Asia Rights

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

Archive for January, 2013

Reporters Without Borders Documents the RISING TIDE OF MEDIA REPRESSION IN OUR REGION

Posted in Articles, News on January 31st, 2013

Reporters Without Borders’ newly released 2013 Press Freedom Index highlights alarming increases in suppression of freedom of speech in our region. North Korea continues to languish at the bottom of the table, and China is little higher, at no. 174 out of 179. Burma has risen from 169 to 151, but Malaysia has fallen to its lowest ever position because of restrictions on access to information. Japan’s position has fallen more sharply than that of any other Asian country (from 22 to 53) because of  “a lack of transparency and almost zero respect for access to information on subjects directly or indirectly related to Fukushima”. As Reporters without Borders notes “This sharp fall should sound an alarm”. For the full Index, click here.

New Perspectives on the 1965 Violence in Indonesia Conference 11-13 February 2013, ANU

Posted in News, Southeast Asia on January 31st, 2013


The Australian National University, Canberra,
Monday 11 – Wednesday 13 February 2013

 Register at

Nearly half a century ago, the Indonesian archipelago was riven by unprecedented massacres in which an estimated half million people died. The vast majority of the victims were members and supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), which was blamed for an unsuccessful coup in Jakarta on the night of 30 September 1965. During the long New Order regime of President Suharto, public discussion of the killings was suppressed and those associated with the PKI continued to be persecuted. After the end of the New Order in 1998, some public discussion of the events of 1965-66 became possible, but our understanding of those terrible times is still hampered by lack of detailed information.

During the last decade, however, victim support groups, activists and researchers have been collecting evidence concerning the killings. Oral testimonies have been collected and a few significant documents have emerged. New insights into the events of 1965-66 have also come from closer examination of older evidence and from comparisons with other political genocides in the 20th century.

The workshop will review this evidence and consider the insights that arise from it.

The workshop brings together academics, community-based researchers and activists to:

·      enrich historical understanding of the 1965 tragedy and its impact on Indonesian society;

·      share and create greater awareness of the primary evidence available about the violence;

·      increase the accessibility and preservation of documentary collections relevant to 1965.

The workshop will include academic papers, summaries of research findings and discussion of the efforts already underway to create, collect and preserve documentation of this past. Presentations will be made in English or Indonesian, according to the preference of each speaker, and discussions will be in both languages.

Day 3 of the conference is a closed session for researchers and activists working in the field.

For further details, please contact Ayu (


Sixth Edition: Concepts of Caste in Contemporary South Korea: The case of North Korean re-migration

Posted in Ethnic Korean Diaspora: North Korean re-migration on January 16th, 2013

Markus Bell

The South Korean nation-state has, since its founding in 1948, espoused the bio-political precept of ethnic homogeneity and unity among the globally dispersed Korean diaspora. According to this ideal, Koreans, as one people, enjoy use of a unique mother tongue, a commitment to Confucian values and cultural traditions, a unique diet, and a unique bloodline.[1] Accordingly, South Korea, in its bid to lay claim to being the sole, legitimate heir to some five thousand years of history, granted special rights and privileges to ‘returning brothers’, such as ethnic Koreans who grew up in other countries and North Koreans.[2] Despite this, recent events have consistently highlighted the hollow nature of this rhetoric and scholars have continued to point to a reality for these ‘returnees’ that is marked by anything but cordial feelings from the wider South Korean society.[3]

This article will offer insight into the latest example of what I refer to as ‘failed ethnic familiarity’, highlighting the case of North Korean refugees and the recent phenomenon of onward-migration from South Korea. This article argues that South Korea is a deeply divided country, along class and cultural lines, and the spectre of a past before modernization, as embodied in the recent influx of North Korean refugees, disturbs the hegemonic discourse of the nation-state. In reality, returning Koreans are often relegated to a second-class citizens in a caste-divided society.

Caren Freeman explains, in regards to ethnic Korean-Chinese in Seoul,

[They] were angered by the apparent incongruities between the South Korean government’s rhetoric of blood, kinship, and homecoming on the one hand and the realities of its exclusionary immigration policies and harsh crackdown on migrant labor on the other.[4]

It is the gap between the reality and the ideal that caused the ethnic Korean-Chinese whom Freeman interviewed distress during their time in South Korea, and it is this same incongruity that lies at the heart of the main push factors motivating many North Koreans to leave South Korea in search of improved living conditions.

The ideal, as the hegemonic discourse in South Korea would have us believe, and as touched on above, is that a kind of global, pan-Korean community exists. Whether separated and dispersed through conflict, commerce, adoption or political dissidence, it is proclaimed that Koreans from all over the world have a home in South Korea, the state that has, according to this same rhetoric, inherited the true spirit of the Korean people, as passed down through the ages.[5] In the last 15 or so years, however, as the political system in South Korea stabilized and more ethnic Koreans took the chance to return to a ‘home’ many of them had never seen, it has become clear that many South Koreans regards these returnees as somehow ‘less Korean’ than themselves.

According to the hierarchy of the caste system, as explained to me on numerous occasions by South Koreans and North Koreans alike, Korean-Americans are considered as somewhere near the top of the ethnic ladder, ethnic Koreans from other, predominantly white societies, (Canada, Australia, European nations) slightly below them, while Korean-Japanese exist on the next rung down. They are followed by Korean-Chinese and, at the bottom of the list, North Korean refugees.

Many Korean-studies scholars may point out that the presence of a caste system is far from revelatory news. In a recent article by Gianluca Spezza, he noted that the Chulshin Songbun (출신성분) social system in North Korea is akin to a caste system, ascribing inherited status and restrictions on various individuals and families.[6] South Korea, however, is a country that espouses an ideal embracing unity and equality, at least amongst ethnic Koreans near and far. It is this ideal, made tangible in the policy of handing passports to North Koreans who made it to an embassy outside of their home country that, for a long time, made South Korea such a desirable destination. Fuelled by the winds of South Korean pop culture – and this was before the styles of Gangnam – the number of arrivals from North Korea has continued to grow exponentially.

Over ten years have passed since the beginning of this latest wave of arrivals from North Korea and time is proving itself apt at revealing a great many flaws in the fabric of South Korean society. Most significantly, the gaping chasm between the pan-Korean ideal and the reality of a caste system that limits North Koreans in terms of employment opportunities, marriage opportunities, social mobility and education.[7]

The harsh reality – that no matter how well they speak the standard dialect or wear the latest brands they will never be South Korean –­­ conspires to leave many North Koreans who have left their friends and family above the 38th parallel feeling, at best, second-rate citizens. As one young North Korean who arrived in South Korea in 2004 expressed to me, “The past always follows me, I will always be talbukin, I will always be on the outside, and this is how I feel.” This, in turn, acts as one of the strongest ‘push factors’ driving the onward-migration of North Koreans to third countries.

Whether, upon arrival in countries such as Australia or Canada, these onward-migrants feel a peace that was denied them in South Korea is yet to be seen. It is also significant to ask if the same gendered-logics will play out in the lives of re-migrants, female re-migrants often being doubly discriminated against in South Korea – as North Koreans and as women. What is clear however, looking at the case of Canada, which had 385 asylum claims[8] from North Koreans in 2011, up from 26 in 2006,[9] is that this is only the beginning of the onward-migration. Perhaps it would benefit the South Korean state, North Korean refugees, and nations such as Australia and Canada, if the gap between the ideal and reality for North Koreans in South Korea was addressed, with a view to eradicating elements of an archaic and discriminatory ethnic Korean caste system?


[1] Kim and Choi. 1998. Dangerous Women: Gender and Korean Nationalism. Routledge. New York and London.

Miyoshi Jager. 2003. Narratives of Nation Building in Korea: A Genealogy of Patriotism. An East Gate Book. Armonk, New York, London.

Freeman. 2011. Making and Faking Kinship: Marriage and Labor Migration between China and South Korea. Cornell University Press. Ithaca and London.

[2] Freeman:2011

[3] ibid

[4] ibid:105

[5] Miyoshi Jager:2003

[7] Hosaniak, NKHR Briefing Report: 2011

Hear Professor Brij Lal on the decision by Fiji’s military regime to discard the draft constitution

Posted in Articles, Background briefing, Pacific on January 16th, 2013

Go here for the audio and original article on the ABC website.


SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Australia’s Foreign Minister has responded sympathetically to Fiji’s rejection of a proposed constitution, despite a stinging response from other nations in the region.

Bob Carr says he can see why the military regime rejected elements of the draft.

He says the jury’s still out on whether the constitutional process it’s undertaking is enough to restore Fiji’s reputation in the eyes of the international community.

But an expert on Fiji says Senator Carr doesn’t fully understand what’s happening in the country, and Fijians’ confidence in the process has been shattered.

Lexi Metherell reports.

LEXI METHERELL: Last week Fiji’s military regime threw out the draft constitution created by an Australia and New Zealand-funded commission. The regime says it will re-write it then give it to a hand-picked constituent assembly to formulate a final version.

That move prompted a stinging response from Samoa and from New Zealand’s foreign minister Murray McCully.

MURRAY MCCULLY: The fact that they’ve trashed the work of the commission is pretty unhelpful.

LEXI METHERELL: But Australia’s Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, isn’t going that far.

He says he understands why the military rejected parts of the draft.

BOB CARR: The notion for example of a largely unelected national people’s assembly comprised principally of non-government organisations sitting alongside the parliament is something I can’t think of enjoying a precedence anywhere else in the constitution of a democratic country.

The recreation of an unelected great council of chiefs would seem to give rise to the suggestion that ethnic divisions in the country were going to be exaggerated by, and entrenched by new constitutional arrangements.

I can find it understandable that the interim government has objected to both these features of the draft constitution presented to it.

BRIJ LAL: Well I think that Mr Carr does not have a full understanding of the realities on the ground.

LEXI METHERELL: Under the draft written by the constitutional commission, the military would have no role in the country’s politics.

Professor of Pacific and Asian History at the ANU, Brij Lal says that’s not what the military wants.

BRIJ LAL: For anyone who understands the country, the outcome is very clear. The military will not have a constitution in which it does not have a visible presence, a voice in the government of the country. What has happened is that the regime in Fiji appointed a commission to draft a new constitution. That draft was supposed to go to a hand-picked constitution assembly which would then finally from that fashion a new constitution.

Now all that has been trashed. People’s trust in the process has been undermined if not shattered.

LEXI METHERELL: But the Foreign Minister Bob Carr is prepared to give the regime time to prove itself.

BOB CARR: I think there have been expressions from the interim government in Fiji that they want Fiji to move beyond the racial divisions that have held the country back in the past and that is something we would welcome. I think it is something the people of Fiji would welcome.

LEXI METHERELL: Do you think though that the process that’s now underway, the appointment of a constituent assembly to discuss a new draft, do you think that this is adequate for Fiji’s reputation to be rehabilitated in the international community’s eyes?

BOB CARR: Well, I think the jury is still out.

BRIJ LAL: Here was a draft constitution on which all the major political parties were united. This was a document that was pointing Fiji in the right direction. That is the jury. There, I think in the end is the most important – the people of Fiji.

LEXI METHERELL: Professor Brij Lal.

BRIJ LAL: If Mr Carr or anyone else thinks that out of this exercise that the regime is doing will come out a fair democratic constitution, then I think they will be in for a huge shock.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Professor Brij Lal, ending Lexi Metherell’s report.

Write to your foreign minister on North Korean human rights

Posted in Articles, Human Rights Ideas, Korea on January 16th, 2013

See the original post at Human Rights Watch.

Dear Foreign Minister,

We are writing as the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), a global coalition of non-governmental organisations engaged in advocacy to address the very grave human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We were formed in September 2011 and draw together over forty organisations from across the world, including the world’s largest human rights organisations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Specifically, we strongly believe the time has come for the establishment of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity in North Korea.

Recently, 179 former North Korean political prisoners and defectors, including survivors of severe human rights violations in North Korea, wrote to you to appeal for your government to support an international inquiry into crimes against humanity in the DPRK. We strongly support their request.

As you may know, on 3 October, 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Marzuki Darusman, presented his latest report to the UN General Assembly. In that report, he noted “that for several decades egregious human rights abuses in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have been extensively documented by various actors, including organizations of the United Nations system.” Accordingly, the Special Rapporteur “called on States and the international community to undertake a comprehensive review of the relevant documents to assess the underlying patterns and trends and consider setting up a more detailed mechanism of inquiry.”

The Special Rapporteur’s recommendation is very timely and we urge you to seriously consider his proposal, which is in line with the request by survivors of grave violations in North Korea. The time is long past due for prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial international investigation of the system of political prisoner camps known as gwa-li-so, in which gross violations of human rights, including torture, denial of medical care, dire living conditions, forced labour, sexual violence, and executions are widespread and systematic, have been extensively documented. Furthermore, North Korea has a documented record of abducting foreign nationals, with hundreds of Japanese, South Koreans, and persons of several other nationalities forcefully taken to North Korea.

While the international community has pressed for an end these systematic and pervasive human rights abuses, it is clear that those efforts have not been sufficient. Simply put, the government of North Korea has resolutely ignored international criticism and mass violations continue unabated. The time has come to end the culture of impunity in North Korea and hold the government of the DPRK accountable for these violations. An international, independent inquiry, mandated by the UN and supported by the UN Special Rapporteur and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is needed to investigate and further establish facts, and evaluate both new and existing evidence and allegations to ascertain if there are, prima facie, sufficient grounds to view those violations as crimes under international law, and make recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.

Such a Commission of Inquiry will complement and help strengthen the work being done by the UN special rapporteur by bringing more attention, experts, and resources to address the crimes against humanity that we believe are being committed in North Korea on a daily basis.

There is growing momentum for international action on North Korea demonstrated first by the adoption of the annual resolution on North Korea for the first time ever by consensus at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012. And more recently, in November 2012 the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee (the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee) also adopted the annual North Korea resolution by consensus for the first time ever. While we recognize and appreciate the efforts that have led to increasing numbers of member states supporting the resolutions on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, culminating in the above-mentioned consensus adoptions of 2012, regrettably this has not led North Korea to change its repressive policies. Those resolutions have also not been able to elicit any appreciable change in North Korea’s wholly negative attitude towards the legitimate role of UN human rights mechanisms to work to ensure respect for human rights. Thus we believe a further mechanism of inquiry under UN auspices is fully warranted.

We hope your government will contribute to maintaining this momentum for accountability for human rights abuses in North Korea, and work with other governments in the UN to ensure that the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation is acted upon and a commission of inquiry can be established immediately.


ICNK members

Why has it taken so long?

Posted in Articles, Human Rights Ideas, South Asia on January 16th, 2013

When I lived in Delhi I remember having heated arguments with a friend of mine, a well-known journalist, about the potential of China over India. He was a supporter of India, a democracy where he was free to interview and investigate the stories he chose. I was a dedicated Sinophile arguing that democracy was useless if it failed to meet the needs of all India’s inhabitants – how could a country claim to be a democracy when half of the population, India’s females, were not safe to go out in public on their own?

I moved to Delhi in 2003 for two years, representing a major airline in the North India region. I was in my late twenties and single. Soon after my arrival there was a spate of sexual assaults against foreign women in Delhi that were widely publicised, including the rape and murder in 2004 of Australian woman Dawn Emilie Griggs. She had just arrived in Delhi and was brutally killed by the taxi driver who had picked her up from the airport. My company discussed the possibility of moving me out of Delhi.

I was assaulted or abused on numerous occasions whilst living in Delhi. One assault was at the hands of a senior official who had significant control and influence over my company’s operations in India. I had no choice but to continue dealing with him – to refuse meant asking to be transferred which would have been detrimental to my career. Another occurred in a lift in the building of a client. I would normally take the stairs which were safer, but on this occasion they were closed for painting. Luckily the doors opened a few floors down and a second man entered who came to my assistance. There are many good men in India who hope that their daughters and sisters could live free of fear and reach their full potential.

Living in Delhi, a scarf was always draped across my front. I rarely wore a skirt. When I walked outside I would place one hand across my chest and one hand near my groin ready to grab any sneaky hand that attempted to touch me. Female expats shared stories at dinner parties of being groped, laughing about it as part of our ‘Delhi’ experience. At least two of my colleagues suffered significant sexual assaults. As a single woman, it was unthinkable that I would bring a man home to stay overnight, lest I attracted the disapproval of my driver or the guards that kept an eye on my house and on whom I relied for protection.

This was my experience – an expat, relatively wealthy and protected. The small glimpses I had into the situation of my female staff were often more shocking. Their lives were controlled by their husband’s family with whom the inevitably lived. They arrived at work flustered and distressed after a bus journey filled with straying hands of male passengers. At least one of my team suffered serious abuse at the hands of her in-laws.

I am glad that, at last, the plight of women in North India is finally being addressed. It saddens me that it has taken the most extreme crime – a young girl viciously beaten with a metal rod, raped multiple times and then thrown from a moving bus – to finally motivate this movement. When I lived in India, I was shocked by the position of women. The epidemic of sexual assault of women in Northern India is not a new phenomenon and the ignorance of this situation has remained a deep frustration for me. 

The world is now discovering the same reality that I understood when I lived in Delhi – India is no democracy as long as women continue to be denied their freedom and suffer daily sexual abuse. But I am ashamed that, like many in Delhi, it took this most extreme of crime to motivate me to write about my experiences and join this movement. Let us hope that there will be a political and cultural shift to address attitudes to women in this country. May the ‘Daughter of India’ rest in peace, and may all other women who have suffered so terribly have the chance, at last, to enjoy their share of the freedom that is promised by India’s democracy.


Posted in Articles, Australia, Human Rights Ideas, News, Pacific, South Asia, Southeast Asia on January 16th, 2013
The UNHCR has criticized the Gillard government’s ‘Pacific Solution Mark II’ and refused to participate in processing refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. A UNCHR regional representative Rick Towle says it is difficult to make full and credible assessments of refugees in such remote locations, and comments “Australia may choose to transfer physically people to other jurisdictions, but we believe that under international law very clearly Australia is not absolved of its legal responsibilities to protect people through all aspects of the processing and solutions.”
See here for more information.

Burma: Does international attention make a difference for the Rohingya?

Posted in Articles, News, Southeast Asia on January 16th, 2013


As disturbing new reports appear in the media of violence in Rakhine province between Burmese Buddhists and members of the Muslim Rohingya minority, Trevor Wilson asks, how far does international attention help protect Rohingya human rights. To read full article, click here

More to come. Watch this space.