Southeast Asia

Vietnam: ‘free trade’ advances; free speech retreats

The European Council announced that it has approved the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), hailed as the most ambitious trade pact between the EU and a developing country. Under EVFTA, upwards of 99% of tariffs on goods from both sides will be lifted. The deal was approved two weeks after a Vietnamese environmental activist was sentenced to six years in prison for “anti-state” Facebook posts. Nguyen Ngoc Anh, a shrimp farming engineer, is accused of writing posts that urged people to take part in peaceful protests over corporate pollution. The posts especially noted the Formosa Plastics disaster in 2016, in which a Taiwanese-owned steel plant dumped toxic waste into the ocean off the coast of central Vietnam, killing millions of fish. (Photo of Nguyen Ngoc Anh via Human Rights Watch. Sign reads: “Fish Need Clean Water, People Need Transparency.”)

Southeast Asia

Amnesty: war crimes continue in Burma’s Rakhine

Amnesty International released a report asserting that Burma’s military is continuing to commit war crimes and rights violations in the context of its campaign against the rebel Arakan Army in Rakhine state. The campaign began after rebels launched coordinated attacks on police posts in Rakhine in January. The report finds that the military has fired indiscriminately in civilian areas, and at times obstructed access to medical treatment for civilians, including children, injured by such attacks. Despite international outrage over the Burmese military’s attacks on the Rohingya people in Rakhine, it now appears to be using the same methods against the Arakan people. (Photo via Amnesty International)

Southeast Asia

Burma: soldiers freed in Rohingya massacre

Seven soldiers imprisoned in Burma for killing 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys have received an early release—serving less time than the reporters who uncovered the massacre they were convicted of. The soldiers were sentenced in 2018 to 10 years in prison for the killings at the village of Inn Din, but they “are no longer detained,” prison officials told Reuters. The news agency said the men were freed in November. This means they served less than one year of their 10-year terms. They are the only people to have been convicted for atrocities committed during the 2017 military campaign against the Rohingya in the western Rakhine state, in which more than 700,000 were displaced. Meanwhile, the two Reuters reporters who were imprisoned on charges of revealing “state secrets” for reporting the massacre were also just released—after serving 16 months. (Photo via Reuters)

Southeast Asia

Burma sentences Arakan leader to 20 years

A Burmese court sentenced prominent Rakhine ethnic leader Aye Maung to 20 years in prison for treason and defamation stemming from a January 2018 speech made one day before deadly riots broke out in Mrauk-U township. Maung, a member of parliament and former chairman of the Arakan National Party, was arrested along with writer Wai Hin Aung days after giving "inflammatory" speeches. Maung is said to have accused the ethnic Bamar-dominated ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government of treating the ethnic Rakhine people (also known as the Arakan) like "slaves." Seven people were killed the evening after the speeches, when Rakhine protestors seized a government building and police opened fire. Maung’s lawyers are unsure if he will appeal at this time, as a new trial in the case could result in a death sentence. (Photo via Myanmar Times)

Southeast Asia

Autonomy vote at issue in Sulu cathedral bombing?

Twin explosions left at least 20 dead and some 80 wounded at the cathedral in Jolo, capital of Sulu province in the restive southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The first blast went off inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as Sunday mass was about to start. This was followed seconds later by another blast in the cathedral's parking area. The attack came just days after the Bangsamoro Organic Law was approved by voters in the region, creating a new Muslim-led autonomous government. The new Bangsamoro autonomous region replaces the weaker Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Of the five provinces in the autonomous region, the only one to reject the BOL was Sulu. (Photo via PhilStar)

Southeast Asia

Arakan Army escalates insurgency in Rakhine state

Over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have been driven from Burma's northern Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh by the Burmese army's brutal "clearance operations," ostensibly launched in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in August 2017. But over the past weeks, the state has seen a new outbreak of attacks—this time by the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine insurgent group opposed to the central government's Burman-centric rule. Ambushes by Arakan Army fighters have targeted both the Burmese army, or Tatmadaw, and the Border Guard Police. Fighting in several townships has left some 2,500 displaced. Last month, the Tatmadaw announced a four-month ceasefire in Burma's north to facilitate peace talks with multiple armed groups fighting for local autonomy, but that announcement excluded Rakhine state. (Photo via Asia Times)

Southeast Asia

Protest forced repatriation of Rohingya refugees

Authorities in Bangladesh and Burma must immediately halt plans to send Rohingya refugees back to Burma's Rakhine State, Amnesty International said. A first wave of organized returns could begin imminently, following announcement of a bilateral agreement between Bangladesh and Burma last month—which Amnesty says falls short of international obligations. "This is a reckless move which puts lives at risk," said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty's director for East and Southeast Asia. "These women, men and children would be sent back into the Myanmar [Burma] military's grasp with no protection guarantees, to live alongside those who torched their homes and whose bullets they fled." (Photo: UNHCR)

Southeast Asia

Philippines: who killed the ‘Sagay 9’?

The massacre of nine farmworkers, including two minors, at Hacienda Nene, outside Sagay City in the central Philippines, constituted the single most deadly attack against peasant activists under the Rodrigo Duterte administration. A fact-finding mission led by human rights and civil society groups has pointed to members of the Special Civilian Auxiliary Army, a private militia associated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as the most likely perpetrators of the "Sagay 9" massacre. But the Philippine National Police have charged two members of the farmworkers' union for inciting the violence by launching a land occupation at the hacienda. Duterte issued a new warning that his troops will shoot to kill if landless peasants begin any new occupations. (Photo via Philippine Inquirer)

Southeast Asia

Farmworker massacre in Philippine land occupation

Nine sugar-cane workers were killed as a group of some 40 gunmen fired on their encampment on lands they were occupying in Negros Occidental province of the central Philippines. Among the fatalities were three women and two minors. The slain were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers who were occupying part of the sprawling Hacienda Nene near Barangay Bulanon village, outside Sagay City. The occupation was legally permitted under an agrarian reform program established in the 1980s that allows landless rural workers to cultivate fallow lands on large plantations while title transfer is pending. The massacre was reported by survivors who managed to scatter and hide. Some of the bodies were burned by the attackers. "They were strafed by unknown perpetrators while already resting in their respective tents," said Cristina Palabay, head of the rights group Karapatan. Calling the attack "brutal and brazen," she said: "We call on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent and thorough investigation on the massacre. We are one with the kin of the victims in the Sagay massacre in their call for justice." (Photo: PhilStar)

Southeast Asia

UN experts renew call for Burma genocide charges

UN investigators renewed their call for charges against Burma military officials suspected of carrying out a genocide against the nation's minority Rohingya population over the past year. The UN Office of Human Rights published an exhaustive list of atrocities and called "for the investigation and prosecution of Myanmar's Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and his top military leaders for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes." Since last August, 700,000 Rohinga refugees have fled into neighboring Bangladesh, and many have spoken of the Burmese military's attacks on their villages, describing actions that are considered crimes against humanity under international law. This August, a UN fact-fidning mission for the first time referred to the conflict as a genocide. (Photo: UNHCR)

Southeast Asia

Duterte charged with ‘crimes against humanity’

Several Philippine families filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of "crimes against humanity" carried out in the context of his "war on drugs." This is the second complaint against Duterte filed with the ICC; the first was filed in April 2017. The ICC began preliminary examination in the case in February. Duterte announced the Philippines' withdrawal from the ICC this March. Under the Rome Statute, a member can withdraw no sooner than one year following written notification to the UN Secretary-General. However, Duterte claimed that the agreement was immediately voidable because it was signed fraudulently. (Photo: Anakpawis)

Southeast Asia

UN report: try Burma leaders for genocide

The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar issued a report urging the investigation and prosecution of Burma's top military generals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Mission "found patterns of gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States that undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law," adding that there is likely sufficient evidence to establish "genocidal intent." (Photo: European Commission via Flickr)