Asia Rights

Journal of Human Rights, Media and Society in Asia and the Pacific

Archive for May, 2011

Victorian Police accused of racially profiling the Sudanese Community

Posted in Australia, News on May 4th, 2011

See here for the full ABC News article.

Victoria Police is under fire again, this time for apparently training some of its officers to racially profile members of Melbourne’s growing East African community.

The force has repeatedly denied it profiles communities based on their skin colour and stereotypes, but a document obtained by the ABC’s Lateline program seems to prove otherwise.

The African community and the Federal Race Discrimination Commissioner have condemned the reports.

The document appears to be a teaching aid – a set of PowerPoint computer documents.

Entitled African/Sudanese Community Cross Cultural Advice, it opens with a brief geography and history lesson about Africa and then a more detailed analysis of the religions, languages and other cultural traits of people from Africa’s Horn including Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

Then under the heading “Their appearance”, the training documents obtained by Lateline state people from that area of the world are tall, have skinny features and dark, tight curly hair.

They then describe varying degrees of skin colour at some length and lists the sorts of interactions police may have with East African refugees.

Young males will be found in public spaces, the documents say. They are likely to be involved in anti-social behaviour, armed robberies, alcohol, drugs and sexual assaults.

According to Federal Race Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, it is simply not enough that the documents also instruct police to treat individuals with respect and tolerance.

“I’m sure the training is put together with the best of intentions,” he said.

“But really to suggest that it’s appropriate to make judgments and decisions about any group of people on the basis of their race and behaviour which is suggested to be carried out by people of that race just doesn’t line up, doesn’t make sense.”

Victoria Police has acknowledged the training documents as genuine.

Inspector Charlie Allen says it is not racial profiling and the police have taken legal advice, which has come back saying the state’s human rights charter has not been breached.

“The document was developed in consultation with the Sudanese community, with Sudanese leaders,” he said.

“The document was about developing the cultural competence of our people to increase their understanding of the community, to improve relations with the community and to dispel racial stereotypes.”

A view on Ai Weiwei’s Exit by Geremie R. Barmé

Posted in China, News on May 4th, 2011

From the China Beat By Geremie R. Barmé see here for the original article.

This essay was written on the eve of the 2 May unveiling by New York City and the arts group AW Asia of Ai Weiwei’s “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” at the Pulitzer Fountain, Grand Army Plaza (located at the south-east corner of Central Park). That sculptural work is the artist’s over-sized comment on the controversy surrounding the auctioning of two of the twelve bronze “Zodiac Heads” plundered in 1860 from the Garden of Perfect Brightness (Yuanming Yuan, which is always erroneously referred to as the “Old Summer Palace”), the Qing-era garden palace to the northwest of Beijing. As Weiwei said of his reinterpretation of the originals:

My work is always dealing with real or fake, authenticity, what the value is, and how the value relates to current political and social understandings and misunderstandings. I think there’s a strong humorous aspect there. The [Yves Saint-Laurent] zodiac auction [in February 2009] really complicated the issues about art, about the real, about fake, resources, looting, about the appreciation of objects—all these kinds of issues. [From an interview with the artist by Eugene Kan]

[For further background to the “Zodiac Heads” of the Garden of Perfect Brightness and the history, as well as the contemporary significance, of China’s formerly ignored “national ruin,” see China Heritage Quarterly, No.8 (December 2006).]

Ai Weiwei’s “Zodiac Heads”

In the event, as an Australian writing about Ai Weiwei and the broader context of his detention at this time, it seemed timely in another regard as our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was undertaking on 25-28 April her first visit to Beijing as head of government. On her arrival the PM was peremptorily cautioned by the Chinese ambassador in Canberra to be mindful of the country’s “tremendous progress” in the area of human rights. While by necessity economics dominated the state visit, as it indeed dominates the bilateral relationship, issues related to minorities, Christian groups and human rights abuses could not easily be avoided. Not surprisingly, Gillard was reassured by the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, that the country was not “taking a backward step” in these areas, despite glaring evidence to the contrary widely reported in the international media.

It is also worth noting a 22 April 2011 opinion piece in The Global Times in which the official Chinese stance, one that is repeatedly critical of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s stewardship of the Australia-China relationship in 2008-2010, was made quite clear:

What is especially unacceptable to the Chinese people is Australia’s challenging of Chinese values. The two countries are vastly different in their national situations, especially in term [sic] of population. If China has no right to make light of the Australian model, Australian should not belittle the 1.3 billion Chinese people’s right to choose their own political path, either.

We hope Gillard can bring some changes. The Australian government should at least show basic respect to China. This is one of the fundamental rules of this civilized world.

Moreover, Canberra should be more tolerant toward a rising China. This will also make Australia happier. [See: “Redefining Australia-China Ties”]

In the particular lexicon of the party-state, “basic respect” means support or at least tacit acceptance of even the most egregious acts of Chinese officialdom.

Fortuitously, an English-language selection of Ai Weiwei’s Internet writings has recently appeared, providing the general reader, as well as easily cowed foreign government officials, a first-hand account of how a major contemporary Chinese cultural figure sees the dilemmas surrounding “basic respect” in China today. [See Lee Ambrozy, ed., Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009, Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press, 2011.] I should also not that, in mid April, a major international petition addressed to the Chinese Minister of Culture on behalf of Ai Weiwei was launched by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and, at the time of writing, had amassed 123,509 signatures, a number that continued to grow, despite attempts by unidentified hackers to disable the host site. [For the online petition, see here.] One would observe that presumably to the Beijing authorities such international support merely confirms their view that Weiwei is a nefarious agent of the West, itself hell-bent on regime change and “peaceful evolution” in China.—Geremie R. Barmé

***

On 11 February 2010, in response to a question from a foreign journalist the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu observed: “There are no dissidents in China.” This came only hours after a Beijing court had quashed an appeal by Liu Xiaobo, the democracy advocate who had been jailed for eleven-years on charges of “subverting the state.” The charges related to his involvement in the Charter 08 petition movement. Asked to elaborate, Ma said: “In China, you can judge yourself whether such a group exists. But I believe this term is questionable.”

Shortly after the People’s Republic was declared a “dissident-free country,” the artist and cultural blogger Ai Weiwei offered his analysis of Chinese-style doublethink via Twitter:

Foreign Affairs Ma’s statement contains a number of layers of meaning:

1. Dissidents are criminals;

2. Only criminals have dissenting views;

3. The distinction between criminals and non-criminals is whether they have dissenting views;

4. If you think China has dissidents, you are a criminal;

5. The reason [China] has no dissidents is because they are [in fact already] criminals;

6. Does anyone have a dissenting view regarding my statement?

On 3 April this year, Ai Weiwei was detained while preparing to board a flight to Hong Kong. It is claimed that he had been taken into custody on suspicion of economic crimes. Whatever that case may be, there is little doubt that the Chinese party-state had finally decided to silence its most outspoken free-range dissident.

For some years observers have marveled at what for official China was extraordinary leniency towards Weiwei’s increasingly provocative behavior and statements. In a sense, from 2008, he became a one-man work of dissenting performance art (although the harassed popular activists, lawyers, journalists, academics, aggrieved citizens, Christians and NGO figures subject to what has since become the worst period of repression since 1989 are never far from mind). Many have enjoyed the spectacle; others have dreaded the reckoning. In the end, there were rumors that amidst the police provocation and escalating bullying, the authorities had also essayed a softer, tried-and-true formula, one that had worked with so many other disaffected members of the élite over the years: they are said to have offered Ai Weiwei membership in the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. After all, if he wanted to seek redress for injustices or to raise his voice in protest, where better than within the capacious tent created by the party in the 1950s? The NCCPPCC was after all a broad, if impuissant, church that had become the last refuge for so many of the thinking men and women of China who had initially been lured to support the party in the 1940s only to suffer betrayal subsequently. It also offers impotent status to numerous other cultural and business worthies today. Someone must have thought it was a perfect fit for Weiwei. When the artist rejected this final, and to the bureaucratic mind, magnanimous gesture, however, and given the atmosphere of alarm generated by events in the Middle East, conciliation necessarily gave way to confrontation.

Although known to cognoscenti of China’s alternative cultural scene from the late 1970s, Weiwei shot both to local and to international prominence for his role as a design consultant to the Swiss architects of Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium, the main site of the 2008 Olympics. Although his role in that project was lauded by the authorities, at the same time, for the years around China’s Olympic moment, Weiwei, in what have been described as Internet “rants”, recorded his mounting outrage at the glaring clash between his country’s avowed new openness and the party-state’s old repressive, corrupt and mendacious ways. Like so many before him, he well knew that the price for candour would be high. In a blog-post dated 13 April 2009, for instance, he wrote: “The truth is always terrible, unfit for presentation, unspeakable, and difficult for the people to handle, just speaking the truth would be ‘subversion of the state’.” [From Ai Weiwei’s Blog, p.218.]

Some commentators have remarked that the relentless appetite of the international media for China controversy in recent years served to goad Weiwei into making ever more extreme statements, ones that would lead to the same place that outspokenness has guided so many others before him: jail. All the while his words were not easily accessible in China itself, where despite often extraordinary official toleration he was regarded as being too much of a firebrand, or rather as a noxious figure who contributed to upsetting the chummy relationship between power, commerce and global capital. It is now virtually de rigueur for writers to hedge their remarks about prickly individuals like Weiwei and their plangent fate with the balm of happier observations to do with general overall improvements in China, its relatively flourishing intellectual scene, the lot of the common man and woman, and so on and so forth. But it is too easy to take Weiwei’s splenetic rants as constituting his only message, for him to be out of kilter with the times, a distasteful (if colourful) irritant to “business as usual”, or indeed to regard international readers as his predominant audience.

Rather Weiwei has been very much a Chinese critic, addressing internal concerns but speaking far beyond the borders of the party-state. In fact, he belongs to a long line of modern Chinese thinkers and cultural figures whose moral outrage in the face of tyranny has taken the form of lambast, irony or biting satire. Lu Xun (d.1936) is the most famous in this lineage, but their number also includes the early Republican journalist Huang Yuansheng (murdered in 1915), Deng Tuo (committed suicide in 1966), Yu Luoke (executed in the early 1970s), the Taiwan-based writers Bo Yang and Li Ao, the Hong Kong humorists Hah Kung and Yau-ma-tei, the essayist Lung Ying-tai (recently banned in China), the journalist Dai Qing (censored since 1989), the novelist Chan Koon-chung (banned in China), the playwright Wu Zuguang, a man still celebrated although his sharp criticisms are deleted from the record, and the blogger Han Han, who still remains at large. Then, of course, there is the imprisoned Liu Xiaobo.

These are but a few of China’s voices of conscience; their ideas, and their fate, have not been limited to a particular Chinese polity, rather they are part of the “Chinese commonwealth.” It is a commonwealth that has finally achieved much in material terms, but one that has repeatedly failed to realise the promise of a more equitable, free and democratic society, one championed by the Xinhai Revolution that marks its centenary this year.

In the context of this century-old lineage then Ai Weiwei was treading very familiar ground when he published blog-posts during the dizzying days of the Beijing Olympics, including the following, which appeared on the last day of the Olympics, 18 August 2008:

For a moment, forget the struggle between tyranny and civil rights; forget the extravagant dreams of referendums or citizen votes. We should struggle for and protect those most basic, miniscule bits of power that we truly cannot cast aside: freedom of speech and rule of law. Return basic rights to the people, endow society with basic dignity, and only then can we have confidence and take responsibility, and thus face our collective difficulties. Only rule of law can make the game equal, and only when it is equal can people’s participation possibly be extraordinary.[From Ai Weiwei’s Blog, pp.181-82.]

For its part the Chinese press has been unequivocal in stating why this gadfly artist has been disappeared now, despite the nebulous talk in Beijing about his “economic malfeasance.” In an article published under the name Liu Yiheng that appeared in the Hong Kong version of the official mainland daily Wenhui Bao on 15 April, Weiwei is denounced for “five poisons”. These are his: 1. Contempt for art and public decency; 2. Allowing himself to become a tool of the West’s anti-China machinations; 3. Flouting of numerous laws; 4. For being a suspected bigamist; and, 5. For insulting the nation. [See, Liu Yiheng, “Ai Weiwei zhen mianmu: Wu wan yishujia—wu du ju quan,” Hong Kong Wenhui Bao, 15 April 2011, A2.]

The attack was written in the cloacal prose so favoured by party hacks since the early Maoist days of the 1940s—a style that combines the diction of the guttersnipe with a posture of high dudgeon. The nub of the matter, the article avers, is that for years Weiwei has been producing “art that confounds the boundary between the artistic and the political; in fact, he uses it to engage in political activities.” The author then sums up Ai’s crime du jour: “During the recent unrest in the Middle East he actively encouraged local protesters and has intimate links with those who are plotting a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in China itself.”

The article was accompanied by a photographic work by the artist featuring Ai Weiwei standing in front of Tiananmen Gate with the English word “FUCK” stencilled in red on his bare chest. “Not only does this reflect the hooligan nature of Ai as a person,” the denunciation claims, “it reveals his contempt for our nation, evidence that he is a pawn in the anti-Chinese machinations of the West.” After deliciously listing Chinese dialectical variations of the word “fuck” the author quotes Ai on why he decided to employ an English rather than a Chinese term: “I’m offering this to foreign friends who understand the word and who love China.”

The attack ends with a reminder that the artist’s long-dead father was the famous patriotic poet Ai Qing. The poet’s son, however, “insults the Chinese nation, shows contempt for the state and is inciting rebellion.” The official Chinese media can always be relied on to outstrip the irony of even the most pointed critic: One of the things that forced Weiwei into open rebellion against the government was his fury at the repression of popular protests over the death of thousands of children in the Wenchuan Earthquake of April 2008 due to shoddy school-building construction. The faux-official commentator ignores this and concludes that only days after the earthquake Ai Weiwei had posted a performance art piece that featured oral sex. “His brazen contempt for basic moral decency is horrifying,” comes the rebuke. “If Ai Qing knew of this in the afterlife he would surely rebuke this unfilial son.”

I first met Ai Qing in late 1978, shortly after the family had been brought back from decades of internal exile. I was introduced to them by a mutual friend, the translator Gladys Yang. Gladys knew of my interest in Chinese literary history and the fate suffered by dissenting Chinese writers under the Communists. In particular there was the 1942 purge in Yan’an when Mao condemned arrant writers like Ai Qing, Ding Ling and Wang Shiwei for their criticisms of party corruption and privilege. As the tough-talking army man Wang Zhen put it at the time (much to Mao’s approval): “Our comrades are shedding blood and dying on the front line for the party and the People of China, while you’re eating your fill and attacking the party in safety” (qianfangde tongzhi wei dang wei quanguo renmin liuxie xisheng, nimen zai houfang chibaofan ma dang). Accused of threatening the party’s unity all three were detained. After a harrowing, often violent, re-education campaign Ai and Ding were “rescued”. They had recognized the follies of their ways and were subject to the party’s munificence. Wang Shiwei, however, condemned as a Trotskyite and a KMT spy was beheaded in 1947.

After his second rehabilitation in the late 1970s (he fell foul of the authorities again in 1957), Ai Qing would be lauded as a great poet, a patriot and a faithful party man. But during our first meeting in 1978 it was obvious that both he and his wife, Gao Ying, were profoundly shell-shocked. The Cultural Revolution was not long over and de-Maoification was only just starting in earnest. As Gladys and I got up to leave he gave me a copy of a new poem entitled “Living Fossils” (Huo huashi). With a grin he said, “This is autobiographical.” It was about a gambolling fish caught up in a sudden cataclysm. Discovered millions of years later it looked as vital as the day on which it had been buried alive. “But you are silent, breathless,/… Faced with this fossil/ any fool can see:/ We cannot live unless we can move./ To live is to struggle, /to advance/ We must expend our all/ Before the advance of death.”

The sentiment behind that poem is worth recalling now that Ai Qing’s son, Weiwei, has been immobilized. Idiosyncratic and highly individualistic, influenced by a youth spent in the company of his exiled parents and long years in New York, Weiwei is also part of a unique generation. The men and women of that generation were witness to the hysterical rise and the ignominious failure of the political ideals of the Mao era; it’s a generation that has been at the forefront of the inventive changes that have created China’s miracle, and have laid the foundations for its future potential.

Of the artistic avant-garde that developed from the 70s but gained international recognition only from the 1990s, few like Ai Weiwei have maintained the bond between creativity and arrant opinion. Many have absorbed the lessons of the repeated political campaigns of the 1980s, and have learnt well the rules of China’s “velvet prison,” one which offers generous rewards to those who master the canny art of post-socialist survival. Today, a majority of the celebrated stars of the Chinese arts are complicit in the party-state enterprise that permits them a measure of artistic license as well as boundless freedom to make money. It is a formula that works well too for foreign investors, governments and cultural bodies alike. But increasingly, Ai Weiwei and a few other bold individuals confound this comfortable arrangement. They offer words of caution in an age of exuberance, theirs are voices of possibility that draw on the past, as well as the present, to speak to China’s future, or at they least pinpoint today the hazards that block the way ahead. Many—and not just the authorities—would prefer them silenced, if not merely for the sake of political expediency, then because their existence pricks the conscience of those who have learnt how to accommodate themselves to China’s regnant harmony.

One of the rare few to have spoken out on Weiwei’s behalf is the immensely popular Shanghai-based blogger Han Han. On 14 April, he released a blog-post entitled “Good-bye, Ai Weiwei!” Needless to say, it was soon “harmonized” from the mainland Chinese Internet. In that short essay he speaks of his sorrow at hearing the news of Weiwei’s demise. Among other things he declares:

I don’t want to make any more appeals; nor do I have the energy to call for anything. Starting from the founding of this dynasty in 1949: the Anti-Rightist Movement, the Cultural Revolution, the Strike Hard Campaigns, the Student Movement, the Campaign to Maintain Stability… in each and every one of these periods countless people of conscience have been jailed, and countless individuals of conscience have been executed. Why is the Five-Star Red Flag so very red? That’s because it’s soaked in the fresh blood of countless men and women of conscience.

Ai Weiwei spoke out on behalf of petitioners; he spoke out on behalf of those harmed by melamine in milk; he spoke out on behalf of the primary school students killed in the Wenchuan Earthquake. Ai Weiwei can speak out no more. Who among us will speak out now on behalf of Ai Weiwei? If indeed there are none either with the courage or the sense of decency to speak out today, then the old catch-cry of China’s dynasties past—“Ten thousand long years of life to the Emperor!”—will finally have come true again. Let me conclude with a line from a song by Li Zhi: “The best era is one in which the people don’t need freedom.” [From Han Han, “Zai jian! Ai Weiwei.”]

Ai Weiwei’s denouement would have been long contemplated and carefully considered by the authorities. Its potential to generate international embarrassment and opprobrium has clearly been offset by its immediate, symbolic, and practical impact. But Ai Weiwei’s exit is only a short-term solution to an intractable long-term problem: whither China? Meanwhile, it confronts the West and even the very people who claim cultural fellowship with him.

For years Ai Weiwei’s brazen truth-telling has been a challenge to the other prominent darlings of the international film, art and literary circuit. Will they now stand in solidarity with one of their own, even though he has repeatedly caused them discomfort? Or will they, like the hundreds of other “transgressive” (that is, “naughty but not dangerous”) representatives of China’s globally vaunted new culture, remain silent and continue to enjoy the rewards available to those who acquiesce in measured cultural repression while never having to take a stand?

Prominent Human Rights Lawyer Li Fangping Abducted in Beijing

Posted in China, News on May 4th, 2011

Prominent Human Rights Lawyer Li Fangping Abducted in Beijing: Around 5 pm local time on April 29, human rights lawyer Li Fangping (李方平) was kidnapped by unidentified individuals outside the offices of the health rights NGO Beijing Yirenping Center, of which he is a legal advisor. Li was able to speak briefly with his wife, telling her, “I may be gone for a period of time… can’t talk more.” Further efforts to contact him have been unsuccessful, and his whereabouts are unknown. For more information on his disappearance on the China Human Rights Defender website, please see here.

Individuals Affected by the Crackdown Following Call for “Jasmine Revolution”

Posted in China, News on May 4th, 2011

Individuals Affected by the Crackdown Following Call for “Jasmine Revolution”

Updated May 3, 2011

The Chinese government has criminally detained a total of 40 individuals since mid-February after anonymous calls for “Jasmine Revolution” protests first appeared online. As of today, six of the criminally detained have been formally arrested, two have been sent to Re-education through Labor (RTL) camps, 24 have been released (out of which 19 have been released on bail to await trial) while eight remain detained.

In addition, two people have been placed under residential surveillance while about 17 activists remain missing.

See here for the full report from the CHRD, China Human Rights Defenders.

Amnesty International on North Korean political prison camps

Posted in Korea, News on May 4th, 2011

Images reveal scale of North Korean political prison camps

Images of Yodok showed several buildings had been added since 2001

Images of Yodok showed several buildings had been added since 2001

© 2011 DigitalGlobe, Inc

Images of the Haengyong camp indicated signs of ongoing mining activity

Images of the Haengyong camp indicated signs of ongoing mining activity

© 2011 ImageSat, Intl

A photo of the Oh family from 1991 is the only known picture taken inside Yodok

A photo of the Oh family from 1991 is the only known picture taken inside Yodok

© Private

3 May 2011

Amnesty International has published satellite imagery and new testimony that shed light on the horrific conditions in North Korea’s network of political prison camps, which hold an estimated 200,000 people.

The images reveal the location, size and conditions inside the camps.  Amnesty International spoke to a number of people, including former inmates from the political prison camp at Yodok as well as guards in other political prison camps, to obtain information about life in the camps.

According to former detainees at the political prison camp at Yodok, prisoners are forced to work in conditions approaching slavery and are frequently subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.   All the detainees at Yodok have witnessed public executions.

“North Korea can no longer deny the undeniable. For decades the authorities have refused to admit to the existence of mass political prison camps,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International Asia Pacific Director.

“These are places out of sight of the rest of the world, where almost the entire range of human rights protections that international law has tried to set up for last 60 years are ignored.”

“As North Korea seems to be moving towards a new leader in Kim Jong-un and a period of political instability, the big worry is that the prison camps appear to be growing in size.”

Amnesty International believes the camps have been in operation since the 1950s, yet only three people are ever known to have escaped Total Control Zones and managed to leave North Korea. About 30 are known to have been released from the Revolutionary Zone at Political Prison Camp in Yodok and managed to leave North Korea. According to the testimony of a former detainee at the revolutionary zone in the political prison camp at Yodok, an estimated 40 per cent of inmates died from malnutrition .between 1999 and 2001.

Satellite images show four of the six camps occupying huge areas of land and located in vast wilderness sites in South Pyongan, South Hamkyung and North Hamkyung provinces, and producing products ranging from soy bean paste and sweets to coal and cement.

A comparison of the latest images with satellite imagery from 2001 indicates a significant increase in the scale of the camps.

In just one camp, Kwanliso 15 at Yodok, thousands of people are believed to be held as “guilty-by-association” or sent to the camps simply because one of their relatives has been detained.

The majority of prisoners, including some of those ‘guilty-by-association’, are held in areas known as ‘Total Control Zones’ from which they will never be released.

A significant proportion of those sent to the camps don’t even know what crimes they’re accused of.

Amnesty International spoke to former detainees of the political prison camp known as Kwanliso 15 at Yodok.

A former inmate, Kim, told Amnesty International: “Everyone in Kwanliso witnessed executions. When I was an inmate in Kwanliso15 at Yodok, all those who tried to escape were caught. They were interrogated for two to three months and then executed.”

Jeong Kyoungil was first arrested in 1999 and detained in Yodok from 2000-2003. Amnesty International interviewed Jeong in Seoul in April 2011.

“A room around 50m² in size, is where the 30 or 40 political prisoners sleep in. We sleep on some sort of bed made out of a wooden board with a blanket to cover. A day starts at 4am with an early shift, also called the ‘pre-meal shift’, until 7am. Then breakfast from 7am to 8am but the meal is only 200g of poorly prepared corn gruel for each meal. Then there is a morning shift from 8am to 12pm and a lunch until 1pm. Then work again from 1pm to 8pm and dinner from 8pm to 9pm. From 9pm to 11pm, it’s time for ideology education. If we don’t memorize the ten codes of ethics we would not be allowed to sleep. This is the daily schedule.”

“200g of poorly prepared corn gruel in a bowl would only be given if we finish our daily tasks. If not, we would not be given any food. The daily task is sweeping off overgrown weeds on fields. Everyone would be assigned to 1157 m² of field and only the people who finish off their task would be given food. If you only finish half of your assigned task, you would only be given half of your food.”

“Seeing people die happened frequently – every day. Frankly, unlike in a normal society, we would like it rather than feel sad because if you bring a dead body and bury it, you would be given another bowl of food. I used to take charge of burying dead people’s bodies. When an officer told me to, I gathered some people and buried the bodies. After receiving extra food for the job, we felt glad rather than feeling sad.”

The North Korean authorities are also known to use a cube ‘torture cell’, where it is impossible to either stand or lie down. “Disruptive inmates” are thrown in for at least one week, but Amnesty International is aware of one case of a child thrown into the cell for eight months.

In most of the camps, no clothing is provided and prisoners face harsh winters. Inmates are also expected to work long hours undertaking strenuous and often pointless manual labour.

Food in the camps is scarce. Amnesty International has been told of several accounts of people eating rats or picking corn kernels out of animal waste purely to survive, despite the risks – anyone caught risks solitary confinement or other torture.

“Hundreds of thousands of people exist with virtually no rights, treated essentially as slaves, in some of the worst circumstances we’ve documented in the last 50 years,” said Sam Zarifi.

“Conditions in these camps are inhuman and Kim Jong-il must close them immediately.”

See here for the original Amnesty report.

AsiaRights Seminar, Thursday 5 May: Violence and the Partiality of Truth: The Difficulty of Documenting Human Rights Violations After May 2010 in Thailand

Posted in News on May 4th, 2011

The third discussion of semester 1 will be held next week on Thursday, 5 May 2011. We will meet from 3,30 to 5 p.m. in the PSC reading room (4th floor, Hedley Bull Centre, ANU Bldg 130) for a seminar and discussion on the topic of “Violence and the Partiality of Truth: The Difficulty of Documenting Human Rights Violations After May 2010 in Thailand,” and will be led by Tyrell Haberkorn.

For those who are interested, after the seminar we will adjourn to University House to continue our discussion informally over drinks.

Death Penalty in Asia

Posted in News on May 4th, 2011

Death penalty report: China must end secrecy surrounding sentences and executions

Overview of the death penalty for 2009 by Amnesty International © Amnesty International 

See here for full details of the Amnesty report.

30 March 2010

Amnesty International on Tuesday challenged the Chinese authorities to reveal how many people they execute and sentence to death, as the organization published its world overview of the death penalty for 2009.

The report, Death Sentences and Executions in 2009, reveals that at least 714 people were executed in 18 countries and at least 2001 people were sentenced to death in 56 countries last year.

This excludes the thousands of executions that were likely to have taken place in China, where information on the death penalty remains a state secret.

In a challenge to China’s lack of transparency, Amnesty International has decided not to publish its own minimum figures for Chinese executions and death sentences in 2009. Estimates based on the publicly available information grossly under represent the actual number the state killed or sentenced to death.

“The death penalty is cruel and degrading, and an affront to human dignity,” said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s Interim Secretary General.

“The Chinese authorities claim that fewer executions are taking place. If this is true, why won’t they tell the world how many people the state put to death?”

Amnesty International’s research shows that countries that still carry out executions are the exception rather than the rule. In addition to China, the worst offending nations were Iran with at least 388 executions, Iraq at least 120, Saudi Arabia at least 69 and the USA with 52.

The past year saw capital punishment applied extensively to send political messages, to silence opponents or to promote political agendas in China, Iran and Sudan, according to Amnesty International’s report.

In Iran, 112 executions were known to have taken place in the eight-week period between the presidential election on 12 June and the inauguration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second term as President on 5 August.

The report addresses the discriminatory way the death penalty was applied in 2009, often after grossly unfair trials, and used disproportionately against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic and religious communities.

Yet the figures also show that the world continued to move towards abolition in 2009. The number of countries that have removed capital punishment entirely from their laws rose to 95 as Burundi and Togo abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

For the first year since Amnesty International began keeping records, no executions took place in Europe in 2009. Belarus is the only country in the region that continues to use the death penalty.  Across the Americas, the USA was the only country to carry out executions.

“Fewer countries than ever before are carrying out executions. As it did with slavery and apartheid, the world is rejecting this embarrassment to humanity,” said Claudio Cordone. “We are moving closer to a death penalty free world, but until that day every execution must be opposed.”

Regional Summaries:

  • In Asia, thousands of executions were likely to have taken place in China, where information on the death penalty remains a state secret. Only seven other countries were known to have carried out executions – Bangladesh, Japan, North Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam – with 26 executions known to have taken place. Afghanistan, Indonesia, Mongolia and Pakistan did not carry out executions in 2009, the first execution-free year in those countries in recent times.
  • In the Middle East and North Africa at least 624 executions were known to have been carried out in seven countries: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. Saudi Arabia and Iran executed seven people who were under 18 at the time of the alleged offence, in violation of international law. Several countries – Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco/Western Sahara and Tunisia – maintained longstanding moratoriums on executions.
  • No executions took place in Europe in 2009. Belarus remains the only nation to use the death penalty in the region. Although no one was executed in the former Soviet country last year, two people were killed by the state in March 2010.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa only two countries executed prisoners: Botswana and Sudan. The largest mass commutation of death sentences ever known to Amnesty International took place in Kenya as the government announced that more than 4,000 condemned prisoners would have their sentences commuted to imprisonment.

The Burma-China Pipelines

Posted in News, Southeast Asia on May 4th, 2011

The Burma-China Pipelines: Human Rights Violations, Applicable Law, and Revenue Secrecy. The report by EarthRights International links Chinese and Korean oil companies with serious rights abuses in military-ruled Burma (Myanmar), which include land confiscation, torture, forced labor, and other abuses. See here for the press release from EarthRights International.

BURMA (1): Militarization, Development and Displacement: Conditions for villagers in southern Tenasserim Division. A report by the Karen Human Rights Group

Posted in News, Southeast Asia on May 4th, 2011

Villagers in Te Naw Th’Ri Township, Tenasserim Division face human rights abuses and threats to their livelihoods, attendant to increasing militarization of the area following widespread forced relocation campaigns in the late 1990s. Efforts to support and strengthen Tatmadaw presence throughout Te Naw Th’Ri have resulted in practices that facilitate control over the civilian population and extract material and labour resources while at the same time preventing non-state armed groups from operating or extracting resources of their own. Villagers who seek to evade military control and associated human rights abuses, meanwhile, report Tatmadaw attacks on civilians and civilian livelihoods in upland hiding areas. This report draws primarily on information received between September 2009 and November 2010 from Te Naw Th’Ri Township, Tenasserim Division. See here for the full report.

DeepSouthWatch Report on 7 years of Violence in Southern Thailand

Posted in News, Southeast Asia on May 4th, 2011

SEE HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE ON DeepSouthWatch.com

Srisompob Jitpiromsri
Deep South Watch
March 31, 2011

That violence has brought about 12,126 victims within 7 years inevitably makes Thailand’s southernmost region one of the hotspot, most sensitive areas in the world.

Click image to view large scale.

Monthly statistics of violence during January 2004 to February 1011 have shown that there were 10,660 incidents of violence. Since 2007, the decreasing level of violence is noteworthy, but exceedingly fluctuated patterns of violence situation are also evident in recent months after that year. The conspicuous amount of violence could be seen in June and September of last year (2010). Nevertheless, by the beginning of 2011, the insurgency-related violence climbed up again. The higher level of violent incidence implies that the 2011 may be another year of living dangerously in Southern border provinces of Thailand and might be considered a decisive year of Southern insurgency, if the upper trend of violence continues to hold.

Click image to view large scale.

It is also noteworthy that level of monthly casualties still has been oscillated over years regardless the significantly lesser amount of violent incidents since 2007. Moreover, the trend of monthly casualties appears to be steeply upward starting from November of 2010 until February of 2011. The insurgent violence constitutes the numbers of shootings, bombs, and raids at the military camps.

As a consequence, during 86 months beginning from January 2004 to February 2011, there were 10,660 incidents of violence, which have led to considerably soaring records of casualties, 4,631 fatalities and 7,505 injuries. The majority of death tolls were Muslims and, on the contrary, most of the injuries constitute the Buddhist civilians. That violence has brought about 12,126 victims within 7 years makes Thailand’s southernmost region one of the hotspot, most sensitive areas in the world.