Southeast Asia Theater
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Dec. 3 that the Bangladesh government is violating the right to education of nearly 400,000 school-age Rohingya refugee children by barring UN humanitarian agencies and NGOs from providing the children with any formal, accredited education. The Bangladesh government's policy prevents Rohingya from integrating into the local Bangladeshi society. In furtherance of this policy the government bars Rohingya children from enrolling in schools in local communities outside the camps or taking national school examinations. According to HRW, the Bangladesh government is violating its international obligations to ensure the right to education under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights treaties, and its obligation to the integration of refugee children into national education systems under the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees.
Human rights groups, together with the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), filed a criminal lawsuit in Argentina on Nov. 13, alleging that the government and military of Burma, including State Counsellor (and de facto leader) Aung San Suu Kyi, have committed crimes against humanity and genocide against the ethnic Rohingya minority. The complaint includes numerous accounts of mass killings, rapes and torture committed by government forces against Rohingya communities. The suit was filed with the Argentine federal courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which holds that any country can prosecute for certain grave crimes regardless of whether the crimes were committed within that country's territory.
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo was sworn in for a second term Oct. 20 amid an official ban on protests, and Jakarta's streets flooded with 30,000 police and military troops. The inauguration was preceded by a wave of mass protests in September, mostly led by students. The demonstrations were sparked by a new law that weakens Indonesia's anti-corruption agency, and another that instates such moralistic measures as a ban on extramarital sex—the latter a play to cultural conservatives who accuse Widodo of being insufficiently Muslim. But protesters' anger was also directed at plans for a tough new criminal code, at troops mobilized to put down the unrest in Papua region, and at the failure to stem forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo that are causing toxic haze across Southeast Asia.
Both UN human rights experts and Amnesty International are accusing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte of "crimes against humanity" in his "war on drugs," and calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate. The statement from the rights experts, issued by the UN Office on Human Rights last month, noted the "staggering number" of unlawful killings in the context of the "drug war." Then, on July 8, Amnesty issued its report, "'They Just Kill': Ongoing Extrajudicial Executions and Other Violations in the Philippines' 'war on drugs'." The report charges that rights violations in the Philippines have "reached the threshold of crimes against humanity." It called the supposed anti-drug campaign a "government-orchestrated attack against poor people." On July 11, the UN Human Rights Council approved an Iceland-drafted resolution calling on High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to launch a "comprehensive" investigation into the situation in the Philippines. Duterte responded by threatening to break diploamtic relations with Iceland.
The European Council announced June 19 that it has approved the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the EU-Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement (EVIPA), both to be formally signed this week in Hanoi. EVFTA and EVIPA are hailed as the most ambitious agreements concluded between the EU and a developing country. Under EVFTA, upwards of 99% of tariffs on goods from both sides will be lifted. (Asia News Network, June 26) The deals were approved just two weeks after a Vietnamese environmental activist was sentenced to six years in prison for "anti-state" Facebook posts. Nguyen Ngoc Anh, a shrimp farming engineer, is accused of writing posts that urged people to take part in peaceful protests in June over corporate pollution. The posts especially noted the Formosa Plastics disaster in 2016, in which a Taiwanese-owned steel plant dumped toxic waste into the ocean off the coast of central Vietnam, killing millions of fish. Vietnam's government has accused Facebook of violating a draconian new cybersecurity law that came into effect in January by allowing the posts. (The Guardian, June 7)
Amnesty International on May 29 released a report asserting that Burma's military is continuing to commit war crimes and human rights violations in the context of its campaign against the rebel Arakan Army in Rakhine state. The campaign began after the Arakan Army launched coordinated attacks on police posts in Rakhine on Jan. 4, killing several officers. The report finds that the military has fired indiscriminately in civilian areas, killing and injuring civilians and damaging homes and other property. Soldiers have at times obstructed access to medical treatment for civilians, including children, injured by such attacks.
Seven soldiers imprisoned in Burma for killing 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys have received an early release—serving less time than the reporters who uncovered the massacre they were convicted of. The soldiers were sentenced in 2018 to 10 years in prison for the killings at the village of Inn Din, but they "are no longer detained," prison officials told Reuters. The news agency said the men were freed in November. This means they served less than one year of their 10-year terms. They are the only people to have been convicted for atrocities committed during the 2017 military campaign against the Rohingya in western Rakhine state, in which more than 700,000 were displaced. Meanwhile, the two Reuters reporters who were imprisoned on charges of revealing "state secrets" for reporting the massacre were also just released—after serving 16 months. The reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, received a presidential amnesty on May 6.
A Burmese court in Sittwe on March 19 sentenced prominent Rakhine ethnic leader Aye Maung to 20 years in prison for treason and defamation stemming from a January 2018 speech made one day before deadly riots broke out in Mrauk-U township. Maung, a member of parliament and former chairman of the Arakan National Party, was arrested along with writer Wai Hin Aung days after giving "inflammatory" speeches. Maung is said to have accused the ethnic Bamar-dominated ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government of treating the ethnic Rakhine people (also known as the Arakan) like "slaves." Seven people were killed the evening after the speeches, when Rakhine protestors seized a government building and police opened fire. Maung’s lawyers are unsure if he will appeal at this time, as a new trial in the case could result in a death sentence. Both Maung and Aung received 18 years for treason and two for defamation.