest, Ms. Quynh has not been allowed to meet any visitors. Her attorney, who she was only allowed to meet nine days before the trial, stated that the sentence was “too heavy and unfair for the accused.”

In 2009, she was arrested for 10 days for “abuse of democracy and infringing on the national benefit.” The Vietnamese government ordered Ms. Quynh to give up blogging and post a letter on the site explaining her love for the country. Upon her release, she blogged again two months later.

The United States government recently called on Vietnam to release Ms. Quynh. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch asked Vietnam to drop all charges against her.

Ms. Quynh has received numerous awards, including the Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders award. Moreover, the U.S. State Department has also awarded the International Women of Courage Award early this year.

Since her arrest, around 1,000 activist, bloggers, and lawyers signed a petition demanding her release.

It is reported that the arrest of activists in Vietnam is not unusual. In fact, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch stated that the “Vietnamese government uses vague national security laws to silence activists and throttle free speech.”

In Vietnam, the internet has been the main forum for the country’s growing number of dissenting voices. Due to this reason, the Vietnamese government has asked social media sites, such as Facebook and YouTube to censor the content.

For more information, please see: 

NYT – With Social Media, Vietnam’s Dissidents Grow Bolder Despite Crackdown – 2 July, 2017

CNN – Vietnamese blogger Mother Mushroom jailed for 10 years – 29 June, 2017

BBC – ‘Mother Mushroom’: Top Vietnamese blogger jailed for 10 years – 29 June, 2017

U.S. Student Dies After Being Released By North Korea

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

PYONGYANG, North Korea – Otto Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, died on June 19, 2017 after spending 17 months in a prison in North Korea. Mr. Warmbier returned to Cincinnati on June 13 after being released by the North Korean government.

Otto Warmbier was detained in North Korea for allegedly stealing a propaganda sign. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

When he was traveling in China in 2015, Mr. Warmbier signed up for a five-day tour of North Korea with a Chinese company.

Mr. Warmbier was arrested in early January 2016 and was charged with “hostile act” against the regime for stealing government property. The North Korean government convicted him two months later after a one hour trial and sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor.

The doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center received two M.R.I. scans from North Korea that showed Mr. Warmbier’s brain injury shortly after his conviction. The doctors believe that he suffered a “severe neurological injury.” The extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of his brain was most likely caused by cardiopulmonary arrest that cut off the blood supply to his brain.

As the doctors are unable to identify what caused the initial injury, they found no evidence of broken bones or injuries that shows physical abuse. The regime blamed Mr. Warmbier’s injuries to a combination of botulism and sleeping pills.

Mr. Warmbier’s death increased tensions between North Korea and the United States as President Donald J. Trump spoke on the “brutality of the North Korean regime.” Previously, the North Korean government called President Trump a “psychopath.”

President Trump firmly stated that he is determined to “prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency.”

Over 2,500 people gathered at Wyoming High School for Mr. Warmbier’s memorial service. He graduated from the school in 2013.

Three U.S. citizens, Kim Dong Chul, Tony Kim, and Kim Hak Song, are still held in North Korea.

For more information, please see: 

NYT – Otto Warmbier, American Student Released From North Korea, Dies – 19 June, 2017

BBC – Otto Warmbier: North Korea denies mistreating US student – 23 June, 2017

Reuters – North Korea says U.S. student’s death a ‘mystery to us as well’ – 23 June, 2017

Martial Law Continues In Mindanao

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

MANILA, Philippines – On May 23, President Rodrigo Duterte of Philippines declared 60 days of martial law in Mindanao. Currently, 21 million people are living under martial law. The order came after the failed attempt to apprehend Isnilon Hapilon, a terrorist leader associated with the Islamic State. Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups is known for kidnapping and decapitating westerners.

President Rodrigo Duterte addressing the country. Photo courtesy of CNN.

An estimated 400-500 fighters took over parts of Mindanao and attempted to create an Islamic caliphate. According to the head of military command in Western Mindanao, the militants control around 20 percent of the town. Around 200,000 civilians fled once the conflict began and hundreds are being held hostage. Currently, 100 militants are still fighting.

The conflict in Marawi City entered its fourth week as of June 13, and President Rodrigo Duterte stated that martial law will continue. More than 180 government troops and 200 militants have died from the battle.

Recently, President Duterte stated that he is willing to extend martial law for the region and continue the battle until the militants are completely destroyed. However, according to the constitution, martial law in the country cannot last longer than 60 days.

The opposition party in the country argued that the imposed law is unconstitutional and have asked the country’s supreme court to rule on the matter. President Duterte stated that he will revoke marital law if the Supreme Court finds it unconstitutional. Nevertheless, President Duterte also commented that if the militants continue to attack Mindanao, he will be “forced to declare martial law again.” He went further and said that he will “not consult anybody” and there is “no telling when it will end.”

President Duterte compared his order to dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The former president ruled the country under martial law from 1972 to 1981 to control communist rebels. During this time, many organizations have reported that the order allowed for human rights abuses by the administration.

Under the current order, many groups also fear human rights abuses in the country as President Duterte attempts to extend martial law in Mindanao.

For more information, please see: 

CNN – Duterte: Martial law in Mindanao to continue until I am ‘satisfied’ conflict has ended – 18 June, 2017

Reuters – Philippines army struggles as city siege enters fourth week – 13 June, 2017

Washington Post – Duterte has put part of the Philippines under martial law. Here’s how dangerous that can be. – 14 June, 2017

ABC – Philippines President Duterte revives Marcos-era memories in threat to extend martial law – 17 June, 2017


New South Korean President Raises Concerns On ‘Comfort Women’ Deal

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

SEOUL, South Korea – President Moon Jae-in of South Korea raised concerns on a landmark agreement made with Japan in December 2015 dealing with wartime sex slaves. The new South Korean president stated that the agreement is unfair.

South Koreans protesting outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. Photo courtesy of NPR.

According to the deal, the Japanese government agreed to provide $8.3 million to help “comfort women” and for Shinzo Abe, Japanese Prime Minister, to offer his “most sincere apologies and remorse.” It was also agreed that both countries will not criticize each other on this issue in the international society.

The issue of “comfort women” has been an ongoing controversy between these two countries. Although the exact numbers are unknown, the authorities believe that around 200,000 women were forced to serve as sex slaves when Japan took control of Korea in 1910.

Lee Ok-seon, now age 90, spoke about the time when she was captured by the Japanese military. In 1942, at the age 15, Lee was grabbed by men in uniform and was forced to work in a brothel in a Japanese-occupied area in China. As the survivors age and die, Lee remains as one of the last “comfort women.”

Former “comfort women” and many of their supporters have been protesting outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul. In 2011, a group erected a bronze statue of a seated woman outside the Japanese embassy. Back in January of 2017, the Japanese government withdrew diplomats from South Korea after the same statue was erected in the city of Busan arguing that such action violated the 2015 agreement.

The victims believe that the apology made by the Japanese Prime Minister does not go far enough. Moreover, the polls show that the majority of Koreans believe the 2015 agreement to be unfair.

South Korean president, Moon Jae-in spoke with Shinzo Abe, Japanese Prime Minister, and discussed the common threat posed by North Korea. Although President Moon stated that the people of South Korea “cannot emotionally accept the comfort women agreement,” he was clear that the issue should not affect the relationship in finding ways to respond to North Korea.

On June 7, Kang Kyung-wha, President Moon’s pick for foreign minister said during her confirmation hearing that she seeks to renew discussions over the 2015 agreement with Japan.

For more information, please see: 

NPR – Not All South Koreans Satisfied With Japan’s Apology To ‘Comfort Women’ – 30 May, 2017

CNN – South Korea’s New President Questions Japan ‘Comfort Women’ Deal – 5 June, 2017

Nikkei Asian Review -South Korea Foreign Minister Pick Vows ‘Comfort Women’ Talks – 8 June, 2017

Taiwan Court Recognizes Same-Sex Marriage

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

TAIPEI, Taiwan – On May 24, 2017, Taiwan’s constitutional court ruled in favor of same-sex couples and declared that the couples have the legal right to marry. The first such ruling in Asia, the court struck down the Civil Code’s legal definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

Supporters of same-sex marriage celebrating the court’s ruling in Taipei. Photo courtesy of NYT.

The court declared that the Civil Code’s definition of marriage violated articles of the constitution and allowed the legislatures two years to change existing marriage laws. If the body fails to pass a legislation in the next two years, the court wrote that the same-sex couples “shall be allowed to have their marriage registration effectuated to the authorities in charge of household registration.”

The court made its ruling in response to two petitions to review the existing law. One was brought by a longtime gay rights campaigner, Mr. Chi Chia-wei. Mr. Chi was in favor of changing the Civil Code’s definition of marriage. The other petition was brought by the city government of Taipei after being sued for rejecting same-sex couple’s marriage applications.

The decision was celebrated by many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights activists. Hundreds of supporters gathered to celebrate the decision in Taipei, the nation’s capital.

Democratic Progressive Party that overwhelmingly swept national elections last year supported this change and a bill to enforce the court’s ruling has been presented.

For more information, please see: 

Reuters – Taiwan court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, first in Asia – 24 May, 2017

NYT – Court Ruling Could Make Taiwan First Place in Asia to Legalize Gay Marriage – 24 May, 2017

Washington Post – Taiwan is set to become the first Asian country to legalize gay marriage – 24 May, 2017