Southeast Asia Theater
In a blow to rainforest conservation in Sumatra, an Indonesian court on Nov. 29 dismissed a class-action lawsuit seeking to force the Aceh provincial government to protect the threatened Leuser Ecosystem in its land-use plan. The Central Jakarta District Court found that the provincial bylaw permitting mining within the Ecosystem caused no material losses to the plaintiffs—despite the fact that the Ecosystem is protected under national law as a "national strategic area." Five million people rely for clean water on Leuser’s forests, which also protect against natural disasters. Deforestation in Aceh's Tamiang district, for example, caused flash floods that displaced tens of thousands of people in 2006.
According to official John McKissick at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Nov. 24, members of the Rohingya community have been subjected to numerous atrocities by troops in Burma, including execution, rape, starvation and forced displacement. McKissick said the widespread violence is part of an ongoing effort by the Burmese government to "ethnically cleanse" the Muslim minority group from the country. Speaking to the BBC from the UNHCR headquarters in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, McKissick said the latest increase in violence against the Rohingya is in response to the murder of nine border guards in Burma on Oct. 9, which some Burmese politicians have blamed on a Rohingya militant group.
The Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in China Oct. 18 for a high-profile visit that western media accounts are portraying as a tilt away from the United States. Washington has historically been the Philippines' imperial patron, providing investment and military aid—but relations are now strained over Duterte's murderous anti-drug crackdown, which is believed to have claimed 3,000 lives. Arriving in Beijing, Duterte blasted Washington and the European Union for their criticisms of his lawless crackdown, and praised his hosts for giving him free rein. "China is the only country to come out freely and [make] a firm statement that they are supporting the fight against drugs in my country," Duterte told Chinese state news agency Xinhua in a comment picked up by the Philippine Star. "The other countries, United States, EU, instead of helping us, they know that we are short of money... all they had to do was to criticize. China never criticized."
The Philippines' new ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte just took things to a new level. He had previously compared himself to genocidal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in pledging to unleash a reign of terror on drug users and dealers. But on Sept. 30, he actually invoked Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust as a favorable model for what he intends to do in his own country. "Hitler massacred three million Jews," Duterte told reporters. "Now, there are three million drug addicts. I'd be happy to slaughter them." He said thusly purging the Philippines would "save the next generation from perdition." (Reuters, Oct. 1; PhilStar, Sept. 30)
Towns and villages across large areas of Burma's northern Rakhine state are reported to be deserted, as terrified residents flee a new military crackdown following attacks by supposed Muslim Rohingya militants. At least 26 have been killed in the military raids, and at least hundreds displaced. Villages are said to be in flames. The military action follows attacks on three border posts along the frontier with Bangladesh Oct. 9 that authorities blamed on a previously unknown "Aqa Mul Mujahidin," said to be successor group to the supposedly disbanded Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO). The border attacks, centered on Maungdaw township, left 39 dead—nine police, four soldiers and 26 suspected militants. (Channel News Asia, Channel News Asia, Anadolu Agency, Oct. 14)
President Rodrigo Duterte's ultra-hardline anti-drug policies took center-stage in the Philippines in mid-September as the country's Senate held televised hearings on the matter. By now, the National Police force has acknowledged that its troops have killed 1,506 suspected drug dealers or users since Duterte took office in June. (Amnesty International, adding those killed by unaccountable "vigilantes," puts the figure at 3,000.) Duterte openly boasts that the killings will continue. The hearings heard impassioned testimony both for and against this lawless crackdown.
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was barred from entering Thailand and deported Oct. 5. The 19-year-old was detained on arrival at Suvarnabhumi airport, held by police for 12 hours and then flown back to Hong Kong. Wong had been invited by Thai student activist Netiwit Chotipatpaisal to speak at events marking the 40th anniversary of a student massacre in 1976. The deputy commander of Suvarnabhumi airport's immigration office said at a prss conference that Wong was blacklisted after China asked the Thai government to deny him entry, according to a report in Thai media. Thailand's military rulers, in power since a 2014 coup, denied any role in the detention. But junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters after the deportation: "He already went back to China. Officials there have requested to take him back. It's Chinese officials' business. Don't get involved too much. They are all Chinese people no matter Hong Kong or mainland China."
Amnesty International on Sept. 28 released a report detailing the prevalence of torture employed by Thai authorities, and asserting that the military government has instated a "culture of torture." The report, "Make Him Speak by Tomorrow," named after an apparently common order given to soldiers, is the product of a two-year investigation and details 74 cases of torture or other forms of ill-treatment implemented by Thai authorities. Although Thailand is a party to the UN Convention against Torture, Amnesty charges that many elements of the legal system allow or incentivize the use of torture. Thailand is currently working on legislation that would criminalize torture, but AI's report also provides suggestions for how the government can resolve the major issues.