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Amnesty Gives ASEAN a Mixed Report

Amnesty International, the well-known international non-governmental organisation, has released 2007’s version of its annual report on human rights around the world. The verdict on the ASEAN region is, as ever, mixed: “The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) took steps towards a greater role for human rights in its work. However, Asia and the Pacific remained alone in having no regional human rights mechanism, and on the ground improvements in human rights protections were patchy.”

The report goes on to describe the impact of globalisation in the region, noting the opportunities it provides by cautioning about increasing income inequalities: “Economic development held great promise but failed to improve the lives of the many who are marginal or suffer discrimination, such as women and ethnic minorities, as underlying structures of inequality remained deeply embedded. The processes of wealth creation benefited limited numbers, as large swathes of the region’s population remained in poverty with little or no access to adequate health care, education or housing.” Among those who have lost out are the many displaced people in Myanmar – 16,000 Karens, as well as the estimated 150,000 refugees on the Thai-Myanmar border and 7,000 Lao Hmongs on the Thai-Lao border. As for Thailand itself, the report observes that: In “Thailand, violence continued in the mainly Muslim southern provinces. Armed groups bombed, beheaded or shot Muslim and Buddhist civilians, including monks and teachers, and members of the security forces. Those who tried to take action on these and other abuses faced death threats and violent attacks, sometimes leading to death. Under the Emergency Decree, scores of people were detained arbitrarily without charge or trial, denied access to lawyers, and some were tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogation.”

There is praise for the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia for having joined the new UN Human Rights Council and for the rather modest steps taken towards tolerance for homosexuals in the Philippines, where activism increased. However, the same country is censured for widespread political killings and the fear felt by those who would wish to speak out against them.

Singapore is criticized for its ‘increasingly close control’ on freedom of expression and assembly and because the government’s stated commitment to building a more open society ‘did not materialise.’
Indonesia receives forthright criticism on a number of counts: “Perpetrators of human rights violations continued to enjoy impunity for violations which occurred in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) and Papua. In Papua, cases of extrajudicial executions, torture and excessive use of force were reported. Across the country, ill-treatment or torture in detention facilities and police lock-ups continued to be widely reported. Three people were executed in September, sparking increased debate about the death penalty. At least 13 people were sentenced to death. Freedom of expression remained under threat with at least eight people prosecuted for peacefully expressing opinions.”

Malaysia receives a mixed report, at least in comparison with its neighbours: “The year ended without the government fulfilling its pledge to establish an independent police complaints commission. At least 80 men accused of links to Islamist extremist groups were held without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to be constrained by restrictive laws. People suspected of being irregular migrants or asylum-seekers were harassed and detained in harsh conditions pending deportation. Hundreds of people, mostly alleged irregular migrants, were imprisoned or caned after unfair trials. Death sentences continued to be passed and four executions were carried out.”

Viet Nam too is slated for its harassment of individuals on religious grounds and its treatment of some ethnic minority people, as well as its continued use of the death penalty. For Laos, little information is available because of the lack of independent human rights observers, although the situation of groups of the Hmong ethnic minority group hiding in the jungle is said to be ‘grave.’ Cambodia is slated for its forcible eviction of 10,000 urban poor as part of the ongoing land crisis, together with estrictions of freedom of assembly and the use of the courts to suppress political dissent. As ever, it is Myanmar who receives the strongest criticism: “The human rights situation deteriorated during the year, as the authorities stepped up repression against both armed and peaceful political opposition throughout the country. The UN Security Council placed Myanmar on its formal agenda. Widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, amounting to possible crimes against humanity, were committed in the course of military activities in Kayin State and Bago Division. As the authorities continued with plans to draft a new Constitution, activists were pressured into resigning from political parties. Scores of arrests continued throughout the year of people engaged in peaceful political activities or other non-violent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and association. At the year end most senior opposition figures were imprisoned or administratively detained, among more than 1,185 political prisoners held in deteriorating prison conditions. At least two people were sentenced to death.”

Of course, there will be debate and consideration about the veracity of these findings but few will really doubt the underlying truth of this report.
The report is freely available online at:

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