Sanctions Against Burma Ease Up After It Releases More Prisoners

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Yesterday, Myanmar released about 60 political prisoners in new amnesty a day after the Myanmar government claimed it would pardon hundreds of inmates.  According to BBC News, Myanmar has released more than 500 prisoners, including a number of political detainees and foreigners.

Two recently released political prisoners. (Photo Courtesy of Time)

“We’re optimistic that these are the remaining political prisoners,” said Naing Naing, a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League of for Democracy (NLD).  However, human rights advocates are skeptical and cautioned that the exact number of political prisoners is unknown.

“While another prisoner amnesty is welcome in principle, like everyone else we’re left waiting to see the list before we assess how many political prisoners are included, what it means and how significant it is,” shared Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Director for the Asia Division.

“The problem is there is a lack of transparency from the Burma government about who is a political prisoner, where they are, and how many are left,” continued Mr. Robertson.

According to France 24, the exact number of political detainees still imprisoned varies but opposition groups have estimated 300 activists.

This act by the Myanmar government seems to be an attempt for the United States (U.S.) to further alleviate sanctions ahead of President Thein Sein’s visit to the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly in New York City this September.

“I think political prisoners are bargaining chips for Thein Sein’s policies,” said Bo Kyi, the Joint Secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

According to Boston News, after fifty years of military rule, the Myanmar government’s linchpin in policy reform is political prisoners’ freedom.

On Monday, the European Union (EU) advised preferential trade status for Myanmar.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Myanmar authorities are optimistic the U.S. will continue to ease its sanctions when President Thein Sein visits New York City.  Moreover, U.S. officials are currently contemplating how and when to ease a ban on Myanmar made-products.

For further information, please see:

Boston News – Myanmar is called insincere on political prisoners – 18 September 2012

France News – Burma releases political prisoners in new amnesty – 18 September 2012

BBC News – Burma releases 500 prisoners in amnesty – 17 September 2012

Wall Street Journal – Myanmar Releases Prisoners as Suu Kyi Visits U.S. – 17 September 2012

Protests of anti-Islam Film Erupt Across Asia

By Irving Feng
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KARACHI, Pakistan – Protests over the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” has spread throughout Asia, erupting in violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

Protesters in Jakarta. (Photo Courtesy of The Jakarta Post)

Muslims in Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Yemen and the territory of Kashmir have taken to the streets to burn American flags, denounce the United States, and storm American embassies.  The protestors are furious over the film’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.  The low-budget, independent film characterizes the prophet as a fraud, womanizer, and pedophile.

On Monday, September 17, in Pakistan, protestors set fire to a press building and a government building in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  Several hundred protestors clashed with police shortly after the acts of vandalism.  The police fired on the mob killing at least one protestor and wounding several others.  The demonstrators allegedly set fire to the buildings to get more press coverage for their cause.

Protestors in southern Pakistan also clashed with police one day prior.  Protestors attempted to storm the U.S. Consulate in Karachi resulting in the death of one protestor and wounding a dozen more.  Despite these eruptions of violent protest, there have also been many peaceful protests including a demonstration attended by thousands of students and teachers in the town of Chaman.

Elsewhere in Asia, protestors assaulted the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta with rocks and Molotov cocktails.  Indonesian Muslims, outraged by the anti-Islam film took to violence resulting in the hospitalization of eleven injured police officers and the arrests of four protestors.  American flags and photographs of U.S. president Barak Obama were being burned in the streets.  Protestors hold the U.S. responsible for the production of the independent anti-Islam film.

15,000 protestors have taken to the streets in the region of Kashmir to protest the film “Innocence of Muslims,” burn American flags, and demanded the expulsion of all Americans from their territory.  The government in Kashmir has advised all Americans travelling in the region to leave immediately before protests escalate to the levels present in other parts of Asia and the Middle East.  The U.S. Embassy in the region also sent out an advisory warning for all citizens to leave immediately.

The origin of the film is still shrouded a mystery, however, there are reports that link it to a California man who has been convicted of fraud named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.  The movie trailer has not been removed from internet video site, Youtube, since the clip of the film falls within the guidelines set up by the site.  Access has been restricted, however, in countries such as India and Indonesia where the content of the trailer is deemed illegal.


For further information, please see:

The Jakarta Post – Film protest turns violent – 18 September 2012

Shanghai Daily – Muslims in fury over anti-Islam US movie – 18 September 2012

BBC – Anti-Islam film: Thousands protest around Muslim world – 17 September 2012

Reuters – Muslim protesters rage at United States in Asia, Middle East – 17 September 2012

The Washington Post – Indonesians upset with anti-Muslim film clash with police outside US Embassy; at least 12 hurt – 17 September 2012

Hurriyet Daily News – Thousands in Kashmir protest anti-Islam film as cleric demands Americans ‘leave’ – 14 September 2012

Factory Fires in Pakistan Kill over 300 Workers

By Irving Feng
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KARACHI, Pakistan – Factory fires in Pakistan kill over 300 workers and raises questions about substandard worker safety and poor labor regulations.

Woman searches for her missing family member. (Photo Courtesy of The New York Times)

A garment factory in Karachi was set ablaze and caused the death of what officials believed to be 289 workers from a nearby blue collar neighborhood.  A second fire in a shoe factory in Lahore caused the death of roughly 25 workers.  Officials investigating have yet to determine the cause of the fires but faulty wiring is believed to be the predominate cause of the fire in Karachi and  sparks from a back-up generator is believed to be the cause of the fire in Lahore.

Survivors from the Karachi fire say the high death toll was due to a lack of available exists in the factory and barred windows.  All exits, except one, in the factory were locked to prevent workers from leaving their shifts early and the barred windows, factory managers claim, were installed to prevent break ins.

Employees working on the top floors of the Karachi factory immediately began breaking the metal bars on the windows with tools when smoke and fire roared up the stairs.  Some workers managed to break through the bars and jump out of windows multiple stories up and suffered broken bones from the fall.  Those less fortunate scrambled for the single congested exist and were trampled and crush by the wave of panicking workers attempting to escape the flames.  Officials say that the majority of the workers died from smoke inhalation and severe burns.

Survivors of the Lahore fire say that the main exit to their factory was also blocked, trapping unlucky workers inside.  Due to rolling blackouts prevalent in Pakistan, workers at the Lahore factory attempted to start the back-up generator when the electricity went out.  The sparks from the generator may have ignited nearby chemicals used to make shoes.  The factory in Lahore was illegally set up in a residential neighborhood in the city.

Workers’ rights in Pakistan are guaranteed in their constitution.  The Hazardous Occupation Rule 1963, under the 1934 Factories Act, provides legal protections for workers including an entire section, added in 1997, concerning fire safety.  Pakistan has also signed the International Labor Organization’s labor inspection convention which mandates governments to inform their workers of their legal rights and calls for labor inspections and the proper reporting of any problems.

Despite Pakistan’s prior commitment to workers’ rights, an executive order issued under the Punjab Industrial Policy 2003 has abolished many of labor inspections which helped monitor and guarantee workers’ rights.  The new executive order was aimed at bolstering a more business-friendly environment and increasing industry in Pakistan.  These bans on labor inspections were adopted under fierce pressure by wealthy industrialists.


For further information, please see:

BBC – Karachi fire: Factory owners granted bail – 14 September 2012

The Guardian – Karachi’s factory fire exposes Pakistan’s lax health and safety regime – 14 September 2012

Al Jazeera – Hundreds killed in Karachi factory fire – 13 September 2012

The New York Times – More Than 300 Killed in Pakistani Factory Fires – 12 September 2012

Reuters – Fires engulf Pakistan factories killing 314 workers – 12 September 2012

UN-Backed Tribunal Deems Khmer Rouge’s ‘First Lady’ Unfit for Trial

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Yesterday, Cambodia’s UN-backed tribunal, responsible for prosecuting the members of the Khmer Rouge for crimes against humanity, released a statement that 80-year-old leng Thirith, the regime’s “first lady,” was unfit to stand trial.

leng Thirith before the ECCC. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

“There is not prospect that the accused can be tried in the foreseeable future,” the tribunal stated.

Furthermore, Neth Pheaktra, a spokesman for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC), said that leng Thirith would be released today if prosecutors did not appeal the court’s decision.

According to Reuters, under the Khmer Rouge’s rule from 1975 to 1979, approximately 1.7 to 2.2 million people, nearly a quarter of the population, died from execution, torture, disease, and/or starvation as a part of the regime’s attempt to create a peasant utopia.

leng Thirith, Khmer Rouge’s highest-ranking woman, acted as its minister of social affairs, and the tribunal accused her of participation in the “planning, direction, co-coordination and order of widespread purges.”  Leng Thirith was formerly charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, homicide, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, torture, and religious persecution.

However, according to Al jazeera, leng Thirith responded that the charges against her were “100 per cent false” and that she always worked for the benefit of the people.

According to CNN, in November of last year, proceedings against leng Thirith stopped after the ECCC decided that she suffered from dementia.

After pursuing additional medical assessments, the tribunal issued yesterday’s statement confirming that leng Thirith is suffering from a “progressive, degenerative illness (likely Alzheimer’s disease) and remains unfit to stand trial.”

The tribunal further confirmed that “all treatment options have [] been exhausted and that the accused’s cognitive impairment is likely irreversible.”  The court’s conclusion disappointed many of the regime’s surviving victims.

“I cannot oppose the court, but I am not happy with its decision,” shared Bou Meng, one of few Cambodians to survive incarceration in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Slen jail (S-21), with Agence France-Presse.  “The decision is mocking the souls of the dead, including my wife and children,” continued Mr. Meng whose wife and children never escapted S-21 alive.

The court has convicted S-21’s prison chief, Kaing Guek Eav, who oversaw the deaths of approximately 14,000 people.  The tribunal sentenced Kaing Guek Eav to 35 years in prison but he may serve only 19 years.

However, Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge’s former foreign minister, Nuon Chea, also known as Bother No. 2, and the regime’s former head of state, Khieu Samphan, are still on trial.  Moreover, prosecutors claimed that there is adequate evidence to charge a number other former members.

For further information, please see:

Al jazeera – Cambodia to free Khmer Rouge ‘first law’ – 13 Sept. 2012

CNN – ‘First lady’ of Khmer Rouge rules unfit for genocide trial – 13 Sept. 2012

Independent – ‘First lady’ of Khmer Rouge is judged ‘unfit to stand trial’ – 13 Sept. 2012

Reuters – ‘First lady’ of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge mentally unfit, to be freed – 13 Sept. 2012


Oil Workers Suffer Abuse in Kazakhstan

By Irving Feng
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ASTANA, Kazakhstan – Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on Monday, September 10, accusing oil companies in Kazakhstan and the Kazakh government of abusing workers and violating their labor rights.  The report was published in response to a violent clash between oil workers and state police in the western Kazakh town of Zhanaozen.

Aftermath of the violent clash in Zhanaozen. (Photo courtesy of Eurasianet)

The oil workers were protesting unfair labor practices by the oil companies that employed them when police were ordered to come in and break up the peace demonstrations.  Twelve of the oil workers were killed when police opened fire on the protestors.  Three other workers died due to injuries sustained from the violent clash with police, and an additional 100 civilians were injured during the ordeal.

The HRW report featured interviews from the oil workers who highlighted a myriad of labor violations and abuses by the oil companies and the Kazakh government.  The workers complained about poor working conditions, inadequate pay and a general irresponsiveness exhibited by management when confronted with complaints.  The complaints were also allegedly met with threats and harassment by management.  Workers attempted to unionize but were their efforts were met with mass dismissals after carrying out peaceful demonstrations against the oil companies.  Oil companies dismissed approximately 2000 workers because of their peaceful demonstrations.

Workers interviewed also alleged that the police forces sent to break up the peaceful demonstrations were the same police forces used to stop political dissent in the region.  The tactics that the police forces used include intimidation, harassment and imprisoning workers who attempt to stand up for their labor rights.  Some workers who were sent to jail were also fined by the courts in the region after judges declared the strikes illegal.

Since last year’s violent clash with police, Kazakhstan has amended their labor codes to reflect modern international labor standards for workers’ rights.  Criminal action has also been brought against several of the police involved in the shootings of the peaceful demonstrators.  Five police officers have received prison terms and other criminal cases are still pending.

Western energy companies have invested heavily in this region’s oil fields.  Countries like the United States have strong interests in Kazakh oil since this alternative oil source can help alleviate their dependence on oil from the Middle East.  The three companies being accused of abusing the rights of the workers are OzenMunayGaz, Karazhanbasmunay and ERSAI Caspian Contractor.  Italian oil giant is a part owner in ERSAI Caspian Contractor.  Western companies have dismissed the unrest in the region, blaming the poor handling of the labor dispute as characteristic of the inadequate management of older Soviet-style businesses.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Are workers protected in Kazakhstan? – 12 September 2012

Eurasianet – Kazakhstan: Watchdog Report Challenges Astana’s Version of Zhanaozen Violence – 10 September 2012

Human Rights Watch – Striking Oil, Striking Workers – 10 September 2012

New York Times – Kazakhstan Is Accused of Abusing Oil Workers – 10 September 2012