Southeast Asia Theater
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled unanimously Jan. 23 that Myanmar (Burma) must take "provisional measures" to address the "ongoing risk of genocide" faced by the remaining Rohingya people within the country's borders. The ruling also ordered Myanmar to preserve evidence of killings and to make regular reports to the court. This decision arises as part of the ongoing dispute between The Gambia and Myanmar regarding allegations of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority. The Gambia brought a complaint to the ICJ in November and the trial officially commenced in December with oral arguments from the two sides. The Gambia requested that the ICJ institute "provisional measures" against Myanmar to ensure the protection of the Rohingya people during the trial and to preserve evidence. The court found that given the inherent gravity of genocide allegations and the prima facie evidence already presented, provisional measures were necessary to preserve the rights of the Rohingya currently remaining in Myanmar.
Dozens of Chinese vessels that were fishing in Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone off the disputed island of Natuna began leaving the area Jan. 9, after days of stand-off. Indonesia deployed eight warships and four fighter jets to the area in response to the presence of the Chinese vessels, and summoned Beijing's ambassador in Jakarta to complain. A military statement said: "Our Navy and air force are armed and have been deployed to the North Natuna Sea [to] drive out the foreign vessels." China was reported to have sent three coast guard cutters into the area during the stand-off. The Natuna archipelago, off the northwest coast of Borneo, occupies a particularly strategic spot in the South China Sea. Its waters contain significant oil and gas reserves, and it guards the eastern opening of the narrow Malacca Strait, a critical chokepoint for shipping lanes. The archipelago falls within China's "nine-dash line," an area covering nearly the entirety of the South China Sea.
Named the most dangerous country in the world for land and environmental defenders, the Philippines has become an even deadlier place for activists in 2019, with 46 recorded deaths so far this year, according to the Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), a local NGO. The same organization recorded 28 killings of land and environmental defenders in 2018. Global Witness, an environmental watchdog, tallied 30 such killings in the Philippines that year and designated the country the most dangerous in the world for defenders based on sheer number of deaths.
More than a decade after 58 people were killed in the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 on Dec. 19 found Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his brother Zaldy Ampatuan guilty of overseeing the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre at Maguindanao. They were sentenced to reclusión perpetua (40 years without parole). The pair were convicted on 57 counts of murder in the attack on a convoy that included journalists covering an opposition figure running for the governorship of Maguindanao province. Police said 58 people were killed in the massacre, but the body of the 58th victim was never found. Their father, then-incumbent governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., was arrested in connection with the case and died in prison while awaiting trial in 2015. The court sentenced a further 15 suspects, including several more Ampatuan family members and police officials, to between six and 10 years in prison as accessories to the crime.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Dec. 3 that the Bangladesh government is violating the right to education of nearly 400,000 school-age Rohingya refugee children by barring UN humanitarian agencies and NGOs from providing the children with any formal, accredited education. The Bangladesh government's policy prevents Rohingya from integrating into the local Bangladeshi society. In furtherance of this policy the government bars Rohingya children from enrolling in schools in local communities outside the camps or taking national school examinations. According to HRW, the Bangladesh government is violating its international obligations to ensure the right to education under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights treaties, and its obligation to the integration of refugee children into national education systems under the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees.
Human rights groups, together with the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), filed a criminal lawsuit in Argentina on Nov. 13, alleging that the government and military of Burma, including State Counsellor (and de facto leader) Aung San Suu Kyi, have committed crimes against humanity and genocide against the ethnic Rohingya minority. The complaint includes numerous accounts of mass killings, rapes and torture committed by government forces against Rohingya communities. The suit was filed with the Argentine federal courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which holds that any country can prosecute for certain grave crimes regardless of whether the crimes were committed within that country's territory.
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo was sworn in for a second term Oct. 20 amid an official ban on protests, and Jakarta's streets flooded with 30,000 police and military troops. The inauguration was preceded by a wave of mass protests in September, mostly led by students. The demonstrations were sparked by a new law that weakens Indonesia's anti-corruption agency, and another that instates such moralistic measures as a ban on extramarital sex—the latter a play to cultural conservatives who accuse Widodo of being insufficiently Muslim. But protesters' anger was also directed at plans for a tough new criminal code, at troops mobilized to put down the unrest in Papua region, and at the failure to stem forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo that are causing toxic haze across Southeast Asia.
Both UN human rights experts and Amnesty International are accusing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte of "crimes against humanity" in his "war on drugs," and calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate. The statement from the rights experts, issued by the UN Office on Human Rights last month, noted the "staggering number" of unlawful killings in the context of the "drug war." Then, on July 8, Amnesty issued its report, "'They Just Kill': Ongoing Extrajudicial Executions and Other Violations in the Philippines' 'war on drugs'." The report charges that rights violations in the Philippines have "reached the threshold of crimes against humanity." It called the supposed anti-drug campaign a "government-orchestrated attack against poor people." On July 11, the UN Human Rights Council approved an Iceland-drafted resolution calling on High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to launch a "comprehensive" investigation into the situation in the Philippines. Duterte responded by threatening to break diploamtic relations with Iceland.