Southeast Asia Theater
Satellite data released by Human Rights Watch shows widespread fires burning in at least 10 areas of Burma's Rakhine state, following a new military offensive targeting the country's Rohingya people. Burmese authorities say some 100 have been killed since Aug. 25, when supposed militants of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched pre-dawn raids on police outposts. The army has responded with a massive operation to encircle the Rohingya rebels and block their escape into Bangladesh. But troops are accused of putting whole villages to the torch and carrying out extrajudicial killings. More than 8,700 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh since since the offensive was launched, but at least 4,000 more are stranded in the no man's land between the two countries near Taung Bro village. Temporary shelters now fill a narrow strip between the Naf River and Burma's border fence.
The Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte met in Manila on Aug. 8 with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and came away gloating that the new administration in Washington is unconcerned with his blood-drenched "war on drugs," that has left perhaps 8,000 dead since he took office just over a year ago. "Human rights, son of a bitch. Policemen and soldiers have died on me," he sneered to reporters at a press conference after the Tillerson meeting, adding an open threat: "Human rights—you go there and you might have a bomb dropped on your head."
The Rohingya Muslim people of Burma are facing what some have called genocide in their homeland, long denied citizenship rights and now under attack by both the official security forces and Buddhist-chauvinist militias, who have carried out massacres and burned down their villages. Some 500,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh—where they are not being welcomed. Already confined to squalid refugee camps near the Burmese border, they now face forcible relocation to an uninhabited offshore island. Shunted from one region to another, they are targeted by the predictable propaganda—Burmese authorities have stigmatized them as Muslim terrorists, and now Bangladesh authorities increasingly stigmatize them as drug-traffickers.
On the heels of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's Manila meeting with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, NBC News reports that the Pentagon is considering a plan for the US military to conduct air-strikes on ISIS targets in the archipelago nation. The account quotes two unnamed defense officials who told the network that "authority to strike ISIS targets as part of collective self-defense could be granted as part of an official military operation" likely to be named in the coming days. The strikes would probably be conducted by armed drones.
An estimated 7,000 protesters marched on the Philippines' House of Representatives in the Batasan district of Manila July 24 as ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte gave his second State of the Nation Address—in which he pledged to keep pursuing his bloody drug war. "The fight will not stop," said Duterte. "There is a jungle out there. There are beasts and vultures preying on the helpless. We will not be disheartened, we will not be cowed, we will not be overhelmed." He offered drug dealers and users a choice of "jail or hell."
Cambodia's National Assembly on July 10 passed a bill which prohibits political parties from being affiliated with convicted criminals. Commentators believe the law is aimed at weakening the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The CNRP's former leader, Sam Rainsy, recently resigned from the party after he was sentenced to two years in prison on defamation charges. As a result of the new law, Rainsy will no longer be able to be affiliated with the CNRP in any manner. The CNRP gained significant political strength in the 2013 Cambodian elections when the party took a total of 55 seats in the National Assembly, leading many to believe the defamation charges against Rainsy were politically motivated.
June 30 marked one year since the ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte took office in the Philippines, on a pledge to halt the "virulent social disease" of drug abuse. Officials boast that crime has dropped, thousands have been arrested on drug offenses, and a million users have turned themselves in for treatment programs instead of prison. The usual totalitarian rhetoric is employed to justify the price in human lives for this supposed progress—the bloodletting is necessary for the health of the nation. "There are thousands of people who are being killed, yes," Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde told Reuters for a one-year assesment of Duterte's crackdown. "But there are millions who live, see?"
Protests are emerging in the Philippines against ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of martial law in the southern island of Mindanao last month. Over 100 former and current lawmakers, religious leaders and activists gathered in Manila for an interfaith rally on June 11, the Philippines' Independence Day., demanding an end to the official suspension of basic democratic rights in Mindanao.