Asia Rights

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Archive for August, 2011

UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons: “Thailand must do more to combat human trafficking effectively”

Posted in Southeast Asia on August 26th, 2011

See here for original article in Prachatai on 21st August 2011.

UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons: “Thailand must do more to combat human trafficking effectively”

Sun, 21/08/2011 – 00:15 | by prachatai

Karin Frodé

Following her 11 day long anti-trafficking mission (August 8-19) visiting Chiang Mai, Mae Sot, Samut Sakhon, Songkhla and Tak, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Ms. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo returned to Bangkok to hold a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding her preliminary findings and recommendations.

The conclusions drawn by the Special Rapporteur are shaped by her dialogues with Government representatives, judiciary, civil society organizations, as well as with trafficking victims themselves, the importance of which Ms. Ezeilo emphasized already at the outset of her mission.

Although the Special Rapporteur acknowledges important steps taken by the Thai Government such as the enactment of the Anti-Trafficking In Persons (ATIP) Act 2008, as well as setting up provincial multidisciplinary teams to strengthen cooperation between Government agencies and civil society organizations, she concludes that “Thailand must do more to combat human trafficking effectively”.

One of the most urgent challenges regards the interpretation of the law and the inadequate identification of victims of trafficking, “too often misidentified as irregular migrants, arrested and deported without any risk assessment as to whether the return would be safe”.

Even though the ATIP Act 1998 includes a general definition of trafficking in persons as stated in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, commonly referred to as the “Palermo Protocol”, there is a lack in the understanding of the law and key elements of trafficking, inevitably resulting in fragmented implementation of existing legal framework and policies on trafficking in persons.

Ms. Ezeilo raises concerns regarding existing measures used to identify trafficking victims, such as telephone hotlines, where the Government has not taken into account the language barrier that needs to be addressed as many victims come from neighboring countries and do not speak Thai or English. Without services provided in more languages, these types of measures are largely ineffective.

Following the lack of knowledge and skills in key areas, such as identification of victims of trafficking, the Special Rapporteur concludes that “the Government should scale up capacity building trainings for all actors”. Police, judges, prosecutors, immigration officials and labor inspectors are among the group of actors especially mentioned by the Ms. Ezeilo as in need of this type of special training in identifying and protecting trafficking victims.

A special concern underlines the issue of migrant workers who are increasingly being pushed into forced and exploitative labor, many ending up slaving in agricultural, construction and fishing industries. As the Special Rapporteur explains, “root causes of trafficking, particularly demands for cheap and exploitative labor provided by migrant workers, are not being effectively addressed”.

Regarding migration, Ms. Ezeilo concludes that a stricter legal framework is not the solution. Instead she calls for the Government to “provide safe migration options, as well as eliminate vulnerabilities of migrant workers and their families to all forms of human trafficking”.

Apart from inadequate victim identification measures and the ever growing scale of labor and sex trafficking, the Special Rapporteur reports many challenges relating to the rehabilitation and recovery process. She expresses a growing concern that shelters are becoming detention centers, resulting in the violation of fundamental rights of the victims, such as the freedom of movement. Ms Ezeilo urges the Government to “provide comprehensive and individually tailored assistance to victims”.

Close attention must be paid to the situation of the victims as being victims of trafficking in order to avoid holding them responsible for offences that result from trafficking, such as the breaking of immigration laws.

In addition, she concludes that “corruption has diluted the efficacy of Government policies and programmes to combat human trafficking” and that a zero tolerance towards such practices must be promoted by the Government, with special focus and monitoring of the police force.

As trafficking stretches across borders, regional cooperation is imperative and the Special Rapporteur urges the Thai Government to immediately ratify the Palermo Protocol “to bring itself in tandem with neighboring States”. She also calls on Thailand to ratify of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families” to protect the rights of migrant workers “who are increasingly vulnerable to forced and exploitative labor”.

In addition, the ratification of the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers adopted at the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference in June this year is also strongly recommended.

The Special Rapporteur describes her mission as productive, but acknowledges that the Thai Government did not agree with all her conclusions. Mr. Vijavat Isarabhakdi, Director-General of the Department of International Organizations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the other hand describes the mission as generating a “very fruitful discussion with Thai agencies” and that the Thai Government welcomes all the observations made by the Special Rapporteur and is determined to do all that can be done to improve what is lacking, at the same time strongly underlining all the positive efforts that has already been made.

Based on the preliminary findings of the country visit, the Special Rapporteur will compile a full report of the mission to be presented before the UN Human Rights Council as well as the General Assembly in June next year. Until then, the Special Rapporteur expressed enthusiasm to continue her constructive dialogue with the Thai Government to protect victims of all forms of trafficking and prevent their heartbreaking stories from repeating themselves time and time again.

UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons: “Thailand must do more to combat human trafficking effectively”

Posted in Southeast Asia on August 26th, 2011

See here for original article on Prachatai on 21st August 2011.

UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons: “Thailand must do more to combat human trafficking effectively”

Sun, 21/08/2011 – 00:15 | by prachatai

Karin Frodé

Following her 11 day long anti-trafficking mission (August 8-19) visiting Chiang Mai, Mae Sot, Samut Sakhon, Songkhla and Tak, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Ms. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo returned to Bangkok to hold a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding her preliminary findings and recommendations.

The conclusions drawn by the Special Rapporteur are shaped by her dialogues with Government representatives, judiciary, civil society organizations, as well as with trafficking victims themselves, the importance of which Ms. Ezeilo emphasized already at the outset of her mission.

Although the Special Rapporteur acknowledges important steps taken by the Thai Government such as the enactment of the Anti-Trafficking In Persons (ATIP) Act 2008, as well as setting up provincial multidisciplinary teams to strengthen cooperation between Government agencies and civil society organizations, she concludes that “Thailand must do more to combat human trafficking effectively”.

One of the most urgent challenges regards the interpretation of the law and the inadequate identification of victims of trafficking, “too often misidentified as irregular migrants, arrested and deported without any risk assessment as to whether the return would be safe”.

Even though the ATIP Act 1998 includes a general definition of trafficking in persons as stated in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, commonly referred to as the “Palermo Protocol”, there is a lack in the understanding of the law and key elements of trafficking, inevitably resulting in fragmented implementation of existing legal framework and policies on trafficking in persons.

Ms. Ezeilo raises concerns regarding existing measures used to identify trafficking victims, such as telephone hotlines, where the Government has not taken into account the language barrier that needs to be addressed as many victims come from neighboring countries and do not speak Thai or English. Without services provided in more languages, these types of measures are largely ineffective.

Following the lack of knowledge and skills in key areas, such as identification of victims of trafficking, the Special Rapporteur concludes that “the Government should scale up capacity building trainings for all actors”. Police, judges, prosecutors, immigration officials and labor inspectors are among the group of actors especially mentioned by the Ms. Ezeilo as in need of this type of special training in identifying and protecting trafficking victims.

A special concern underlines the issue of migrant workers who are increasingly being pushed into forced and exploitative labor, many ending up slaving in agricultural, construction and fishing industries. As the Special Rapporteur explains, “root causes of trafficking, particularly demands for cheap and exploitative labor provided by migrant workers, are not being effectively addressed”.

Regarding migration, Ms. Ezeilo concludes that a stricter legal framework is not the solution. Instead she calls for the Government to “provide safe migration options, as well as eliminate vulnerabilities of migrant workers and their families to all forms of human trafficking”.

Apart from inadequate victim identification measures and the ever growing scale of labor and sex trafficking, the Special Rapporteur reports many challenges relating to the rehabilitation and recovery process. She expresses a growing concern that shelters are becoming detention centers, resulting in the violation of fundamental rights of the victims, such as the freedom of movement. Ms Ezeilo urges the Government to “provide comprehensive and individually tailored assistance to victims”.

Close attention must be paid to the situation of the victims as being victims of trafficking in order to avoid holding them responsible for offences that result from trafficking, such as the breaking of immigration laws.

In addition, she concludes that “corruption has diluted the efficacy of Government policies and programmes to combat human trafficking” and that a zero tolerance towards such practices must be promoted by the Government, with special focus and monitoring of the police force.

As trafficking stretches across borders, regional cooperation is imperative and the Special Rapporteur urges the Thai Government to immediately ratify the Palermo Protocol “to bring itself in tandem with neighboring States”. She also calls on Thailand to ratify of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families” to protect the rights of migrant workers “who are increasingly vulnerable to forced and exploitative labor”.

In addition, the ratification of the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers adopted at the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference in June this year is also strongly recommended.

The Special Rapporteur describes her mission as productive, but acknowledges that the Thai Government did not agree with all her conclusions. Mr. Vijavat Isarabhakdi, Director-General of the Department of International Organizations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the other hand describes the mission as generating a “very fruitful discussion with Thai agencies” and that the Thai Government welcomes all the observations made by the Special Rapporteur and is determined to do all that can be done to improve what is lacking, at the same time strongly underlining all the positive efforts that has already been made.

Based on the preliminary findings of the country visit, the Special Rapporteur will compile a full report of the mission to be presented before the UN Human Rights Council as well as the General Assembly in June next year. Until then, the Special Rapporteur expressed enthusiasm to continue her constructive dialogue with the Thai Government to protect victims of all forms of trafficking and prevent their heartbreaking stories from repeating themselves time and time again.

Autocratic Rule in Thailand and its Neighbours by Professor Craig Reynolds

Posted in Southeast Asia on August 26th, 2011

For the original article on Prachatai from the 23rd of August 2011 see here.

Craig J. Reynolds, history professor at Australian National University, gave his perspective on politics in Thailand and other mainland Southeast Asian countries as part of the ‘outsider view’ lecture series organized by Midnight University and Chiang Mai University on 3 Aug.

In most countries, people want to be able to vote; they want the right to elect their leaders, and they form themselves into parties to put forward their representatives to run for elective office. But elections are not a reliable guide to telling us much about how government actually functions, and in trying to understand Thai politics, I think paying too much attention to electoral politics is misleading. The activities of political parties and elections obscure the way Thai politics actually works. I confess I may devalue electoral politics because when I first came to live in Thailand as a Peace Corps Volunteer, Thai political parties and elections did not matter very much. I still believe they do not matter very much. I came to Thailand as an agent of American imperialism – this was “soft” imperialism that went hand-in-hand with the harder forms of imperialism being conducted by the American government during the Cold War. When I first arrived in Thailand in September 1963, F. M. Sarit Thanarat was prime minister. Technically, I was an employee of Sarit’s government, and after he died in December 1963 and Thanom and Prapat took over, I was still employed by a military dictatorship. Elections and political parties didn’t matter then, and I guess I think they still don’t matter very much.

I have two points to make in this talk.

1) First, I think we have to understand the Thai state better. In my opinion, analysts and academics do not describe the Thai state accurately. The state is not a monolithic thing, it has many parts, many autonomous units that sometimes act without proper authority, and we need a better model / concept / paradigm for understanding the Thai state – what it is, who acts for the Thai state, who or what acts with the assistance of the state, and how the different parts interact with each other. Thai political scientists in particular like to talk about “the state” (รัฐ) and how powerful it is. I think this is an illusion. The State is not all powerful. I’ll come back to this point later in my talk.

2) The second point has to do with Thailand’s neighbours in mainland Southeast Asia. I want to step away from Thailand for a moment and look at the country as belonging to a set of countries that are historically linked, with political systems that have a lot in common. Siam / Thailand was not colonised directly, but it borrowed many features of the colonial state and made use of colonial officials in its reforms beginning in the 1890s. During the demonstrations and violence last year, the occasional comparison was made between Thailand and military rule in Myanmar, but otherwise, there was very little comment on Thailand’s place among its mainland neighbours. The public debate and internet commentary was very inward-looking. Given the large demonstrations and the occupation of Ratchaprasong, it is understandable why public interest was focused on Thai politics. But there is a regional dimension that helps explain Thailand’s awkward dance with democracy over the decades.

Since decolonization after the Second World War, democracy has been a problem in mainland Southeast Asia – I am speaking about all Southeast Asian countries except Indonesia and the Philippines. Governments voted into office in the region are usually one-party governments. Authoritarian governments like elections, because leaders can then tell the world they have come to power through the electoral process. The distinction between elections and democracy is often not made. There is a big difference between elections and democracy. Elections do not automatically give us democracy. If elections are not free and competitive, participatory democracy is impossible. Vote-buying – candidates handing out cash and other inducements to voters – is a recurrent issue, leading to the widespread belief that elections are fixed. There is another problem. The political culture in a participatory democracy needs to be tolerant of dissent. By contrast, in Southeast Asia, those in the region already in power strive to limit dissent and manipulate democracy to ensure their longevity in office. Sometimes they manage to ensure permanency of rule. This is certainly what motivated Police Lieutenant Colonel Thaksin Shinawatra when he was prime minister and ran his party like a cartel. He wanted to stay in power as long as he could.

To understand this point more clearly, let us look across the mainland. In Myanmar, the army has governed for nearly fifty years, since 1962. There have been two very strong leaders since independence: General Ne Win and General Than Shwe. General Than Shwe, who seems to have stepped back from day-to-day managing, is known as the Great Protector and Unifier. There were elections last year and there is some evidence of military dictatorship easing. Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest, but her movements are circumscribed. She herself exhibits some autocratic tendencies – she refused to let the NLD participate in the elections last year, and she continues to insist that sanctions remain in place, even though many analysts and activists believe the sanctions are hurting rather than helping the situation. In any case, even though the army has relaxed its controls ever so slightly, some kind of military rule seems inevitable in Myanmar even on the most distant horizon.

In Cambodia, a strongman is still in power decades after he was installed as prime minister by the Vietnamese during their military occupation of the country. Hun Sen is a former member of the Khmer Rouge. Since Cambodia re-established its sovereignty in 1993, Hun Sen has been the leading figure in the ruling coalition of the Cambodian People’s Party and the royalist party (FUNCINPEC). They have elections in Cambodia, but Hun Sen has been prime minister – with a few interruptions – since 1985. This is autocratic government. There is stability, but no there is no evidence of a succession plan.

Laos has been a single-party socialist republic since December 1975. In fact, the only legal party is the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, which is the ruling party. The government is run by a small politburo and a larger Central Committee of 49 members. There were elections in 1992 for a new 85-member National Assembly and again in 2006 when the membership was expanded to 115. The National Assembly elects new leaders every five years, and in June it re-elected the General Secretary of the Lao’s People’s Revolutionary Party. So, there is a succession plan for government leadership, although re-election is possible. So, like Cambodia, there is stability, but unlike Cambodia, there is a regular succession plan for the head of government who comes from the single party that rules.

Like Laos, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is also a one-party state. According to the new constitution of 1992 that replaced the 1975 constitution, the Communist Party of Vietnam has a firm hold on government and politics. Only political organisations affiliated with the CPV are allowed to field candidates in national elections. The National Assembly has 498 members. The last elections were in 2007, and there are some non-party members in the Assembly. Again, we have rule by one party.

In Malaysia, there is more multi-party activity, but the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the dominant party in ruling coalitions since independence, alters the constitution in its favour and regularly rearranges electorates to preserve its electoral advantage. The protests and public disturbances a few weeks ago in early July were aimed at UMNO and the umbrella coalition, Barisan Nasional and the stranglehold they have on Malay politics. The coalition and its predecessor have governed Malaysia since independence. Denying participatory democracy seems to have been an UMNO policy. Last October Mahathir Mohamad, who was Malaysia’s prime minister for 22 years, gave a speech stating that democracy has failed in many countries and authoritarian rule might be the answer. He practiced what he preaches. Malaysia has had autocratic rule by a single party for nearly half a century.

When I teach a history course on mainland Southeast Asia, I don’t usually include Singapore in the survey, but let’s include it here as another good example of one-party dominance. We might describe Singapore’s political system as non-communist socialism. In Singapore the People’s Action Party has won every election since independence in 1959 and, naturally, has governed since then. If other parties exhibit meaningful opposition, the PAP hobbles them and thus maintains its one-party dominance. Opposition parliamentarians who show promise of strong and popular leadership are sometimes ruined financially by being sued. The interesting lesson from this comparison with Singapore is that the Lee family has played a key role in the continuing one-party dominance of the PAP.

By the way, in the Singapore national election in 2006, 300,000 older and lower income voters received about S$500 in their bank accounts just before the election, and they received the same amount again a year later in 2007. There is no outcry about vote-buying in Singapore. These grants advanced the prospects of the PAP and helped to ensure its permanency of rule, but no one calls these grants “vote-buying.” It seems vote buying happens only in Thailand.

So, what do we see? Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Singapore are all one-party states and have been governed by this party since the end of colonial rule. They all have relatively stable governments; in Laos and Vietnam regular succession procedures assure the re-election or re-appointment of leaders from a controlled pool of candidates. In Singapore something similar happens, with the preeminence – and domination – of the Lee family playing a large role. In Burma and Cambodia, we seem to have something more like the rule of a single strongman over a period of time. What about political violence? In recent years, if we limit the comparison to only mass incidents with serious loss of life, only Myanmar in 1988 (fatalities about 3,200 in March and August) and 2009 (fatalities about 138). Malaysia had race riots in 1969 (death toll less than 200).

Up to this point in my argument, what do I conclude? I see mainland Southeast Asia as a region of autocratic political systems where governments are dominated by a single party – military, socialist, communist, ethnic. Singapore and Malaysia are not exceptions. This region of autocratic political systems is the immediate neighbourhood in which Thai democracy is expected to put down its roots and flourish. What chance does Thailand to grow a participatory democracy in this neighbourhood? It’s a very rough neighbourhood – maybe there is not a lot of overt political violence, but there are a lot of tough guys – soldiers and police with guns – to repress dissent. Administrators have served in the armed forces; soldiers are trained as administrators, and not just warriors. I conclude that Thailand is not exceptional in this neighbourhood. Thailand is comfortable in this neighbourhood, and Thailand is a friendly neighbour to the countries around it. Thailand’s political system belongs in a regional political field with systemic features that favour autocratic rule. By autocratic rule, I do not mean rule by a single strongman, although that has happened from time to time. Rule can be through a single party (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia), a single party dominated by a family (Singapore), a single party dominating a coalition (Malaysia).

We could ask why? Why is autocratic rule so firmly embedded in mainland Southeast Asia in the period following independence after the Second World War?

I can think of two reasons. One reason is that all these countries in their pre-modern histories had absolute monarchies, and these monarchies did not tolerate, in fact they could not tolerate, a loyal opposition. In an absolute monarchy, to be in opposition is to be in rebellion against sovereign authority. Colonialism wiped away the monarchies for the most part, certainly the absolute monarchies, but here and there we find a little monarchy left over in the postcolonial period: Cambodia; Malaysia; and of course Thailand, where the monarchy, with the aid of the military and the political astuteness of the monarch, demonstrated remarkable resilience and capacity to re-build itself from its dire circumstances in the mid-1930s and again in the late 1940s.

The second reason is that colonial regimes also did not tolerate, they could not tolerate, a loyal opposition. To be in opposition during a colonial regime was also to be in rebellion against sovereign authority. To put the matter another way, legally it is not possible to be in opposition. To oppose sovereign authority is to act illegally, to commit a crime. Hence, we have the security laws that make criticism of government and political dissent a crime. All these mainland countries inherited their internal security laws from the Western imperial powers that colonized them – in the case of Thailand, from the Pax Americana in Southeast Asia that lasted from the end of the Second World War until the early 1970s.1 Colonial rule reinforced the monarchical tradition: anyone who took a stand against the government of the day is a rebel.

Nowadays, anyone who takes a stand against the government of the day is a rebel. In Thailand during the 1950s the main political dissenters were thought to be communists, communist sympathisers, and the police investigative unit responsible for suppressing this political dissent was the Santibal, the political police. We can translate Santibal literally as “Peace Force.”

So where is Thailand? Does Thailand have autocratic rule now? We just had a national election, and now we (may) have an elected woman prime minister. The people spoken! Let me make one or two points about Thailand’s political history and its political culture.

The combination of autocracy and democracy, or democracy and autocracy, runs deep in the Thai elite consciousness. A few days before the 1932 revolution and the end to the absolute monarchy, King Prajadhipok thought about granting a constitution, but all the while he clung to the hope that the Thai people could be encouraged to support the absolute monarchy. King Prajadhipok expressed it this way: “Our country uses a ‘dictatorship’ system of government, but our system is not like other ‘dictator’ systems. On the contrary, it has many characteristics of a ‘democracy.’ Thus it is a sort of half-and-half, and we haven’t really decided which system we will follow.” Thai and Western political scientists have written many thousands of words on “semi-democracy” in Thailand ever since that time. Indeed, “semi-democracy” (khruang bai or ครึ่งใบ in Thai) would be a good summary of what King Prajadhipok was saying. As the decades have passed, there has not been much improvement. At this point it’s more like “one quarter democracy,” or even less. History and the passage of time have merely reversed the formulation, as if to say, “our country uses a democratic system of government, but it has many characteristics of dictatorship.” The double-faced figure of the benevolent dictator or the enlightened despot still looms large in the minds of Thai political thinkers as they puzzle over the real significance of the 1932 event. I believe one of the reasons the so-called Thai revolution of 1932 is so badly studied and poorly understood is because the Enlightened Despot is still alive today in Thai political culture. The term detkhat (เด็ดขาด) is one of the keywords in Thai political culture. It is important for Thai leaders to be decisive, firm, “absolute.”

Thai people have admired strong leaders since the 1930s when fascism was in vogue world-wide. Thai leaders looked to Mussolini’s fascism because of its anti-communist ideology. The term was used approvingly in the Bangkok press in the late 1920s and early 1930s. A Thai biography of Mussolini was published in that fateful year 1932. But it was not the ideology of fascism that Thai political leaders really admired. It was the personal style of the strongman, or a softer variant marked by heroic leadership, that attracted Thai leaders and political thinkers. World leaders such as Eamon DeValera, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong, and Zhou Enlai also commanded attention, a seemingly bizarre list of nationalists, communists and pacifists as well as fascists. Luang Wichit Watthakan wrote about these men with great admiration. In his Strategies for Creating Greatness, published in 1952, the list of exemplary figures included several heroic women – Florence Nightingale, Sarah Bernhardt, and Helen Keller. Luang Wichit wrote many articles and books in this genre of success literature and showed why such people should be admired for their strength of mind, powers of concentration, self-confidence, and will power.

This admiration for strong-willed people who could shake the world with their words and actions was a phenomenon observable everywhere, not just in Thailand. When Sidney Hook praised “event-making men” in his The Hero in History first published in 1943, he identified a leadership ideal that had currency in many parts of the world, including Southeast Asia. This ideal of the event-making man has had a very long half-life in Thailand. During the political protests in March-April-May 2010 a journalist in a Chiang Mai saw portraits of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Che Guevara. Next to them was Police Lieutenant Colonel Thaksin Shinawatra! While these men have power over others, this line-up of famous world leaders suggests that it is an amoral power to be admired no matter what ideologies these people stand for. These famous people have something in common. In addition to amoral power, they have that strange, alchemic compound we call in English charisma that makes them a natural leader.

Looking at the socio-political landscape in Southeast Asia more broadly, I do not think that fascism helps us to understand militaristic leadership in Thailand. Instead, the personal style of leadership that some observers want to label fascist is better understood in other terms. Strong leaderhip, if necessary strong leadership armed with tanks and guns, is admired as much as it is resented in Thailand, and there is a definite Buddhist element in this leadership style. The strongman, with or without a background in the military or security services, is sometimes of ascetic demeanour, and much admired for his personal discipline and powers of self-control. Several prime ministers, and some would-be prime ministers, fit this description. The Thailand-based columnist “Chang Noi” has described this variant of leadership as an amalgam of monk and gangster, the ascetic and the strongman in the one individual—always, of course, male. The current chairman of the Thailand’s Privy Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda, was mentioned as a case in point. Major General Chamlong Srimuang, a core leader of the Yellow Shirts, is another.

It is helpful to understand this type of personalised leadership by drawing on the concept of “big men” familiar in other parts of the world, including the Pacific nation-states. In Southeast Asian political cultures the “big man” is called the “man of prowess.” The “big man” rested his claim to authority on performance, not on lineage. In pre-modern Southeast Asian kingdoms there was no law of primogeniture. Usurpations happened often, with half-brothers in these polygamous societies eager to advance their claims to the throne on the basis of paternity and maternal lines that strengthened those claims. The man of prowess rewarded supporters with land grants or suzerainty over subjugated populations. He was generous with these rewards, and ruthless in excluding latecomers who had dallied in declaring their loyalty. Like the big men of Melanesia, rulers widened their spheres of influence and created supra-local networks by means of generosity calculated to attract loyal supporters. They redistributed bounty acquired by trade or plunder to their personal retinues or entourages. In today’s world, instead of talking about trade or plunder, think of “business dealings.” Instead of talking about personal retinues or entourages, think of “political parties.” This tradition helps to account for the practice today of building political constituencies by buying votes in national elections. In this way rulers accumulated social capital and extended their hegemony. “Redistributing bounty” can be understood in the government of Police Lieutenant Colonel Thaksin Shinawatra as the 30 baht health scheme and a million baht for every village. In other words, the 30 baht health scheme and the million baht per village is not so much a policy of the government as the redistribution of largesse to build political constituencies.

The “big men” may dominate for a time, but everywhere there are “little big men” wanting to take their places. These “little big men” strive to increase their own prowess in competition with one other. Ultimately they want to challenge the “big man” who had already achieved success. In the late colonial period in Mainland Southeast Asia, revolts were led by “little big men.” In Thai we call these figures phu mi bun (ผู้มีบุญ or men of merit). These holy men revolts were early forms of redistributive populisms led by men of prowess who had been pushed to one side by the colonising state, either Western (Laos, Cambodia, Burma) or indigenous (Thailand). Charms, amulets, and a reputation for supernatural powers helped to attract and mobilise supporters. In modern times in Thailand, the man of prowess may be a high-ranking general who has risen through the ranks, become prime minister, and served the monarchy with distinction. Or he may be a successful businessman who has made a fortune selling telecommunications equipment to the security services. Whatever the modality of its transformation in the modern age, autocratic rule in Thailand today has its roots in an earlier form of a political economy of leadership. This earlier form valorised a man who could be both generous and ruthless. He would reward his supporters and punish his rivals and competitors pen detkhat. The enduring popularity of this kind of leadership in the region should never be underestimated. It is very much present in the region today.

If this kind of leadership is the norm in the region, what are the implications for understanding the state? So I want to return now to the first point I mentioned above – the need to understand the Thai state รัฐ.What is the Thai state? What is it really like? If we could visualise it, what would it look like? Who acts for the Thai state? Who or what acts with the assistance of the state? How do the different parts interact with each other? Is the prime minister at the centre? Is the king at the centre – he is, after all, the head of state?


The structure of the Thai government , simplified.

Forget the structure of government, forget the legislative body, parliament, the prime minister, the judiciary. Think of the Thai state as an entangled mass of interlocking relationships, alliances, and struggles between and among many centres of power often in competition with one another. Imagine further a jungle gym such as you find in playgrounds where the links are made of flexible braided cables instead of rope and are joined together at connection points. These points where the cables connect are nodes of power: institutions such as the parliament, the police force with its many factions, the army with its many factions, and the office of prime minister; business conglomerates; units of the bureaucracy, such as the Ministry of the Interior or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or sub-units of these and other departments; and the palace(s). Each of these connection points or nodes of power can have a great deal of autonomy, can in fact operate without being told or asked to do something. A scholarly literature on “governmental nodes” and their variety shows that this concept of state is widespread in the world today. There are forms of governmental activity outside of the state and pluralisation and autonomy that is not planned or anticipated or authorised.

Everyone here aspires to proximity to power, wherever it may be located, and access to profit. It is important for people who aspire to power and profit to be flexible and able to change direction quickly as conditions change. This is why an entrepreneurial spirit is highly valued in the Thai state; people need to respond immediately to changed circumstances, just like a business needs to be flexible and respond quickly to changes in the economy or the markets. Indeed, many of the nodes of power function like business enterprises – Thaksin Inc., First Army Inc., General Chavalit Yongchaiyut Inc., and so forth. At the same time, apprehension of how others will react at other connection points is a check on bold action and may slow decisions. There are certain features of the system that deliberately slow things down. It is important to be flexible and adaptable, but is also necessary to be cautious, wary, and resilient. To mix the metaphor further, the connection points / nodes of power are organic – they can reproduce themselves. The royal family / supreme institution is not the only node capable of reproduction at all costs; the army, the police force, business corporations with strong links to nodes of power can also reproduce themselves.

How do the nodes or connection points connect? What runs back and forth and along the conduits and strands of cable between and among the connection points? Here are some examples of what moves along the conduits and cable strands connection the governmental nodes.

•    Things, especially of a material kind. Donations and gifts (from above to below and below to above); handouts, payments, fees, bribes, material incentives to get things done.

•    Information and “intelligence” of a political, economic, and security- related nature, secrets, discreet disclosures, alerts and hints – sometimes true, sometimes misleading – of impending developments, opportunities foreshadowed, and not only commercial opportunities. Knowledge of all kinds. Rumours are said to be the knowledge of the powerless, but in this state, rumours are necessary to the movement of things between the nodes.

•    Orders and demands, urgent requests that require quick decisions, supplications, credits and debts for favours bestowed, obligations, agreements, understandings formal and informal, contracts. Paperwork is sometimes required, but sometimes only a telephone call is necessary to get the job done.

•    Conversely, whatever is moving between connection points may encounter resistance, aggravation, impedance, obstruction, or outright rejection. Jealousy and mistrust motivate action. Disinformation and dissension can preserve the integrity of the relationships.

•    Relationships between the nodes may be by blood or marriage; or lifetime ties based on school, university, academy class or army unit cohorts; friendships, comradeships and loyalties forged in all walks of life and work; ties of reciprocity and mutual assistance that flow from these connections.

•    The concentration of power at the nodes will differ markedly in each historical moment. The dynamism and movement across the CJG enable the Thai state to right itself if there is too much tension or conflict, or if power becomes too concentrated as it did in 2005-2006 leading up to the military coup of September 2006. The analysis here is reminiscent of structural-functional models and systems theory that were discarded a long time ago by theorists of the modern state. For our purposes here, it is useful to bring the structural-functional model.

The coups of February 1991 and 2006 coups surprised all observers. By their own admission, journalists, academics, including Thai academics, and security analysts were caught napping. This failure of intelligence occurred for a reason. The CJG / Thai state cannot be properly discerned with the language currently being used to describe it. The spectacles through which we view the Thai state need new lenses. At the moment things we see things out of focus and everything is blurred.

This picture of the Thai state offers a more realistic understanding of how things actually work. One can speak not only of network monarchy but also of network police force, network army, network ministry of interior, network prime minister and cabinet, network judiciary. Why does this tangle of nodes of power continue to prevail? It is a system that produces multiple centres of rule, each of which is autocratic. The tangle of nodes and cables continues to prevail because it is a check on autocratic rule. We want a strong leader, but we do not want a strong ruler if he (or she, or she as a proxy for he) controls too many of the nodes. If there is too much control, too much tat sin jai yang detkhat [decisive decisions], the system tilts out of balance. Many people feel insecure when that happens (SLIDE, Thaksin in control).

Conclusion. Personally, I am an optimist. I always assume things will get better. I wake up every morning thinking I will have a good day, even if I have something to worry about, like writing this lecture. Today the weather will be better, the next book I read will tell me some of the things I am trying to understand about my research project. In the next election we will have a prime minister that will be better than the previous prime minister. The next prime minister must be better, because the previous prime minister was terrible – weak, indecisive. He was not detkhat.

But about Thai politics, I am a pessimist. I don’t have suggestions for solutions (ข้อเสนอทางออกที่เป็นไปได้สำหรับสังคมไทย) Things will not get better for a long time, because of this autocratic tradition that has been with us for a very long time, and because of the multiple centres that make up the Thai state. The nodes of government can act autonomously.

I do not think it is possible to move forward, it is not possible to take even a single step forward, until we understand what’s really there in the region of Thailand’s neighbours as well as in Thailand itself. Everywhere there is autocratic rule, and people who want it, or have it, like having it and will not relinquish it.


1 I looked in David Streckfuss’s book on lese majesty, Truth on Trial in Thailand (Routledge 2011) to find out where Thailand derived its internal security laws from, or if Thailand created its own security laws, but I could not find anything definite. After World War II, the Thai internal security law was inspired by the anti-communist legislation. I’ve also looked at Thanin Kraiwichien, Kanchai kotmai pongkan khommiwnit (1974), but again I could not find out where the law came from.

Forthcoming Asia Rights Seminar

Posted in Southeast Asia on August 24th, 2011

Please join us for a seminar on the topic of “Judging Burma’s Human Rights Abuses,” led by Trevor Wilson, Visiting Fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change. Below, please find a preliminary reading list of reports on human rights abuses that you may wish to browse before the seminar as well as a bio of Trevor Wilson.

We will meet from 3,30 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, 1 September 2011 in the PSC reading room (4th floor,  Hedley Bull Centre, ANU Bldg 130).

Reading List: Human Rights Abuses in Burma Seminar – 1 September 2011

Key generic reports

Official reports

OHCHR, Geneva. Compilation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for Myanmar. A/HRC/WG.6/10/MMR/2

  • US State Department, Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs (Annually)

Ethnic Crises

  • “Life Under the Junta: Evidence of crimes against humanity in Burma’s Chin State”. Physicians for Human Rights, 2010. Cambridge, MA: Available at: http://burma.phrblog.org/report/ 
  • “Crimes against Humanity in Western Burma: The Situation of the Rohingyas”. Irish Centre for Human Rights, 2010.

Key Victims

  • Karen Human Rights Group. Dead Men Walking Convict Porters on the Front Lines in Eastern Burma. 2011
  • http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/burma0711_OnlineVersion.pdf

About the speaker: Trevor Wilson retired in August 2003 after more than thirty-six years as a member of the Australian foreign service, after serving finally as Australian Ambassador to Myanmar (2000-03). Since October 2003 he has been a Visiting Fellow on Myanmar/Burma at the Department of Political and Social Change, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. In Myanmar, he successfully facilitated the Australian Government’s human rights program (2000-2002) from its inception.  With David Kinley, he co-authored a case study of this training program “Engaging a Pariah: Human Rights Training in Burma/Myanmar” in Human Rights Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 2, May 2007. Since 2004, Trevor Wilson has been co-convener of the ANU’s Myanmar/Burma Update Conference series, most recently in May 2011. He has been co-editor of several collections of the conference papers: Myanmar’s Long Road to National Reconciliation (2006); Myanmar: the State, Community and the Environment (2007); Dictatorship, Disorder and Decline in Myanmar (2008); and Ruling Myanmar From Cyclone Nargis to National Elections (2010).

INDONESIA: Conviction of Ahmadyah victim undermines constitutional protections

Posted in Southeast Asia on August 23rd, 2011

See here for the original report on the AHRC website.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is disturbed by the punitive decision of the Indonesian Court on August 15, 2011 to jail an innocent Ahmadi Muslim who protected himself during a mob attack, which reveals the lack of impartiality of the judiciary and the legal community.

Deden Sudjana was sentenced to six months imprisonment by the court, for simply protecting the house the mob were attacking. Meanwhile, the 12 men who were responsible for brutally killing three Ahmadi Muslims in an attack in February 2011, were only sentenced to between three and six months imprisonment.

Some 1,500 people attacked the home of an Ahmadiyah community leader in Cikeusik, west Java in February. Sudjana was hit with a machete and almost had his hand severed during the mob attack. Head of security for the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI) at the time, Sudjana was detained since May for allegedly inciting the attack. In its judgment, the court ruled that he had disobeyed a police order to leave the scene, and had been filmed punching another man. He was thus convicted of articles 212 and 315.1 of the Criminal Code; resisting state officers and maltreatment, respectively.

The decision is senseless and embarrassing, a travesty of justice. The lenient sentences handed out to those convicted of killing three Ahmadis in July raised questions regarding judicial impartiality and upholding of constitutional protections (see AHRC-PRL-034-2011), which have now been spotlighted again. The two verdicts indicate that Indonesia’s criminal justice system is not able to deliver justice independent from religious considerations. Indonesia’s judicial commission must act on this miscarriage of justice and push for reforms that will truly ensure a fair and impartial justice process.

Indonesia today is increasingly seeing extremists push their agenda forward, mostly with the use of violence, resulting in the loss of life and damage to property. The Indonesian government has taken no effective steps to stop or prevent such activities, which will slowly erode the country’s secular values.

Similarly, the Indonesian courts and legal system have shown a complete disregard for the basic rule of law, and have not taken up their mandate of protecting the constitutional rights of Indonesian citizens.

The AHRC urges for a review of both verdicts, and calls upon the Indonesian government and courts to ensure that all religious and other minorities are adequately protected.

ICRC – Safeguarding Healthcare Campaign

Posted in Background briefing, Human Rights Ideas on August 23rd, 2011

Violence against patients and health-care workers is one of the most crucial yet overlooked humanitarian issues of today. Read more about the ICRC’s worldwide Healthcare in Danger Project.

One Korea, one enormous challenge

Posted in News on August 23rd, 2011

See here for the original article by Hamish McDonald in the Sydney Morning Herald from July 30 2011

If Kim Jong-il and his North Korean regime didn’t exist, would we have to invent them?

This Strangelovian thought came to mind as the region’s foreign ministers in the American camp took the opportunity of the recent Bali security forum to beat up on the North Koreans.

Indeed they have much to be berated about: the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, the shelling of a fishing village and frenetic pursuit of nuclear enrichment and weapons testing – despite having agreed six years ago to freeze and then dismantle the latter activity in return for various quid pro quo.

For a while, the general policy line has been: let them starve, let them freeze, let the regime crumble – no more sweeteners or “paying for the same horse twice”.

A couple of years ago, it really looked as though the regime might be close to collapse, when Kim Jong-il suffered a severe stroke and the order of succession was unclear.

According to Andrei Lankov, of Seoul’s Kookmin University, who is one of the talented Russian scholars helping us understand Pyongyang, the Chinese started sending academics to Seoul and other places to discuss ways of dealing with regime collapse.

Now Kim’s health seems to have stabilised and he’s started grooming one of his sons, Kim Jong-un, as the “Bright Leader” to be the third ruler in the dynasty. The Chinese seem to be giving cautious endorsement and continue to underwrite what they see as still a useful buffer state.

The 40 million South Koreans meanwhile are getting less and less keen about the prospect of reunifying the peninsula and assuming responsibility for 23 million stunted and brainwashed northerners – at an estimated cost of $US3 trillion ($2.7 trillion).

Emma Campbell, a Korea scholar at the Australian National University, has been investigating who young South Koreans include in “uri nara” (our nation). They can accept Korean-speaking foreigners who settle in South Korea, and most Korean-Americans, but not North Koreans.

Ethnic nationalism is mutating to what Campbell calls a “globalised cultural nationalism” by which young South Koreans take pride in the modernity of their society, its advanced technology and big corporations known around the world. They value education, international values and speaking foreign languages.

Although most Europeans regard the German reunification as a success story, with a former easterner, Angela Merkel, now the country’s leader, in South Korea there is a general perception that it was immensely costly and still difficult. The South’s young feel they have enough problems, Campbell says. “Even older Koreans don’t understand how competitive it is for young people – to get educated, to get into university, to get a good job, to get married. I don’t blame them for being reluctant to think about integrating North Koreans.”

Lankov and Campbell were among speakers at a University of Technology Sydney workshop a week ago on “North Korea: Imagining the Future”. A lot of imagination is required, and the organisers floated four scenarios to get everyone talking.

One was a smooth succession to Kim Jong-un, perhaps starting as early as the 100th birth anniversary next April of his grandfather, regime founder Kim Il-sung. The state and the market economy establish an “uneasy but symbiotic relationship” and the country muddles along.

The second envisaged a power struggle in the regime when Kim Jong-il dies, with the country imploding in rebellion and even worse famine than usual, leading to a breakdown of the border with the South and a massive foreign stabilisation effort.

The third is a variant of No.2, except that famine and internal strife precipitates Chinese intervention, with Seoul tacitly accepting and helping with food and financial aid, as an alternative to shouldering the burden itself.

The fourth scenario sees North Korea taking the Chinese road of capitalism, with a powerful bourgeoisie rising out of the state sector. The outside world supports this opening up, and gradually barriers and hostilities on the peninsula subside.

But don’t hold your breath. Something could happen next week, or it could take years before any significant trend is visible.

Leonid Petrov, another Korea expert from Russia now at Sydney University, suggests instruments of change are already at work. A Singapore fast-food chain has set up a joint-venture with Kim Jong-il’s younger sister. North Korea’s new mobile telephone system has 600,000 subscribers. DVDs of South Korean TV soaps are circulating.

Women have moved into the free markets allowed under Kim Jong-il’s hesitant reforms of the past few years. Kyungja Jung, of UTS, thinks such women are likely to be the first to have the scales fall from their eyes about the regime’s ideology. The “angry female trader” is already a phenomenon that could turn to dissidence.

If and when it does happen, Korean reunification will be the biggest challenge facing “any society, any country”, Campbell says.

It will pose big strategic issues, says Lankov: the Chinese have indicated a “maximal” aim of getting American forces off the peninsula completely, a “minimal” aim of keeping them below the present DMZ.

Mary Nasr, a PhD candidate at Sydney University, says being confronted by the demonised South Koreans and Americans will be traumatic for many Northerners. Indeed, you think of the Japanese in August 1945, only they had their emperor telling them to “bear the unbearable”.

Lankov thinks there is a lot of preventive medicine that countries like Australia could start providing. “A few things can help in any scenario,” he said.

One is education and training: North Korea is unlikely to send students to the US, but would send them here. The ANU actually had a program to teach officials how to run a modern market economy but it was halted by the Howard government as part of anti-nuclear sanctions.

Another is developmental aid. “Maybe not nuclear physics, but everything else,” Lankov says. “The trouble is people here are afraid of their American friends.”

While embargoes are rightly applied on strategic weapons and nuclear material, generalised sanctions tend to entrench dictatorships. More revolutions result from a population able to measure its position against that in other countries, and spread the word by mobile phones and email.




The Shadowy World of Korea’s People Smugglers

Posted in Korea on August 23rd, 2011

Go here for for the original broadcast.

Defecting from North Korea is a dangerous business.

It comes at a high price and there’s no guarantee of success.

Many make the journey to South Korea with the help of brokers – individuals and organisations who smuggle people along the illegal overland route known as the “Underground Railroad”.

For Assignment, Lucy Williamson meets some of the brokers in Seoul who make a living helping people escape North Korea.

August ‘This Month’s Photo’

Posted in Japan, This month's photo on August 23rd, 2011

Ogawa Ryukichi

AINU PEOPLE CALL FOR RETURN OF INDIGENOUS REMAINS

Posted in Japan, News on August 10th, 2011

Ainu Elder Ogawa Ryukichi and others outside the Hokkaido University ossuary

 

Ainu People Seek Redress

On 10 June 2011, about one hundred people gathered at a symposium in Sapporo, the capital city of Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture, to demand the return of Ainu remains held by Hokkaido University and other Japanese institutions. The Ainu are the indigenous people of northern Japan and surrounding islands (see text box below).

One of the participants in the symposium, Ms.Yuri Jonoguchi, now in her seventies, recalled how her grandfather’s grave had been excavated and his remains removed by Dr. Sakuzaemon Kodama, an anthropologist belonging to Hokkaido University’s Medical Faculty, in 1935. “My mother, who is now dead, told me how sad she was that she had never managed to recover grandfather’s remains,” said Ms. Jonoguchi, “Now I am old like my mother, but if I go to heaven without recovering his remains, I feel that mother and grandmother will be angry with me.”

Tetsuya Ueki, professor of philosophy at Tomakomai Komazawa University said “in using their authority to gather Ainu remains, anthropologists inflicted great violence on the indigenous minority. The university must investigate the issue of historical responsibility, take proper steps to identify the relatives, return remains and grave goods to them, and apologize to them.”

The Removal of Ainu Remains by Anthropologists

The story goes back to the 1880s, when some anthropologists and scholars of anatomy began to gather Ainu skeletal remains by digging up the graveyards of Ainu communities. The practice continued until the 1960s. The main motive for these acts of desecration was to conduct anthropometric research in order to define the “typical characteristics” of Ainu people. Many academic papers based on this “research” were published. Graves of close relatives of the living were sometimes excavated without consent, and in some cases valuable grave goods (tamasai) were also removed.

The key figures in this research were Dr. Kodama (1895-1970) from Hokkaido University, Dr. Masakiyo Koganei (1858-1944) from Tokyo Imperial University and Dr. Kenji Kiyono (1885-1955) from Kyoto University. In the 1980s, one of the bereaved families asked the University of Hokkaido for the return of the remains of their relative, which had been held in the Medical Faculty’s Animal Research Center (sic) for years. The relatives and the Ainu Association delivered letters of protest to the University, and as a result, the remains of relatives were returned to thirty-five families. The university built an ossuary next to the university hospital to hold other remains; but the remains of 929 people still lie in numbered boxes in the ossuary.

The university has never apologized to the indigenous people, and nobody knows the whereabouts of the grave goods taken from the tombs. In 2008, Ainu Ekashi [Elder] Ogawa Ryukchi used Japan’s Freedom of Information Law to request the university to release all their papers, reports, letters, notes and other documentation related to this anthropometric research. The university has provided him with 35 pieces of information.

Among the recently released material are lists of excavated Ainu bones, prepared by the university’s Second Department of Anatomy (date unknown). The Research Group on Materials Released by Hokkaido University [Hokudai Kaiji Monjo Kenkyukai], a support group working with Mr. Ogawa, has found certain conflicts between the content of the documents and the material items held by the university. Ogawa Ekashi and the research Group continue to battle for the full release of materials and return of Ainu remains.

Ainu inau (ritual staffs) erected to honour the dead at the Hokkaido University ossuary

 

The “Ainu Policy Promotion Council” [Ainu Seisaku Suishin Kaigi], created by the government in December 2009, has made the following recommendations to the government:

3-(4) Actions to Respect Ainu Spiritual Culture

  • In relation to Ainu remains held by universities etc.: where it is possible to return remains to relatives etc., each university should return the remains in its possession; where the aim of returning remains to relatives cannot be fulfilled, remains should be collectively placed in a symbolic site under state guidance, and care should be taken to provide the possibility for conducting ceremonies to respect the dead.
  • Where remains are held collectively, steps should be taken, in collaboration with the relevant universities etc., to obtain information on the conditions surrounding the safekeeping of Ainu remains, in order to be able to consider ways to advance the return or collective safekeeping of remains.
  • Where remains are kept collectively, attention should be paid to the holding places established by the relevant institutions, and efforts should be made to obtain the understanding of the local community. With the understanding of Ainu people, the possibility should be provided for collectively held remains to contribute to research that enhances understanding of Ainu history.

However, the Research Group on Hokkaido University Materials argues that this recommendation is too vague, does not give sufficiently strong guidance on the return of remains, does allow for appropriate input from Ainu communities into the control of collectively held remains, and does not sufficiently emphasize the need for dialogue between the institutions and the Ainu community about this issue.

The UN International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, endorsed by Japan in 2007, clearly states:

  • Article 11
    1. Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.
    2. States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.
  • Article 12
    1. Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.
    2. States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned.
    (emphasis added)

 

At the conclusion of the June Symposium, the audience and members of the Research Group on Materials released by Hokkaido University joined in reading a demand addressed to the government, national parliament and university. This states “you must start earnest and careful dialogue with all Ainu people, with a view to returning the remains to the families”

 

For further information see: http://hokudai-monjyo.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/

Ainu: The Indigenous People of Hokkaido and Neighbouring Islands

Japan has four major islands and many smaller surrounding islands. Hokkaido is one of the major islands, and is the northernmost and second largest one. It is 78,000km²: a little smaller than Ireland and a little larger than Sri Lanka.

In Hokkaido and some neighbouring subarctic islands, humans have lived for over 22,000 years, relying on the rich natural forest and marine resources. The presence of abundant archaeological remains demonstrates that there has been continuous human habitation throughout this time. Following various ethno-cultural changes, the Satsumon people, who are considered to be ancestors of the present-day Ainu people, became conspicuous around the end of the 12th century CE. Between the 13th and 19th centuries, cultural developments led to the flowering of Ainu culture, based on hunting, fishing, plant gathering and trading valuables with other peoples including the Japanese.

In 1869, the Japanese government in Tokyo established a Development Bureau [Kaitakushi] in Sapporo, Hokkaido. The Bureau began large scale development and colonization of the island. Many settlers (including “soldier-settlers) came to Hokkaido from other Japanese islands. In this process of colonization, the Development Bureau never acknowledged the rights of the “natives”. Ainu people were prohibited from maintaining their own way of life. They were forced to speak the Japanese language, go to Japanese schools, adopt Japanese names and wear Japanese dress. They were deprived of their traditional lands and forced to move from traditional settlements. They lost the right to hunt and fish, and were forced to till the land the land, seek wage employment and perform military service.

Despite the democratization that followed Japan’s defeat in World War II, the government failed to recognize the right of Ainu people to self-determination. It was only in 2007 that the Japanese government endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and also also finally acknowledged the indigenous status of the Ainu people.

The officially recognized Ainu population of Hokkaido is around 24,000.  Some Ainu people also now live in other parts of Japan including Tokyo. Japan has a total population of about 120 million.