Southeast Asia Theater
Nine sugar-cane workers were killed as a group of some 40 gunmen fired on their encampment on lands they were occupying in Negros Occidental province of the central Philippines Oct. 20. Among the fatalities were three women and two minors. The slain were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers who were occupying part of the sprawling Hacienda Nene near Barangay Bulanon village, outside Sagay City. The occupation was legally permitted under an agrarian reform program established in the 1980s that allows landless rural workers to cultivate fallow lands on large plantations while title transfer is pending. The massacre was reported by survivors who managed to scatter and hide. Some of the bodies were burned by the attackers. "They were strafed by unknown perpetrators while already resting in their respective tents," said Cristina Palabay, head of the rights group Karapatan. Calling the attack "brutal and brazen," she said: "We call on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent and thorough investigation on the massacre. We are one with the kin of the victims in the Sagay massacre in their call for justice."
UN investigators on Sept. 18 renewed their call for charges against Burma military officials suspected of carrying out a genocide against the nation's minority Rohingya population over the past year. The UN Office of Human Rights published an exhaustive list of atrocities and called "for the investigation and prosecution of Myanmar's Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and his top military leaders for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes." Since last August, 700,000 Rohinga refugees have fled into neighboring Bangladesh, and many have spoken of the Burmese military's attacks on their villages, describing actions that are considered crimes against humanity under international law. This August, a UN fact-fidning mission for the first time referred to the ethnic conflict in Burma as a genocide. Burma's government officially rejected the charges.
Several Philippine families filed a complaint (PDF) with the International Criminal Court (ICC) Aug. 28, accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of murder during his "war on drugs." The complaint charges Duterte with "crimes against humanity," including extrajudicial killings. This is the second complaint against Duterte filed with the ICC; the first was filed in April 2017. The ICC began preliminary examination in the case in February. Duterte announced the Philippines' withdrawal from the ICC in March. In a 15-page letter to the media, Duterte declared that the Philippines will immediately withdraw its ratification of the Rome Statute, which established the ICC and was ratified by the Philippines in late 2011. Under the statute, a member can withdraw no sooner than one year following written notification to the UN Secretary-General. However, Duterte claimed that the agreement was immediately voidable because it was signed fraudulently.
The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar urged in a report (PDF) released Aug. 27 the investigation and prosecution of Burma's top military generals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. A press release said the Mission "found patterns of gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States that 'undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law', principally by Myanmar's military, the Tatmadaw, but also by other security forces." The crimes against humanity "include murder; imprisonment; enforced disappearance; torture; rape; sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence; persecution and enslavement." The Mission noted that these crimes are similar to those in other cases that have allowed the establishment of "genocidal intent." The Mission urged that these crimes be investigated and prosecuted in the International Criminal Court. It also "called for an independent, impartial mechanism to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of violations."
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (Burma) Yanghee Lee on June 27 called for the Human Rights Council (HRC) to support an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into crimes against the Rohingya people. "I strongly recommend the persons allegedly responsible for the violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law be investigated and prosecuted by the ICC or a credible mechanism," said Lee. She also called for the HRC to "establish an accountability mechanism under the auspices of the United Nations without delay." This mechanism would investigate abuses, determine the criminal liability of the perpetrators, and support victims. Lee expressed disappointment that the Security Council has not yet referred Burma to the ICC. She said that none of the investigations by the Burmese government have met international standards, and were likely initiated to distract the international community.
The Indonesian Parliament unanimously approved a new anti-terrorism law on May 25 that will allow the military to directly participate in operations against militant groups. The legislation comes following a slew of suicide bombings in Surabaya by individuals supposedly tied to the Islamic State. President Joko Widodo stated that involvement of the Indonesian National Army in counter-terrorism is necessary in addressing the crisis faced by the nation. A related measure also gives police the power to detain suspects for 21 days without charge. The bills now go to the president for final approval.
Indigenous and environmental activist Saw O Moo was reported killed in Burma's Karen State on April 5. The Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) said Saw O Moo was killed in an ambush by Burmese army soldiers while returning home from a community meeting to help organize humanitarian aid for villagers displaced by renewed hostilities between the military and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). Saw O Moo was one of the most active local community leaders pushing for creation of the Salween Peace Park, a proposed 5,400-square-kilometer protected area to be overseen by indigenous peoples. “We will never forget his dedication in the ongoing struggle to build peace and protect ancestral lands,” KESAN said in a statement. Several attempts to retrieve the body have been unsuccessful, as soldiers are shooting at anyone who approaches the area. As a result, Saw O Moo’s family has not been able to perform their Indigenous funeral rites. The Salween Peace Park is intended to protect the montane rainforest region from mining interests. (Mongabay, Burma Link, April 9; The Irrawady, Jan. 13, 2017)
Burma's Rakhine state is being militarized at an alarming pace, as authorities build security force bases on lands where Rohingya villages were burned to the ground just months ago, Amnesty International said in a new report March 12. Through witness testimony and analysis of satellite images, Remaking Rakhine State documents how the bulldozing of Rohingya villages and new construction have intensified since January in areas where hundreds of thousands fled the military's campaign of ethnic cleansing last year. "What we are seeing in Rakhine State is a land grab by the military on a dramatic scale. New bases are being erected to house the very same security forces that have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya," said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty's crisis response director. "This makes the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees an even more distant prospect."