U.N. Workers Are Relocating in Myanmar during Religious Turmoil

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – The United Nations today declared its intent to initiate a reallocation of its staff in western Myanmar.  After yesterday’s clashes between Muslims and Buddhists left at least 8 people dead and 17 wounded, the Myanmar Government declared a state of emergency in its western Rhakin State, which borders Bangladesh.  After taking office and implementing democratic reforms last year, President Thein Sein pled for this “endless anarchic vengeance” to cease.

Myanmar policemen carrying an unidentified body into a truck. (Photo Courtesy of NPR)

On June 3 a group of Buddhists, in an alleged vigilante effort, attacked a bus near Taunggoke killing nine Muslims.  Tuganggoke is in the western state of Rakhine, home to Myanmar’s largest concentration of Muslims.  The Myanmar police reassured the public that “[a]n investigation [was] underway[,]” but were not able to provide “any further details.”

A Taunggoke resident, Kyaw Min, believes the rape and death of a Buddhist woman by several men sparked the Buddhists’ anger.  However, there has been no confirmation on whether a connection existed between the men on the bus and the Buddhist woman’s death several weeks prior.

Reports from U.N. workers suggest that the continuing unrest has made it difficult for United Nations personnel to operate in the region. Ashok Nigam, a Yangon-based U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator, stated that the U.N. was temporarily relocating 44 of its 150 personnel in the Rakhine state on a voluntary basis for safety reasons.

The conflict among the villages in Rakhine has left many wounded and 500 homes burned.  “We have not had any sleep for the last five days,” said Ma Ohn May, a shop owner in the nearby town of Sittwe.

In a televised address, President Sein urged, “If we put racial and religious issues at the forefront, if we put the never-ending hatred, desire for revenge and anarchic actions at the forefront, and if we continue to retaliate and terrorise and kill each other, there’s a danger that [the troubles] could multiply and move beyond Arakan (former Rakhine).”


For further information, please see:

CNN News – U.N. withdrawing staff from scene of unrest in western Myanmar – 11 June 2012

NPR News – Sectarian Strife Rips Through Myanmar Town – 11 June 2012

New York Times – Crisis in Myanmar Over Buddhist-Muslim Clash – 10 June 2012

The Guardian – Burma clashes could put transition to democracy at risk, president says – 10 June 2012

Self-Immolations Spark Chinese Detentions of Tibetans and Further Governmental Restrictions

By Jenna Furman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China — After fourteen months, Tibetan self-immolations continue in protest of Chinese policies and restrictions aimed to repress a Tibetan movement for political and cultural autonomy.

Tibetans protest Chinese rules and regulations. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

Last week, two Tibetan men set themselves on fire in front of the main temple in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. One of the men reportedly died from his injuries. The fact that the self-immolations were the first to occur in the heavily guarded Tibetan capital demonstrates the growing strength and force of Tibetan protests against Chinese rule.

In response to these latest self-immolations, the Chinese Government aired a documentary stating that those who self-immolated were terrorists, criminals, or mentally ill.

Tibetan activists not only protest Chinese rule, but also call for the return of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The Chinese Government has deemed the Dalai Lama a separatist and accuse him of inciting the Tibetan self-immolations. The Dalai Lama, in turn, blames the Chinese Government for the self-immolations and states that China’s “cultural genocide” against Tibetans and their lifestyle has led to desperation among Tibetans to have their voices heard.

In a separate incident, a 33-year-old Tibetan mother, Rechok, set herself on fire last Thursday outside of a Buddhist monastery in a small town in Aba county, located in the adjacent province of Sichuan. She died shortly thereafter. Sichuan has been the scene of repeated self-immolations throughout the past year.

Rechok’s self-immolation was the 35th Tibetan self-immolation to occur since March of 2011 and the fourth to occur in the town of Zhongrangtang, also known as Barma in Tibetan. At least 27 self-immolators have died to advocate Tibetan political and cultural freedom.

Following last week’s self-immolations, Chinese authorities detained an estimated 600 Tibetan residents and pilgrims. Reports indicate that even witnesses suspected of recording the self-immolations were detained by authorities. Those protestors who were not residents of Tibet were expelled.

Additionally, the Chinese Government has passed new legislation which allows police to act without reporting to higher authorities in emergency situations and allows for severe sentences for people who allegedly spread rumors. This new legislation reflects on the Chinese Government’s fear of unrest during a month-long Buddhist festival that began last week.

The Chinese Government claims the legislation is intended to promote stability in the Tibetan region amidst a wave unrest marked by increasing numbers of self-immolations.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Detentions Reported in Tibet Capital After Immolations – 31 May 2012

The Guardian – Tibetan Woman Dies After Setting Herself on Fire – 31 May 2012

Reuters – “Hundreds Detained” in Tibet After Self-Immolations – 31 May 2012

The Washington Post – Groups say Tibetan Woman Latest in Recent Wave of Self-Immolations to Protest Chinese Rule – 30 May 2012

The Times of India – Lhasa Burning: 2 Tibetans set Themselves Ablaze – 29 May 2012


China Urges U.S. to Self-Reflect After U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report.

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – On Friday, May 25, 2012, Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, responded to the U.S. State Department’s human rights report on China as being “baseless, biased and completely wrong.”

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei during a news conference in Beijing. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

China’s response came a day after the U.S. State department released its 36th report on the state of rights in foreign countries.  The 142-page report on China accused it of being “an authoritarian state” with its human rights situation in perpetual “deterioration.”  Moreover, the report alleged that “[r]epression and coercion, particularly against organisations and individuals involved in rights advocacy and public interest issues, were routine.”

Its release came days after activist, Chen Guangcheng, migrated to the U.S. on a student visa. Prior to his arrival, Mr. Guangcheng suffered a 19 month house arrest in eastern China before escaping and finding refuge in Beijing’s U.S. Embassy.  The report described Mr. Guangcheng’s condition, which included “severe” beatings and denial of dental care, during his house arrest.  Furthermore, activists visiting Chen were reportedly “assaulted, detained, forcibly removed or otherwise abused.”

In response, China, through its Information Office of the State Council, released a report entitled, “Human Rights Record of the United States in 2011.”  Identifying the report as the “true human rights situation in the U.S.,” it purported to examine six categories of human rights in the United States: “life, property and personal security; civil and political rights; economic, social and cultural rights; racial discrimination; the rights of women and children; and U.S. violations of human rights in other countries.”

China’s report, now in its thirteenth year of publication, cited arrests and accusations of police brutality from participants in the Occupy Wall Street protests.  It also addressed the U.S. Patriot Act and Homeland Security Act’s “fairly strict restrictions” on internet activity.  According to the report, such legislation grants government interference-monitoring and blocking power-in regards to any internet content “harmful to national security.”

China accused Washington of being hypocritical to lecture other countries while also battling similar problems of its own.  The report called on the U.S. to “stop using double standards for human rights” to “tarnish other countries’ image” and “promote hegemony.”

Mr. Hong urged the U.S. to “take a good look at itself and put an end to its wrong doing and wrong thinking on human right.”

Other foreign countries criticized in the State Department’s report include Iran, Vietnam, Bahrain, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Myanmar.

For more information, please see: 

China Daily — China Reports on U.S. Human rights Record — 29 May 2012

CNN – China hits back on U.S. human right – 26 May 2012

Hindustantimes – US and China Spar Over Human Rights – 29 May 2012

Huffington Post – China Slams U.S. Human Rights Report – 25 May 2012

Voice of America – China Rejects US Report on Human Rights – 25 May 2012


China Reportedly Halts Repatriation of North Korean Refugees

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Reports began to surface last week that China has suspended its policy of deporting North Korean defectors back home in accordance with a plea from South Korean officials.  The move is said to have been in response to North Korea’s failure to inform China about the specific plans regarding its recent missile launch earlier this month and, if true, indicates the Chinese government’s displeasure with North Korea’s intentional incitement of international tensions.

Activists Protest China's Repatriation of North Koreans
Activists in South Korea protesting China's repatriation of North Koreans earlier this year. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Allegedly, China has been demanding that North Korea refrain from acts of international aggression and provocation, which the North Korean government has evidently ignored.

Before this recent fall out, China had been dealing with North Korean defectors under its domestic laws, classifying them as “illegal economic migrants” and deporting them back home.  These actions have drawn heavy international criticism from human rights activists, who called the repatriations inhumane.  It is widely known that North Korea has been torturing and, in some instances, executing its repatriated refugees, but until now, China had been ignoring these practices.  It is uncertain exactly if and when China purportedly began to halt these deportations.

The number of North Korean defectors entering China has grown intensely since the death of former leader Kim Jong Il last December.  According to a source working for the Chinese authorities, at it’s height, as many as thirty North Koreans had been escaping to China on a daily basis.

Now, according to reports, tensions between China and North Korea have led Chinese officials to halt its practice of returning all captured defectors.  Furthermore, in a move against North Korea, China has allegedly allowed five North Korean defectors who had been under arrest in a diplomatic office in China for the last three years to leave for Seoul, South Korea earlier this month.

At this time, it is unclear whether North Korea’s blatant disregard for China is the sole reason why China has supposedly halted deportations or for how long this suspected suspension will last.  However, in late March, Chinese President Hu Jintao indicated that China would be more flexible in its deportation policy and that it would be respectful of South Korea’s strong opposition to the mal-treatment of North Korean defectors.

While the U.S. has yet to confirm if these reports are true, State Department spokesman Mark Toner indicated that officials in Washington are hopeful.

“We consistently urge China to adhere to its international obligations as part of the UN Convention on Refugees,” Toner stated.


For more information, please see:

AFP – US Takes China ‘at Word’ on N. Korea Sanctions – 20 April 2012

Voice of America – Panetta: China Assisted North Korea Missile Program – 20 April 2012

Daily Yomiuri – China Stops Deportations of N. Koreans – 19 April 2012

Chosunilbo – China Halts Repatriation of N.Korean Defectors – 19 April 2012

Korea Herald – China Said to Have Stopped Repatriating N. Korean Refugees – 18 April 2012

Rights Group Calls on Pakistan to End Forced Disappearances

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Following the failure of authorities to present two missing individuals to the Supreme Court, Amnesty International is calling on Pakistan to identify hundreds of people who are believed to have “disappeared” at the hands of Pakistani agencies.

Pakistan has been called upon to end the occurrence of enforced disappearances (Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International).

A person is said to have “disappeared” when they are detained by government officials who then deny knowledge of their whereabouts.

Amnesty International noted the case of Mazar ul Haq who disappeared in 2007 after being accused of attacking Army Headquarters run by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.

Although ul Haq and the ten other men arrested with him were cleared by the Anti-Terrorism Court, they went missing again after being kidnapped from a high security jail.

Since being kidnapped in May 2010, four of the eleven men have died in custody. While Pakistan’s intelligence agencies maintain that the men died naturally, the attorney of one of the deceased has stated that his client was tortured to death.

Mazar ul Haq appeared in court in February 2012, four years after disappearing, surprising his family who did not whether he was alive or dead during the time he was missing.

Ul Haq and six other men were presented to the Supreme Court looking severely emaciated and some had urine bags protruding from their pants.

The allegations of abuse in combination with increased public pressures has prompted the Pakistani Supreme Court to not only order intelligence agencies to explain the poor conditions that the remaining seven men arrested are being kept in but to also order the creation  of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances.

Despite the creation of this commission in 2010, disappearances continue to be reported.

Although the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has been attempting to identify the number of those kept in secret detention for years, they have reported that verifying the actual number has been nearly impossible.

It is estimated, however, that 1,000 people have disappeared at the hands of intelligence agencies since 2001. Of the estimated 1,000, approximately five hundred are still missing and the dead bodies of dissidents are regularly found.

Enforced disappearances were rare in Pakistan before September 11, 2001. Following the attacks on the United States, authorities began using the disappearances against activists advocating for ethnic rights and justified such action as necessary for the “war on terror” led by the United States.


For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Pakistan Must Account for Missing Victims of Enforced Disappearances – 16 April 2012

Pakistan Daily Times – No Forced Disappearance Should Escape Attention: HRCP – 3 April 2012

The Guardian –Pakistan’s Spy Agency ISI Faces Court Over Disappearances – 9 February 2012

Amnesty International – Denying the Undeniable: Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan – 22 July 2008