Posts tagged ‘United Nations’

May 23, 2014

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed serious concern about the military takeover in Thailand

 

Ban calls for return to civilian order in Thailand after military seizes government

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=47864#.U39Q5CiiWvw

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras (file photo)

22 May 2014 – Appealing for “a prompt return to civilian order” in Thailand, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed serious concern about the military takeover in the country today and urged all parties to respect human rights and refrain from violence.

“The Secretary-General is seriously concerned by the military takeover in Thailand,” said a statement issued by a UN spokesperson in New York – the second one pertaining to the country in the past 72 hours.

According to reports, the Thai military sized control of the country today following months of unrest and widespread protests in Bangkok and elsewhere. Popular demonstrations began in late 2013, with calls for the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration and implementation of anti-corruption reforms. The military declared martial law two days ago. On 7 May, Ms. Shinawatra reportedly was removed from Government after a ruling by the Thai Constitutional Court.

“He appeals for a prompt return to constitutional, civilian, democratic rule and an all-inclusive dialogue that will pave the way for long-term peace and prosperity in Thailand,” said today’s statement, which added that the UN chief urged all parties to work together constructively, refrain from violence and respect human rights.

April 11, 2014

Special Report: Flaws found in Thailand’s human-trafficking crackdown

Reuters - US Edition

 

Special Report: Flaws found in Thailand’s human-trafficking crackdown

SATUN, Thailand Thu Apr 10, 2014 6:02pm EDT

(Reuters) – After a two-hour trek through swamp and jungle, Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot halts in a trash-strewn clearing near Thailand’s remote border with Malaysia.

“This is it,” he says, surveying the remains of a deserted camp on a hillside pressed flat by the weight of human bodies.

Just weeks before, says Thatchai, hundreds of Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar were held captive here by one of the shadowy gangs who have turned southern Thailand into a human-trafficking superhighway.

With Thatchai’s help, Thailand is scrambling to show it is combating the problem. It aims to avoid a downgrade in an influential U.S. State Department annual report that ranks countries on their anti-trafficking efforts.

But a Reuters examination of that effort exposes flaws in how Thailand defines human trafficking, exemplified by its failure to report the lucrative trafficking of thousands of Rohingya confirmed in Reuters investigations published in July and December.

In March, Thailand submitted a 78-page report on its trafficking record for 2013 to the State Department. Thai officials provided a copy to Reuters. In the report, Thailand includes no Rohingya in its tally of trafficked persons.

“We have not found that the Rohingya are victims of human trafficking,” the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. “In essence, the Rohingya question is an issue of human smuggling.”

The distinction between smuggling and trafficking is critical to Thailand’s assertion. Smuggling, done with the consent of those involved, differs from trafficking, the business of trapping people by force or deception into labor or prostitution.

A two-part Reuters investigation in three countries, based on interviews with people smugglers, human traffickers and Rohingya who survived boat voyages from Myanmar, last year showed how the treatment of Rohingya often constituted trafficking. Reporters found that hundreds were held against their will in brutal trafficking camps in the Thai wilderness.

A record 40,000 Rohingya passed through the camps in 2013, according to Chris Lewa, director of Arakan Project, a humanitarian group.

The Rohingya’s accelerating exodus is a sign of Muslim desperation in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, also known as Burma. Ethnic and religious tensions simmered during 49 years of military rule. But under the reformist government that took power in March 2011, Myanmar has endured its worst communal bloodshed in generations.

After arriving by boat to Thailand, criminal networks transport Rohingya mainly into neighboring Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country viewed by Rohingya as a haven from persecution. Many are held by guards with guns and beaten until they produce money for passage across the Thai border, usually about $2,000 each – a huge sum for one of the world’s most impoverished peoples.

Thailand faces an automatic downgrade to Tier 3, the lowest rank in the U.S. government’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report, unless it makes “significant efforts” to improve its record, according to the State Department. The agency is expected to release its findings in June.

“GRIEVOUS RIGHTS ABUSES”

A Tier 3 designation would put the Southeast Asian country alongside North Korea and the Central African Republic as the world’s worst centers of human trafficking, and would expose Thailand to U.S. sanctions.

If Thailand is downgraded, the United States, in practice, is unlikely to sanction the country, one of its oldest treaty allies in Asia. But to be downgraded would be a major embarrassment to Thailand, which is now lobbying hard for a non-permanent position on the United Nations Security Council.

Reuters asked New York-based Human Rights Watch to review the report that Thailand recently submitted to the State Department. The watchdog group, which monitors trafficking and other abuses globally, said it was concerned that two-thirds of the trafficking victims cited in the report were Thai nationals.

“Any examination of trafficking in Thailand shows that migrants from neighboring countries are the ones most trafficked,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. “Yet Thailand’s identification statistics show far more Thais than migrants are found as victims.”

He added that the numbers were also flawed due to the absence of Rohingya among the list of trafficking victims. Thailand failed to recognize “the grievous rights abuses the Rohingya suffer in these jungle camps, and the fundamental failures of the Thai government to do much about it.”

The State Department said it is examining Thailand’s submission. “We have received the information from the Thai government, and it is currently under review,” Ambassador at-Large Luis CdeBaca of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons said in a statement to Reuters.

“PLIGHT OF THE ROHINGYA”

The next TIP Report will appraise Thailand’s anti-trafficking efforts in 2013.

That year ended with the State Department and the United Nations calling for investigations into the findings of a December 5 report by Reuters. That article uncovered a secret Thai policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thailand’s immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.

Thailand made “significant progress” in combating human trafficking in 2013, said its foreign ministry, citing data included in the recent 78-page report Bangkok submitted to the State Department.

According to the Thai report, Thailand convicted 225 people for human trafficking in 2013, compared to 49 people in 2012. (According to the State Department, Thailand convicted only 10 people in 2012.)

The report said Thailand identified 1,020 trafficking victims in 2013, compared to 592 in 2012, and almost doubled the government’s anti-trafficking budget to 235 million baht ($7.3 million).

It identified victims by nationality, counting 141 people from Myanmar among the victims. But none were Rohingya, who are mostly stateless. The Myanmar government calls the Rohingya illegal “Bengali” migrants from Bangladesh. Most of the 1.1 million Rohingya living in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State are denied citizenship.

In January 2013, said the Thai report, more than 400 Rohingya illegal migrants were found in rubber plantations near the Thai-Malay border in Thailand’s Songkhla province. Seven Thai suspects were arrested and charged with smuggling and harboring of illegal migrants, and were later convicted.

The Thai report describes this group of Rohingya as being smuggled, not trafficked.

However, the Reuters article in December documented a clandestine Thai policy to remove those Rohingya from immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers and smugglers waiting at sea. Many Rohingya were then ferried back to brutal trafficking camps in Thailand, where some died.

The official Thai report said the government “has taken every effort to suppress the smuggling of Rohingyas over the years and to reduce the risk of Rohingyas being exploited by transnational trafficking syndicates.”

“The plight of the Rohingyas who left their homeland is essentially one of people smuggling, not one that is typical of human trafficking,” said the report.

Pongthep Thepkanjana, the caretaker deputy prime minister, said he would not speculate on whether Thailand’s efforts were enough for an upgrade on the U.S. trafficking rankings.

“We don’t do this just to satisfy the United States,” Pongthep, who chairs Thailand’s national committee to implement anti-trafficking policy, told Reuters. “We do this because trafficking in persons is a bad thing.”

HUNTSVILLE, THAILAND

The anti-trafficking efforts of Police Major General Thatchai are part of that undertaking.

At the abandoned camp he recently examined, Thatchai said scores of Rohingya were beaten until relatives agreed to pay for their release and onward passage to Malaysia. Other Rohingya have died of abuse or disease in nearby trafficking camps whose locations were revealed by the December 5 Reuters report.

Thatchai took charge of the region’s anti-trafficking efforts in October. He has vowed to shut the trafficking camps, break up the gangs and jail their leaders.

“They torture, they extort, they kill,” said Thatchai, 46, who speaks in an American accent picked up while earning a doctorate in criminal justice in Texas. “It’s too much, isn’t it?”

His campaign has freed nearly 900 people from camps and other trafficking sites and unearthed new detail about criminal syndicates in southern Thailand.

Well-oiled Rohingya-smuggling networks are now being used to transport other nationalities in large numbers, said Thatchai. He said he has identified at least six smuggling syndicates in southern Thailand, all run by Thai Muslims.

This year, along with hundreds of Rohingya, he has also detained about 200 illegal migrants from Bangladesh, as well as nearly 300 people claiming to be Turks but believed to be Uighur Muslims from China’s restive province of Xinjiang.

Like officials in Bangkok, Thatchai generally characterized the transporting of Rohingya through Thailand as human smuggling, not human trafficking.

At the same time, he said his aim was to disrupt the camps through raids and use testimony from victims to unravel the networks. He hopes to gather enough evidence to convict southern Thailand’s two main people-smuggling kingpins on human trafficking charges.

One target lived in Ranong, a Thai port city overlooking Thailand’s maritime border with Myanmar. This suspect, Thatchai said, sells Rohingya to the other syndicates. They then resell the Rohingya at marked-up prices to Thai fishing boats, where bonded or slave labor is common, or take them to camps to beat more money from them – usually a sum equivalent to about $2,000.

The Ranong kingpin made about 10 million baht ($310,000) a month this way, alleged Thatchai, and owned dozens of pick-up trucks to move his human cargo.

“THERE WAS TORTURE”

The second suspect was a leader of a syndicate in the province of Satun. That gang is believed to operate a string of camps along the province’s border with Malaysia – including the abandoned camp Reuters visited with Thatchai on March 27.

At least 400 Rohingya, including many women and children, were held at that camp for up to a month, said Thatchai. The Rohingya were guarded by armed men and fed two meals of instant noodles a day.

“Today we have proved that what the victim said is true,” Thatchai said after the site visit. “There was a camp. There was torture and kidnapping.”

But Thatchai also said he thinks no amount of raids and arrests in Thailand will staunch the flow of Rohingya out of Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Deadly clashes between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists erupted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2012, leaving hundreds dead and thousands homeless, most of them Rohingya.

Since then, about 80,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar by boat, according to the Arakan Project.

More look set to follow, after attacks by ethnic Rakhine mobs in late March forced foreign aid workers to evacuate the state capital of Sittwe. This has jeopardized the delivery of food and water to tens of thousands of Rohingya.

(Amy Sawitta Lefevre reported from Bangkok. Additional reporting by Jason Szep in Washington. Editing by Jason Szep, Bill Tarrant and Michael Williams.)

 

 

January 4, 2014

Independent UN experts urge Laos to probe disappearance of prominent rights activist

Independent UN experts urge Laos to probe disappearance of prominent rights activist

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:   https://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46750&Cr=disappear&Cr1=

16 December 2013 – A group of independent United Nations experts today urged the Government of Laos to boost its investigation into the enforced disappearance a year ago of Sombath Somphone, a prominent human rights activist working on issues of land confiscation and assisting victims in denouncing such practices.

“We are deeply concerned about his safety and security,” the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said in a news release, urging the Government “to do its utmost to locate Mr. Somphone, to establish his fate and whereabouts, and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The experts noted that Mr. Somphone was held in police custody following his reported disappearance, according to additional information received that sheds new light on the case. A few days after his disappearance, he was seen inside a police detention centre with his car parked in the police compound.

Two days later, he was reportedly moved to a military camp outside the capital, Vientiane, and then transferred again to an unknown location one week later. It was further reported that, a few days following his disappearance, relevant Government officials said that Mr. Somphone would be released.

It has also been reported, the experts added, that the closed-circuit television footage, which recorded the incident of the abduction of Mr. Somphone on 15 December 2012, has not been analysed by any independent body.

“Defenders play a key role in promoting human rights and their legitimate work should be fully respected,” the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, said. “Mr. Somphone’s disappearance might have a chilling effect on human rights defenders operating in the country, owing to his high profile at the national and international levels.”

The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, called on Laos to fully cooperate with the Geneva-based Human Rights Council and its experts, and voiced deep regret over the Government’s lack of response to his requests to visit the country.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Laos: UN urges Government to ensure safe return of missing human rights defender


A year on, the enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone continues with impunity in Lao PDR
Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:   http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14103&LangID=E

GENEVA (16 December 2013) – A group of United Nations human rights experts today urged the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) to increase its efforts in the investigations into the enforced disappearance on 15 December 2012, of Sombath Somphone, a prominent human right activist working on issues of land confiscation and assisting victims in denouncing such practices.

“Mr. Somphone has been disappeared for one year. We are deeply concerned about his safety and security”, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said. “We urge the Government of Lao PDR to do its utmost to locate Mr. Somphone, to establish his fate and whereabouts, and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The human rights experts noted that Mr. Somphone was held in police custody following his reported disappearance, according to additional information received that sheds new light on the case. A few days after his disappearance, he was seen inside a police detention centre with his car parked in the police compound.

Two days later, he was reportedly moved to a military camp outside Vientiane, and then transferred again to an unknown location one week later. It was further reported that, a few days following his disappearance, relevant Government officials said that Mr. Somphone would be released.

It has also been reported, the experts pointed out, that the closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage, which recorded the incident of the abduction of Mr. Somphone on 15 December 2012, has not been analysed by any independent body. “We call on the Government of Lao PDR to accept external technical assistance to analyse the original CCTV footage of the incident,” they said.

“Defenders play a key role in promoting human rights and their legitimate work should be fully respected,” the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, said. “Mr. Somphone’s disappearance might have a chilling effect on human rights defenders operating in the country, owing to his high profile at the national and international levels.”

The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, called on the Government of Lao PDR “to fully cooperate with the Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures, particularly as it seeks election to the Human Rights Council for 2016.”

Mr. Maina Kiai expressed deep regret over the lack of response of the Lao PDR to his letters dated 12 December 2011 and 30 October 2013 requesting an invitation to visit the country.

The United Nations Special Rapporteurs are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are charged by the Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on human rights issues. Currently, there are 37 thematic mandates and 14 mandates related to countries and territories, with 72 mandate holders. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

For more information log on to:
Enforced disappearances: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disappearances/Pages/DisappearancesIndex.aspx
Freedom of peaceful assembly and of association: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx
Human rights defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/SRHRDefendersIndex.aspx
Freedom of opinion and expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Lao PDR: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/LAIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Karen Blanc (+41 22 917 9400 / kblanc@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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July 29, 2013

Cambodia’s Hun Sen shaken as opposition rejects poll result

Reuters U.S. Edition

Cambodia’s Hun Sen shaken as opposition rejects poll result

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/29/us-cambodia-election-opposition-idUSBRE96S03C20130729

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH | Mon Jul 29, 2013 6:12am EDT

(Reuters) – Cambodia’s long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen faced his biggest political setback in two decades on Monday as the country’s opposition rejected an election result as tainted by widespread fraud, despite heavy losses for the ruling party.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, buoyed by a near doubling of seats in parliament, called for an inquiry into what he called massive manipulation of electoral rolls in Sunday’s vote.

The government announced late on Sunday that Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had won 68 seats in the 123-seat parliament to the opposition’s 55, a loss of 22 seats for the ruling party.

That marked the 60-year-old Hun Sen’s worst election result since the war-torn country returned to full democracy in 1998, although the CPP retained a governing majority to enable the prime minister to extend his 28-year rule.

Prolonged wrangling over the result and a weakened Hun Sen could raise policy uncertainty in the small but fast-growing Southeast Asian nation that is drawing growing investor interest and has forged strong economic ties with China and Vietnam.

But the opposition’s chances of overturning the outcome are slim given the ruling party’s grip on the courts and with major foreign donors like the United States unlikely to reject the result without evidence of massive fraud.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), whose campaign was given a boost by the return from exile of leader Sam Rainsy, said it wanted an investigation committee set up with representatives from political parties, the United Nations, the election authority and non-governmental organizations.

“There were 1.2 million to 1.3 million people whose names were missing and could not vote. They deleted our rights to vote, how could we recognize this election?” Sam Rainsy, a French-educated former finance minister, told a news conference.

“There were ghost names, names only on paper.”

The opposition tapped into growing concern among Cambodians over rising inequality and entrenched corruption that Hun Sen’s critics say his policies have exacerbated.

Hun Sen, who has yet to speak publicly about the outcome, may have to adjust some policies in light of the surge in opposition support and show more sensitivity to public opinion. The loss of its two-thirds majority means the CPP will need opposition support to enact any changes in the constitution.

But Hun Sen still has the ability to control policymaking through his majority and the entrenched networks of political influence he has built within the CPP.

“It’s definitely unprecedented and unexpected but for now I don’t think regime stability is at stake,” said Giulia Zino, a Southeast Asia analyst at Control Risks group in Singapore.

ANGRY VOTERS

The CPP had 90 seats in the outgoing parliament and the parties that united to form the CNRP had 29, with minor parties holding the remaining four. Cambodia’s election commission has yet to announce how many seats each party has won, and will not announce full, official results until August 15 at the earliest.

Rights groups have criticized the electoral system as heavily biased in favor of the ruling party. The European Union declined to deploy poll monitors for this election after Cambodia did not act on its previous recommendations.

The Transparency International group, which helped monitor the election, cited various irregularities in the vote and said in a statement it was “very concerned about the disenfranchisement of citizens and suspect voters”.

Voting on Sunday, like the campaign itself, was for the most part peaceful.

The CPP, backed by a compliant domestic media and superior resources, had been confident of victory. Analysts had predicted a reduction in its majority after the merger of two main opposition parties, as well as the return of Sam Rainsy, but the extent of opposition gains was a surprise.

Rising garment exports plus heavy flows of aid and investment from China have fuelled rapid economic growth, but that has been accompanied by a rise in social tension.

Cambodians have protested more frequently over poor conditions in the garment industry and land rights in the country of 14 million, where a third of people live on less than 65 U.S. cents per day.

The urban population has swelled in recent years, giving rise to a new generation of young voters who have access to wider sources of information online and who tend to support the opposition.

“Democracy is stronger in Cambodia than most outsiders anticipated,” said Douglas Clayton, the chief executive of the Leopard Capital investment fund in Phnom Penh.

“The government will likely become more consultative and sensitive to public opinion.”

The United Nations organized an election in 1993 that put Cambodia on a rocky path towards stability after decades of turmoil that included the 1975-79 “Killing Fields” rule of the communist Khmer Rouge.

Hun Sen, a former junior commander in the Khmer Rouge who broke away during their rule, lost that election but refused to accept the result and negotiated a position as joint prime minister before seizing power in a coup in 1997.

(Writing by Alan Raybould and Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Robert Birsel)

—-

Reuters U.S. Edition

Party of PM Hun Sen wins Cambodian election, majority slashed

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/28/us-cambodia-election-idUSBRE96R01G20130728

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH | Sun Jul 28, 2013 7:36pm EDT

(Reuters) – Cambodia’s ruling party won Sunday’s general election but with a much-reduced majority, according to the government, a result that will be seen as a setback for authoritarian leader Hun Sen, one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers.

Khieu Kanharith, government spokesman and information minister, said on his Facebook page the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won 68 seats in parliament to the opposition’s 55, adding that was the final count.

The National Election Committee (NEC) gave a list of results from each polling station but no tally for parliamentary seats.

Backed by a compliant media and with superior resources, the CPP was confident of victory, but analysts had predicted a reduction in its majority after the merger of two main opposition parties plus the return from self-imposed exile of popular long-time opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

While not formally conceding defeat for his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Sam Rainsy was conciliatory and called for calm after what were significant gains for the party.

“We want to thank all Cambodian people … regardless of their political affiliation, Cambodians who support all political parties, for their dignified participation in this election, for their contribution to make democracy move forward,” he told a news briefing.

The CPP had 90 of the 123 seats in the outgoing parliament and the parties that united to form the CNRP had just 29.

Sam Rainsy appealed to his youthful supporters not to cause any trouble. “We call for peace and reconciliation,” he said.

Military police blocked off a road leading to the home of Hun Sen, who has been in power for 28 years, and one going to the offices of the CPP and the NEC.

Trucks carrying soldiers were seen going into the city but by late evening the streets were calm.

Earlier, in a highly charged atmosphere, an angry crowd had set fire to two police cars outside a polling station, a Reuters photographer said.

However, voting, like the campaign itself, was for the most part peaceful despite anger at alleged electoral fraud.

Sam Rainsy’s party claimed electoral lists were manipulated to give the CPP more votes and complained about the disruption of meetings and campaigning by the security forces for Hun Sen.

“The partisanship of the military and police has created an intimidating atmosphere for voters in many parts of the country,” U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement ahead of the poll.

ROCKY PATH TO STABILITY

The United Nations organized an election in 1993 that put Cambodia on a rocky path towards stability after decades of turmoil, including the 1975-79 “Killing Fields” rule of the communist Khmer Rouge.

Under Hun Sen, a former junior commander in the Khmer Rouge who broke away during their rule, Cambodia has been transformed into one of Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economies, helped by garment exports plus aid money and investment from China.

But economic growth has been accompanied by a rise in social tension over poor factory conditions and rural land rights in a country of 14 million where a third of the people live on less than 65 U.S. cents a day.

Before a royal pardon this month, Sam Rainsy had faced a jail sentence handed down in 2010 for spreading disinformation and falsifying maps to contest a new border agreed with Vietnam, charges he called politically motivated.

He returned too late to run in the election or even to vote, and the electoral authorities rejected his request to do so.

But the charismatic former finance minister had attracted large crowds to rallies, appealing to younger voters with no memory of the turmoil before Hun Sen helped restore stability.

At one polling station set up at a pagoda in Phnom Penh, 29-year-old Khat Sreynit said she wanted a better country and jobs for university graduates. “And also that people have a living wage,” she said, before rushing into the crowd to get a glimpse of Sam Rainsy, who had turned up there.

A 70-year-old voter clutching an ID card declined to give her name but said: “This election is important for the country. I have always voted before, since 1993, I voted for living conditions and the country.” She paid little attention to Sam Rainsy’s arrival.

(Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Robert Birsel and Peter Graff)

June 26, 2012

Donors Should Not be “Partners in Crime” with Rights Abusers

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rebecca-schleifer/donors-should-not-be-part_b_1613800.html

Rebecca Schleifer

Advocacy Director, Health and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch.

Around the world, millions of people are locked up because of drug use. Some languish in prisons, some in compulsory drug detention centers. Few have access to effective, evidence-based treatment for drug dependency if they need it. The problem is not isolated in any one part of the world, but it is most pernicious when international donors and UN agencies promote and fund drug detention policies that systematically deny people the right to due process and healthcare, and ignore forced labor and psychological and physical abuse.

The relationship of the US government and Laos is an example.

Earlier in June, with much fanfare, the U.S. Government pledged a new round of funding and collaboration in Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The U.S. committed $400,000 to support the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision to “upgrade the treatment of drug addicts at the Somsanga Treatment Center and at other centers.”

The name Somsanga should ring alarm bells. Human Rights Watch conducted research in Laos in 2011 as part of a series of investigations of drug detention centers. It was not easy. Laos is largely a closed country, which permits little free speech or scrutiny of its human rights record.

What the government and its donors describe as a voluntary “health-oriented” center arbitrarily detains people who use drugs – including those who are not dependent – as well as street children, the homeless, the mentally ill, and other undesirable populations behind high walls and barbed wire.

Somsanga holds most people against their will. They are detained by police or local militia, or “volunteered” by local communist commune authorities or family members who have the mistaken belief that the center offers therapeutic treatment, or who buckle under social pressure to make their village “drug free.” Once inside, they cannot leave. Some attempt or commit suicide by ingesting glass, swallowing soap, or hanging. As Maesa, a child who spent six months in Somsanga, told Human Rights Watch: “Some people think that to die is better than staying there.”

Upgrading drug treatment and tackling crime are worthy goals. But the U.S. should not so blithely ignore the Laos government’s history of human rights violations at the Somsanga Center. It needs to insist on development of stronger legal protections to ensure that people cannot be subject to arbitrary detention and torture, and on community and evidence-based drug dependency treatment.

Detention in government centers in the name of treatment and rehabilitation is not unique to Laos. As Human Rights Watch and other research has shown, hundreds of thousands people identified as drug users are held in drug detention centers in China, Vietnam and Cambodia too.

Nor are such centers and what goes on inside their locked doors and high walls the only human rights abuses associated with drug enforcement funding. Thirty-two countries worldwide retain the death penalty for drug offenses. China, Iran and Vietnam are among those that utilize the death penalty the most, and they all get drug enforcement assistance from international donors and the United Nations.

Governments and drug control agencies regularly announce successes in fighting the drug trade, counted in kilos of drugs seized and numbers of people prosecuted. But we rarely hear about the fate of those arrested, including how they came to be involved in the drug trade. Those sentenced to death become a statistic in drug enforcement “successes,” while passing simultaneously into human rights statistics documenting ongoing abuse.

It is a clear example of the wide gap between drug control and respect for human rights.

In recent years, due to the efforts of Harm Reduction International, Human Rights Watch and our colleagues and partners, there have been increasing calls to close all drug detention centers and end the death penalty for drugs.

But there has been little practical progress toward ending these abuses. UN agencies and international donors continue to fund activities inside drug detention centers, and to support drug enforcement efforts despite the human rights consequences.

Scant attention has been paid to the UN and international donors’ human rights obligations and ethical responsibilities with respect to drug control efforts they support, or indeed to safeguards to prevent them from effectively facilitating human rights abuses with their support.

A new report called “Partners in Crime” makes an important contribution to addressing this gap. In providing specific examples of financial and material support provided by UN and international donors for drug control efforts, and human rights concerns raised by such support, the report compels readers to think critically about government efforts to meet their shared responsibility to address drug use and drug-related crime. It should serve as a catalyst to ensure that all governments – including donors – and international actors move quickly to develop and support drug control policies that truly respect, protect, and fulfill human rights.

Follow Rebecca Schleifer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@BeccaSchleifer

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