Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

Pinning hope on a hopeless 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


Saneh must now resign


The chairman of Thailand’s official human rights body, Saneh Chamarik (above), on July 29 sent an open letter to the head of the United Nations expressing his agency’s most serious concern and dismay at a “blatant violation of human rights.”

As the writing of an open letter to the U.N. secretary-general is an unusual step for a statutory rights bureau, and given its strident tone, readers might expect that its topic would be one of utmost importance to the defense of human dignity in Thailand.

This would be mistaken. The purpose of the National Human Rights Commission’s letter was in actuality to lay blame for a puerile spat over an historic temple between the governments of Thailand and Cambodia with a U.N. committee.

According to Saneh, it is the World Heritage Committee, rather than politicking and self-interested nationalist leaders, that has somehow “endangered the lives of those who live along the Thai-Cambodian border.”

But Saneh does not stop there. He goes beyond any pretence of concern for the integrity of people residing nearby the contested site to lobby unashamedly for his own country’s claims.

“It seems that the views of the Thai side have been consistently overlooked,” he shrills, before concluding with a demand for an inquiry of some sort or another.

Official politeness will oblige a response, but it is hard to imagine the letter being received in New York with anything other than incredulity.

Although the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand has had its share of ups and downs and is certainly not alone among its peers in Asia in having missed the point of its work from time to time, other blunders pale in comparison to the disgrace caused with this outburst. Continue reading

The price of being a judge in Rangoon

The June edition of the New Era Journal, a Burmese-language monthly published in Bangkok, carried a letter from an unnamed senior lawyer practicing in South Dagon, greater Rangoon.

According to the author, to be selected for the test to become an apprentice judge these days a lawyer needs to pay the selecting panel 3 million kyat – upwards of US$2,500. The writer lamented that although senior judges know about this they turn a blind eye.

The claim is interesting but not remarkable. In Burma, where people have to put up extra cash for everything from a mobile phone permit to a hospital bed, or even a mat on the floor, why not also for a court verdict? After all, the judges have paid to get their posts, and surely expect something in return.

When an advocate practicing in Rangoon was asked a while ago roughly how much it costs to win an ordinary criminal case he laughed and replied with his own questions, as to which type of case, involving who as the defendant and victim, and in which township or district it would be heard. His intricate knowledge of brokering now rivals his knowledge of the law itself.

That Burma’s courts are places where services are provided to the person with the highest offer is also unsurprising when they are compared to those in the country’s neighbors. From Bangladesh to Indonesia, judges cut deals and entertain proposals that have nothing to do with their job descriptions. Continue reading

The mechanics of murder

The killing of Yapa Koseng in a vehicle parked at an army base in southern Thailand has attracted interest among news media and human rights groups, particularly since a doctor speaking at a postmortem inquest hearing at the end of June indicated that his fatal injuries could have been caused only by savage torture.

However, it was the testimony of another person that day which laid bare the mechanics of the homicide, or how, in the words of a United Nations expert on extrajudicial killings, police and soldiers in Thailand “get away with murder.”

That person was Major Wicha Phuthong, then acting commander of the unit holding Yapa, whom other detainees claim was present during the assault: a claim that the officer has of course denied.

According to Major Wicha, police picked up Yapa together with two of his sons and three other persons “probably” around 3 p.m. on March 19. They were to be held under martial law provisions for up to seven days without being brought to a court. Anticipating their transfer to a neighboring province for further inquiries, Wicha had them kept in the police van that carried them to his unit at Suantham Temple, in Narathiwat.

Yapa didn’t make it through seven days. The 56-year-old died sometime during the night of March 20 or 21, a broken rib stuck in his lungs. (Hundreds attended his funeral, above.)

But don’t ask Major Wicha about that. Continue reading

Sri Lankan torture case holds lessons for Thailand

Gerald Perera

A court in Sri Lanka has given a shocking verdict in a case of police torture. Both the judgment and chain of events that led to it contain many important lessons for people in Thailand.

Police in Wattala picked up Gerald Perera [pictured above] on June 3, 2002. They took the 39-year-old to their station, strung him from a beam and beat him with iron rods and wooden poles for about an hour in an effort to get him to confess to a murder.

They had the wrong man. Gerald knew nothing of the crime. His was a case of mistaken identity. But by the time that he was released he had suffered renal failure. Only protracted and expensive medical treatment saved his life.

Both Gerald and his wife had a strong sense of justice and great courage. Despite the obvious danger, they sought help to lodge complaints against the police. They asked to be compensated for breaches of Gerald’s constitutional rights, and initiated a criminal inquiry.

In April 2003 the Supreme Court found that Gerald had been beaten to within inches of his life while in custody. It said that the police accounts of what had happened were unsatisfactory and noted that three officers had admitted to using force during the arrest.

In awarding Gerald a record payout, the court said that it had “no doubt whatsoever” that he had been tortured. It added that by not rushing him to hospital the police also were guilty of committing cruel and inhuman treatment.

Buoyed up by these findings, Gerald prepared to testify again, this time in the case that the prosecutor had lodged under Sri Lanka’s anti-torture law, which carries a mandatory seven-year jail term.

He never spoke. Continue reading

Six bucks, the value of a life in Burma


For anyone grappling with the thorny problem of assigning a financial value to human life, help is at hand. Insurance companies of the world, rejoice: Burma’s Defense Ministry has definitively established that one life is worth a bit less than six US dollars.

In November 2006 a low-ranking army officer came to the suburban Rangoon home of a young mother. He told her that her husband had died of malaria in a mountainous border region some three months before, while serving an infantry battalion.

How Htun Htun Naing [above] got there in the first place is unclear.

Continue reading

With or without the US, torturers have their way


(การทรมานในเอเชีย ไม่ต้องการตัวอย่างของสหรัฐ)

An article in the Asia Times this week linked a secret U.S. facility in eastern Thailand with the torture of people in the country’s south. According to Shawn W. Crispin, “Rights advocates monitoring southern Thailand’s conflict note a striking similarity between the torture techniques U.S. agents are known to have used against terror suspects … with those now in practice by Thai security forces against suspected Thai Muslim militants.”

That soldiers, paramilitaries and police in the south routinely torture their detainees is beyond doubt. Journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders have documented hundreds of cases over a number of years, although concerns for the safety of the victims, their families and persons recording their stories mean that many cannot be publicized. As the abused persons also hold no hopes of redress through the courts, they can expect no more than a small payoff in acknowledgment of wrongdoing with which, it is understood, their silence also is bought.

But have rights advocates really noted a “striking similarity” between these cases and what has gone on in Guantanamo? Isn’t it more relevant to talk about the striking similarity between the abuses in the south and what goes on in police stations all around the country? Or how about what goes on in the Philippines, Sri Lanka or Cambodia? Continue reading