Tag Archives: Asian Legal Resource Centre

Pinning hope on a hopeless constitution

constitution

Last year, amid the death and debris in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, Burma got a new Constitution. Now people inside and outside the country are readying themselves for a general election of some sort, followed by the opening of a new Parliament, which is when the charter will take effect.

The ballot is expected in 2010, although so far no details have emerged of how it will be run. The regime could yet give any number of excuses to postpone it if Senior General Than Shwe or his astrologers decide the time is not right.

Some analysts – including former diplomats and others who move in their circles – see hope for change in the 2008 Constitution and the anticipated elections. Their argument is that even though the parliamentary system will be under military control, it will still provide space for people that have not had a chance to participate in government for the last few decades.

One way or another, they say, power will be more diffused and that will create opportunities. And like it or not, they figure, the junta’s electoral circus is the only one in town.

But, in a statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council this month, the Asian Legal Resource Center has given a starkly different opinion. The Hong Kong-based group has argued that in its current form the 2008 charter cannot be called a constitution at all, let alone one that will permit people in Burma to shape their future. Continue reading

Advertisements

Thailand’s “unsubstantiated” police abuses

red faces

Thailand’s representatives to the United Nations still cling to the outdated idea that if they turn up at a big get-together and make nice comments about how they cherish human rights, then everyone will think things are fine in the land of smiles.

Not surprisingly, they are unhappy when other people tell a different story. So last March, when the Asian Legal Resource Centre addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council concerning Thailand, they weren’t at all pleased.

The Hong Kong-based group told the council that the police are the top abusers of human rights in Thailand, for which they enjoy impunity. The center did not make this statement frivolously. It has for years worked closely with people in the country on dozens of cases that speak to this fact, and it is aware of and has documented hundreds more. Many cases it cannot publicize because to do so would put lives at risk.

Notwithstanding, the government representative, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, claimed that the center’s remarks were “unsubstantiated.” Although his defense of his country’s record was not in itself surprising, the vehemence of his response was remarkable given the piles of evidence to the contrary which groups have accumulated and presented to international bodies over the last decade.

This week the center had a chance to rebut his claim. Continue reading

Thailand’s rights reputation in the sewer

unhrc

(ชื่อเสียงของไทยด้านสิทธิเปรียบเสมือนอยู่ในท่อน้ำเสียแล้ว)

Not so long ago, Thailand’s representatives at United Nations meetings sat quietly while counterparts from nearby countries like Burma and Cambodia were grilled on their human rights records.

Around the world, Thailand’s legal, political and social developments in the 1990s were greeted with applause, and its people in Geneva could sit comfortably, confident that their country would be held up as an example of somewhere with an improved record, even as their neighbors were being singled out for the opposite reason.

How times have changed. This week, the Asian Legal Resource Center submitted a statement to the Human Rights Council (above) that has painted the bleakest picture yet of denied rights and declining rule of law in Thailand during the past few years. [การเติบโตขึ้นของรัฐแห่งความมั่นคงภายในและการเสื่อมถอยของสิทธิมนุษยชนในประเทศไทย]

According to the Hong Kong-based group, Thailand is now in real danger of turning back into an internal-security state. The center’s indicators include the repeated overthrow of elected governments by antidemocratic forces, large-scale public criminal activity with impunity, Internet censorship and the lese-majesty witch-hunt, threats to human rights defenders, and forced repatriation and murder on the high seas. Continue reading

Prison doors open, court doors close

Whether the release of some nine thousand prisoners from Burma’s jails last week was an act of self-described goodwill or a strategic manoeuvre by a government preparing the latest phase in its program for continued political control is of little significance when seen against the country’s unchanging legal codes, courts and policing agencies. The excitement over the discharge of star political prisoner U Win Tin, who is a former senior journalist and veteran activist, has not been matched by scrutiny of the laws and institutions that made his long imprisonment possible.

How Burma’s criminal justice agencies have over the last half-century been turned into agencies for injustice is the subject of recent research by the Asian Legal Resource Centre. The Hong Kong-based group has marked the one-year anniversary of the protests last September with a study that links ten cases against alleged protestors and their ringleaders to phased decades-long attacks on a legal system that was once ranked highly in Asia but is now among its worst.

The study, “Saffron Revolution imprisoned, law demented“, reveals the integral yet deeply flawed role that the courts in Burma have played in both guaranteeing and exacerbating nationwide systemic abuse of fundamental human rights. Continue reading

Tall tales at the Human Rights Council

unhrc-2007-500.jpg

Tourist brochures portray Burma as a mystical land full of unseen wonders and tall tales about amazing imaginary creatures, from giant serpents to magical birds. But it was a different sort of fantasy that the government spun stories about in Geneva this week: a far more modern, albeit no less implausible entity.

In response to the U.N. Human Rights Council‘s scrutiny of its violent crackdown on protests during August and September, the Burmese government suddenly claimed to have already set up an investigating body into alleged killings, abductions and disappearances at the time.

The body, under the home affairs minister, had begun its work at the end of October, the country’s ambassador said, and so there would be no need for any international inquiry of the sort proposed by the special human rights expert on the country.

This was news to informed observers. No such body has ever been reported in the state media, or heard about in other quarters. Nor does it seem that anyone representing it has met with persons from outside the regime.

It seems reasonable to ask if the inquiry body really exists at all. Yet, this question did not once come up in the Human Rights Council. Although the ambassador described nothing of what the body has done or will do, nor anything of its powers, many delegates seemed to take it seriously. How come?

Continue reading