Asia Rights

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

Archive for March, 2012

Activists say China returned 31 North Korean refugees

Posted in Korea, News on March 12th, 2012


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SEOUL (AFP) – China has repatriated all 31 North Korean refugees it arrested last month despite international pressure against the move, refugee advocates in South Korea said Friday.

The advocates say the refugees could suffer abuse or even execution for fleeing North Korea during the mourning period for its late leader Kim Jong-Il.

Do Hee-Yun, head of the Seoul-based Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees, said the refugees left North Korea in three separate groups and were arrested in different places in China.

“They were returned to the North clandestinely over the past two weeks,” Do told AFP. “They are likely to be severely punished as they fled the North during the mourning period.”

The North has been in mourning since Kim Jong-Il died of a heart attack on December 17. He was succeeded by his youngest son Kim Jong-Un.

Rumors are common near the border that the new leader issued a shoot-to-kill order against people attempting to cross the border during the mourning period and also called for stern punishment for their relatives, Do said.

North Korea has in the past treated its citizens who crossed the border to find food with relative leniency while punishing severely anyone who attempted to flee to the South, according to the dissident group North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity.

More recently, all refugees are now treated as traitors worthy of severe retribution, the group of North Korean defectors based in Seoul said.

Seoul has repeatedly urged Beijing to treat people fleeing North Korea as refugees and not to repatriate them. China says the group sent back in recent days consists of economic migrants and not refugees deserving protection.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when asked about the issue during a joint news conference in Washington with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan, said America opposed sending refugees back to countries where they face retribution.

Clinton did not comment directly on accounts of repatriation but said: “We urge every country to act according to international obligations” including the 1951 UN refugee convention and the 1967 protocol.

“The United States shares the concerns by both the government and the people of the Republic of (South) Korea about the human rights situation in North Korea and the treatment of North Korean refugees,” the chief US diplomat said.

“We believe that refugees should not be repatriated and subjected once again to the dangers that they fled from,” Clinton said.

She said that Glyn Davies, the US special representative on North Korea policy, raised concerns about the refugees with senior officials during a visit to China last month.

“We urge all countries in the region to cooperate in the protection of North Korean refugees within their territories,” Clinton added.

The UN refugee agency had also urged Beijing not to send back the North Koreans. Rights watchdog Amnesty International says returnees are sent to labor camps where they are subject to torture.

US lawmaker Chris Smith, co-chair of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, earlier urged Washington to link Pyongyang’s treatment of refugees to its decision last week to deliver 240,000 metric tons of food aid to the country.

More than 21,700 North Koreans have fled to the South since the 1950-1953 war, the vast majority in recent years. They typically escape on foot to China, hide out and then travel to a third country to seek resettlement in the South.


Posted in Japan, News on March 11th, 2012






‘If only there were no nuclear plants’

‘I can’t forgive [the government]. I absolutely cannot forgive [them].’

‘I absolutely cannot forgive [the government]. Even if I died, I won’t forgive [them].’

In the now deserted town of Minami-somachi, an old banner reads ‘Nuclear Power: The Energy To A Bright Future’


Bulletin board walls are covered with details of missing persons


Radioactive waste disposal is a mounting problem: bagging the waste off of contaminated land and placing it on a different spot is evidently not an effective way to eliminate radioactive material, workers of restoration projects say.
It merely transfers the same highly radioactive material onto a different area.

Children in primary schools are advised to stay indoors during breaks and PE classes

 Mums – often those who had to depart their homes and leave their working husbands – share their stories

Getting radiation checks are often quite costly and not funded by the government

‘Fishes from Aomori Prefecture (342km from Fukushima)’

‘Fishes from Hokkaido (595km from Fukushima)’

A map of radiation movement

‘We don’t need nuclear plants’

‘Against reactivation [of nuclear plants]! We don’t need nuclear plants!’


The Battle for Jeju Island: How the Arms Race is Threatening a Korean Paradise

Posted in Korea, News on March 6th, 2012


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Imagine dropping fifty-seven cement caissons, each one the size of a four-story house, on miles of beach and soft coral reefs. It would destroy the marine ecosystem. Our imperfect knowledge already tells us that at least nine endangered species would be wiped out, and no one knows or perhaps can know the chain reaction.

That’s what is about to happen on the pristine coastline of Jeju Island, a culturally and ecologically unique land off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula. It seems motivated by the United States’ urge to encircle China with its Aegis anti-ballistic system — something China has called a dangerous provocation — and by the South Korean navy’s construction of a massive naval base for aircraft carriers, submarines and destroyers to carry Aegis

If you’re wondering why this isn’t better known, it’s certainly not the fault of Jeju villagers. Those tangerine farmers and fishing families have been camping out on the endangered coast for five years, putting their lives on the line to protect it. They include the legendary women sea divers of Jeju who harvest abalone on lungpower alone, knowing that oxygen tanks could cause them to over-harvest.

But Jeju’s distance from the mainland has combined with military secrecy and misleading official reports to preserve the global ignorance locals have come to refer to as “the Jeju bubble.” As a result, hundreds of acres of fertile farmland have already been bulldozed to prepare for concrete, and caissons would extend this dead zone into the sea.

I learned about this last summer when I read an Op Ed in The New York Times called, “The Arms Race Intrudes on Paradise” by Gloria Steinem. As she wrote:

There are some actions on which those of us alive today will be judged in centuries to come. The only question will be: What did we know and when did we know it?

I think one judge-worthy action may be what you and I do about the militarization of Jeju Island in service of the arms race.

Jeju isn’t just any island. It has just been selected as one of the “Seven Wonders of Nature” for its breathtaking beauty, unique traditions and sacred groves. Of the world’s 66 UNESCO Global Geoparks, nine are on Jeju Island. It is also culturally unique with a tradition of balance between people and nature, women and men, that causes it to be called Women’s Island. It is also known as Peace Island.

Now, the proposed base is near a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve, which is also a nationally designed environmental protection area. Indo-Pacific bottle-nosed dolphins spawn there because of the rich biodiversity of the coast. The South Korean navy claims endangered species could be relocated and the coral beds reconstituted; something both scientists and villagers reject as absurd. The massive cement structures would not only crush all marine life, but block out sunlight critical to other ocean-based species, and the frequency signals from submarines would bring painful deaths to whales. It has also been a fact of life surrounding military bases that human cancer rates, violence and sexual violence have increased.

I am moved and impressed that the residents near the coastline have been waging a fierce nonviolent struggle to stop the base. They’ve used their bodies to block bulldozers and cement trucks, sacrificed their personal freedom, been beaten and imprisoned, and paid heavy fines for “obstructing” the business of the navy and such construction companies as Samsung and Daelim — all to protect their homeland and an irreplaceable treasure on this planet Earth. Though 94 percent of the villagers voted against the base, the South Korean government is proceeding with construction. It is also bound by treaty to let the U.S. military use all its bases.

I think the least that environmentalists, peace activists and supporters of democracy can do is express our outrage. You can take action now by visiting the Save Jeju Island Campaign website.  As individuals, tourists, professionals and citizens, you may have added access to pressure points that only you know. For example, the International Union for Conservation of Nature will be holding its World Conservation Congress on Jeju Island from September 6 to 15, 2012; something that should be used as leverage.

Secrecy and hypocrisy have let this military base get under way. Facts and activism can stop it before it’s too late.

For more information and to get involved go to:

Top photo: Matthew Hoey of sits at Guroumbi Rock, a spiritual site that is now being destroyed, Credit: Rain Jung. Second: Local activists guard the Guroumbi Rock site. Third: Street art. Bottom: Local activist Sung-Hee Choi puts her body in front of a bulldozer. Credit:

Jeju base protests

Posted in Korea, News on March 6th, 2012



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Protest flags read ‘dead set against naval base’ and are hung on the streets of Kangjeong Village where the government plans to construct a naval base

‘Kangjeong Village’

Child poverty in Philippines often worst in cities – UNICEF

Posted in News, Southeast Asia on March 5th, 2012


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Girls carry sacks in a charcoal factory at a slum in Manila April 12, 2011. According to a national survey conducted in March, some 20.5 percent of the country have claimed to have gone hungry at least once in the past three months. REUTERS/Erik de Castro

BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Children growing up in the poorest urban areas in the Philippines are increasingly worse off than those in rural regions and face greater risks from natural disasters, exploitation and HIV, the United Nations’ children agency UNICEF warns.

In a report launched on Tuesday, The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World, UNICEF says rapid global urbanisation means the traditional image of poverty is no longer represented by a child in a rural village.

In the Philipppines, hundreds of thousands of impoverished urban children are growing up in squalor, deprived of education and healthcare.

Almost half the country’s population – 46 million people including 18 million children under the age of 18 – are now living in towns and cities, making the Philippines one of the most urbanised populations in Southeast Asia, UNICEF said.

By 2030 it is projected three out of four people in the Philippines could be living in urban areas.

Despite the perception that cities are “engines of growth,” many of these children live in unsafe and insecure houses and lack access to schooling, water and sanitation, UNICEF said.

“UNICEF is very concerned about children living in the poorest, urban areas because research shows that they suffer from multiple deprivations, and are increasingly worse off than those living in rural poor settings,” Dr. Abdul Alim, deputy representative of UNICEF in Philippines told AlertNet.

“Urban poverty can trap children in a downward spiral of poverty and squalor, leading to sickness, neglect and risk of exploitation,” he added.


In Metro Manila, the most populated area with more than 11.5 million people, an estimated 1.7 million children live in slums.

UNICEF said 54 percent of people living in these informal settlements have no access to safe water and 51 percent no access to toilets, worse than any other urban or rural areas.

While children born in urban areas in the Philippines have slightly better chances of surviving than those in rural areas (20 deaths per 1,000 live births in urban areas compared to 35 in rural areas), they fare worse in some ways.

For example, poor urban children are less likely to be breastfed than those in rural regions (83 percent versus 92 percent), UNICEF said, increasing the risk of malnutrition. Those who are breastfed are also likely to be nursed for a shorter time in urban areas (seven months versus 17 months), the agency added.


While rural and urban poverty can both be very detrimental to children, those in urban areas face specific risks, said Alim.

“There can be the additional threats of HIV, lack of access to education, threat of natural disasters and risk of violence, trafficking and exploitation,” he added.

The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries wehn it comes to disasters and climate change. Urban areas along the coast often bear the brunt of the typhoons which hammer the country every year.

Poorer urban families are particularly at risk as they usually live in flimsy homes on the worst land. Many are on unstable slopes or low-lying areas prone to flooding.

Typhoon Sendong which struck northern Mindanao last year and Typhoon Ketsana which slammed into Manila in 2009 both had a devastating effect on poor urban families and slum dwellers.

The Philippines is also one of a handful of countries where HIV infection rates are showing a marked increase, according to a 2010 review.

The prevalence of HIV remains higher in urban areas – more than 50 percent of all infections in 2011 were registered in Metro Manila – and one out of three newly reported cases is in young people aged between 15-24, UNICEF said.


Fire at Myanmar refugee camp, Thailand, leaves thousands homeless –NGO consortium

Posted in News, Southeast Asia on March 5th, 2012


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This July 2008 photo shows an ethnic Karen student learning English at a school in Mae La camp, near the Thai-Myanmar border in Mae Sot district, Tak province, 600 km (373 miles) north of Bangkok. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Thousands of refugees from Myanmar have been made homeless after a fire raging through a refugee camp in Tak province in northwest Thailand burned down over 1,000 houses on Thursday, a consortium of aid agencies told AlertNet.

Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), whose staff are at the site, has received reports of some children suffering burns. As yet there have been no reports of any major casualties.

The fire broke out around noon local time at Umpiem Mai, one of the nine refugee camps located along the Thai-Myanmar border, and which housed some 17,600 people, said Sally Thompson, deputy executive director of TBBC.

The blaze was still raging when AlertNet spoke to Thompson three hours after it first broke out, and had consumed over a third of the camp, including three mosques and two nursery schools.

“It’s still out of control,” Thompson told AlertNet over the phone from the border town of Mae Sot in Tak province.

“You’re looking at about 6,500 people or at least a third of the camp population who have lost their houses.”

Patients have been evacuated from the clinic into one of the food warehouses.

TBBC, a consortium of 12 international agencies aiding refugees and displaced people from Myanmar, said it will be launching an emergency appeal.

The cause of the fire is not yet known although it is believed to have started from within the camp, which is crowded and located in a gusty valley, Thompson said.

“At the rate the fire is going, we’re going to have to do significant rebuilding of the camp because many people will now be homeless,” she said.

“It’s going to take a lot of effort to rebuild the whole community again. That would take time. We just hope the fire can be contained before it sweeps through the whole camp.”

The refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border house more than 140,000 people from Myanmar who fled Myanmar due to economic hardship, abuses and discrimination, and fighting between the army and ethnic armed groups. Many have been living in the camps for decades.

Indonesia: Averting Election Violence in Aceh

Posted in News, Southeast Asia on March 5th, 2012


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In less than two months, on 9 April, Aceh will go to the polls to elect a governor and vice governor, as well as seventeen district heads and deputies. Despite rhetorical commitments on the part of all contenders to a peaceful election, the potential for isolated acts of violence between now and then is high; the potential for trouble after the results are announced may be even higher, especially if it is a close election. Getting as many trained monitors to Aceh as possible in the coming weeks is critical.

Whether violence materialises may depend on several factors:

  • the number of election monitors deployed and the speed with which they get to Aceh. The campaign is already well underway for all practical purposes, even though officially it does not begin until 22 March. The monitoring needs to start now, not days before the election;
  • the speed with which the police can identify and arrest the gunmen responsible for shootings in December 2011 and January 2012 that took the lives of ten men, most of them poor Javanese workers. The killings are widely believed to have been politically motivated;
  • the ability of the election oversight committee (Panitia Pengawas Pilkada) to investigate reported violations and quickly take action; and
  • the ability of leading candidates to control their supporters in the Aceh Transition Committee (Komite Pera­lihan Aceh, KPA), the organisation of former guerrilla commanders.


Partai Aceh, the local political party created by the leadership of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Mer­deka, GAM), the former rebel group, has played on the threat of renewed conflict to get the election on its own terms. Its main goal was to have Irwandi Yusuf, who was elected governor in December 2006 and now seeks a second five-year term, forced from office so that he could not use his position to keep himself in the public eye, ensure funds flowed to his supporters or request the deployment of security forces in a way that might have a bearing on the election.

To this end, it engaged in a number of legal manoeuvres, on the pretext of safeguarding Acehnese autonomy and the integrity of the 2006 Law on the Governing of Aceh (Undang-Undang Pemerintahan Aceh), the legal underpinning of the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that ended GAM’s 30-year insurgency against the Indonesian government. In particular, it challenged a Constitutional Court decision that annulled one provision of the law, thereby enabling independent (non-party) candidates to contest the elections originally scheduled for late 2011. Irwandi, based on the court’s ruling, intended to stand as an independent, and Partai Aceh was hoping to block him. The provincial parliament, which Partai Aceh controls, also refused to pass a regulation (qanun) on elections allowing independent candidates, a move that prevented the local election commission from scheduling the polls.

With the help of pressure from Jakarta and a series of killings in December and January that seemed to suggest a high potential for violence, the election was repeatedly postponed, from 10 October 2011 to 14 November to 24 December, then to 16 February 2012 and finally to 9 April. With the last change, Partai Aceh achieved its objective: on 8 February 2012, when his term expired, Irwandi stepped down as governor. The home affairs ministry appointed a caretaker, Tarmizi Karim, a native of North Aceh, who will serve until a newly elected governor is inaugurated.

The manoeuvring deepened a bitter divide between Irwandi and the Partai Aceh leadership under Malik Mahmud, GAM’s former “prime minister”. Their mutual antagonism first came to public attention in the run-up to the 2006 election in which Irwandi ran against Malik’s choice for governor and won. Its history goes back much further, however, to differences between the exiled diaspora, represented by Malik and the man who is now Partai Aceh’s candidate for governor, Zaini Abdullah, and GAM members like Irwandi who stayed behind in Aceh. The shootings in December and January have raised concerns that more violence between these two camps will follow.

Jakarta/Brussels, 29 February 2012

North Korea nuclear deal: Five ideas about what it means

Posted in Korea, News on March 5th, 2012


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North Korea has offered to suspend nuclear tests and enrichment as part of a deal under which it will  receive 240,000 metric tons of food aid, U.S. officials have announced. What does this mean? The Times turned to four experts for their insights. Here are five key points they made about this important deal.

1. It’s a good sign about new leader Kim Jong Un.

The U.S. and North Korea were reportedly close to a food-for-cooperation deal in December when former leader Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack. When his baby-faced son Kim Jong Un took over, no one was sure what to expect and what it meant for nuclear talks.

“My assumption was the military would press for further tests and Kim Jong Un, being young and inexperienced, wouldn’t be in a position to say no to them,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the non-proliferation and disarmament program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Instead, he’s striking a deal with the United States. It bodes well for his foreign policy smarts.”

2. This deal only goes so far, but it could start the ball rolling on bigger changes.

Halting nuclear weapons testing and enrichment means that North Korea would stop heading down the path to weapons that could threaten Japan and South Korea, at least temporarily. It will also put its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon under foreign monitoring.

The deal doesn’t wipe away the nuclear stockpiles or devices that North Korea already has. There are also suspicions that North Korea has other, unrevealed nuclear facilities, though there is no evidence that it has another plant that could enrich uranium on the same scale as its main reactor.

“The problem is not knowing what elements of the gas centrifuge program [used to enrich uranium] exist outside of Yongbyon,” its main reactor, said Paul Brannan, a senior analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security based in Washington.

But these steps could help bring North Korea back into multilateral talks, which could someday lead to getting rid of its nuclear weapons, said Peter Crail, a research analyst with the Arms Control Assn.

3. Smoothing relations with South Korea and Japan are an important, more difficult next step.

Before taking more aggressive steps to dismantle its nuclear program, North Korea will want a serious peace process on the Korean peninsula, said Leon Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council. It also will want more serious political and economic engagement from the U.S., South Korea and Japan.

4. North Korea is trying to make good on its “strong and prosperous” slogan.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il Sung, with North Korea gearing up to show it’s a “strong and prosperous nation.” That slogan upped the ante for getting food aid, Crail said. North Korea wanted to show it was healthier and happier on the big anniversary.

5. The linchpin of this agreement is a pledge of American goodwill.

The U.S. doesn’t have to give much for this agreement, Sigal said. The food aid is “a trivial amount in dollar terms.” In his view, the heart of the agreement is reiterating a statement the two countries made 12 years ago -– that they wouldn’t have “hostile intent” toward each other.

That may seem surprising for Americans used to alarming North Korean rhetoric, but strengthening relations has long been a goal.