Saturday, January 23, 2010

Expelled Hmong Imprisoned in Laos

The Irrawaddy News

Around 50 Hmong refugees who were forcibly repatriated by Thailand to Laos on Dec. 28 have been imprisoned in Paksan jail, according to the Fact Finding Commission (FFC), an American based NGO.

It is suggested that the group may have been isolated because of their role as leaders in the camps and during the “secret war,” when the CIA hired the Hmong as foot soldiers to prevent the spread of communism during the Vietnam War.

Above Ph: Whilst in Thailand detention in May 2009

Hmong refugees sit inside a Thai police truck during an operation
to deport thousands of ethnic Hmong asylum-seekers
to Laos in December. (Photo: Reuters)

Using a secret network of undercover researchers called “blackbirds,” the FFC were able to get confirmation on Tuesday morning about the group’s imprisonment.

“We received confirmation from our contact that around 50 leaders have been imprisoned,” said Bhou Than of the FFC.

“We are very concerned about what is happening to them and expect that more will face similar detention in the coming months.”

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Amnesty International confirmed that one group has been separated from other returnees and expressed concern about their treatment by the Laos government.

“We are aware that some of the leaders have been separated from the group, taken out of Vientiane and remain unaccounted for,” said Benjamin Zawacki, a Bangkok-based researcher for Amnesty.

“Our primary concern for them is torture, which we know is often employed in Laos’ prisons and could be used as a punitive measure for them bringing shame to Laos or for information gathering.”

He went on to add that Thailand has not only broken refugee law by expelling the Hmong but has also gone against the UN treaty against torture, which Thailand has signed and ratified.

“Under that treaty they are obliged not to send anyone back to a country where they are at risk of torture,” he said.

In an opinion piece published in the Bangkok Post on Jan. 13, the US Ambassador to Thailand, Eric John, said the Thai authorities said they had conducted their own screening process and 800 of the Hmong refugees were identified as having protection concerns and “should not be returned involuntarily.”

However, the names of these people were never handed over to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) or any potential resettlement country, John said, and “the lack of transparency during the repatriation process made it impossible to determine if the return was voluntary.

“The US was disappointed at the Thai decision to deport 4,689 Laotian Hmong asylum seekers back to Laos on Dec. 28, 2009, despite clear indications that some in the group required protection,” John said.

One thousand of the refugees are reported to have been allowed to return to their villages and stay with their relatives. However, the remaining returnees are thought to be held in “camps” around Laos, according to eyewitnesses.

According to an undercover FFC researcher who recently made a clandestine trip to one of the camps in Phak Beuk, three thousand are being held there in terrible conditions.

“Our researcher went to the camp yesterday and told me that the people are only receiving small amounts of rice,” Bhou Than told The Irrawaddy.

“They aren’t being given any medicine, no clothes, no shelter, no doctors and he told us that 500 are sick with malaria...they are just living on the ground and being controlled by Lao soldiers with AK47s—we are very concerned by this news.”

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald on Jan. 12, reporters approached a camp at Paksan on the Mekong River, where “hundreds of Hmong hilltribes people stood barefoot in the dirt behind three metres of razor wire as loudspeakers ordered them to move away from the gate.”

“Blue tarpaulins blocked much of the view of the camp, but the tops of scores of tents could be seen in close rows. No grass or paved areas could be seen, and there appeared to be no permanent buildings,” the Herald said, adding that the reporters were escorted from the camp and told not to return.

Despite the information leaking out of Laos, the communist regime continues to claim that the refugees are being treated well. When the Lao Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Phongsavath Boupha met with ambassadors from the European Union, US and Australia on January 15, he told them the government had provided them with food, clothing and medicines.

“The government's long-term plan was to build a house for each family and allocate land for farming activities,” Phongsavath said, according to the Vientiane Times, a government mouthpiece.

Although the UNHCR continues to be denied access to the returnees, three US congressmen including Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao of New Orleans visited Pha Lak, a separate camp south of Paksan and reported that the Hmong were being treated well.

Human rights groups have blasted their remarks, however, as being insensitive to the returnees and claimed their trip was staged by the Laos government.

“Their visit was nothing close to human rights monitoring,” said Joe Davy, a Hmong advocate in Chicago, who spoke to The Irrawaddy by phone.

“The Laos government told the refugees what to say before they arrived. There’s no way they would speak out and criticize the government for their living conditions. They’ve already seen how powerless the US is to help them so why would they speak out now and risk their lives?”

Responding on Thursday to the criticisms, which she described as unfounded and unfair, Cao spokeswoman Princella Smith said: “Accusations that Congressman Cao is insensitive to the needs of refugees or is somehow insensitive to victims of government abuse and persecution are not only wrong but absurd.”

Although most refugees came from Huay Nam Khao camp, one group of major concern for the UNHCR consists of 158 returnees (including 87 children) who, until they were sent back, were being held at an immigration detention center in Nong Khai on the border with Laos.

US Ambassador John said the refugees, who were detained for more than three years in the center, had been screened by the UNHCR prior to their detention and determined to have refugee status and were recognized as “Persons of Concern.”

The US was financing the care of the refugees while they were in detention in Thailand, John said, and the US and other countries were prepared to consider appropriate cases for resettlement in third countries.

"All the refugees we interviewed in Nong Khai told us on Dec. 28 that the did not wish to return to Laos, clearly indicating the return was involuntary,” John said.

Burma Newscasts - Expelled Hmong Imprisoned in Laos - January 22, 2010

READ MORE---> Expelled Hmong Imprisoned in Laos...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rights group concerned over Thai policy on refugees, migrants

By Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Deteriorating human rights records is in evidence in Thailand given the country’s policy on migrant workers and refugees, the Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2010.

The HRW released a 612-page report on Wednesday, the organization's 20th annual review of human rights practices around the globe. It evaluated the situation in Thailand, and said that the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had largely failed to fulfill its pledges to make human rights a priority.

Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch said while Prime Minister Abhisit sometimes said the right things about human rights in 2009, his actions didn't match his words. "The government continually undermined respect for human rights and the due process of law in Thailand."

Abhisit's government blatantly flouted Thailand's obligations under international law to protect refugees and asylum seekers, the group said.

The expression of the hostile policy towards refugees and asylum seekers, was in evidence in January 2009, when in his capacity as chairman of the National Security Council, Abhisit approved a directive authorizing the military to intercept boats carrying ethnic Rohingya from Burma and Bangladesh.

The Thai Navy subsequently intercepted several boats transporting Rohingya and towed the rickety vessels back to the ocean with inadequate supplies of food and water. While Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, the Thai government has an obligation under international law of nonrefoulement (non-return) of persons to places where their life or freedom is at risk.

"Prime Minister Abhisit did not honour his pledge to uphold human rights principles and international law in 2009," Adams said. "Getting Thailand back on track as a rights-respecting nation in 2010 is crucial both for the country and the region."

The Thai government gave the green signal to the army to deport more than 4,600 Lao Hmong refugees and asylum seekers on December 28, despite international concerns including that of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Secretary-General.

HRW also noted the failure to act against official abuses by the police. Despite the government's strong opposition to the violent approach to drug eradication by the exiled former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, it remained unwilling to bring to justice officials allegedly responsible for more than 2,500 unresolved extrajudicial killings and serious abuses committed during Thaksin's 2003 "war on drugs" and the ongoing drug suppression operations by the police.

“At the local level, the government continued to ignore systemic police violence and extortion targeting the over two million migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos,” HRW noted.

In addition, the other human rights backslide in Thailand are the growing crackdowns on protesters and other political critics, including intensive surveillance of the internet and a failure to curb abuses by security forces in response to the longtime insurgency in the south.

Burma Newscasts - Rights group concerned over Thai policy on refugees, migrants
Friday, 22 January 2010 15:31

READ MORE---> Rights group concerned over Thai policy on refugees, migrants...

USDA woos Muslims in Kachin state ahead of elections

By Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) is out to woo the Muslim community living in Myitkyina since early this month for the forthcoming 2010 general elections.

Though the 2010 Electoral Law is yet to be enacted and promulgated by the junta, some political parties and organizations including USDA have been allowed to start campaign.

A delegation led by Khin Maung Latt, elder brother of Burma’s Postal and Telecommunication Minister Brig. Gen. Thein Zaw, who is a candidate in the elections in Kahcin State, where a majority are Christians, is organizing Muslims at mosques in Myitkyina.

He told the Muslim community that peace and religious equality has been achieved during military rule so they should vote for Brig. Gen. Thein Zaw representing the USDA and nominated by the junta,” an attendee at one of the mosques told Mizzima.
(JEG's: Is it because of peace and religious equality under the junta that the Rohingya are stateless?)

The campaign team comprised Myitkyina native Khin Maung Latt, BSPP party member and former Township (administrative) Council Secretary, Kachin State USDA Executive Committee member Dr. Khin Maung Tun, retired Maj. Myint Swe, and retired Lt. Col. Myo Swe, who is mobilizing minority Muslims in Myitkyina.

They concluded the poll campaign in three mosques of the officially permitted seven in seven Wards of Myitkyina. There are over 700 Muslim devotees at these mosques, it is learnt.

The team rounded off their election campaign in Aung Nan Ward on January 1, in Kyun Pin Thar Ward on January 8, in Khay Mar Thiri on January 15 respectively. A Muslim community member from Min Yat Ward said that campaign in this ward today had to be cancelled.

Brig. Gen. Thein Zaw is running the ‘Setana Pyee Phyo’ and ‘Parami’ free clinics for people in 18 wards and villages in Myitkyina including Sitapu, Dukathaung, Naung Nan, Shwe Set, Sha Daung, a local resident said. (JEG's: will the clinics run free after elections???)

The Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP) is also planning to contest the elections. They have already conducted election campaign in 18 townships in Kachin State.

According to government statistics, there are 46 million Buddhists, three million Christians, two million Muslims and three million Hindus in Burma.

Burma Newscasts - USDA woos Muslims in Kachin state ahead of elections -
Friday, 22 January 2010 21:36

READ MORE---> USDA woos Muslims in Kachin state ahead of elections...

Final arguments heard in Burmese-American’s trial

By Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The final arguments by all lawyers in the trial against Burmese-born American citizen, Kyaw Zaw Lwin (aka) Nyi Nyi Aung was heard by a special court in Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison on Friday.

Nyan Win, one of the defence lawyers of the American citizen said “Today we submitted our final arguments. The verdict will be given on January 27.”

Arrested on September 3, 2009, Nyi Nyi Aung is facing trial on charges of fraud, forgery, illegal possession of foreign currency and charges under the Immigration Act.

However, his international counsel in New York, Beth Schwanke earlier told Mizzima that the charges were baseless and were cooked up to arrest and sentence her client as he is a well known pro-democracy activist, advocating democracy and human rights in Burma.

The Burmese-American was a student activist, involved in the nation-wide pro-democracy uprising in 1988. He was forced to flee to neighbouring Thailand in the wake of the military’s brutal crackdown on protesters.

Later, he migrated to Maryland in United States, where he was naturalized as a citizen.

Burma’s state-run media, the New Light of Myanmar, however, accused him of having entered the country secretly in disguise eight times. He was also accused of having maintained contacts with underground activists, planning to instigate public unrest.

However, the charge-sheet against him in court does not include any of the newspaper’s accusations but merely accuses Nyi Nyi Aung of using a fake Burmese national identity card, lying to the immigration, and possessing foreign currency.

Schwanke denied the first two charges and said Nyi Nyi Aung was arrested as he stepped out of the Bangkok-Rangoon Thai Airways International (TG) flight, even before he could approach the custom’s desk to declare his foreign currency. (JEG's: he is a foreigner on a visiting trip he is to carry foreign currency on him...)

“We don’t know what will be the outcome of the trial. We will have to wait and see on January 27. The court will decide what we will be doing next,” Nyan Win said.

Supreme Court advocates, Nyan Win and Kyi Win, who jointly defended detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi last year, teamed-up to defend the Burmese-American at the Southern District Court.

Burma Newscasts - Final arguments heard in Burmese-American’s trial - 22 January 2010

READ MORE---> Final arguments heard in Burmese-American’s trial...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Constitutional Impunity for Generals in Burma

The Irrawaddy News

"In the military everybody is liable for their failure to abide by the law. No one is above the law," said Gen Thura Shwe Mann shortly after Gen Khin Nyunt had been taken into custody on corruption charges.

But, Burma's 2008 Constitution states things somewhat differently: it is not about equality under the law and justice. It's about special exemptions granted to the generals and those working for the state institutions that control Burma.

In paragraph 445 in the chapter “Transitory Provisions” of the Constitution, it states: “No proceeding shall be instituted against the said Councils (the State Law and Order Restoration Council and the State Peace and Development Council) or any member thereof or any member of the Government, in respect of any act done in the execution of their respective duties.”

According to the above provision, no legal action can be taken for any act done by the members of SLORC or the SPDC in contrast to Gen Shwe Mann's statement. The generals are constitutionally above the law.

The need for constitutional impunity, is illustrated in some haunting stories that have followed generals for years.

In early July 1990, about a month after the election, U Kyi Maung, then de facto leader of the National League for Democracy, said in an interview with the now defunct Hong Kong-based Asiaweek magazine that Burma did not need a Nuremberg type tribunal.

However, he said some individuals such as Major-Gen Khin Nyunt might reasonably feel themselves insecure. In a SLORC press conference, Major-Gen Khin Nyunt made a personal challenge to U Kyi Maung, saying he could be tested in comparison with U Kyi Maung in terms of intellect, patriotism or moral character.

The general's remark psychologically reflected his personal sensitivity and insecurity about legal proceedings against him. Fourteen years after his challenge against U Kyi Maung, he was arrested and sentenced to 44 years in prison on corruption charges. But the real reason for
his arrest was his tacit challenge against Sen-Gen Than Shwe.
(JEG's: yes sir, no sir but I disagree with you therefore U Kyi Maung is paying the price"

Gen Khin Nyunt is not the only general who has been victim of their own hypocrisy. In 1997, several generals who were members of SLORC, the first military clique who led the coup d'état in 1988, were expelled and arrested mostly due to their excessive corruption.

In fact, Sen-Gen Saw Maung, Than Shwe's predecessor and the coup leader in 1988, was also dethroned and died in oblivion not long after.

Gen Ne Win who was the pioneer of Burma's military coups and who ruled Burma for almost three decades died without a proper funeral ceremony under undeclared house arrest. His family, once the most powerful and influential in Burma, vanished and some were arrested and imprisoned.

In Gen Ne Win's era of 1962-88, a long list of military leaders from Major-Gen Aung Gyi, Major-Gen Maung Maung, Brig-Gen Kyaw Zaw, Brig-Gen Aung Shwe (now chairman of NLD) to Gen Tin Oo (now vice chairman of the NLD), Major-Gen Tin Oo (chief military intelligent), Col Kyi Maung, Col Maung Lwin, Col Chit Khaing and many others, were expelled or arrested for their potential threat to his power.

The current generals are aware of the history of generals in neighboring countries who try to rule by force.

In South Korea, former generals and presidents such as Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo were jailed on charges of corruption in 1996 after they stepped down. Chun's family was accused of embezzling US $4 billion during his rule. He received a death sentence, which was later reduced to life.

In Indonesia, Suharto, the former president and coup leader, was put under house arrest and investigated for corruption, accused of embezzling US $571 millions. Suharto was not properly prosecuted due to deteriorating health, but many of his relatives, including his son, were sentenced to prison on corruption charges.

In the Philippines, after the “People Power Movement” in 1986, Marcos, then president, fled the country into exile. In the United States, he and his family were indicted for embezzlement. He died in the United States in 1989.

According to Transparency International, Marcos was the second most corrupt head of government ever, after Suharto.

There are many more stories of generals or self-proclaimed leaders who meet ignoble ends: Gen Noriega of Panama, Gen Pinoche of Chile, Gen Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Slobodan Milošević of Serbia and countless others in Africa continent.

Another reason the Burmese generals are trying to protect themselves is the fear of being indicted for “crimes against humanity” or “war crimes” committed during their rule.

In a report by the International Human Rights Clinic of the Harvard Law School titled “Crimes in Burma,” five of the world's leading international jurists analyzed scores of UN documents and reports from several different UN special rapporteurs, and suggested that abuses in Burma are potential crimes against humanity and war crimes and called for the UN Security Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry.

In August, 2009, a Paris-based INGO called the International Federation for Human Rights together with ALTSEAN Burma and the Burma Lawyer Council issued a report titled “Burma/Myanmar International Crimes Committed in Burma: The urgent need for a Commission of Inquiry,” which presented an overview of existing documentation on human rights violations perpetrated by the military regime.

In the report, the organizations called for the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry mandated by the United Nations Security Council to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity, war crimes and other widespread systematic human rights violations.

In another report released in September by the International Center for Transitional Justice titled “Impunity Prolonged: Burma and its 2008 Constitution” called for the international community to work with the Burmese government to establish an independent Commission of Inquiry into serious human rights violations, including sexual violence, the recruitment and use of child soldiers and forced labor.

The reason for calling for a Commission of Inquiry is because the only way to get the case to the ICC is through a UN Security Council referral, since Burma is not a signatory to the ICC statute.

To date, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic which are member State Parties have referred cases occurring on their territories to the court. In addition, the Security Council has referred cases in Sudan, which is a non-State Party.

However, the Burmese generals may have an alternative to such trials should they attempt national reconciliation in the manner of South Africa, which established a truth and reconciliation commission.

After the abolition of apartheid, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up and witnesses, victims and perpetrators of human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences. Most of the people who committed abuses during the apartheid era were granted amnesty.

However, the Burmese generals are hedging their bets through the Constitution, which also grants them the right, during a State of Emergency, to abolish and take over the elected government.

In paragraph 432 of the Provisions on State of Emergency, it states that no legal action can be taken against the generals or any administrative body or any of its members when sovereign power are exercised by the National Defense and Security Council.

The generals are doing everything possible through the Constitution to prolong their hold on power and to protect them from the consequences of human rights violations and war crimes.

But clearly, if history is the judge, such efforts offer no real protection for those who abuse the rights of their fellow countrymen. The generals would be wise to pursue a course of national reconciliation as quickly as possible, including the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.

Burma Newscasts - Constitutional Impunity for Generals in Burma - Monday, January 4, 2010

READ MORE---> Constitutional Impunity for Generals in Burma...

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