Friday, 23 July 2010

Press: Myanmar elections will test ASEAN’s credibility

Southeast Asian nations should press the Myanmar government to protect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association throughout the elections period and beyond, Amnesty International said today on the eve of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Ha Noi.

ASEAN has repeatedly emphasized that the elections should be held in a “free, fair and inclusive manner”. Yet those calls do not go far enough to highlight the human rights that are most at risk in the elections context. Indeed, the Myanmar government has not taken any steps to improve its poor human rights record as the polls approach.

More than 2,200 political prisoners continue to languish behind bars in Myanmar. This is double the number since the start of the mass peaceful anti-government protests of August – September 2007—a huge indictment of the grim human rights situation there.

Under Electoral Laws enacted in March, no political prisoner can take part in the elections, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The same laws also prohibit them from membership in any political party.

ASEAN should unequivocally call for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience at the Ministerial Meeting, something they conspicuously failed to do at the organisation’s summit in Ha Noi in April.

The Electoral Laws also list a number of offences and penalties, among them—a blatant violation of freedom of expression—a vaguely worded provision against "exhorting" persons to vote or not to vote in the elections.

Moreover, in a 21 June directive issued by the Union Election Commission, political parties are prohibited from campaigning activities that “harm security, the rule of law and community peace”. These regulations allow for an excessively broad interpretation of what constitutes a threat to “security”. For decades the authorities have routinely used vaguely worded laws to arbitrarily criminalize peaceful political dissent.

New censorship rules introduced in June also serve to undermine any remaining scope for independent journalism around the elections process.

The “three freedoms”—of expression, peaceful assembly, and association—must be safeguarded for all, whether people choose to participate in the elections or not. It is not enough for ASEAN to adopt a “wait and see” attitude.

ASEAN states must also be prepared to speak out forcefully if individuals are harassed and detained for their peaceful political views and activities in the run-up to the elections.

Failure to address these urgent challenges will damage ASEAN’s international credibility. It is crucial that ASEAN seizes this opportunity to work towards the realisation of long overdue human rights improvements in Myanmar.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprises 10 member states: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The annual ASEAN Ministerial Meeting takes place from 19 – 23 July this year.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Leftovers From The War - Prioritize

I recently read someone define 'evil' as the intention to cause harm/hurt. This instantly made me wonder what ‘unintentional’ harm would be called. After much philosophical brooding, I concluded, that evil wasn't the intention to do harm, but the absence of intention to prevent harm.

I know, I may sounds too harsh, but too many men have taken cover under the facades created by the word 'intention', the definition of which seems to change from situation to situation. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't believe in accident, but I also believe that most accidents happen cause of the lack of effort (intention?) to prevent them.

The Sri Lankan government has taken much trouble to prove me right. It is one thing to wage a war within your national boundaries at the risk of your own innocent people, but another to disown them and wash yourself of any responsibility.

You may have noticed, many of my last notes (Amnesty International) dealt with the horrors of post war Sri Lanka. But I probably can't emphasis enough the continuing plight of the victims of war crimes. It's a surprise no one has come around to using the word 'genocide' yet.

Their government says, they don't care about foreign pressure as long as India was on their side. Get this Mr. Sri Lankan President; 'India' is not going to be a party to this injustice. I don't know what a handful upper crust politicians have told you, but us majority want Sri Lankans to be able to live in Sri Lanka without fear and with as much possible human dignity, as a government can provide to its people.

And while President Rajapaksa, is doing a 'George Bush' on his people thousands of displaced Tamils are taking refuge with their neighbour India, who if you haven't noticed can barely keep herself together.

The Crisis Group report urged India to begin our investigation on the war crimes and human right abuses, and while I'm aware that our platters are more than full under the current political scenario, I strongly believe that India should consider an international investigation seriously. Face it; we are never going to have time for it, unless we make it. Prioritize.

Please sign this petition. Raise your voice against injustice.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Press: India, avoid excessive use of force, investigate killings in Kashmir valley

Authorities in India should avoid excessive use of force while dealing with demonstrators in the Kashmir valley, Amnesty International said today.

Over the last month, a total of 11 persons, at least eight of them children between 13 and 19 years old, were allegedly killed in shootings by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) paramilitary personnel stationed across the Kashmir valley, as protestors defied curfew regulations, held violent demonstrations and often clashed with the security personnel in Srinagar, Sopore and other towns which were put under curfew.

Amnesty International has learned that the state authorities have ordered probes into some of the killings during the demonstrations at Srinagar, Sopore and Anantnag. The organization is calling on Indian authorities to investigate all the killings and bring to justice the security personnel, as well as any protesters who have violated an internationally cognizable criminal provision, in trials conforming with international standards

The authorities have blamed the armed Lashkar-e-Toiba and other Kashmiri separatist organisations for instigating the protestors to throw stones and engage in violence. At least 35 people sustained injuries during the demonstrations so far.

On 11 June, 17-year-old Tufail Ahmed Mattoo of Srinagar was killed, according to initial reports, by a teargas shell fired by the police at the protestors. However, later reports said he was shot in the head. On 19 June, a Srinagar court has directed the state police to investigate this killing and submit its report by 28 June.

On 20 June, as protests over the killing of Tufail Ahmed Mattoo turned violent, a 24-year-old carpet weaver of Srinagar, Rafiq Ahmed Bangroo, sustained serious head injuries and went into coma. He died on 19 June at the hospital. Some reports suggest that he was beaten by the CRPF personnel during the protests. The next day witnessed further protests over the death of Bangroo, as youths returning from his funeral attacked a CRPF post and attempted to set fire to a CRPF armoured vehicle. A 19-year-old relative of Bangroo, Javed Malla, was killed in the CRPF firing.

On 25 June, two teenaged children, Firdous Ahmad Kakroo and Shakeel Ahmad Ganai were killed as the CRPF personnel fired at demonstrators demanding the bodies of two armed guerrillas killed by the security forces near the Sopore town, 55 km from Srinagar. Eyewitnesses had reported that the demonstrators set fire to the CRPF commanding officer’s vehicle and attacked a security bunker. The authorities claimed that the two were armed guerrillas with close links with Lashkar-e-Toiba and the CRPF claimed that it had fired in self-defence.

Over the next two days, Sopore witnessed two more deaths – of 22-year-old Bilal Ahmed Wani and 17-year-old Tajamul Ahmad Bhat - as the CRPF personnel fired to quell protestors repeatedly defying curfew. On 28 June, demonstrators on the outskirts of Baramulla town clashed with the CRPF personnel after which another youth, Tariq Ahmed Rather was shot dead; the next day. The next day, three protestors, 15-year-old Ishfaq Ahmed Khanday, 17-year-old Imtiyaz Ahmed Itoo and 19-year-old Shujatul Islam – were shot dead in Anantnag district. While the initial reports said they were killed in firing by the CRPF, later reports suggested that they had been initially detained and then killed.

Amnesty International reminds the Indian authorities that they have an obligation to protect the right to life in accordance with international law. This includes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a state party, and standards such as the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, which state that firearms should be used only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.

A meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 29 June, directed the CRPF to exercise “maximum restraint and sensitivity” while assisting the state police in enforcing curfew regulations in the valley. Amnesty International is urging the Indian government to ensure implementation of its directives, and ensure protection of the right to life under international law.

The latest round of protests over extrajudicial executions in Kashmir commenced in late May after the Jammu and Kashmir authorities exhumed the remains of three young men allegedly killed by the Indian security forces at Machil in Baramulla district after they had been promised jobs as casual labourers for the security personnel stationed near the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan. An inquiry is being conducted into the killings.

The protests also coincided with the commencement of the annual Hindu pilgrimage to Amarnath in the valley, heightening security concerns and the recent Indo-Pakistan meeting at Islamabad last week.

India: Extrajudicial executions must be investigated and suspects prosecuted, AI Index: ASA 20/015/2010, 8 June 2010

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Leftovers From The War - Escaping the “child-catchers” of the LTTE

Amnesty International is calling on the UN to set up an independent investigation into possible war crimes committed in Sri Lanka in the final months of the civil war which ended in May 2009. Both sides, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government’s armed forces committed human rights violations. The families who suffered deserve justice and if you want to know why, read young Kamla’s account of how she escaped capture.

Child-catchers of the LTTE
The bullets and bombs were scary but what struck terror in Kamla’s heart were the “child-catchers” of the LTTE. For months, Kamla (nearly 15) and her 2 younger sisters managed to escape them by hiding in barrels buried underground in the backyard. The lid would be closed and soil sprinkled on top, with only a small tube fitted for breathing. However, during the final months of the war, shelling became so bad that the family were displaced 14 times and ended up in a hut without any of their possessions.

Caught in the cross-fire
One morning, when Kamla came out of the hut she found the place surrounded by more than 20 child-catchers. She ran in terror, ducking and hiding behind huts and somehow managed to escape. That night, her family decided they couldn’t continue like this anymore. Along with 150 other Tamils, they began moving towards the Sri Lankan army controlled areas, risking one final confrontation with the LTTE. “Tigers fired wildly. Parents fought against Tigers and some were dragged away,” recalls Kamla. But after a night of battle, the Sri Lankan army saved them and sent them to the Vavuniya camp.

A year after this escape, Kamla drew the picture above (she is in yellow, surrounded by “child-catchers” in black) to show what disturbed her the most. Help Kamla and her family discover the truth by calling for an independent investigation. Your signatures will be presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon at a high level meeting in September during the UN General Assembly.
Please click on the link below to help Kamla.