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

Shooting and Bombing in Southern Thailand Leaves Several Injured

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 BANGKOK, Thailand – For the past 13 years, armed conflict has been waging in Southern Thailand. The clashes are between Muslim-Malay insurgents and Thai troops and police.   Most of the victims of the shootings and bombs are civilians. These attacks happen nearly daily.   The Muslim-Malay fighters hope to gain more autonomy in this conflict.

Forensic scientists at the scene of a shooting and bombing incident in southern Thailand in April. Photo courtesy of EPA// The Malaysian Insight.

Since the junta seized power in 2014 and started peace talks, incidents decreased. “This year’s [2017] death toll is the lowest ever if no significant incidents happen in the coming days” reports a Deep South Watch representative. As of a November 2017 report, the latest monthly report available on Deep South Watch’s webpage, there have been 37 incidents. This resulted in 18 death and 18 injured. Most of the victims have been male and between the ages of 18 and 59.

Adding to this list are 6 Thai rangers and a woman who were injured in a separate shooting and bombing on December 26, 2017.

The December 26th incident was a shooting. Four rangers drove through Jalan Kampung Daging-Kampung Bilok in Narathiwat, when “unknown individuals fires multiple shots at the vehicle.” All four received gunshot injurious. A stray bullet injured a civilian woman.

About half an hour later, a bomb exploded close to the scene of the shooting. Two rangers, helping the shooting victims, were injured. 

For more information, please see:

 The Malaysian Insight – 6 rangers, woman hurt in southern Thailand shooting and bombing – 26 December 2017

The Straits Times – Death toll in Thailand’s southern conflict hits record low – 27 December 2017

 Deep South Watch – Summary of Incidents in Southern Thailand, November 2017 – 7 December 2017

Kyrgyzstan Court Raids Independent TV Station

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Central Asia is known for its repressive regimes, yet Kyrgyzstan stands out with its partnerships that promote democracy. Even being labeled a “Partner for Democracy” and holding elections in 2017, the country still has a ways to go to improve democracy and human rights.

The closing of an independent national television station, NTS, is another act in the long list of media freedom violations that have occurred in 2017. The station was closed late in the year, on the 19th of December. A court order froze NTS’s property and court officers raided the station. The order reads that all “properties, assets, equipment and everything else must be seized.” The officials registering the equipment stated that they did not intend to interrupt broadcasting, and the show did continue with its normal broadcast.

NTS Building. Photo Courtesy of RFE|RL.

In the meantime with NTS is off the air, Jalbyrak is available online. It’s a new Internet TV Channel company officials launched in the aftermath. As of the 21st of December, some programs of NTS are allowed to continue broadcasting.

The Director-General Jainak Usen plans to challenge the court ruling. The Supreme Court officials have also stated that they are looking into the court order against NTS as the Prosecutor-General’s Office, the Interior Ministry, and the State Committee for National Security say they have no information on the freezing of NTS’s assets and equipment.

The court decision comes after a lawsuit filed by Grexton Capital LTD and Ayant LLC against NTS.

NTS happens to be owned by the opposition runner-up from the 2017 presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan, Omurbek Babanov. Shortly after the election, there was an investigation into his campaign election as it is reported that he stirred up ethnic tensions. Babanov has since left the country and his location is not known.

Additionally, a sister radio station to NTS closed in November as a result of authorities not renewing their license to broadcast.

For more information, please see:

 Human Rights Watch – Another Blow to Media Freedom in Kyrgyzstan – 20 December 2017

Radio Free Europe| Radio Liberty – Kyrgyz Officials Impound TV Station Property Owned By Opposition Politician Babanov – 19 December 2017

Radio Free Europe| Radio Liberty – Kyrgyz NTS TV On Air Despite Impoundment Of Property – 21 December 2017

bne – Kyrgyz court officials raid election runner-up Babanov’s TV station – 21 December 2017

China Publicly Executes 10 People

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Officials in Lufeng, a city in southern Guangdong province, publicly sentenced 12 people to death. The city of Lufeng is about 100 miles from Hong Kong. Four days before the execution, a court in Lufeng invited the public to watch the execution. Thousands gathered at a local sports stadium to watch the sentencing.

Thousands gather to watch public executions in Lufeng. Photo courtesy of The Paper.

The 12 people were brought into the stadium on the back of police vehicles with their sirens blaring. It was reported that seven of the 10 executed were convicted of drug-related crimes. The others were found guilty of murder and robbery. According to a video from the trial, their sentences were read on a small platform. While the 10 people were executed, the local media was unsure about what happened to the other two people.

Although the exact numbers are not published to the public, according to a human rights NGO, it is estimated that China executed around 2,000 people last year. The number of people executed in China is estimated to be more than the rest of world combined.

About five months ago, eight people were sentenced to death publicly for drug-related crimes. Although public trials in China are rare, the town of Lufeng has seen such sentences carried out before. In 2014, when the town was a spot for a drug bust, around 3,000 police officers arrested nearly 180 people. During the bust, three tonnes of crystal-meth were confiscated. It was reported that around 7,000 people watched as 55 people were sentenced. In this region, the police reported that 10 tonnes of drugs were seized in 10 months. The officials further reported that over 13,000 drugs cases were solved.

The Guardian – Thousands in China watch as 10 people sentenced to death in sport stadium – 17 December, 2017

BBC – China public executions over drugs alarm web users – 18 December, 2017

Independent – China sentences 10 people to death in sports stadium as thousands watched – 18 December, 2017

Pope Francis Visits Myanmar as Rohingya Crisis Looms

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Pope Francis visited Myanmar for four days as the country deals with Asia’s worst humanitarian crisis in decades. At the Yangon sports ground, Pope Francis delivered his first public mass in the country. Tens of thousands of people gathered to listen to his speech where the Pope demanded “respect for each ethnic group.” In his homily, Pope Francis talked about forgiveness and ignoring the desire to revenge.

Pope Francis travels to Myanmar for a four-day trip before heading to Bangladesh to meet with Rohingya refugees. Photo courtesy of Lauren DeCicca.

However, during his trip, Pope Francis did not publicly speak about the persecuted Muslim minority. The authorities believe that as many as 620,000 have fled to Bangladesh to avoid persecution in Myanmar. During his homily, he did not directly reference violence against the Rohingya.

The recent events in Myanmar has led the international community to accuse the country of ethnic cleansing. In Myanmar, the term Rohingya is rejected, and the people are labeled as “Bengalis.”

Although many Rohingya activists did not blame the Pope directly, they voiced their concerns to his advisors who appeared to have persuaded the Pope to avoid bringing up the Rohingya issue in a public setting.

On Wednesday, November 29th, in response to many criticisms, a papal spokesman stated the moral authority of the Pope “still stands.” He further stated that people can “criticize what is said or not but the Pope is not going to lose any moral authority on this question here,” referring to the Rohingya crisis.

Whether the Pope should address the Rohingya issue has been debated fiercely within the Vatican. Among many voices, the most vocal was Charles Maung Bo, Myanmar’s first cardinal. He has been very vocal about defending the Rohingya and condemned those who have persecuted them. However, before the Pope’s visit, he advised the Pope to refrain from using the word.

Pope Francis is scheduled to fly to Bangladesh where he will meet Rohingya refugees on Thursday, November 30th.

For more information, please see:

ABC – Pope heads to Bangladesh with Rohingya crisis looming large – 29 November, 2017

BBC – Pope in Myanmar: All or nothing for the Rohingya – 29 November, 2017

The Guardian – Pope Francis disappoints Rohingya by failing to condemn persecution – 29 November, 2017

Cambodia to Shut Down Cambodian Center for Human Rights

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

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

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

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo Courtesy of Samrang Pring. 

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

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

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

Vietnamese Student Sentenced to Jail for Anti-government Post

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

U.S. Stops Funding for Demining in Cambodia

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

North Korean Soldier Shot Defecting Across DMZ

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

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

Rights Activists Threatened in Turkmenistan

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

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

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

Achilova working. Photo Courtesy of azathbar.com.

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

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

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

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

International Partnership for Human Rights – Turkmenistan: Activists threatened- Space for freedom of expression shrinks – 22 November 2017