Southeast Asia Theater
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 press 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.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared a "state of lawlessness" after a Sept. 2 bomb blast at a night market in the southern city of Davao, where he had long served as mayor. Duterte was unclear on what exactly his declaration means, and denied that he is instating martial law. But he stated ominously that he will "invite uniformed personnel to run the country." The blast, which killed at least 14 people and injured some 70, was claimed by the ISIS-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). ASG spokesperson Abu Rami said the attack is a "call for unity to all mujahedeen in the country" amid the government's new offensive against the group in its strionghold islands of Sulu and Basilan. Duterte had days earlier ordered intensified operations to finish off the 400-strong militant group, following the death of 15 soldiers in a clash in Patikul, Sulu province.
Military officials in Thailand on July 26 charged three human rights defenders with criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crimes Act because of a report they published detailing acts of torture. The defenders, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Anchana Heemmina and Somchai Homlaor, face up to five years in prison if convicted. The report, "Torture and ill treatment in the Deep South Documented in 2014-2015", details 54 incidents of torture and rights abuses in South Thailand, and the activists hoped that it would encourage victims to share their experiences. Several rights groups have protested the arrests in a joint report (PDF), calling them a "reprisal against civil society groups seeking to bring to the authorities' attention the continued abuse of power and ill-treatment of detainees in Thailand." The report urges the government to drop all charges against the rights defenders and ensure that retaliation is not allowed, as well as making general human rights recommendations.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague ruled (PDF) in favor of the Philippines on July 12 in its dispute with China over most of the South China Sea. Manila brought the case in 2013 disputing Beijing's territorial claims, a move China decried as "unilateral." The PCA concluded that China does not have the right to resources within its "nine-dash line," an area covering nearly the entire 3.5 million square-kilometer Sea—believed to be rich in oil and minerals. The tribunal found that none of the disputed Spratly Islands are "capable of generating extended maritime zones." Therefore, the tribunal wrote that it could "declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China." China entirely denies the PCA's jurisdiction in the matter, and rejected the ruling.
Human rights abuses against the Rohingya and other minorities in Burma may amount to crimes against humanity, according to a report released June 20 by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The report documents abuses against minorities that include "arbitrary deprivation of nationality, severe restriction on freedom of movement, threats to life and security, denial of rights to health and education, forced labour, sexual violence, and limitations to...political rights, among other violations." The report states that the Rohingya and Kaman Muslims continue to live in camps for internally displaced people after approximately four years since violence began in the Rakhine state. Muslims in Rakhine state are severely restricted from accessing basic healthcare, emergency medical treatment and education. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein urged the government of Myanmar to take "concrete steps to put an end to the systemic discrimination and ongoing human rights violations against minorities."
The White House has announced a partial lifting of sanctions on Burma in recognition of progress in its democratic transition. Restrictions are to be dropped on state-owned banks and businesses, although some 100 companies and individuals linked to the armed forces will remain iced. This relaxation comes at the request of longtime democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, who although barred from holding the presidency is effectively the country’s leader following November's elections. But human rights concerns remain—especially around the fate of the Rohingya Muslims, persecuted and made stateless by the military junta that has now (mostly) surrendered power. And the multiple ethnic insurgencies in Burma's opium-producing northern mountains, while receiving less world media attention lately, continue to vex the country.