Tag Archives: Asian Human Rights Commission

Politics, not law, will determine Suu Kyi’s fate

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At a meeting of lawyers in Hong Kong this April, Aitzaz Ahsan described how as counsel for the Chief Justice of Pakistan in the petition against his unconstitutional removal from office during 2007, neither the president nor any other senior official had even read the charges brought against the judge, which they had signed. Had they done so, they would have noticed that the charge sheet was full of blank paragraphs with the word “deleted” alongside. And anybody looking more closely should also have found that the petitioner had not even presided over an appeal in which he was accused of having struck a deal with one of the parties; yet a number of the judges trying him had.

Although the charges against the Chief Justice of Pakistan were framed in legal terms, neither their factual accuracy nor formal correctness was supposed to have mattered. Politics and military power, not laws and civilian authority, were meant to have determined the judge’s fate. Yet to his credit, as well as to that of his advocate, the Supreme Court bench and the legal community of Pakistan, the court reinstated the judge despite the wishes of a dictator.

The case now running against Burma’s democracy icon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is of the same type. Continue reading

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Thailand’s anti-human rights commission

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Despite concerns from human rights defenders at home and abroad, Thailand’s upper house on May 1 approved the seven nominees for the country’s National Human Rights Commission. The seven consist of a top cop, a judicial administrator, a civil servant, an industrialist, an academic, a former senator and a road safety advocate.

Only the ex-senator and academic have experience and knowledge to warrant their appointments, although critics observe that both also are tainted by their links with an army-installed government after the 2006 coup. The civil servant is a social worker who has some idea about children’s and women’s rights. The other four have no clue.

The policeman says that due process in some cases should be balanced with crime control, like in the country’s restive south. As a representative of Thailand’s preeminent agency for human rights abuse, he is now situated to block inquiries into security forces that abduct, torture and kill people on this pretext, be they near the Malaysian border or anywhere else.

The court administrator counts his human rights experience as having been involved in the drafting of a number of constitutions, including a couple written for the benefit of military dictators. He also reckons that he contributed to verdicts favorable to rights, although this is an odd and unsupportable claim from someone whose role is not supposed to include telling judges how to decide cases.

The road safety guy seems unaware that the body to which he has been appointed is a human rights commission, not a rights and duties commission, as he has so far been unable to talk about one without remarking on the other.

The businessman describes human rights as a tool for international groups to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, such as the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency backing the spiritual group Falun Gong to cause trouble for China. He also says that other countries are violating the rights of Burma’s military regime by imposing sanctions. And that’s not even the start of it.

A more ugly lot of rights commissioners would be hard to find. But now they’re in, can anything be done to get them out again? Or is Thailand saddled with an anti-human rights commission for the next six years? Continue reading

Thailand’s new rights commission is a joke

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(คณะกรรมการสิทธิมนุษยชน ชุดใหม่ ของประเทศไทย เป็นเรื่องตลก)

This week the Asian Human Rights Commission issued three open letters on the selection of candidates for the new National Human Rights Commission of Thailand. The regional body has warned that if the Senate goes ahead and accepts the seven current nominees then the commission may cease to meet international standards, causing it to lose its status before the United Nations.

The seven candidates have been thrust forward after a hurried selection process about which almost no one in Thailand knows anything. The process began only in March after a long delay. It is set to be completed Friday, when the country’s upper house of military and bureaucratic yes-men will consider making the appointments. [UPDATE: The Senate on Friday elected all seven candidates to the NHRC. See further below.]

While few people in Thailand know that new commissioners have been nominated, few of the nominees know about human rights. Only one of the seven aspirants, Nirand Pithakwachara, formerly an elected senator under the repealed 1997 Constitution, has practical experience. Nirand has worked with environmental and citizens’ groups on a variety of issues, and was on Senate committees that inquired into rights abuses prior to the 2006 military coup.

The other six include Police General Vanchai Srinuwalnad, who states that he has conducted various human rights training courses but does not indicate from where he has obtained his knowledge on the topic; Constitution Court Secretary Paibool Varahapaitoorn, who claims to have participated in the making of judgments favorable to human rights, even though his role is administrative, not judicial; and Taejing Siripanich, head of a group that does good work in discouraging drunken driving but which has little if any relevance to the job for which he is applying.

The worst of the lot is Parinya Sirisarakarn, an industrialist who was a part of the undemocratic assembly that drafted the regressive 2007 Constitution. Not only does he have nothing to suggest himself to the post of rights commissioner, he was himself named in a 2007 NHRC investigative report as responsible for causing environmental damage in the northeast, where he holds a license to extract salt. Continue reading

Unhappy Human Rights Day in Burma

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While governments and groups around the world made effusive statements and gave awards to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, the Asian Human Rights Commission struck a more somber note.

“The celebration,” the regional body said, “is a grim reminder that even after 60 years of the adoption of this great declaration, the gap between what is declared and what is actually achieved … is enormous. Both in the field of civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights, people in Asia … have so little to celebrate.”

The downbeat mood was certainly shared in Burma. There, a handful of people belonging to local group Human Rights Defenders and Promoters gathered in Rangoon to mark the date.

Their International Human Rights Day event was muted by comparison to most around the world, and even compared to the one that they had held the year before. But that they got together at all demonstrated their commitment to what the day represents. Continue reading

Frantic week behind Burma’s court doors

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It has been a frantic week in Burma’s closed courts. At least 60 people have in the past few days been sentenced for their roles in last year’s mass protests, including high-profile activists, monks, a blogger and a poet.

The blogger, Nay Phone Latt, was given a sentence of 20 years and six months for having defaced images of national leaders, writings and cartoons in his email inbox, and for having had contact with other people involved in the protests.

The young man’s mother cried when she heard the verdict. She had been told to expect a sentence of around 10 years, but on just one charge under a new hold-all Internet law he was given 15.

The poet, Saw Wai, was sentenced to two years on a much more old-fashioned charge of upsetting public tranquility, which can be thrown at just about anyone for anything. He got it for writing a concealed anti-dictator message into a Valentine’s Day poem.

It wasn’t very well concealed. But well enough that the censors missed it and the magazine went to print before he was found out.

Then there was Ma Su Su Nwe, who received 12 years and six months for being at the forefront of protests that began after the government increased the price of fuels in August. Continue reading

No show trials for protestors

Over a week ago, the Asian Human Rights Commission issued an appeal on behalf of U Ohn Than, who is imprisoned in Kamti in upper Burma. The 60-year-old was among the few who protested last August against the government’s unannounced dramatic increase in fuel prices, precipitating the historic monk-led revolt in September.

Ohn Than went out alone, standing opposite the U.S. Embassy in the center of Rangoon with a placard that called for United Nations’ intervention and pleaded for the armed forces and police to join in efforts to topple the junta. (VIDEO)

His protest did not last long. Within a few minutes an unidentified vehicle pulled up and a group of men threw him inside and drove away. For the public, that was it. For Ohn Than, it was only the beginning. Continue reading

The state of human rights in Asia 2007

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“The year 2007 will be remembered as a year in which historic struggles for human rights brought out increasingly belligerent responses from ruling elites across Asia. It is certain that throughout the region more and more people are resolved to assert their rights. It is also clear that its autocrats will respond more and more aggressively in order to keep control. Instead of acknowledging the need for change, states throughout Asia are continuing to prefer overt violence and blatant constraints on basic freedoms…”

The state of human rights in eleven Asian nations, 2007 (AHRC)