Pacific Scoop

Leaders ‘must act urgently’ over muzzling of free speech in Asia-Pacific, says AI

thailand hr violations dw 425wide

Soldiers “rough up” a journalist under martial law after the coup in Thailand in May 2014. Image: DW

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Deutsche Welle

World leaders must act urgently to confront the changing nature of conflict and protect civilians from horrific violence by states and armed groups, urged Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world.

The paper provides an overview of human rights in 160 nations during 2014, including 29 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, where there has been a harsh crackdown on freedom of expression.

In a Deutsche Welle interview, Richard Bennett, AI’s Asia-Pacific director speaks about why his organisation believes the trend in human rights across Asia was regressive in 2014 and why the clampdown on freedom of expression will likely increase.

DW: What was the human rights record of Asian countries in 2014?

AI Richard Bennett 200wide

AI’s Richard Bennett … “Governments increasingly clamped down on dissenting voices.” Image: AI

Richard Bennett: The overall trend in the Asia-Pacific region on human rights was regressive in 2014. In our annual report, we describe how free speech has been muzzled in many countries, with governments increasingly clamping down on dissenting voices.

There was, for example, a definite backslide on human rights in Myanmar, with arrests of peaceful activists picking up pace, and authorities relying on draconian laws to silence protests. The same trend was visible in many countries, from Pakistan to Vietnam, where authorities punished critical voices on the pretext of “national security.”

That is not to say there weren’t bright spots. In particular, the rise of youth activism was a positive, as new affordable technologies saw people across the region rise up to claim their rights, with women often at the forefront. However, we also saw states growing increasingly fearful of the power of new technology and suppressing the use of online tools.

DW: Which countries were among the worst affected and why?

It is a difficult question to answer; we do not grade, rank or compare countries. We work to end all human rights abuses and to highlight wherever abuses take place. But 2014 was a horrific year for millions of civilians who were caught up in armed conflict, often at the hands of non-state armed groups – this was true as much in Syria as in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Too often, ordinary people bear the brunt of violence, while governments and the international community fall woefully short in their duty to protect.

That’s why, in our annual report this year, we are calling for governments to step up their efforts to address the changing face of conflict – this would include, for example, the permanent five UN Security Council members voluntarily waiving their power of veto in situations of mass atrocities.

DW: What are the most frequent forms of human rights abuses affecting the region?

It’s difficult to quantify human rights abuses, but there were certainly similar trends visible across the region.

Apart from freedom of expression, mentioned above, we also saw that torture was rife in far too many countries, an almost blanket impunity for past human rights abuses becoming entrenched, and women having to live with endemic violence.

The region is also affected by the global refugee crisis and migrant workers are exploited in several countries.

DW: What are the human rights trends for this year in Asia?

There are three trends in particular we are worried will only get worse over the coming year. The clampdown on freedom of expression will likely increase, unless action is taken to stem this trend.

The past year also saw rising religious intolerance and discrimination in many countries across Asia Pacific. Buddhist extremist groups in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and Islamic fundamentalists in both Pakistan and Indonesia used oppressive blasphemy laws to target and imprison mainly religious minorities.

Finally, the unprecedented global refugee crisis shows no sign of abating in Asia. Millions of Afghans have, for example, been driven from their homes because of the conflict. It is a trend that is likely to continue as violence is on the rise.

DW: How can this trend be reversed?

Governments must start respecting their international human rights commitments. Signing up to international human rights treaties is necessary but this is only the start; the real test is to stop the violations and for governments and non-state entities to make respecting human rights a top priority.

We want 2014 to be a low point and for the downward spiral to be reversed from this point.

Richard Bennett is Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty International.

1 comment:

  1. Truth-Good Luck To The Coup, 1. March 2015, 20:24

    The problem is the corrupt side pays the media to report democracy is being repressed. The reality is that the coup is having a hard time getting rid of the corruption because the Thaksin party has too much corrupt money and can afford to pay for news that favors them. The coup is necessary because if voting is allowed they buy votes and put another in law in power and the cycle of corruption starts all over again. They say negative things about the King/monarchy because they are about the only force besides the military that is strong enough to oppose them. Some Police and Military were on the payroll, but those loyal to King and country (the coup) are trying to remove the corrupt party from power. Please support them while they try to restore true democracy without corruption.