Archive for February, 2010

February 27, 2010

What is the Countries of Particular Concern?

Countries of Particular Concern

Country Watch List

Additional Countries Monitored

Information by Region

Global Issues

Current USCIRF Annual Report

Annual Report Archive

USCIRF Policy Briefs

Current USCIRF FOCUS Newsletter

USCIRF FOCUS Newsletter Archive

Special Reports

  • A Prison Without Bars: Refugee and Defector Testimonies of Severe Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Korea (March 2008)
Full report (pdf 1.16 MB)
Text-only version for faster download (coming soon)
Korean-language version (pdf 2 MB)

International Human Rights Documents

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
800 N. Capitol Street, N.W., Suite 790
Washington, D.C. 20002

February 25, 2010

Mekong River Runs Dry; Cargo Ships Grounded For 10 Days

Mekong River Runs Dry; Cargo Ships Grounded For 10 Days


By: Ramjit


CHIANG RAI, Feb 25 (Bernama) — Thailand’s exports via Chiang Sean district in this northernmost province have been affected by a severe drought affecting the Mekong River, the 12th-longest river in the world and the 7th-longest in Asia, according to Thai News agency on Thursday.

According to Winai Chintongprasert, head of the Chiang Saen customhouse, the river, which forms the border of Thailand with Laos and Cambodia, and Laos with China, has run completely dry, with a very long line of sand dune islands in the middle of the river.

With such conditions, it forced freighters from Thailand’s Chiang Saen Port to China’s Guanlei Port in Yunnan province and vice versa to have halted their runs for over 10 days.

Thai cargoes valued at more than Bt150 million are stranded aboard ships. The cargoes included palm oil, energy drinks and dehydrated longan.

The water level in Mekong River has fallen since the end of December and continued to decrease dramatically during February.


February 25, 2010

American fight to the end – This story we should learn from

Updated: February 25, 2010, 5:30 AM ET
Lindsey Vonn
Sport: Alpine Skiing
Birthdate: October 18, 1984
Birthplace: St Paul, MN
Hometown: Vail, CO
Residence: Vail, CO
Ht: / Wt: 5’10” / 160 lbs
Olympics: 2006, 2002
Associated Press

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Lindsey Vonn began these Olympics with a shin so badly bruised she didn’t know if she could compete.

Two weeks, two medals and two crashes later, her Vancouver Games might be finished a race early because of a broken right pinkie.

“I’m just a little bit beat up right now,” Vonn said after spinning out of control and slamming into the netting in the first run of Wednesday’s giant slalom. “Things don’t seem to be quite going my way.”

Well, that’s not entirely the case. She did benefit from weather delays early in the games, allowing her shin more time to heal. And she did win gold in the downhill and bronze in the super-G.

But Vonn also skied out in the super-combined and then injured her finger when she fell in driving snow and heavy fog during the giant slalom. The second leg was called off and rescheduled for Thursday when the fog became too thick to see the course.

Vonn’s chance for another medal, meanwhile, may have to wait for another Olympics.

“I’m disappointed in myself that I made that mistake and I went out of the course,” Vonn said. “But I can only keep smiling because I know I was skiing well and sometimes you go down when you’re attacking. At this point, I just hope that my finger’s OK so I can still race.”

The injury was diagnosed as a cracked proximal phalanx of the little finger — or the base of the pinkie, where it connects to the hand.

That would certainly make it tougher to grip a ski pole, but Vonn has overcome this sort of thing before.

When she sliced her thumb open on a champagne bottle last February, she raced the rest of the season with her pole taped to her glove.

Her wipeout in the GS caused quite a chain reaction, as officials waved rival and teammate Julia Mancuso off the course while attending to Vonn. Mancuso, the defending Olympic champion in the event, was then brought back up to the top by a snowmobile for another run.

“Hopped on the snowmobile, got halfway up,” Mancuso said. “They said that we weren’t allowed to snowmobile up higher, so at that point I was like, ‘Come on, you guys have got to get me up there.’ So we just went anyway.”

Such is life for Mancuso, a double medalist who complained that she and other teammates are unappreciated because Vonn gets all the attention.

Indeed, when Mancuso went back after her start-and-stop run, she had to argue her way into the starting gate. She didn’t have her credential. Someone had taken it down to the finish area after her initial run.

Exhausted and skiing on a deteriorating course, Mancuso finished in 18th place, 1.30 seconds behind Austria’s Elisabeth Goergl.

To reach the podium for a third time at this Olympics, Mancuso has her work cut out. That’s a big time deficit.

“It’s been kind of a difficult day,” said Mancuso, who has already won silver medals in the downhill and super-combined at Whistler. “It was sort of strange because coming down the hill, seeing the yellow flag waving, I was kind of thinking, like, ‘Is this really happening?”

Race director Atle Skaardal defended the way things were handled, including sending the skiers off in shorter intervals — to beat the weather rolling in — and the decision to split the giant slalom into a two-day race, rather than scrapping Wednesday’s results and starting anew Thursday with two runs.

“I don’t see why we should cancel the first run,” Skaardal said. “It was a fair and good first run. Why should we take it away?”

After finishing her first run, Mancuso remained in the finish area for a little while and then left in tears.

“I know she was disappointed, and I know that she was mad, and probably frustrated, and probably mad at me,” Vonn said, holding a plastic bag of ice on her right pinkie. “But I can’t help that I fell. I wanted to finish.”

Mancuso posted an angry tweet shortly after her run. She later toned it down: “that yellow flag in the GS was such… I just want to scream. I’m really miffed. Anyway, gotta take that energy and focus it for 2nd run.”

Later in the evening, once the day’s events had played out, Mancuso posted yet another tweet: “been hearing lots of people thinking I’m mad at Lindsey for crashing… thats just ridiculous! bummed about the situation…not Lindsey.”

A feud between the U.S. teammates?

Mancuso was quoted by as saying, “People are having a hard time reaching their potential because it’s such a struggle for attention. You come to meetings after races and it’s like it’s a bad day if Lindsey didn’t do well.”

Asked about it later, Vonn said: “I try to support Julia as much as I support all the other teammates. I’ve been racing with Julia since I was a little kid, and yes, we’re competitors, but I always support her and it definitely has hurt me that she said some negative things about me, and all I can do is continue to support her like I always have been and hope that she reciprocates that. … It just bums me out.”

At the end of a long and odd day, Mancuso was prodded again to talk about Vonn. She held her tongue.

“Of course, I wish I could have this morning happen over,” Mancuso said. “That was probably the worst possible thing that could happen in the Olympics — to get flagged on … your defending gold medal run.”

The postponement did at least give Mancuso a little breather. She didn’t have to take what would have amounted to a third run.

“I’ll be a little fresher,” Mancuso said.

The giant slalom is Vonn’s worst event — she never has finished higher than fourth in a World Cup GS — but she began Wednesday’s opening leg aggressively, reaching the third checkpoint with more than a third of a second advantage over Goergl.

Then she lost control around a sharp right turn. Her knee slammed against her chin before she crashed backward into the safety netting.

“If she came down holding that lead, that would’ve been something to talk about,” said Thomas Vonn, who serves as his wife’s adviser and coach. “It’s just unfortunate. You’ve got to get it through the finish. She did 90 percent of the work and it just fell apart on that one gate. … It’s really frustrating sometimes.”

AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this story.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

This story is from’s automated news wire. Wire index

February 19, 2010

Mekong Divides Different Worlds In ‘Golden Triangle’

The Mekong River, one of the world’s longest waterways, has a long and turbulent history. From its source in China’s central highlands, it passes through six countries as it makes its way to the South China Sea — a journey of nearly 3,000 miles. In a five-part series, NPR’s Southeast Asia correspondent Michael Sullivan journeys the length of the river and tells the story of the people who live along its banks.

In Part 3, he travels to Thailand and Laos, which are on opposite sides of the river known in their local languages as Mae Nam Khong. The two countries found themselves in different camps after the communist takeover of Laos in 1975. Now, they face different challenges.

Thailand And Laos: Change Comes To The Golden Triangle

Credit: Christopher Brown for NPR

February 17, 2010

Part of northern Thailand is so closely linked with drug production and drug trafficking that it boasts an official museum, built under royal initiative, chronicling the illicit trade.

The Hall of Opium is in the Thai province of Chiang Rai in the “Golden Triangle,” a drug-producing area that overlaps the borders of Thailand, Burma, Laos and Vietnam.

A short film at the Hall of Opium explains that large-scale production of illegal opium and heroin started in the area less than 60 years ago.

“Early government efforts to control drug production and trade met with little success. Traffickers moved freely along the long, ill-defined and insecure borders, and opium was the sole cash crop for poor hill villages remote from markets and roads,” the film’s narrator says.

As history lessons go, it’s not bad. But for pure visuals, the museum can’t compete with the view from the top of a hill less than a mile away in Sop Ruak: directly below is Thailand; to the left is Myanmar; to the right, just across the Mekong River, is Laos.

Yuthana Thungkaburee, a longtime resident of the area, says opium was produced in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, and often transported down the Mekong River for export — opium that found its way to the U.S. and Europe in its more refined form as heroin.

“Thailand was like an opium market,” he says.

But Afghanistan provides most of the world’s opium these days. The Thai government, with help from abroad, has put a major dent in the opium trade here, and re-branded the Golden Triangle — in Thailand at least — as a tourist destination.

The Mekong In Thailand And Laos

Map Of The Mekong In Thailand And Laos

Credit: Nelson Hsu/NPR

The China Threat

Hordes of travelers — mostly Europeans — now pack the tourist boats and souvenir stands along the stretch of the Mekong at Sop Ruak.

Smaller boats take gamblers — mostly Asian — to casinos across the river. Thai tourists prefer the casinos on the Myanmar side while the Chinese flock to the new, gold-domed casino on the Lao side. And not everyone in Laos is happy to see them.

“In casino, all Chinese. That area is Chinese, this area is Lao,” says one souvenir vendor, who declined to give her name. “It’s not good if many Chinese come.”

Antipathy toward China and the Chinese is heard frequently in Laos. In the past century, Laos was a French colony; in this one, some fear, perhaps it is becoming a Chinese colony.

Many Laotians were proud when their country hosted the Southeast Asian Games, a regional multisport festival, in December. But others wondered whether the honor came at too high a price: The games were held in the capital, Vientiane, at a new stadium complex built and paid for by China.

In return, many Laotians say, the government promised China a good chunk of land in Vientiane for a satellite city to accommodate some of China’s growing population.

It’s a sensitive topic in Laos, and talking about it openly all but guarantees a visit from the police — even as the government strenuously denies making such a deal. But many Laotians are quietly seething and embarrassed.

“We are helpless,” one businessman says bitterly. “Our ideological brothers China and Vietnam are strong, and we are weak. What can we do?”

Thailand Envy

It’s a problem largely of the government’s own making. After the communist takeover in 1975, many of the country’s best and brightest fled. It was a time when the Lao People’s Democratic Republic — still the country’s official name — was plunged literally into darkness and when Soviet-style planning made an already poor country even poorer.

The Laotians don’t have to look far to see how things could have been different.

Enlarge Christopher Brown for NPRThai farmers cultivate rice near Chiang Saen, near the Mekong River. Thailand is the largest rice exporter in the world.

Thai farmers cultivate rice near Chiang Saen, near the Mekong River.

Christopher Brown for NPRThai farmers cultivate rice near Chiang Saen, near the Mekong River. Thailand is the largest rice exporter in the world.

On the Thai side of the Mekong, the electricity is constant, the roads modern, and rice farmers such as 28-year-old Chinawat Manoma are happy with their lot.

Chinawat, who lives further downriver near the city of Chiang Khong, says things are much better than they were in his parents’ time. New farming techniques, new seeds and easy loans have helped make Thailand the world’s largest rice exporter.

And that has helped make Chinawat solidly middle class, with a new house, two TVs and two tractors — which he rents out to other farmers. His 7-year-old daughter is already in an elite school, he says proudly, thanks to a strong showing in a nationwide exam.

He predicts she will be the first in the family to graduate from university. Not bad, considering her grandparents didn’t finish grade school.

Back on the Lao side of the Mekong, Thai music blares from the speaker at a riverside bar in the southern town of Thahkek. The Laotian patrons nurse their beers as they stare, with some envy, at the new cars, new motorcycles and new businesses on the Thai side. It’s clear Laos lags far behind Thailand in terms of development; it’s also clear it’s not entirely the government’s fault.

Bombs And Poverty

In the soaring limestone formations of Khammouane province near the border with Vietnam, some 40 miles to the east of the Mekong River, bomb disposal teams try to clear leftover ordnance from the Vietnam War.

The U.S. was never officially at war with Laos. But it dropped more bombs on the country than it did on all of Vietnam, an estimated 1.6 million tons. The goal was to disrupt Vietnamese supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh trail, but not all of the ordnance did what it was supposed to.

David Hayter, country director for the Mines Advisory Group in Laos, estimates that about 30 percent of all ammunition of that period did not detonate.

He says leftover ordnance still kills or maims dozens of Laotians every year: farmers plowing their fields, children playing with the rusted, tennis-ball-sized cluster bombs they find in the forest, or poor villagers trying to sell the metal — even the explosives inside — to scrap dealers.

In addition to the human cost, Hayter says, there is the economic cost of unexploded ordnance.

“A lot of agricultural land is denied to people because of the presence of [unexploded ordnance], and this is the main problem with it. … It promotes and prolongs poverty because people can’t do what they need to do. And even if they farm it, knowing that [unexploded ordnance] is present, they will not farm deeply enough to get the best quality crops,” he says.

The U.S. government is now one of the most generous donors to programs such as this one. But it will take many decades — and many millions of dollars more — before the problem of unexploded ordnance is solved.

Enlarge Christopher Brown for NPRThe sun sets over the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos’ ancient royal capital.

Sun sets over the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos

Christopher Brown for NPRThe sun sets over the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos’ ancient royal capital.

Obstacle Turned Opportunity

Back on the Mekong River, a few hours to the south of Khammouane, lies an opportunity for Laos at a place that was not kind to the colonial powers here in the past.

The French had big plans for the Mekong when they ruled. They were going to use it to extend their political and economic reach all the way into southern China. The river was going to be a major transportation link and a way for French naval vessels to get upriver and extend their military power as well.

But when they reached the Khone Phapheng Falls at the border with Cambodia, they realized their plan wasn’t going to work. The series of waterfalls — some as high as 45 feet and almost three-quarters of a mile long — was too high, too fast and too rocky to get up or to get around. The French tried for years to figure out a way to do so, but they never did.

The Laotian government hopes to do better with its plan. It wants to dam one channel of the falls to generate hydropower. It’s part of a larger scheme to turn Laos into what the government calls “the battery of Southeast Asia,” selling power to its energy-hungry neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Laotians and Cambodians are planning 11 dams on the Mekong and its tributaries. And that alarms some, who worry about what damming might mean for fish migration in one of the world’s most productive fisheries.

Jeremy Bird heads the Mekong River Commission, an advisory group based in Vientiane and created by several countries along the river.

Unlike in North America, Bird explains, where the issues relate to six or seven species of salmon, there are about 60 to 70 commercially important migratory species in the Mekong.

“This is not just an issue of conservation of species,” he says. “This is an issue where it is directly linked to the social well-being and the livelihoods of people who depend upon it.”

Next: Cambodia, where 70 percent of the population depends on fish as its main source of protein.

February 19, 2010

World’s poorest countries must diversify economies to beat poverty – UN

World’s poorest countries must diversify economies to beat poverty – UN


UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi

18 February 2010 – Economic diversification is vital if the world’s most poverty-stricken countries, some of them depending on a single or a few raw materials or commodities, are to escape their predicament, a top United Nations trade official said today.

“Some countries had been successful in diversifying their economies, in creating jobs, in improving governance,” UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi told the opening session of a two-day meeting in Geneva of experts on Key development challenges facing the so-called Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

“We should be able to learn from lessons past so that things will be better in the future,” he added, stressing that outside efforts to help LDCs must focus more on enabling them to diversify their economies and depend less on raw materials or agricultural commodities such as copper, cocoa, or coffee.

Enhancing such economies’ productive capacities offers hope that these nations can make steady progress and be less vulnerable to external shocks, such as the food and energy crises, the global recession, and natural disasters such as the earthquake which devastated Haiti in January or last year’s tsunami which struck Samoa, Mr. Supachai said.

The meeting, focusing on structural economic transformation in LDCs, is to provide input to an UNCTAD report ahead of a LDC conference in Turkey next year.

Mr. Supachai noted that since the UN created the LDC category in 1971, the number of countries in it has nearly doubled to 49. Only two countries have “graduated” from LDC status in 39 years – Botswana in 1994 and Cape Verde in 2007, although three more may soon do so. “We should be looking at ways of making LDC status a temporary status,” he said.

The President of UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Board, Luxembourg Ambassador Jean Feyder, said it was important to consider new ideas, approaches, and options, especially given the effects on LDCs of the global financial crisis. It is vital to consider what structural changes can be accomplished in these nations’ economies and to take a strategic, long-term approach that will allow solid and sustainable progress, he added.

During the meeting economists, academics, and other experts familiar with the challenges facing LDCs will consider such topics as LDC performance and structural progress, their trade performance, investment promotion, and the roles of technology, innovation and infrastructure in their development.

Established in 1964, UNCTAD promotes the development-friendly integration of poorer countries into the world economy, functioning as a forum for intergovernmental and expert deliberations, undertaking research, policy analysis and data collection, and providing technical assistance tailored to the specific requirements of developing countries.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Poor states face 17 per cent debt servicing rise, threatening growth, UN warns

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: