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

Security Intensifies with China’s Party Congress Meeting

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – The 19th Party Congress of China meets in Beijing 18 October through 24 October 2017. Over 200,000 delegates descend on the city during this time.   During this party election the next president of China will be elected for 5 years. It will most likely be the current president, Xi Jinping.

Additional Security at Subway Stations. Photo Courtesy of Gilles Sabrié. 

However, as the meeting approached and during the meeting Beijing officials cracked down on security. The city is what some call a ‘lockdown.’

Several human rights activists have been detained or forced to leave. Several others are under surveillance. Police fill the streets both day and night carrying assault weapons. Documents are checked in the street frequently, and people are stopped for questioning.  Internet censorship increased. Those who come into the city to raise questions about unpaid salaries, corruption, and pollution see an increase in pressures, including arrest.

Additionally, the Beijing government closed restaurants, meeting halls, and nightclubs to curb large gatherings of people. To discourage travel into the city Airbnb and other similar home-sharing companies are closed temporarily.

Traveling within the capital city takes longer when the Party Congress is in session.   Increased security at subway stations created insanely long lines. One blogger quipped that it might be faster to skateboard, take a boat or a horse.

These increased security measures are Xi Jinping’s way of showing that he is not afraid to show a “heavy hand on those who dare to exist with differing views.” In his opening speech at the 19th Party Congress he vowed to keep foreign influence low, calling China a “strong and great power” by itself. His speech invoked heavy nationalist vibes.

Some Chinese Human Rights activist are fearful that Jinping’s ‘neo- totalitarian’ ideology will be written into the party constitution. There are also concerns over whether a successor will named to replace him after his second 5 year term or whether he will continue on as president.   

For more information, please see:

NY Times – China’s Party Congress Brings Crackdown on Critics, Nightclubs and Airbnb – 20 October 2017.

The Washington Post – China’s president just laid out a worrying vision for the world – 18 October 2017

The Diplomat – 3 Major Takeaways from Xi Jinping’s Speech at the 19th Party Congress – 18 October 2017

Lawyers of Former South Korean Leader Alleges Human Rights Violations

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 
SEOUL, South Korea – The international legal team representing former South Korean president alleged “serious human rights violations” against the leader who is in prison awaiting trial. Since the 65-year-old former leader has been charged with corruption and abuse of power, the MH Group has been leading her international legal team.
Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was removed from office in March for abuse of power and accepting bribes. Photo courtesy of Choi Jun-Seok, Associated Press.

The MH Group is different from Park’s South Korean legal team as it is a global firm that deals with high-profile international cases. Previously, the group has represented the son of the late Libyan leader, Saif Gadhafi.

According to this organization, Park has been living in a dirty, cold, and dark prison cell. Due to these conditions, her lawyer’s claim that she is unable to sleep as she waits for her trial date.

Due to these findings, the MH Group is planning to submit all of the allegations to the United Nations Human Rights Council (OHCHR). The council is scheduled to meet at the end of this month to review South Korea’s record on human rights.

Since her arrest, Park has been suffering from chronic conditions such as, lower back pain, osteoarthritis, malnutrition, and other forms of rare disorders. Based on the draft document published by her lawyers, her conditions have been “getting worse and there is no evidence that she is receiving adequate care.” Furthermore, it is reported that she has been sleeping on the floor in her cell.

The Seoul Detention Center facility where Park is being held, rebutted all allegations against the former leader. The spokeswoman for the detention center stated that she does not believe Park had been treated inhumanely. Moreover, the folding mattress in her cell is adequate as beds are not considered a necessity in South Korea detention centers. The detention center also stated that Park is given meals on a regular basis and allow her to exercise on a regular basis.

The South Korea’s Justice Ministry has released a statement since the allegations were made and said that  the government is “guaranteeing proper and sufficient medical treatment by allowing her to receive treatment from in-house medical staff at any time and allowing her to get treatment twice at outside medical facilities.”

For more information, please see:

CNN – Ousted South Korean president suffering in jail, lawyers say – 17 October, 2017

The Straits Times – South Korea Justice Ministry rejects alleged mistreatment of jailed Park Geun Hye – 18 October, 2017

The Korea Herald – Ministry denies alleged mistreatment of jailed ex-president – 18 October, 2017

‘Braid Chopping’ Attacks on Women in Kashmir

Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch 
Reporter, Asia 

SRINAGAR, Kashmir – Women in Kashmir are facing an attack of a new type- ‘braid chopping.’   Masked perpetuators attack women and then proceeded to cut their hair.  These types of attacks have happened both public spheres as well as private homes.  Within the past 2 month over 200 women reported such abuses.

A women with her chopped hair. Photo Courtesy of Farooq Khan.

The attackers spray some type of chemical in the women’s faces before chopping their victim’s hair off.  Many women are knocked unconscious in the process.  The chopped hair is not stolen by the attackers.

Attacks such as these have also been reported in other Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Haryana.  Even New Delhi, the capital, has seen similar cases.

Women reported the events to the police.  The region’s police say that these incidents are being treated as a crime.  There is a $9,000 reward for information on the culprits.

However, they believe that the police are not following up in an appropriate manner.  The police response impedes women’s empowerment.  Despite there being a high reward for information, many local police do not take the complaints seriously.  They accuse of the women of hallucinating or having a history of mental illness.  This response breaks down a woman’s credibility as well as not reassuring her of her safety.

Women have begun to gather in the streets to protest.  One such demonstration ended in stones thrown at the Indian Police.  Vigilante groups have also formed in some villages as a response mechanism.  There is a real fear of being accused of being a ‘braid-chopper.’

These attacks cause fear to grow among the female population in Kashmir.  Women are afraid to go out in public or be left alone. The fear caused by the attacks takes away the women’s peace  of mind and independence.

Additionally, the attacks degrade the women.  Kashmir is a typically conservative Muslim territory.  Women tend to not cut their hair and keep it covered as doing otherwise is dishonorable.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – ‘Braid-chopping sparks fear and unrest in Kashmir – 12 October 2017 

The Guardian – ‘Braid Chopping in Kashmir sparks mass panic and mob violence – 11 October 2017

USA Today – Mysterious ‘braid-choppers’ are drugging women and cutting off their hair in India – 17 October 2017

British Human Rights Activist Denied Entry to Hong Kong

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HONG KONG – The city of Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 from its Colonial overseer, the UK. As part of this deal, Beijing would honor a system called the “one country, two systems” that would allow Hong Kong to remain more open and more democratic than the rest of China. It also allows Hong Kong to control its own immigration policies.

Benedict Rogers was barred from entering Hong Kong. Photo curtsey of The Guardian.

However, this ‘one country, two systems” idea was challenged when a British Human Rights activist, Benedict Rogers, was denied entry into Hong Kong by Chinese Immigration officers. Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong implied that Beijing officials were behind the decision.

Even with repeatedly asking why he was turned away, Rogers was never given any explanation as to the reasoning. He further went on to say, “I feel it is yet another example of, if not the death, then the death throes of ‘one country, two systems’.” The purpose of his trip was to visit friends and learn about the current political situation.

In the past Rogers was vocal about the imprisonment of three pro-democratic activists and Beijing’s political crackdowns in Hong Kong. The Chinese Embassy in the UK warned Rogers that he might be banned from traveling to Hong Kong.

Human Rights activists see this action form Beijing as a threat to the “high degree of autonomy” that Hong Kong was granted in 1997 with the “one country, two systems” policy.  There is a chance that any dissidents will be banned from entering Hong Kong in the future. Denying entry to the UK activist is seen as part of Beijing’s efforts to crack down on dissent and silence opposition.

China says they hold the right to deny entry to Hong Kong.  They justify this by saying that the central government is in control of the foreign matters related to the city.  This is allowed within China’s sovereignty.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – China rebuffs criticism of decision to bar British activist from Hong Kong – 12 October 2017

The Guardian – British Conservative party activist barred from entering Hong Kong – 11 October 2017

The Telegraph – Boris Johnson demands ‘urgent explanation’ from China after activist barred from entering Hong Kong – 11 October 2017

Reuters – China says it has the right to bar people from HOng KOng after British activist expelled – 12 October 2017  

Forced Labor in Uzbekistan Cotton Fields

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan – Cotton drives the Uzbek economy. The country is the sixth largest producer of cotton. It is commonly known as “white gold.” Historically, it has a long tradition as part of the economy, being cultivated as far back as the 5th or 6th century. As part of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan’s cotton industry boomed. The state controlled the production, output, input, and quotas of collective farms.

Uzbek child doing mandatory labor in cotton fields. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

Twenty-six years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Uzbekistan government still controls the cotton industry. The government controls extensive acres of cotton fields throughout the country.  They continue to control the production and harvest of the cotton.

Cotton grown in Uzbekistan is not harvested by machines, but rather hand picked by 2 million forced laborers. The government calls on citizens to go into the field during the harvest for “work-for-the-nation days”. Laborers include teachers, nurses, university students, children, government employees, the unemployed, and those benefiting from government aid. It is considered their patriotic duty to do so.

This causes issues of child labor, children missing school, significant lack of teachers in classrooms, and too few medical staff present in hospitals.

The forced laborers are coerced to do so. Refusal to work leads to threats of penalties, dismissal and expulsions from jobs, and loss of benefits. For those who can afford it, one can pay for a “replacement” in the field or even pay to avoid work completely. The cost can be up to half the monthly salary of a citizen.

Each day of work, individuals are required to meet a quota of 50 kilograms. Most workers serve on average 12 days. They are paid roughly 5 cents per kilo collected.

There is immense pressure for farmers and overseers to produce large yields to support the economy. One such official, Asilbek Yusupov , received a brutal verbal attack for not meeting quotas early in October. The insulting language, derogatory words and language left Yusupov so shaken that he suffered a stroke moments after returning to his office.  He later died in hospital.

For more information, please see:

 Human Rights Watch – Uzbekistan: Some Wokers Excused from Cotton Fields – 5 October 2017

RadioFreeEurope |RadioLiberty – Rights Group Says Political Will Needed To End Forced Labor In Uzbekistan – 5 October 2017

Azernews – Uzbekistan to switch to mechanized harvesting of cotton – 6 October 2017

RadioFreeEurope |RadioLiberty – 5 Cents Per Kilo: Why Uzbek Government Still Forces People To Pick Cotton – 11 October 2017

RadioFreeEurope |RadioLiberty – Uzbek Official Collapses, Dies After Being Disgraced For Bad Cotton Harvest –9 October 2017

Indian Supreme Court Rules Sex with Minor Bride as Rape

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 
NEW DELHI, India – On Wednesday, October 11th, the Indian Supreme court ruled that any sexual relationship between a man and his wife between the age of 15 and 18 is a crime. The country’s highest court changed the rape law and declared that sex with an underage wife is an illegal act. According to the Indian Supreme court, the committed offense must be reported by the wife within a year.
There are over 26 million child brides in India. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera.

Under the current law, the legal age of consent and marriage is 18. In the rural parts of the country, child marriages are not uncommon. Currently, there are more than 26 million child brides in India according to the United Nation’s children agency. Based on the agency’s report, between 2008 and 2014, more than 47% of the girls were married before their 18th birthday. Furthermore, an estimated 18 percent of the girls were married by the age of 15.  It is reported that most of the girls were from poor families with little education.

Previous Indian governments have defended the law as they believed the country’s poor social and economic conditions have made child marriage an unfortunate reality. Moreover, early marriage has been a part of the Indian culture though the “guana” ceremony.

Many activists around the country praised the recent decision as a “positive step in the right direction.” A member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association recently stated that “we strongly feel that this decision of the Supreme Court will work in impacting child marriages.”

Although activists still believe that the Indian Supreme Court’s decision is difficult to enforce, many agree that it will have long-lasting consequences.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Sex with underage wife is rape, Indian supreme court rules – 11 October, 2017

BBC – India Supreme Court rules sex with child bride is rape – 11 October, 2017

Al Jazeera – Indian court rules sex with minor wife is rape – 12 October, 2017

Instability Amid Kyrgyzstan’s Presidential Race

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Former Soviet territory, Kyrgyzstan, is set to hold Presidential elections on 15 October 2017. This will be the second presidential election since a Constitutional change in 2010. Presidents can only serve one 6-year term.  There are 13 candidates at the moment running for the position.   Parliamentary elections concluded the first week of October.

Citizens rally to support free and fair elections. Photo Courtesy of RadioFreeEurope|RadioLiberty.

Since the candidates were announced on 10 September, the campaign has been characterized by smear tactics and intimidation.

According to the electoral law of Kyrgyzstan, the media must present unbiased information and treat candidates equally. Free airtime in 15 minute slots is provided to all candidates.

However, contender Bakyt Torobaev, claims that the Public Television and Radio Corporation broadcasted harmful material to damage his reputation. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which was asked to monitor the elections, reports that the number of instances where public officials filed cases for civil defamation has increased recently.

A second point of concern is that influential members of society endorse politicians in very public manners. For example, an ex-mufti, Chubak azhy Zhalilov, stated that he would vote for Sooronbai Jeenbekov. Zhalilov is one of the country’s most famous imams. The Central Election Committee (CEC), which is in charge of monitoring and running the election, says religious authorities may not interfere in the election process. During the 2015 Presidential Elections the CEC issued Zhalilov two warnings about involvement in the elections. This round, he has received none.

Analysts from the Institute for Public Analysis argue that Zhalilov didn’t receive warnings because he favors the current government’s favored candidate. However another well-known religious leader found speaking about Candidate Jeenbekov’s opponent is involved in an ongoing investigation about his endorsement.

A third issue is the concern about the misuse of administrative resources. There are reports of bribery and use of political positions to pressure civil servants and students to vote for Jeenbekov. There are fears that if they don’t they could suffer uncertain futures.

There have even been arrests on 30 September around a coup plot supposedly developed by a MP supporter of Omurbek Babanov, the main opponent against Jeenbekov. Supposedly, if Babanov does not win the election, violent unrest would ensue to put Babanov into the seat of power. Babanov believes that this accusation is just a ‘black pr’ tactic used to smear his campaign.

Citizens rallied together in Bishkek at the end of September. Approximately 1000 people attended. They demanded fair and clean elections in response to the bribery, administrative resource misuses, and endorsements.

On October 15, Former Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov won Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election, receiving 54.3 percent of the approximate 1.7 million votes cast. 

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg Politics – Jeenbekov Wins Kyrgyzstan’s Presidential Election – 15 October 2017

Radio Free Europe – Following The Twists, Turns In Kyrgyzstan’s Presidential Race – 26 September 2017

OSCE – Interim Report – 29 September 2017

Eurasianet – Kyrgyzstan: Smears Soil Election Campaign– 2 October 2015

Radio Free Europe – “Rally Held ‘For Fair Elections’ in Bishkek Ahead of October Presidential Vote” – 30 September 2017

Institute for War and Peace – Kyrgyzstan: Religion and Politics Prove Sensitive Mix – 29 September 2017

East Asia and the Pacific Reported to Have the Most Slum Dwellers

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

SINGAPORE – The World Bank’s latest report on urban poverty released on October 3rd, 2017 affirmed that East Asia and the Pacific are home to the largest slum population in the world. According to the report, more than 250 million people in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other surrounding countries currently live in slums. This population surpassed Sub-Saharan Africa’s 200 million and South Asia’s 191 million according to the World Bank.

The World Bank released a report that around 64% of people in Asia live in urban slums. Photo courtesy of Nikkei Asian Review.

Fast economic growth in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam alleviated millions of people out of poverty. However, lack of urban planning and inadequate social welfare have led to people settling in poverty stricken places. It is estimated that around 1 billion people of the urban population in developing countries live in slums. The figures were especially high in countries such as Mongolia, Myanmar, and the Philippines. Around 75 million people in the region are reported to live on less than $3.10 per day.

Although there are many factors that leads to poverty, access to public transportation, jobs and affordable housing are some of the main factors. For example, many people in the region are slow to transition from information employment into formal sectors. Out of all of the employment opportunities in the region, around 65% of the jobs are considered informal.

The World Bank stated that governments in the region must revise policies to assist the urban poor so they are able to obtain higher paying and secure jobs. Moreover, the report insisted countries invest in clean water, sanitation and solid waste management systems. The success models suggested by the report were partially based on the prior success of developed economies in the region such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea. By improving these factors, the countries will have significant impact on health, productivity, and welfare.

ABS-CBN News – World Bank flags widening inequality in East Asia, Pacific – 3 October, 2017

Asia Nikkei Review – World Bank says 64% of people who live in slums are in Asia – 3 October, 2017

Straits Times – East Asia, Pacific have most slum dwellers – 4 October, 2017

Former Prime Minister of Thailand Sentenced to Five Years in Prison

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BANGKOK, Thailand – On September 27, 2017, the Supreme Court of Thailand convicted Yingluck Shinawatra, former Prime Minster of negligence and sentenced her to five years in prison. The former prime minister was found negligent for her government’s role in a rice-subsidy program that cost the country billions of dollars.

Supporters protest Yingluck Shinawatra’s conviction outside the Supreme Court. Image courtesy of New York Times.

Under Yingluck’s government, the country’s rice farmers were paid 50% above market prices which lead to a large stockpile of grain. This scheme was planned with the intention of driving up prices for the global market. However, due to the fluctuation in prices, Vietnam became the world’s leading rice exporter.

For many years, Thailand went through power struggles between the traditional elites and the Shinawatra family. Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra served as the country’s prime minister for five years. He was ultimately ousted in 2006. Despite the country being controlled by the Shinawatra family since 2001, many judicial actions and two military coupes have impacted their control. In 2014, Yingluck, who served as the country’s first female prime minister was removed from office.

The Shinawatra family supported the rural poor through their populist policies while the traditional elites portrayed the family as corrupt and power-hungry. Before Yingluck left the country, she maintained her innocence and accused the military government of political persecution.

Last month, the current regime convicted a former commerce minister under Yingluck’s government to 42 years in prison for falsifying the rice deal.

Reuters – Fugitive former Thai PM Yingluck gets five years’ jail in absentia – 26 September, 2017

Time – Thailand’s Fugitive Former Leader Has Been Sentenced After Skipping Court – 27 September, 2017

NYT – Yingluck Shinawatra, Ex-Leader Who Fled Thailand, Gets 5-Year Sentence – 27 September, 2017

Myanmar Military Accused of Ethnic Cleansing

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Conflict between the Rohingya Muslims and the government of Myanmar have been ongoing for decades. Since 1982, the Rohingya have not been recognized as citizens, but rather illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They are a minority group that lives in the Northern state of Rakhine.

Rohingya Refugee, Photo Courtesy of Newsweek.

Conflict escalated in mid August after a group of militant Rohingya Muslims known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army or ARSA attacked 30 police posts and an army camp on the 25th of August. In retaliation the Myanmar government conducted operations to root out the militants and terrorists.

The response of the Myanmar military has been on a mass scale that primarily targeted citizens.   The Myanmar security forces looted, destroyed, and burned hundreds of Rohingya Villages. Men are shot and burned. Women are raped. Children and women are attacked brutally and killed. One mother reports that Myanmar soldiers threw her month old baby on the ground, killing him instantly. Another found her children beaten dead with a shovel. Around 100,000 Rohingya have been killed in Myanmar in this new wave of violence.

Overall more than 500,00 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to flee the violence. This migration is in addition to the 87,000 that fled from October 2016 to July 2017.

Myanmar officials deny these events, saying that it is all propaganda against the state.   A government representative goes further to say that all allegations brought to the government will be investigated and that state will protect any rape victims.

The UN Secretary-General said in a speech in regards to the violence, “I call on the Myanmar authorities to suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law and recognize the right of return of all those who have had to leave the country.” The UN High Commissioner for Human rights said the crisis in Myanmar is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

The Bangladesh Foreign Minister described the violence as genocide. The National commission for Human Rights in Bangladesh is considering compiling a case against Myanmar and the army in an international tribunal.

For more information, please see:

 Human Rights Watch – Burma: Military Commits Crimes Against Humanity – 25 September 2017

National Geographic – Myanmar’s Rohingya Are in Crisis – What You Need to Know – 29 September 2017

Newsweek – MYANMAR CRISIS: AS ARMY CLAIMS DISCOVERY OF ‘MASS HINDU GRAVE’ U.N. SEEKS AID FOR TRAUMATIZED ROHINGYA” – 25 September 2017

AlJazeera – UN urges Myanmar to end Rohingya violence – 14 September 2017

AlJazeera – Myanmar: Who are the Rohingya? – 28 September 2017

Deadly Stamped Kills 22 in India

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 
NEW DELHI, India – A deadly stampeded occurred on September 29th around 10:30 a.m. local time in India. The incident happened on a footbridge at Prabhadevi train station which is located in the Indian financial hub of Mumbai. More than 20 deaths and 35 injuries have been reported.
Relatives of victims wait outside the King Edward Memorial Hospital. Photo courtesy of CNN.

The crowd on the footbridge grew larger as people tried to take cover during a rain shower. It is reported that a person may have slipped which lead to the initial blockage. Many television viewers witnessed many bodies jammed together against a railing. Some of the victims even jumped from the bridge.

The injured were taken to the King Edward Memorial Hospital for treatment. The doctors at the hospital asked for blood donations.

The bridge is believed to be constructed during the British colonial times. For a while, the bridge has been described as a safety hazard according to a local lawmaker.

Piyush Goel, who is currently serving as the country’s railways minister expressed his condolences. The Indian rail network carries around 23 million passengers daily and connects 8,000 stations across the country. Moreover, suburban trains carry an estimated 8 million travelers daily.

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a $17-billion high-speed train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. Since then, he has received criticisms for not addressing the overcrowding issues for the country’s local trains. Later that day, Prime Minister Modi expressed his “deepest condolences to all those who have lost their lives due to the stampede in Mumbai.”

In an analysis done by a data journalism website, around nine people die every day on Mumbai’s local train tracks.

For more information, please see:

LA Times – At least 22 killed in stampede at Mumbai rail station – 29 September, 2017

Chicago Tribune – Stampede on pedestrian bridge between Mumbai railway stations leaves at least 22 dead – 29 September, 2017

CNN – Mumbai stampede kills 22, injures 35 at train station – 29 September, 2017