Amnesty International Report on Asia
Staff ReportPublished: May 28, 2009, 10:19
The Amnesty International Report 2009 documents the state of human rights during 2008, in 157 countries and territories around the world.
It reveals the systemic discrimination and insecurity that prevent progress in law from becoming a reality on the ground.
Here is a summary of the human rights situation in countries in Asia.
In the first national parliamentary elections in seven years, the Awami League won a landslide victory in predominantly peaceful polls held on 29 December.
Before the election, despite the relaxing of emergency measures and institutional reform, restrictions on freedom of assembly and association remained and tens of thousands of political activists reportedly attempting to gather peacefully in their party offices were detained throughout the country.
Police used excessive force to disperse peaceful rallies, injuring participants. At least 54 people were estimated to have died in suspected extrajudicial executions by police and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in the first half of the year alone. No one was held accountable for the deaths. At least 185 people were sentenced to death, and fivemen were executed.
Throughout the year the caretaker government strengthened institutional reforms. In September, the ordinance establishing a national Human Rights Commission came into effect. The Right to Information Ordinance was enacted in October, under which citizens can request access to information held by public bodies.
However, eight security agencies were exempt from the ordinance unless the information requested related to corruption and human rights violations.
Impunity, inadequate rule of law and serious shortcomings in the court system continued to cause a systemic lack of protection for human rights.
Forced evictions, carried out with the direct involvement or complicity of government authorities, further impoverished thousands of marginalized Cambodians.
Human rights defenders and community activists defending land and natural resources were imprisoned on baseless charges. Freedom of expression and assembly were restricted.
The Olympic Games in Beijing brought heightened repression throughout the country as authorities tightened control over human rights defenders, religious practitioners, ethnic minorities, lawyers and journalists.
Following protests and unrest which began in March in Lhasa the government originally detained over 1,000 people. Hundreds remained in detention or were unaccounted for at year’s end.
The authorities used a series of violent incidents alleged to be linked to terrorists to launch a sweeping crackdown on the Uighur population in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread.
The authorities maintained tight control over the flow of information, with many internet websites blocked, and journalists and internet users harassed and imprisoned for the peaceful expression of opinions.
The authorities made increased use of punitive forms of administrative detention, notably the Reeducation through Labour system, to silence critics in the lead-up to the Olympic Games.
Police were either inactive or responded with excessive force in the face of sectarian violence against religious and linguistic minorities and ethnic clashes.
Adivasis (indigenous communities) and small farmers continued to protest their exclusion from government decision-making on new development projects which could threaten their livelihoods and result in forced evictions.
The low-level conflict continued between Maoists and the government and militia widely believed to be supported by the government. Both sides committed abuses including targeting civilians. Bomb-blasts in various parts of the country killed hundreds of people.
In response the government arbitrarily detained and tortured suspects. Following the November Mumbai attacks in which more than 170 people were killed, the government tightened security legislation and set up a federal agency to investigate terrorist attacks.
Judicial processes failed to ensure justice for many victims of communal violence. The courts sentenced at least 70 people to death. No executions took place.
The situations in Papua and Maluku continued to deteriorate, including continued attacks on freedom of expression. The number of prisoners of conscience rose sharply to 117. Attacks against minority religious groups and their leaders increased across the archipelago.
Torture, excessive use of force and unlawful killings by police and security forces continued. No progress was made in bringing the perpetrators of past gross human rights violations in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD), Papua and Timor-Leste to justice. Indonesia resumed executions in June, executing 10 people in total. Maternal deaths remained the highest recorded in South East Asia.
The number of executions increased. Prisoners continued to face prolonged periods of solitary confinement and inadequate access to medical care.
Under the daiyo kangoku pre-trial detention system, police interrogated suspects without lawyers and often in the absence of electronic recording.
Despite international pressure, the Japanese government failed to accept full responsibility or provide adequate reparations to the survivors of Japan’s World War II military sexual slavery system.
Millions of people faced the worst food shortages since the late 1990s. Thousands continued to cross the border into China, mainly for food and economic reasons. Those arrested and forcibly repatriated were subjected to forced labour, torture and other ill-treatment in prison camps.
Other widespread violations of human rights persisted, including politically motivated and arbitrary use of detention and executions, and severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and movement. Independent human rights monitors continued to be denied access to the country.
Religious persecution increased in rural areas, where evangelical Christians came under attack. Pressures on land and natural resources continued to increase, with a rise in land and property disputes. Over 1,700 Hmong people were returned to Laos from Thailand; some were forcibly returned. No independent monitoring was allowed to assess their well-being.
The government tightened control of dissent and curtailed the right to freedom of expression and religion. Bloggers were arrested under the Sedition Act, and the Printing Press and Publications Act (PPPA) was used to control newspaper content. Ten people were arbitrarily arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
Security forces continued to use excessive force while the establishment of an independent police complaints misconduct commission was postponed.
Immigration personnel and volunteers conducted mass arrests of migrant workers. At least 22 people were sentenced to death. The number executed was unknown.
In February, the government announced that a referendum would be held later in the year on a draft constitution, followed by elections in 2010.
In May – only a week before the scheduled day for the referendum – Cyclone Nargis devastated parts of southern Myanmar, affecting approximately 2.4 million people.
More than 84,500 people died and more than 19,000 were injured, while nearly 54,000 remained unaccounted for. In its aftermath the government delayed or placed conditions on aid delivery, and refused international donors permission to provide humanitarian assistance.
Following a visit by the UN Secretary-General in late May, access improved, but the government continued to obstruct aid and forcibly evict survivors from shelters.
Also in May the government extended the house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the main opposition party. By the end of the year there were more than 2,100 other political prisoners.
Many were given sentences relating to the 2007 mass demonstrations after unfair trials. In eastern Myanmar, a military offensive targeting ethnic Karen civilians, amounting to crimes against humanity, continued into its fourth year.
The government’s development of oil, natural gas and hydropower projects in partnership with private and state-owned firms led to a range of human rights abuses.
Nepal continued to consolidate its peace process following the end of the 10-year conflict between the government and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) in 2006.
Commitments made in the November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord to uphold civil, political and economic rights, including ending discrimination, remained unfulfilled.
The process of delivering truth, justice and reparations for violations committed during the conflict did not progress and a climate of impunity persisted.
Lack of police capacity led to public insecurity as armed groups continued to operate in the Southern Terai region and the number of armed youth groups affiliated to the main political parties increased.
The Armed Police Force used excessive force on a number of occasions, including while policing the many rights based demonstrations that took place across the country.
A civilian government was elected in February. The new government released prisoners detained during the November 2007 state of emergency but failed to fulfil many of its promises to ensure human rights protection.
Torture, deaths in custody, attacks on minorities, enforced disappearances, "honour" killings and domestic violence persisted. After the new government announced that it would commute death sentences to life imprisonment, it executed at least 16 people; at least 36 were executed throughout the year.
Violence in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan spilled over into other areas of Pakistan, as members of the Pakistani Taliban took hostages, targeted and killed civilians, and committed acts of violence against women and girls.
Renewed armed conflict displaced more than 610,000 and killed over 100 civilians in Southern Philippines. Peace talks between the government and various armed groups stalled. The majority of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances remained unsolved.
A culture of impunity continued to encourage vigilante killings. Indigenous Peoples (IPs) continued to struggle for land rights as the government failed to comply with its obligation to obtain IPs’ free, prior and informed consent to development plans in their traditional territories.
Cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions of detention persisted, and under-18s experienced abuse in juvenile detention centres.
An easing of restrictions on freedom of assembly was overshadowed by heavy penalties and restrictive measures imposed on opposition activists, journalists and human rights defenders.
Suspected Islamic militants remained detained without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA), amid concerns that some were at risk of torture and other ill-treatment during questioning.
Foreign domestic workers continued to be excluded from legislation protecting the rights of foreign workers. Singapore rejected the UN General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on executions. At least five prisoners faced imminent execution, although the number of actual executions was unknown.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced as a result of fighting in the north and east. By November, tens of thousands of families were trapped in the Wanni region without adequate food, shelter, sanitation and medical care as the government barred UN and other humanitarian staff. Government allied armed groups committed unlawful killings and enforced disappearances.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) deliberately targeted civilians in the south in a string of attacks throughout the year. The government failed to address impunity for past human rights violations, and continued to carry out enforced disappearances.
The government arrested and detained increasing numbers of Tamils without charge. Human rights defenders and journalists across the country reported increased attacks including death threats.
At least eight people were sentenced to death but no executions took place. Restrictive laws continued to be used to limit freedom of expression and assembly. The recently revised Domestic Violence Prevention Act was not effectively implemented.
Insurgency continued in the south, where martial law and an emergency decree remained in force, and the official death toll since January 2004 reached 3,500. Security forces were responsible for human rights violations, including torture and arbitary arrest and detention. Armed insurgents also committed serious abuses, including deliberate attacks on civilians.
In Bangkok, freedom of expression and assembly were curtailed by two emergency decrees issued after violent demonstrations, and restrictions on the media increased.
The Act on Internal Security came into force with broad and vague application. The government forcibly returned several groups of Burmese and Lao Hmong asylum-seekers.
A crackdown on dissidents continued with severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly. Political activists were arrested and detained; others remained in prison after being sentenced under national security legislation.
Religious groups were discriminated against, including attacks against Catholics peacefully protesting over a land dispute with the state.
More than 200 ethnic minority Montagnards fled to neighbouring Cambodia seeking asylum from persecution. The National Assembly rejected Government proposals to limit the scope of the death penalty.