Southeast Asia Theater
After threatening to do it for months, the Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte on May 23 declared martial law on the conflicted southern island of Mindanao. The declaration takes immediate effect and will last for 60 days—officially. But in his comments upon the declaration, Duterte said it could last up to "a year"—and (not for the first time) favorably invoked the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, under whose harsh rule the Philippines saw a decade of martial law. "To those who have experienced martial law, it would not be any different from what president Marcos did," Duterte said. "I'll be harsh."
The Philippines' inimitable President Rodrigo Duterte is being his usual charming self. The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, arrived in the country on May 5 to attend a conference on drug policy and human rights at the University of the Philippines. Callamard is of course a harsh critic of Duterte's campaign of police and paramilitary terror against low-level drug dealers and users. Duterte wasted not a moment in voicing defiance, warning drug users: "And here's the shocker: I will kill you. I will really kill you. And that's why the rapporteur of the UN is here, investigating extrajudicial killing."
Burma's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected a decision by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate allegations of crimes by security forces against the country's minority Rohingya Muslims. The UN body agreed in March to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Burma over claims of systematic murder, rape and torture in Rakhine state. "We do not agree with it," Suu Kyi told a press conference during a visit to Brussels May 2. "We have disassociated ourselves from the resolution because we do not think that the resolution is in keeping with what is actually happening on the ground." (The Telegraph, May 3; NYT, March 24)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte remains intransigent on his ultra-murderous "drug war," which has unleashed police and paramilitary terror on low-level dealers and users across the archipelago. But, hearteningly, courageous dissent and resistance to the blood-drenched crackdown persists. Al Jazeera on April 24 features a profile of the legal team at Manila's Center for International Law, which has been going to bat for the targets of Duterte's terror—despite the threat of reprisals.
Seven of Burma's hold-out ethnic rebel armies formed a new committee this week to prepare collective talks with the government in anticipation of the next round of peace negotiations. Participating groups in what is now being called the "Northern Alliance" were the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The meeting was held in Pangkham, administrative capital of the UWSA-controlled territory. After eight other northern ethnic armies have signed peace deals in recent years, these groups remain officialy at war with the Tatmadaw, the government's armed forces.
A lawmaker in the Philippines filed impeachment proceedings March 16 against President Rodrigo Duterte over killings carried out in the name of his war on drugs. Rep. Gary Alejano accused the president of constitutional violations, betrayal of public trust, bribery and other high crimes. "The most important thing here is the state policy of killing of drug suspects. The killings of fellow Filipinos were done without due process," Alejano said, according to ABS-CBN news service. "More than 8,000 have died. This is disturbing. We should not wait for the deaths to reach 20,000, 30,000, or 50,000 before we stand up and fight."
Human Rights Watch has issued an urgent statement calling on Philippine authorities to drop "politically motivated" charges against one of the country's only lawmakers openly critical of President Rodrigo Duterte's blood-drenched "war on drugs," which has claimed more than 7,000 lives since he took office last June. Sen. Leila de Lima, a former secretary of justice, was arrested Feb. 24 on drug-trafficking charges.
There was recently a sign that the Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte was going to rein in his murderous police in the face of mounting international criticism of their harsh anti-drug crackdown. It took the police killing of a foreign business executive, but Duterte finally pledged that he would disband and reorganize the National Police narco units. But human rights observers may have rejoined too soon. On Jan. 31—just one day after his announcement of the police overhaul—Duterte made a speech to army generals, telling them that while the police were off the drug war beat the armed forces would have to step in to replace them. Rather than taking a step back from the brink, it looks like the Philippines could be following the grim examples of Mexico and Colombia of turning the drug war into a real war, run by the military.