Southeast Asia Theater
Twin explosions have left at least 20 dead and some 80 wounded at the cathedral in Jolo, capital of Sulu province in the restive southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The first blast went off inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as Sunday mass was about to start. This was followed a few seconds later by another blast in the cathedral's parking area. The attack came just days after the Bangsamoro Organic Law was approved by voters in the region, creating a new Muslim-led autonomous government, The new Bangsamoro autonomous region replaces the weaker Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). More than 1.5 million ARMM residents voted "yes" to BOL ratification, while some 199,000 voted "no." Of the five provinces in the autonomous region, the only one to reject the BOL was Sulu—by a vote of some 163,500 to 137,630.
Over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have been driven from Burma's northern Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh by the Burmese army's brutal "clearance operations," ostensibly launched in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in August 2017. But over the past weeks, the state has seen a new outbreak of attacks—this time by the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine insurgent group opposed to the central government's Burman-centric rule. Ambushes by Arakan Army fighters have targeted both the Burmese army, or Tatmadaw, and the Border Guard Police. Fighting in several townships has left some 2,500 displaced. Last month, the Tatmadaw announced a four-month ceasefire in Burma's north to facilitate peace talks with multiple armed groups fighting for local autonomy, but that announcement excluded Rakhine state. (Asia Times, Al Jazeera)
Authorities in Bangladesh and Burma must immediately halt plans to send Rohingya refugees back to Burma's Rakhine State, Amnesty International said Nov. 14. A first wave of organized returns could begin as soon as this week, following the announcement of a bilateral agreement between Bangladesh and Burma last month—which Amnesty says falls short of international obligations. "This is a reckless move which puts lives at risk," said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty's regional director for East and Southeast Asia. "These women, men and children would be sent back into the Myanmar [Burma] military's grasp with no protection guarantees, to live alongside those who torched their homes and whose bullets they fled."
The massacre of nine farmworkers, including two minors, killed Oct 20 at Hacienda Nene, outside Sagay City in the central Philippine island of Negros, constituted the single most deadly attack against peasant activists under the Rodrigo Duterte administration. A fact-finding mission led by human rights and civil society groups has pointed to members of the Special Civilian Auxiliary Army (SCAA), a private militia associated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as the most likely perpetrators of the "Sagay 9" massacre. The investigators found that members of the paramilitary group opened fire with M-16 rifles on the farmworkers as they were having their evening meal. Most victims reportedly suffered shots to the head, and three of the dead bodies were doused with gasoline and burned afterwards. The fact-finding mission was led by the Children's Rehabilitation Center, Karapatan National Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights, the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, the Salinlahi Alliance, and Gabriela Women's Party congressmember Arlene Brosas.
Nine sugar-cane workers were killed as a group of some 40 gunmen fired on their encampment on lands they were occupying in Negros Occidental province of the central Philippines Oct. 20. Among the fatalities were three women and two minors. The slain were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers who were occupying part of the sprawling Hacienda Nene near Barangay Bulanon village, outside Sagay City. The occupation was legally permitted under an agrarian reform program established in the 1980s that allows landless rural workers to cultivate fallow lands on large plantations while title transfer is pending. The massacre was reported by survivors who managed to scatter and hide. Some of the bodies were burned by the attackers. "They were strafed by unknown perpetrators while already resting in their respective tents," said Cristina Palabay, head of the rights group Karapatan. Calling the attack "brutal and brazen," she said: "We call on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent and thorough investigation on the massacre. We are one with the kin of the victims in the Sagay massacre in their call for justice."
UN investigators on Sept. 18 renewed their call for charges against Burma military officials suspected of carrying out a genocide against the nation's minority Rohingya population over the past year. The UN Office of Human Rights published an exhaustive list of atrocities and called "for the investigation and prosecution of Myanmar's Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and his top military leaders for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes." Since last August, 700,000 Rohinga refugees have fled into neighboring Bangladesh, and many have spoken of the Burmese military's attacks on their villages, describing actions that are considered crimes against humanity under international law. This August, a UN fact-fidning mission for the first time referred to the ethnic conflict in Burma as a genocide. Burma's government officially rejected the charges.
Several Philippine families filed a complaint (PDF) with the International Criminal Court (ICC) Aug. 28, accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of murder during his "war on drugs." The complaint charges Duterte with "crimes against humanity," including extrajudicial killings. This is the second complaint against Duterte filed with the ICC; the first was filed in April 2017. The ICC began preliminary examination in the case in February. Duterte announced the Philippines' withdrawal from the ICC in March. In a 15-page letter to the media, Duterte declared that the Philippines will immediately withdraw its ratification of the Rome Statute, which established the ICC and was ratified by the Philippines in late 2011. Under the statute, a member can withdraw no sooner than one year following written notification to the UN Secretary-General. However, Duterte claimed that the agreement was immediately voidable because it was signed fraudulently.
The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar urged in a report (PDF) released Aug. 27 the investigation and prosecution of Burma's top military generals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. A press release said the Mission "found patterns of gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States that 'undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law', principally by Myanmar's military, the Tatmadaw, but also by other security forces." The crimes against humanity "include murder; imprisonment; enforced disappearance; torture; rape; sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence; persecution and enslavement." The Mission noted that these crimes are similar to those in other cases that have allowed the establishment of "genocidal intent." The Mission urged that these crimes be investigated and prosecuted in the International Criminal Court. It also "called for an independent, impartial mechanism to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of violations."