Posts Tagged ‘South-east asia’

India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka are all in the same rickety boat when it comes to human rights

December 17, 2020

TRT World published a summary of a report by the South Asia Collective “India and Pakistan no different on how they treat minorities”. Please note that Turkish Radio and Television Corporation is the national public broadcaster of Turkey. One looks there in vain for information on human rights violations in Turkey itself. Still the report referred to (produced with the financial support of the European Union and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) is of interest:

The past ten years have been abysmal for minorities and civil rights activists in South Asian countries including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, according to the South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020. 

Governments have introduced repressive laws that curb freedom of expression, persecute journalists and bar people from organising peaceful demonstrations, says the report published by the South Asia Collective, an international group of activists and NGOs. Some laws disproportionately target minorities such as Muslims in India and Sri Lanka, and Christians in Pakistan.  One policy that transcends almost all the regional governments is their attempt to restrict the role of NGOs – especially if they receive funding  from abroad. 

India, where minorities have faced state-sanctioned violence since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was re-elected last year, has handicapped foreign NGOs by setting limits on how they can spend money received from international donors.  Most of the affected NGOs are the ones that work in areas which highlight abuse of power, government indifference towards the plight of minorities, and the brutality of security forces. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/06/istanbul-court-jails-four-human-rights-defenders-on-terror-charges-seven-acquitted/]

“BJP rule has been characterised by the open targeting of several high-profile NGOs, with foreign funding freezes being the weapon of choice,” the report said. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/29/amnesty-feels-forced-to-shut-sown-its-india-office-amidst-govenment-pressure/]

New Delhi's discriminatory amendment to citizenship law has further alienated India's Muslims.
New Delhi’s discriminatory amendment to citizenship law has further alienated India’s Muslims. (AP Archive)

Other policy changes such as requiring NGOs to register with income tax authorities every five years are a similar tool of “administrative harassment”. ..

The intimidation is not limited to NGOs as journalists reporting on creeping BJP authoritarianism often feel the wrath of the state.   “…between 25 March and 31 May 2020, at least 55 Indian journalists faced arrest, physical assaults, destruction of property, threats or registration of FIRs (police reports),” the report said. 

New Delhi increasingly relies on internet controls to curb dissent. Internet shutdowns jumped to 106 in 2019 from only six in 2014 as authorities used different laws to control the flow of information.  Kashmir faced a complete internet blackout for months after the Muslim-majority region’s nominal autonomy was withdrawn last year…

India is also using the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to target Dalits, a caste of Hindus who face widespread discrimination under the country’s hierarchical caste system… Changes in the Citizenship Act that target Muslim migrants and the brutal police reponse to subsequent protests — in which 22 people were shot dead in Utter Pradesh state in a single day — further illustrate the worsening status of minorities in India. 

In neighbouring Pakistan, India’s archrival, minorities and those activists trying to help them, fare no better. 

“NGOs and INGOs (international NGOs) are subject to extensive regulation involving multiple, lengthy procedures of registration, security clearance, and approvals for funding,” the report said.

The Christians and Hindus in Pakistan regularly complain that young girls are forced to convert to Islam.
The Christians and Hindus in Pakistan regularly complain that young girls are forced to convert to Islam. (AP Archive)

In recent years, Islamabad has increased vigilance on NGOs which it fears might be working on a foreign agenda to promote dissent.  What will particularly bother Pakistan’s policymakers is the report’s focus on how the country’s Blasphemy Law, meant to protect religious sentiments, continues to be misused against minorities. 

In reality, the law explicitly discriminates against Ahmadiyas since parts of it criminalise public expression of Ahmadiya beliefs and prohibit Ahmadiyas from calling themselves Muslims, praying in Muslim sites of worship and propagating their faith.”  Just this week, a report by the United States Commission on International Rights Freedom pointed out that Pakistan accounts for nearly half of the incidents of mob violence against alleged blasphemers.  

At times, people accused of blasphemy are killed in court in front of police and lawyers.   Christians, another minority, are frequently targeted while authorities do little to protect them.  For instance, a church constructed in the Toba Tek Singh district of Punjab province had to be sealed in 2016 after local Muslims agitated against it.  This alienation doesn’t stop at the places of worship – young Chrsitan students are continuously harassed by their peers to convert to Islam, the report said. 

Similarly, Sri Lanka witnessed rising levels of intolerance towards minorities in recent years, especially as successive governments tried to pacify extremist Buddhists to garner their votes.  Muslims in Sri Lanka have felt a wave of discrimination and official apathy after the suicide attacks that killed more than 200 people last year.  “After the Easter attacks, Muslims, particularly a large number of Muslim men, were arrested seemingly without reasonable cause.” Jingoistic government-aligned media has helped paint Muslims as the villain in Sri Lanka. 

The incitement of hatred and vitriol by media outlets continues unabated. For example, Muslim Covid-19 patients were identified by their faith, unlike other patients, and blamed by the media for spreading coronavirus.” 

https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/india-and-pakistan-no-different-on-how-they-treat-minorities-42419

Defending Defenders: Challenging Malicious Lawsuits in Southeast Asia

June 8, 2020

SLAPPs on the increase

shutterstock_1049504825

The work of human rights defenders (HRDs) to expose harm by companies around the world has never been more important, but the space to do so is increasingly under threat as unscrupulous companies and governments around the world use the legal and judicial system to harass critics.

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Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are a powerful tool to silence by forcing defendants in a costly fight for their freedom of expression and their organisations’ existence. This year’s Corporate Legal Accountability Annual Briefing by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre provides an in-depth analysis of nine emblematic case studies from Southeast Asia, and outlines the legal framework in which these lawsuits are brought, including emerging anti-SLAPPs regulation. The briefing also examines the legal and other tactics companies have used to silence HRDs; and analyses the legal strategies that lawyers have employed to successfully defend against SLAPPs while highlighting the role that courts have played in the region in either allowing or dismissing SLAPPs.

Key Findings

  • SLAPPs take place in a broader context of judicial harassment. 40% of all attacks on business-related HRDs globally [2015-2019] were judicial harassment, with numbers growing at an annual rate of 48%.
  • Judicial harassment appears to be the tactic of choice deployed by businesses operating in Southeast Asia to punish or silence defenders. Nearly half (44 %) of all attacks against HRDs in South East Asia constitute judicial harassment.
  • We recorded 127 cases of judicial harassment against HRDs in Southeast Asia between 2015 and 2019, including at least 30 SLAPPs, making Southeast Asia one of the most dangerous regions in the world for HRDs facing such threats.
  • In order to effectively fight SLAPPs in Southeast Asia and globally, we need robust legal frameworks that prevent companies from filing SLAPPs in the first place and allow courts to identify, call out and dismiss them as soon as they are filed. To make this happen, governments, businesses and investors, alongside defenders and civil society (and the lawyers who defend them), need to act decisively for the protection of civic freedoms and human rights defenders.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/28/ngos-demand-that-rules-against-strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapp-are-upgraded/

Full Briefing

Arpilleras making a come back as’ blankets that protect’

February 22, 2020

The success of ‘Art For Resistance: Quilts Of Women Human Rights Defenders’ was a wake up call to do everything in our power to protect the human rights of women. (Photos courtesy of Protection International)

Under the title “The blanket that protects Yvonne Bohwongprasert in the Bangkok Post of 19 February 2020 writes about these quilts as an art form to address human rights and encourage society to stand up and collectively fight for a social cause that impacts people from all walks of life.

Art For Resistance: Quilts Of Women Human Rights Defenders” was one such event with a powerful social message: “Have I done anything today to protect the rights of women?” The social-awareness event, which was launched in 2018, had a record 54 participants — two of whom happened to be men — sharing their personal stories of fighting for human rights in various sectors of society on colourful quilts they stitched together on their own. Besides the exhibition, there was a panel discussion on the situation of women human-rights defenders in a pseudo-democratic Thailand.

The idea of quilts to raise awareness on the issue came from the colourful quilt squares Chilean women used to tell their stories of life under the Pinochet dictatorship, which routinely violated human rights. Despite the lives of these women having been darkened by poverty and oppression, their vibrant and visually captivating denouncements were a strong tool of resistance. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arpilleras/

Protection International (PI) Thailand and the Canadian embassy in Thailand, played a vital role in staging this year’s event. PI representative Pranom Somwong said: “Each quilt tells a story of injustice and the fire in each woman to overcome her struggles by acquiring a relentless spirit to seek justice for their families and communities“.

 

A quilt inspired by Buku FC, a Deep South female football club made largely of Muslim women and a few men and LGBT individuals. Rumman Waeteh, left, and Suhaida Kutha, right, created the work. YVONNE BOHWONGPRASERT

ICJ Report on freedom of information in South East Asia especially on-line

December 23, 2019

Malaysian cartoonist Zunar helps launch a report by the International Commission of Jurists at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand.  (Photo by Osama Motiwala/ICJ))
Malaysian cartoonist Zunar helps launch a report by the International Commission of Jurists at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.  (Photo by Osama Motiwala/ICJ))

On 16 December 2019 Dave Kendall wrote in the Bankok Post about the International Commission of Jurists(ICJ), having released a report called Dictating the internet: Curtailing free expression, opinion and information online in Southeast Asia. The report was presetned at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, where some of the human rights defenders featured in the case studies participated in a panel discussion. The Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/18/fight-through-cartoons-zunar/] drew a cartoon live on stage; it showed a government figure placing handcuffs around the two ‘O’s in the word Google.

The ICJ has a slightly different take from other non-governmental organisations that seek to protect freedom of speech. For the ICJ, the law is both the problem and the solution: Southeast Asian governments use existing laws and draft new ones to stifle dissent, violating international statutes upholding freedom of expression that they themselves have signed onto. The report calls for governments in Southeast Asia to “repeal, amend or otherwise rectify existing legal and regulatory frameworks to bring them in line with their international obligations” — and argues that “legislation framed in human rights terms is also the best and most effective way to protect against the very real threats posed by the spread of hate speech, disinformation online, cyber-attacks and other cybercrimes.

From left: ICJ director of Asia and the Pacific Frederick Rawski, Myanmar surgeon Ma Thida, human rights defender Sutharee Wannasiri, Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham and Malaysian cartoonist Zunar (Photo by Dave Kendall)

“It’s not a pretty picture,Frederick Rawski, ICJ director of Asia and the Pacific told the forum. “Laws are used to harass and threaten human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and others…New legal frameworks are being seen as an opportunity to consolidate and protect political power.” Corporations, too, have joined the party. “Businesses are using strategic lawsuits to avoid criticism, claiming they are protecting their businesses interests,Sutharee Wannasiri told the audience. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/04/international-civil-society-week-3-human-rights-defenders-engaging-business/]. The human rights activist is out on bail.

Governments have often cited vague concepts of “national security” and “public order” to justify using disproportionate means to shut down opposing views, sometimes even when privately expressed. “I was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 1993,” said Dr Ma Thida, a Myanmar surgeon, writer, and human rights activist. “The first charge was ‘endangering national serenity’.” She said the use of speech-suppressing colonial-era laws such as the National Secrets Act has actually increased since Aung San Suu Kyi joined the Myanmar government.

Governments across Southeast Asia vary in the subtlety — or otherwise — they employ in using the law to stifle dissent. “The police were very nice to me,” recalled Jolovan Wham, a Singaporean civil and labour rights activist [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/24/human-rights-defender-jolovan-wham-in-singapore-sentenced-ngos-dismayed/]. “They asked me, ‘Is the room too cold? Would you like some biscuits?’ Singapore introduced its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act this year. “Singapore has a very good PR machine… they use democratic processes for authoritarian ends,” said Mr Wham. “They made a show of democratic consultation to justify this repressive law.

The ICJ report was welcomed by Sutawan Chanprasert, the founder of DigitalReach, a new organisation campaigning to protect digital rights in Southeast Asia. “The report shows that while technology gives more opportunities for people to express themselves on social media, the state is moving to control the online space too,” she told the Bangkok Post. “Under repressive ‘fake news’ laws, any content can be interpreted as ‘fake’, ‘false’ and ‘misleading’. And tech has provided a new kind of threat to freedom of expression– digital surveillance of political dissidents.

Southeast Asia: women on the frontlines of climate justice

January 21, 2016

Nathalie Margi writes in Open Democracy of 6 December 2015 that throughout Southeast Asia, hundreds of women environmental human rights defenders have been jailed, attacked and defamed as threats to “national security”. They remain without adequate resources, protection and funding for their work. In the piece entitled “Defending land and community: women on the frontlines of climate justice”, she says inter alia:  Read the rest of this entry »

ASEAN human rights defenders formulate demands ahead of People’s Forum later this month

April 1, 2015

ASEAN People's Forum

Casey Hynes reports on 26 March that human rights defenders are preparing to bring up strongly the case of their missing Laotian colleague Sombath Somphone at the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum that convenes in Kuala Lumpur on 21-24 April 2015. Sombath was kidnapped in Vientiane, Laos, in 2013 [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/laos-un-experts-on-two-year-old-disappearance-of-human-rights-defender-sombath-somphone/].

The ACSC/APF allows civil society activists from all the ASEAN countries to voice their concerns about rights violations in their countries, and become empowered by the strength in numbers there. In countries such as Laos and Vietnam, dissent is often suppressed with jail time or enforced disappearances, which makes it extremely dangerous for activists to speak out. Jerald Joseph, chair of the APF’s Regional Steering Committee, said that by coming to the forum, activists who face risks in their home countries find a safer space to voice their concerns.

ACSC/APF organizers recently condemned the crackdown on protesters in Burma, where 100 people were arrested for speaking out against a new education law. They also pointed to a spate of political arrests in Malaysia and the murder of Indonesian farmer and lands rights activist Indra Pelani, who was allegedly shot to death by “security guards of a subsidiary company of Asia Pulp and Paper”.

There are numerous cases where human rights defenders have just disappeared. Somchai Neelapaijit in Thailand, Sombath Somphone in Laos, and Jonas Burgos in the Philippines—where are they?” said Mugiyanto, a member of the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development.

The Laos government is notorious for restricting civil society activism, and for routinely committing human rights abuses. However, Laos is set to take over the ASEAN chairmanship in 2016, and Joseph said they’ll have to answer for some of their abuses when that happens. Already, civil society actors have been discussing the rights situation in Laos with activists and government officials there. “The conversation has started, and the pressure is up already,” he said in a phone interview.

Participating organizations sent a letter on behalf of the ACSC/APF to all the ASEAN member governments in January, highlighting their priorities for “reclaiming the ASEAN community for the people.”

The letter stated:

While ASEAN governments are heading towards developing the ASEAN Community’s Post-2015 Vision, the people of ASEAN continue to suffer from authoritarian and military regimes, increased militarisation, violence and armed conflicts, unlawful foreign interference, lack of fundamental freedoms and human rights violations, undemocratic processes, corruption and poor governance, development injustice, discrimination, inequality, and religious extremism and intolerance. …

The failure of ASEAN to meaningfully address the people’s issues is deeply rooted in the organisation’s continued adherence to a neo-liberal model that prioritizes corporate interests and elite groups, including state-owned enterprises, over the interests of the people. Our engagement with the ASEAN process is therefore anchored on a critique and rejection of deregulation, privatisation, government and corporate-led trade and investment policies that breed greater inequalities, accelerate marginalization and exploitation, and inhibit peace, democracy, development, and social progress in the region.

The authors identified four priorities for ASEAN governments to focus on: development justice; democratic processes, governance, and fundamental rights and freedoms; peace and security; and discrimination and inequality.

ASEAN rights activists demand change ahead of People’s Forum | Asian Correspondent.

Interview with Yuyun Wahyuningrum, Indonesian human rights defender, about ASEAN

June 14, 2014

On 20 June the ISHR Monitor published a portrait of Indonesian human rights defender Yuyun Wahyuningrum:

 

When human rights were included in the ASEAN Charter, which was adopted in 2008, Yuyun Wahyuningrum saw an opportunity to promote human rights discourse in the region through advocacy at ASEAN. Yuyun currently works as senior advisor on ASEAN and human rights for the Human Rights Working Group, a coalition of over 50 organisations working on human rights in Indonesia.

“Principles and values in human rights are something that we cannot negotiate” While the inclusion of human rights in the ASEAN Charter, and the creation of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in 2009 were concrete steps forwards in terms of promoting a human rights discourse, they also threw up challenges. One challenge has been the attempt by ASEAN States to impose their own interpretations of human rights standards that veer away from universality. It is imperative, says Yuyun, that AICHR should focus on complementing the global human rights system rather than breaking away from the principle of the universality of human rights.

“The role of civil society in influencing the debate is imperative” “AICHR will only gain legitimacy and authority on human rights if it develops a stronger partnership with civil society”

As an intergovernmental body AICHR struggles to balance its roles as a political body and as a human rights commission. The representatives of States on AICHR are nominated by governments and can be removed by them at any time. This has led to a lack of independence and a lack of political will to engage with its stakeholders, including the victims of human rights violations. Furthermore, ASEAN member States have been reticent in providing financial and technical support for the body which severely limits its capacity….Currently, AICHR is developing its ‘Guidelines on AICHR’s relations with civil society organisations’, which is to set out the modalities by which civil society can engage with the Commission. However the drafting process has been completely non-transparent to the extent that not only is it unclear when the document will be finalised, but it also remains to be seen whether the guidelines will promote or close down engagement by civil society.

“There is no ASEAN community without protection of human rights, especially the rights of those who defend the human rights of others” AICHR is not making any effort to interpret its mandate creatively so as to give itself the tools it needs to promote and protect human rights, including the ability to receive and investigate individual petitions, conduct country visits, issue precautionary measures to States, establish an effective early-warning system and response to emergency situations, and appoint independent experts. One interesting initiative was in fact proposed by a State. Indonesia invited AICHR to hear its report on the human rights situation in the country. This was inspired by the practice of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Thailand has agreed to be the next State to report to AICHR in August 2014. The regularisation of this initiative would be one way for AICHR to gain information on the situation of human rights in ASEAN States, as it is mandated to do.

After the first cycle of UPR the improvement of human rights in ASEAN countries still needs to be assessed in detail” As far as the international human rights system is concerned, and in particular the UPR and its impact on ASEAN States, the same resistance to international standards can be seen. For example, many of the recommendations accepted by ASEAN States are in those areas where they are most comfortable and confident that they have made progress such as the rights of persons with disabilities, human rights education, right to housing, women’s rights and children’s rights, amongst others. The recommendations most commonly raised by the international community, however, include torture, the protection of human rights defenders, freedom of opinion and expression, and cooperation with civil society at the national level, areas ASEAN States are reluctant to tackle. However, one improvement that has been seen in ASEAN countries through the UPR is a growing ratification rate of international instruments. While this may largely be because States see these as easy recommendations to satisfy, it does also provide tools for civil society in the struggle to ensure that universal human rights standards are not being diluted in the region.

For more information on the work of Yuyun and the Human Rights Working Group see http://www.hrwg.org/

Yuyun Wahyuningrum: Indonesian human rights defender | ISHR.

UN High Commissioner condemns disappearance of Billy in context of retaliation against environmentalist in South East Asia

May 6, 2014

The disappearance of Karen activist “Billy” has prompted the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights UNHCHR to condemn the “pattern of killings and forced disappearances of environmental activists in Southeast Asia” and to urge authorities to conduct thorough and independent investigations. “We are concerned about the lack of progress with an investigation into the disappearance of a prominent human rights defender in Thailand,” UNHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville said in a statement released on Friday 2 May. Read the rest of this entry »

Protecting ASEAN human rights defenders and the case of Sombath Somphone

April 30, 2014

This radio interview [http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/asia-pacific/whos-protecting-aseans-human-rights-defenders/1302596] is interesting because of its content but also because it found its way on the website of Terrorism Watch. If the implication is that forced disappearances are a form of state terrorism, the case of Sombath Somphone (discussed below) puts Laos in the docket:

A regional workshop in Bangkok has highlighted issues like enforced disappearances, legal support for families of the disappeared and peaceful assembly and association. High on the agenda is also protecting rights activists, within the ASEAN regional human rights system. Presenter: Sen Lam interviews Emmerlyne Gil, international legal advisor, International Commission of Jurists, Bangkok: Read the rest of this entry »

Jobs and volunteer posts at Front Line Defenders

March 20, 2014

Dublin-based Front Line Defenders seeks to recruit staff and volunteers in an open and transparent manner and to increase cultural diversity within the Front Line Defenders staff. Therefore, all positions are advertised via its website. Due to the volume of requests, it is not possible to keep general applications or CVs on file but it will respond to all applications by email. Two posts are open at the moment:

  • Digital Security Consultant Southeast Asia region
  • Digital Security Consultant MENA region

Front Line is also looking for:

  • Regional internship: Middle East & North Africa, Arabic-speaking
  • Regional internship: Europe, Central Asia & Asia, Russian-speaking
  • Admin & Publications Internship
  • Regional Internship: Africa & Americas Internship, Portuguese speaking
  • Frank Jennings Internship 2014/2015  (in Dublin and Geneva)
  • Front Line Defenders Internship for postgraduate students of Peking University China (in Dublin)

via https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/about/recruitment