BRIEF: Human Rights Organizations Call for Inquiry in India’s West Bengal

NANDIGRAM, West Bengal, India- Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, are calling on the West Bengal government to conduct an inquiry into the violence that has been ocurring in Nandigram over the past year due to land disputes.

Their reports state that the government has failed to provide adequate protection to the people, thus allowing human rights abuses to occur including unlawful killings, abductions, sexual assault, forced evictions, and the displacement of many.  It is believed that the violence was carried out by supporters of the Communist Party of India-Marxist; because of the alleged government involvement, the reports stress the importance of an independent inquiry.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – India: Urgent Inquiry Needed into Nandigram Violence – 15 January 2008

Amnesty International – India: Urgent need to address large scale human rights abuses during Nandigram “recapture” – 15 January 2008

Extrajudicial Killings Decrease, Prosecutions Remain Nonexistent in the Philippines

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Reporter,
Asia

MANILA, Philippines – According to a report released by the Interior Department, the number of extrajudicial killings of activists and journalists has decreased by eighty-three percent from the previous year. The Philippine National Police recorded seven killings in 2007, compared with forty-one in 2006. The Interior Department stressed that the sharp decrease “underlines the Arroyo government’s strong commitment to human rights and its firm resolve to put an end to these unexplained killings.”

The killings have been suspected to the work of the Arroyo administration in order to silence critics and leftists. The Human Right Watch has described the extrajudicial killings as a “dirty war” against leftists and journalists.

Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said the Filipino authorities “are much more interested in discussing numbers, but we really have not seen one of the most important developments we’re waiting for, and that’s the prosecution of senior members of the military.”   Richardson added that the lack of prosecution demonstrates that the “culture of impunity” has not changed at all.

The culture of impunity is quite apparent in Bicol, Philippines. In Bicol, there have been 157 cases of extrajudicial killings since 2001, and none have been solved. Sonia Sta. Rosa, widow of murdered activist pastor Isaias Sta. Rosa, said, “I cannot trust government agencies to pursue justice for us. Of course, they will not cook themselves in their own oil. We do not know who to turn to now.” Sta. Rosa’s case was one of two that made it to the court system, but it was junked anew by the Albay Prosecutor’s Office.

Victim’s families have other recourses for their cases with the United Nations Tribunal and Joint Monitoring Committee of the government and the communist-led National Democratic front. However, the other venues have been criticized for giving “orchestrated and planned results.”

The Philippine government has charged persons in twenty-two cases thus far. Most of those accused are former members of the Communist New People’s Army, while only one soldier was charged. The Philippine government has contended the Communists were behind the murders. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, Philip Alston, had earlier stated the claim is “unconvincing.”

Several human right groups like Karapatan, Promotion of Church People’s Response, and Hustisya-Bikol have sponsored the first series of meetings to be held across the country to unite victim’s families and basic sectors in order to achieve justice.

For more information, please see:

Inquirer – Extrajudicial Killings Victims’ Kin Losing Hope – 14 January 2008

International Herald Tribune – Killing Activists and Journalists Drops in Philippines – 14 January 2008

The New York Times – Philippines: Decline in Killings – 15 January 2008

UN Urges Thailand to Release 149 Hmong

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Reporter,
Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – The United Nation’s refugee agency urged Thailand to release 149 ethnic Hmong from Laos. The Hmong have been detained for more than 400 hundred days even though several countries have offered to take them in. They were rounded up in Bangkok in November 2006 for deportation.

The refugees fled persecution in Laos. Many Hmong sided with the pro-U.S. Laotian government in the 1960’s and 1970’s before the communist takeover of Laos in 1975. After the communist takeover in 1975, almost 300,000 Hmong fled to Thailand. Most resettled in third countries, and several thousand were voluntarily repatriated in Laos. UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Erika Feller said, “They have been recognized as in need of international protection, and they should be allowed to take up the offer already made to them to leave Thailand and start to live productive lives and have a future in other countries.”

Thailand, however, recognizes the 149 refugees as migrants and contends they violated Thai law by entering the country illegally. Nearly 300 others were deported in 2006. The 149 refugees presently detained were on the brink of being repatriated to Laos on January 1, 2007 until international pressure halted the move.

The refugees underwent a hunger strike last August. They declare that they would rather die than return to Laos.

The refugees include 90 children. Five children have been born while in detention. The UN’s refugee agency is concerned about the conditions the Laotians live in and the education of the children. Spokeswoman Erika Feller said, “We are particularly concerned that 90 children, including five born in detention, are being held in these sub-standard conditions. They should not be locked up and should be getting a proper education.” Thai authorities have only recently allowed the refugees out of their cells for three hours a day.

For more information, please see:

Radio Free Asia – UN Urges Thailand to Free Lao Hmong – 15 January 2008

Reuters – UNHCR Urges Thailand to Release Hmong Refugees – 15 January 2008

UN News Centre – UN Agency Urges Release of Laotians Held in Thailand for More than a Year – 14 January 2008

Japan to Review Aid to Sri Lanka

By Juliana Chan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The Japanese peace envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi, said Tuesday that it may be necessary to review Japan’s multi-million dollar aid to Sri Lanka. Mr. Akashi is concerned by the Sri Lankan government’s decision to formally end a six-year ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers.

During Mr. Akashi’s two-day visit to Sri Lanka, he urged the government “to improve the island’s human rights situation and offer a devolution package to the rebels.”

Mr. Akashi and the rest of the international community are shocked and worried that the end of the ceasefire will lead to more violence and civilian casualties. The Sri Lankan government will formally annul the ceasefire on Wednesday, which some predict will lead to “all-out war and the breakdown of peace talks.”

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government says that it is intent on defeating the rebels militarily. He accuses the rebels of not being sincere about talking peace, but instead using the peace pact to regroup and rearm.

Japan is Sri Lanka’s main foreign donor, giving about $9 billion in grants, loans, and aid since 1985. Japan has not pledged any aid yet for this year, but also has not halted any existing aid. Mr. Akashi said future aid would depend on closely monitoring the situation, which would be subject to continuous review.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Japan aid under review as Sri Lanka axes truce – 15 January 2008

AFP – Sri Lanka kills rebels, hits back at foreign critics – 14 January 2008

BBC News – Japan ‘reviews’ aid to Sri Lanka – 15 January 2008

BBC News – Sri Lanka ceasefire formally ends – 15 January 2008

Malawi Severs Ties With Taiwan, Favors China

By Juliana Chan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TAIPEI, Taiwan – After 41 years, the African nation of Malawi has cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of establishing ties with Beijing.

Foreign Affairs Minister Joyce Banda told the press on Monday that Malawi has “decided to switch from Taiwan to mainland China after careful consideration on the benefits that we will be getting from mainland China.”

Ms. Banda went on to say that “Malawi recognizes that there is but one China in the world, […] and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.”

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said the island would break off ties with Malawi effective immediately. Taiwanese officials accuse the Chinese government of luring the Malawians with $6 billion in aid and other incentives. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry expressed its “regret that the government and leaders of Malawi are unwilling to honour their promises to our government and have succumbed to China’s evil forces.”

China has also been using its influence to reduce the number of countries who recognize Taiwan. Since Taiwan split from China amid a civil war in 1949, they have engaged in a “contest to win diplomatic allegiance from countries around the world.”

Most of Taiwan’s allies are small and impoverished nations in Latin America, Africa, and the South Pacific. In Africa, only Burkina Faso, Gambia, Swaziland and Sao Tome and Principe still recognize the island.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Malawi Cuts Diplomatic Ties With Taiwan – 15 January 2008

AP – Malawi Drops Ties With Taiwan for China – 14 January 2008

BBC News – Malawi severs links with Taiwan – 14 January 2008

After Nearly Two Months, Myanmar’s Junta meets with Suu Kyi

By Amy Glasrud
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – Aung San Suu Kyi met with a senior minister of the junta on Friday, after nearly two months of no contact.  According to the Associated Press, an official said “a government-appointed liaison official, Aung Kyi, met with Suu Kyi for about an hour.”  It is unknown what was discussed at this meeting.  An NLD spokesman Nyan Win stated “that the more they meet, the better for the country.”  Reuters reported that “witnesses had seen a car leave Suu Kyi’s Yangon home, where she is under house arrest, and drive to a state guesthouse.”

The last time Suu Kyi had met with the junta was November 19th, 2007, when Suu Kyi met with regime leader Senior General Than Shwe, and it is speculated that they spoke about the junta’s preconditions for negotiations between the two parties.  Reuters stated that Than Shwe has repeatedly insisted the only path to political reform is via the junta’s own “roadmap to democracy.”  It is uncertain just how much the junta will be willing to negotiate; many critics claim that they are unwilling to work outside their own framework.

According to the International Herald Tribune, western governments and the United Nations have pressed the military to open a sustained dialogue with Suu Kyi in order to bring about democratic reforms.  Moreover, Yahoo News reported that “in December, US President George W. Bush threatened to spearhead a global campaign to step up sanctions against the country if it continued to ignore calls for a democratic transition.”  However the regime has allowed for a UN rights investigator and a UN special envoy to enter the country, but the junta has yet to make many changes.

According to Nicholas Burns of the Washington Post, the leaders of Myanmar (formally known has Burma) and their “policies are the greatest threat to Burma’s unity, stability, and prosperity.”

For more information, please see:

International Herald Tribune – Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi meets with junta – 12 January 2008

Associated Press – Myanmar’s Suu Kyi meets with junta – 11 January 2008

International Herald Tribune – Aung San Suu Kyi meets with junta representative in Myanmar – 11 January 2008

Reuters – Detained Suu Kyi meets Myanmar junta minister – 11 January 2008

Yahoo News – Aung San Suu Kyi meets Myanmar junta official – 11 January 2008

Brief: UN inquiry into Bhutto assassination denied

Pakistan President Musharraf refused to permit a U.N. inquiry into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.  The inquiry was requested by members of Bhutto’s party.  President Musharraf argues that Pakistan’s institutions are well equipped to handle the investigation into last month’s assassination alone.

President Musharraf also denies allegations that his country is about to disintegrate.  He claims that Pakistan will be able to withstand internal tensions, as well as external pressures exerted by al Qaeda and the United States.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Pakistan’s Musharraf rejects UN inquiry on Bhutto – 11 January 2008

Al Jazeera – Bhutto’s son calls for UN inquiry – 8 January 2008

Tamil Tiger Intelligence Chief Killed

By Juliana Chan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The Tamil Tigers’ intelligence chief was among the 34 rebels killed in northern Sri Lanka on Saturday. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said they lost the head of an intelligence unit, Shanmuganathan Ravishankar, when a military unit infiltrated rebel territory and planted a roadside bomb.

Sri Lankan officials have denied carrying out attacks inside Tiger territory.

The intelligence chief’s death comes just days after President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government announced that it was formally canceling a 2002 truce agreement made with the LTTE. Analysts expect this to lead to intensified fighting between the two sides. There has already been increased exchanges of fire in the region since the truce was canceled.

The Tamils have been fighting since 1972 for an independent homeland in Sri Lanka’s north and east.

According to government figures, 74 rebels and three soldiers have been killed in fighting since the beginning of the year, while tens of thousands of people have died since the conflict erupted in 1972.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times (Reuters) – Sri Lanka Says Kills Tiger Intelligence Head – 6 January 2008

Bloomberg – Sri Lankan Army Advances in Jaffna After Rebel Commander Killed– 7 January 2008

BBC – Tamil intelligence chief killed – 6 January 2008

BRIEF: China Restricts Internet Video

BEIJING, China – China has announced that it will ban Internet video Web sites that are not run by the government, further tightening its grip on the Internet.

China already outlaws criticism of the state. Starting January 31, only state-owned or state-controlled companies can apply for a government permit for Internet broadcasting licenses to use video programming or allow users to upload videos.

The new regulations state: “Those who provide Internet video services should insist on serving the people, serve socialism…and abide by the moral code of socialism.” Websites will not be allowed “to offer material that promotes sex, violence, gambling, religious cults or reveals state secrets,” and providers are required to report questionable content to the government.

These new rules mark a fresh attempt by the Chinese government to limit the internet habits of its increasingly web-savvy population. For decades, officials have been able to ensure that traditional media, including television and newspapers, conform to what they believe Chinese people should know.

China is the world’s second-largest Internet market by users. It already blocks sites such as Amnesty International, and limits the scope of the Google Inc. search engine to exclude anti-government sites on its pages in China.

The status of sites such as YouTube, a popular video-sharing site, remains in question. Few analysts, however, expect popular Chinese video-sharing sites to disappear after January 31.

For more information, please see:

ABC News (AP) – China Limits Providers of Internet Video – 3 January 2008

The New York Times – CHINA: Restrictions on Web Video and Audio – 4 January 2008

Forbes – China Clamps Down On Internet Video – 3 January 2008

South Korea Grants Amnesty to Former Daewoo Chairman

By Juliana Chan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – Kim Woo-choong, 71, the founder and former chairman of the collapsed conglomerate Daewoo Group, was pardoned Monday under a traditional New Year amnesty. Mr. Kim was one of 75 people to receive a presidential pardon. Others, including businessmen and six death-row inmates, received reduced sentences or had suspended rights restored.

Daewoo, which was once the country’s second largest conglomerate, collapsed in the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis with over $80 billion in debt and leaving the South Korean government to spend over $32 billion to rescue its component companies. Mr. Kim fled the country in 1999 and has been accused of “ordering his executives to inflate the group’s assets between 1997 and 1998 to obtain bank loans.” He returned in 2005 from Vietnam “to make peace with his past.” He was arrested soon after landing.

Mr. Kim was convicted of accounting fraud that involved borrowing illegal loans from banks, as well as smuggling funds overseas. He was sentenced to prison for eight and a half years in 2006 for embezzlement and accounting fraud. One month later, however, the court suspended the sentence because of Mr. Kim’s health issues.

The justice ministry said Monday’s presidential amnesty pardoned 21 businessmen, two former spy chiefs convicted of illegal wiretapping of political and business leaders, and six death-row inmates who had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. South Korea has placed a moratorium on executions since the last hangings on December 30, 1997.

For more information, please see:

AFP – SKorea pardons tycoon over huge financial collapse: ministry – 31 December 2007

BBC News – South Korea pardons Daewoo boss – 31 December 2007

Financial Times – Korea pardons Daewoo fraudster – 1 January 2008

China Bans Bra and Underwear Ads

By Juliana Chan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – In an attempt to “purge the nation’s airwaves of social pollution,” China communist government has banned television and radio advertisements for push-up bras, figure-hugging underwear, and sex toys.

This comes days after banning “sexually provocative sounds” on television.

According to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), among other targets are commercials featuring experts of famous people demonstrating the efficacy of medicines.

Further, this measure is just the latest in a slew of bans imposed by the government.  Other measures have included canceling reality shows featuring sex changes and plastic surgery, and banning advertisements for sexual aids that claim to boost performance in bed and talent contests during prime-time.

A SARFT notice explained that not only do these ads mislead consumers, harm people’s health, pollute the social environment, and corrupt social mores, it also affects the credibility of public broadcasting and the image of the Communist Party and the government.  Tian Jin, the deputy head of the regulator, said that advertisement management and television stations must reinforce their political consciousness and responsibility to society.

This comes weeks before the 17th Party Congress meeting where national leaders are appointed and policy is set for the next few years.

For more information, please see:

Yahoo! News (AP) – China bans bra, underwear, sex toy ads – 30 September 2007

Reuters – Bra ads banned ahead of political party meet – 28 September 2007

FOX News – China Bans TV, Radio Ads for Bras, Underwear – 30 September 2007

Teenagers Beaten and Detained After Writing Pro-Tibetan Independence Slogans

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

AMCHOK BORA, China – The Chinese government has detained seven Tibetan high school students on suspicion of writing pro-Tibetan independence slogans on the walls of the Amchok Bora village police station and other buildings. The slogans called for the return of the Dalai Lama and a free Tibet.

Relatives that had last seen one of the teenagers reported he was beaten and was bleeding. The teenagers were first held in a police station in Amchok Bora, and were allowed to see their families. However, since then, the students have been moved to the town of Xiahe (Labrang). Since the move, officials in Xiahe have refused to reveal the students’ location, requests from their families to visit, or even to confirm that they are in custody. The state-controlled news media have also been silent on the case.

The names of five of the teenagers are Lhamo Tseten, age 15; Chopa Kyab, age 14; Drolma Kyab, age 14; Tsekhu, age 14; and a second Lhamo Tseten, age 15. The identity of two teenagers is unknown. The identity of the beaten teenager is also unknown. The students attend school in Xiahe (Labrang) county, Gannan prefecture in Gansa province. The Gannan is one of China’s official “Tibetan autonomous” areas.

In 1950 China took control of the Himalayan region in China. In 1959 the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled to India during a failed revolt against the Chinese government. Since then, China has refused to allow the Dalai Lama to return. He is revered as Tibetan Buddhism’s highest spiritual authority.

The arrest of the teenagers has sparked criticism by the New York group, Human Rights Watch. Brad Adam, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said “Arresting teenagers for a political crime shows just how little has changed inTibet. Beating up a child for a political crime shows just how far hina has to go before it creates the ‘harmonious society’ China’s leaders talk so much about.”

Tension between Chinese officials and Tibet residents has grown more strained as the two parties continue to disagree over issues from cultural and religious policies, forced resettlement of Tibetan herders, environmental degradation, replacement of Tibetan cadres with ethnic Chinese ones, and increased migration of ethnic Chinese settlers to traditionally Tibetan regions.

China is a State Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UN of Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for children’s right to freedom of expression and demands that no child should be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or detained unlawfully or arbitrarily. If children are legally should be held as only a matter of last resort and for the shortest period of time. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also insists that while in detention, children should have the right to contact their families and have legal assistance.

For more information, please see:

BBS News – Teenage Students Held Incommunicado for Graffiti – 23 September 2007

The NY Times –Tibet: Teenagers Held for Pro-Independence Slogans – 26 September 2007

Taipei Times (AFP) – Seven High School Boys Detained for Pro-Tibet Slogans – 22 September 2007

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights –  Convention on the Rights of the Child

Voice of America – Human Rights Watch Urges China to Release Tibetan Students – 20 September 2007

Update: Monks Defy Assembly Ban, Police Attack

_44139031_burning_ap_203bYANGON, Myanmar- Thousands of monks and protesters defied government directives today and continued protesting.  In response, Myanmar military forces fired warning shots in the air, beat the monks, dragged them into police trucks, and used tear gas on the crowd.

Earlier today, the protesters had started a large march toward the city center and the famous Shwedagon Pagoda- this is where the confrontation started.  Other protester were greeted by warning shots at the Sule Pagoda.

According to hospital sources, one person was killed by the gunfire and five other injured.

The world community continues to react.  The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, called for an immediate UN Security Council meeting, stating that there will be no impunity for human rights violators.

The Canadian Press – Buddhist monks, protesters defy Myanmar junta’s ban on assembly – 26 September 2007

Agenzia Giornalistica Italia – Myanmar (Burma): Tear Gas Used on Monks, Dozens Arrested – 26 September 2007

BBC News – Burmese riot police attack monks – 26 September 2007

Asia Times Online – Buddha vs the barrel of a gun – 26 September 2007

Impunity Watch – Myanmar: Curfew Imposed, Assembly Banned – 25 September 2007

Twelve more South Korean hostages freed

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One of twelve hostages released

Taliban militants released twelve more South Korean hostages Wednesday and the remaining seven hostages may also be released as early as the end of this week.  Among the 12 released were two men and ten women.

On Wednesday, the Taliban released 12 of 19 South Korean hostages as part of a deal with South Korea.  The Taliban originally demanded release of imprisoned insurgents in exchange for the South Korean hostages.  They later backed down on these demands.  Under the terms of this deal, South Korea reaffirmed a pledge it made before the hostage crisis began to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year.  Seoul also said it would prevent South Korean Christian missionaries from working in the Muslim country, something it had already promised to do.

The Taliban originally kidnapped 23 South Koreans and killed two male hostages in late July.  They also released two women in early August was a gesture of good will.

Both Seoul and the Taliban have said that no money was exchanged in this deal.  Furthermore, the Afghan government was not a party to the negotiations.  South Korea’s government was under intense domestic pressure to bring the hostages home safely.

As the hostage crisis comes to an end, the father of one of the two hostages killed in the crisis accused the church that sent the Christian volunteers of being reckless.  Critics also said the government would suffer diplomatic damages for negotiating directly with the extremists.

For more information, please see:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-08-29-korea_N.htm

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/08/30/news/hostages.php

http://www.forbes.com/afxnewslimited/feeds/afx/2007/08/30/afx4066960.html

http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/08/30/taliban.hostages/

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aL5wx3d8ia1Q&refer=home

China drafting laws to curb pollution

In an effort to curb pollution, China began drafting a new law that would save energy and reduce emissions.  Where most Chinese cities are often wrapped in a toxic gray shroud, the issue has become more urgent as China prepares to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The China Daily newspaper reports that the drafted amendment to China’s old water pollution law would remove a 1 million yuan ($132,000) cap on fines for water polluters and allow penalties of 20 to 30 percent of the direct economic losses caused by a spill or pollution.  The law also stipulates that governments at all levels should control energy use and emissions, strengthen management of resource-intensive companies and divert capital into environmentally-friendly industries.

The New York Times has examined the human toll, global impact and political challenge of China’s epic pollution crisis, naming it “Choking on Growth.”  China’s speedy rise as an economic power has given rise to its unparalleled pollution problem.  China’s success and growth derives from the expansion of heavy industry and urbanization that requires colossal inputs of energy, almost all from coal, the most readily available, and dirtiest, source.

The Ministry of Heath says pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death.  Nearly 500- million people lack access to safe drinking water.  Furthermore, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides spewed by China’s coal-fired power plants fall as acid rain on Seoul and Tokyo, and much of the particulate pollution over Los Angeles originates in China.

China’s leaders recognize that they must embrace a new model that allows for steady growth while protecting the environment.  As Wang Jinnan, one of China’s leading environmental researchers says: “It is a very awkward situation for the country because our greatest achievement is also our biggest burden.”

For more information, please see:

http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2007/08/27/ap4055935.html

http://in.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idINIndia-29160120070826

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2003851947_sundaysell26.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/world/asia/26china.html?_r=1&oref=slogin