Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

June 27, 2015

Release of the 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices


John Kerry
Secretary of State
Press Briefing Room
Washington, DC
June 25, 2015
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SECRETARY KERRY: Good to see everybody. Well, thank you very much for being here as we release our Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014. And I want to begin particularly by thanking Tom Malinowski and his entire team. It’s a great team effort that literally works all year long collecting extraordinary information, synthesizing it, and putting together what I consider to be one of the most important reports that the department puts out. And it reflects a vast amount of objective research that will provide a uniquely valuable resource for anybody in the world who cares about justice and law.

The message at the heart of these reports is that countries do best when their citizens fully enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled. This is not just an expression of hope. This is a reality, and it is proven out in country after country around the world. After all, we live in a time when access to knowledge and openness to change are absolutely essential. And in such an era, no country can fulfill its potential if its people are held back, or more so if they are beaten down by repression.

Now we understand that some governments may take issue with these reports, including such extreme cases as North Korea or Syria. But also some governments with whom we work closely may also object. But I want to say something about that, and I think it’s important. The discomfort that these reports sometimes cause does more to reinforce than to undermine the value and credibility of these reports. Truth cannot successfully be evaded or dented or defeated, not over time. It can be changed. The truth wins out.

And so my advice to any leader who is upset by these findings is really to examine them, to look at the practices of their country, and to recognize that the way to alter what the world thinks and the way to change these judgments is to alter what is happening in those countries. That is the advice that we also give to ourselves. There is nothing sanctimonious in this. There is zero arrogance. And we couldn’t help but have humility when we have seen what we have seen in the last year in terms of racial discord and unrest. So we approach this with great self-awareness. But we also understand that when human rights is the issue, every country, including the United States, has room to improve. And the path to global respect always begins at home.

So these reports can actually give governments an added incentive to honor the rights and the dignity of their citizens. It also equips interested observers with an arsenal of facts. Within these pages are the stories of imprisoned pro-democracy activists, journalists jailed simply for telling the truth, members of religious minorities persecuted for practicing their faith, civil society leaders harassed for daring to speak up, and young women and girls who because of their gender are denied an education, kidnapped, or abused.

There are other stories too, because these reports actually have improved over time. I think we do a better job of examining and making judgments about what is happening in places. And frankly, the reports have become more comprehensive each year as a result. The traditional principles of free speech, religious liberty, and equal protection remain at the center of our policy. But we have gradually expanded our reporting to include human trafficking, internet freedom, the rights of persons with disabilities, and the LGBTI community.

We’ve also begun to highlight the profoundly harmful impact that corruption and poor governance have on human rights. No person anywhere should have to pay a bribe just to open a business or to get a driver’s license or to have their day in court or to sell a basket of fruit on a street. Corruption is a threat to society at large, not only because of the larceny that it embodies in terms of the values and principles that people hope to organize their lives by, but also because of the cynicism that it feeds. And that matters because when trust in government is lost, other more harmful forces always try to fill the vacuum.

In this connection, no development has been more disturbing than the emergence of such groups as Daesh, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab. The many, the litany of these human rights crimes for which these terrorists are responsible has become all too familiar and no less shocking – murder, torture, rape, religious persecution, slavery, and more. Make no mistake: The world community has an absolute obligation to confront and to defeat these groups, and coercive measures are obviously an essential part of that effort.

At the same time, we have to understand that the terrorist presence does not give authorities license to use violence indiscriminately. We can’t rescue a village from Daesh or Boko Haram by destroying it. Any – and terrorism, obviously, is not a legitimate excuse to lock up political opponents, diminish the rights of civil society, or pin a false label on activists who are engaged in peaceful dissent. Practices of this type are not only unjust; they play directly into the hands of terrorists. And when the pathways to nonviolent change are closed, the road to extremism becomes more inviting. And given all the suffering that we have seen in recent years, that is just simply unacceptable.

Terrorism is a grave threat to human rights; conflicts are another. For evidence we have only to turn to the 2014 Country Reports for such nations as the Central African Republic, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine, which has been victimized by its Russian neighbor. Today, an estimated 230 million people live in areas of overt strife, and we are experiencing a crisis in food security. The number of refugees has reached a record level. UNICEF called 2014 one of the most disastrous years ever for children. And in Yemen, Burundi, and elsewhere conflict and civil strife have grown even worse in 2015.

The persistence of terrible bloodshed is a challenge to all of us. It is a challenge to us to strengthen our institutions and our political will so that we can do a better job of deterring aggression, holding accountable those who commit atrocities, identifying potential crises ahead of time, and stopping outbreaks of violence before they begin.

Finally, it is worth asking – and some people do ask this question – why do we care? Why do we do this? Why do we issue this report? Why do we Americans care whether the rights of others are respected?

Well, certainly, in an interconnected world, “Injustice anywhere is,” to quote Dr. King, “a threat to justice everywhere.” And there can be no doubt that our citizens will do better and they will feel safer in a world where the values that we cherish are widely upheld.

But there is also, I think, an even deeper reason for why we care. Because when human rights tragedies are supplanted by human rights victories, the very idea of progress becomes less rhetorical and much more real. What do I mean by that?

Well, consider a couple of questions.

First, is there a more hopeful measure of civilization’s advance than the abolition of slavery, the enfranchisement of women, the end of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the broadening recognition of minority rights everywhere in the world?

Is there a more meaningful agenda for the future than the shrinking of bigotry, the curtailment of conflict, the defeat of terrorism, the prevention of genocide, and a fuller commitment to the rights and the dignity of every man, woman, and child?

So why do we care?

Well, we care because respect for human rights provides the truest mirror that we have of ourselves, the most objective test of how we have come over the centuries, and how far we still have to go. It is a yardstick by which we can measure life itself. I realize that that is placing a lot of weight on what is, after all, just a report, but I think the description fits. And I hope it will inspire us – people here and around the world – between this year and next to take more steps, hopefully giant steps, in the direction of greater justice, wider decency, and peace.

So I thank you for coming together. I know you’ll have some questions of Tom. I’m going to leave this in his hands to further make a statement and then to answer your questions on specific countries. So Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary – Mr. Secretary, can I –

MR KIRBY: We’re not taking questions.

SECRETARY KERRY: Do you have my sticks here somewhere?

MR KIRBY: I got this. I’ll trade you, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Trade. That’s a hell of a trade. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we wish you all the best, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you.

QUESTION: Are you hopeful on Iran? Are you hopeful on Iran, Secretary?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m always hopeful. Yes, I’m hopeful. I’m not declaring optimism. I am hopeful.


June 4, 2015

Nationalism is Thailand’s true religion


Nationalism is Thailand’s true religion

3 Jun 2015 at 03:30.


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For the past month, Thai society has been in agreement that it’s only right to push the desperate Muslim Rohingya and Bangladeshi boat people back out to sea and let fate take care of them.

On Monday, lighted candles and solemn prayers filled temples nationwide as devotees promised to follow the Buddha’s path to celebrate Visakha Bucha Day. The world is perplexed. How could a country which prides itself as the hub of Buddhism be so cruel?

Every time Thailand hits world headlines – be it because of forced or child prostitution, slave labour, human trafficking, or political violence – the world asks: how could a Buddhist country commit such crimes?

My first reaction is to label the question simplistic. Isn’t it too easy to link one’s professed faith with their actions? Besides, all religions, not only Buddhism, teach love and compassion. And look how people are killing each other in the name of religion.

It’s also a major misunderstanding to think religious people cannot commit violence. The truth is, the more righteous people are, the more likely they are to choose violence as a way to eliminate what they see as sinful. The more religious fervour, the more violence. Examples abound, both here and abroad.

How many Thai Buddhists react to this question is interesting. Here are some reactions:

Why call us inhumane? We’re already housing more than 100,000 displaced people fleeing wars from Myanmar. Now it’s time for you to show your humanity by taking in these boat people; Thailand has limited resources.

We are kind; that’s why we provide them with food and water to help them go where they really want to go because Thailand is not their destination. Isn’t that enough? We are kind, but we cannot shoulder the long-term social problems immigrants bring.

Kindness or the lack of it is not the issue. The boat people influx is not of our making. It’s the legacy of Western colonialism’s divide-and-rule policy. The West must take responsibility.

Why help people who can afford to pay human smugglers to make money overseas?

We are kind, but Muslims are aggressive and have too many kids. They are national security threats who will aggravate problems in the deep South.

We have compassion, but we cannot help everyone suffering in this world. When we cannot help, we must practise Buddhism by using the principle of ubekkha, or equanimity.

Of these responses which are mere efforts to legitimise one’s cold-heartedness, I find the last one the most exasperating.

Fear fuelled by prejudice often drives people to make cruel choices. Life is full of difficult dilemmas; we all know that. We may not agree with that choice, but we can understand it. But to say your inhumanity is backed by the Buddha so that you can still feel good about yourself is, for me, hypocrisy and cruelty in the extreme. It’s also an outright abuse of the Buddha’s teaching.

To the question of why a Buddhist country is full of vices prohibited in Buddhism, may I offer an answer? It’s because we are not really Buddhists. Our predominant creed is nationalism. Racist nationalism to be exact, since our “Thainess” is based on the myth of the pure Thai race. That’s why it’s so easy for many of us to turn a blind eye to the suffering of other ethnicities and races – be they migrant workers, boat people, or Malay Muslims in the restive South.

Another creed we extol is patriarchy and sexism. It’s why the sex industry prospers, polygamy is culturally endorsed, violence against is women widespread, and gender prejudice is unquestioned.

Thai Theravada Buddhism, meanwhile, is fully operating under Thai nationalism and patriarchy. That’s why the clergy is fiercely against female ordination and remains silent amid the boat people crisis.

Buddhism may appear to be the dominant faith here, but widespread temple corruption has severely eroded public faith. The monkhood has been reduced to a social ladder for rural lads. Monks operate mainly as postmen, sending merit to our deceased relatives. Tucked in the comfortable cocoon of luxury and privilege, the feudal clergy has lost touch with the modern world and is too weak to provide a moral compass. There’s no need to look up the Buddhist canon to see if we’re true to our faith. Look at how we treat those weaker than us; that is the true reflection of our hearts.

South. Another creed we extol is patriarchy and sexism. It’s why the sex industry prospers, polygamy is culturally endorsed, violence against is women widespread, and gender prejudice is unquestioned. Thai Theravada Buddhism, meanwhile, is fully operating under Thai nationalism and patriarchy. That’s why the clergy is fiercely against female ordination and remains silent amid the boat people crisis.

Buddhism may appear to be the dominant faith here, but widespread temple corruption has severely eroded public faith. The monkhood has been reduced to a social ladder for rural lads. Monks operate mainly as postmen, sending merit to our deceased relatives. Tucked in the comfortable cocoon of luxury and privilege, the feudal clergy has lost touch with the modern world and is too weak to provide a moral compass.

There’s no need to look up the Buddhist canon to see if we’re true to our faith. Look at how we treat those weaker than us; that is the true reflection of our hearts.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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June 2, 2015

‘All he was trying to do was come home’: Mystery surrounds Canadian man’s death at airport in Laos

Sarena Armsworthy stands beside a photo of her brother Nara Pech, a 28-year-old Canadian university graduate who was found dead at the Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, Laos in January, 2015.

Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal

Nara Pech’s voice is unwavering in the message he left for his parents from the Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, Laos.

“I’m in Laos and they’re trying to hurt me. I need help. Call the embassy, please,” he says on the voice-mail message.

The 28-year-old Canadian man planned to travel in Southeast Asia with two friends for three weeks.

The trip started in Cambodia, where Pech hoped to learn more about his family’s history. His parents are Cambodian and fled the Khmer Rouge, living in a refugee camp in Thailand before eventually settling in 1986 in Edmonton, where Pech was born.

The friends travelled next to Thailand and then Laos, a landlocked country of 6.8 million people ruled by a communist government. There, Pech felt homesick and decided to return to his fiancée in Toronto.

His friends stayed in the capital Vientiane, but accompanied him to the city’s international airport Jan. 21, 2015 and watched him clear customs.

It’s unclear what happened next.

Pech called his parents, his fiancée’s parents and a friend from the airport and left messages asking for help.

“They took my boarding pass away. They’re screwing me over. I’m trying to get out of here as soon as possible. It’s a bad situation,” he says in a message to his fiancée’s parents.

No one heard from Pech again. He died at the airport Jan. 22.

“When my dad called me and said ‘your brother is no longer in this world,’ I thought it was a mistake,” says Sarena Armsworthy, Pech’s older sister who lives in Edmonton.

“We have no idea why any of it happened, and why it happened to him. All he was trying to do was come home.”

He mentioned in one voice mail that “Apparently I said something bad about (Cambodian prime minister) Hun Sen.” Armsworthy says her brother wasn’t a political person and didn’t follow politics.

He was a people person who loved to help others, she says.

“Family was always important to him,” she says. “He was never afraid to show love to anyone.”

On Family Day, Feb. 16, relatives and friends gathered for Pech’s funeral. Five hundred people packed a hall in Newmarket, Ont., to celebrate the young man’s life.

Pech had recently graduated with honours from York University, with a double major in sociology and anthropology.

“He had a way with people,” says Maureen Chear, Pech’s fiancée.

The couple had been together for 13 years and planned to get married later this year. On their first date, in high school, Chear played Monopoly at Pech’s house with his family. She was struck by how much he loved his parents, younger brother and older sister.

“He was so sweet with them and so kind,” she says.

Pech was a voracious reader who enjoyed sports, hiking and travelling.

“He grew up to be an amazing man,” says Ranya Persaud, Pech’s cousin. “He was family oriented and would do anything to spend time with his family.”

Relatives recently held a 100-day ceremony, a Buddhist tradition in which people prayed nothing terrible happens in Pech’s next life.

Distance complicates death. In the months since Pech died, Armsworthy has received conflicting reports about what happened.

Armsworthy says consular services in Ottawa say Pech tried to kill himself, based on information they received from Laotian authorities.

But a private autopsy conducted in Thailand details multiple injuries to Pech’s body: a stab wound to his right chest that lacerated his lung; multiple stab wounds to his neck; a stab wound on his right forearm; multiple cuts on his left hand and arm; contusion wounds on both his hands and his right knee.

“I don’t see it being possible that he could have done any of that to himself,” Armsworthy says.

She says Pech had no history of mental illness.

A report from the government newspaper Vientiane Times says a Canadian man travelling from Vietnam to Thailand, with a stop in Laos, was found dead on the second floor of the airport with three stab wounds to his body.

According to the article, some passengers on the flight from Vietnam reported the man was acting strangely.

Armsworthy says Pech was to fly from Laos to Bangkok to Toronto; he had never been on a flight from Vietnam.

An official with the Vientiane Police Office told the newspaper the man was asked to stay outside the terminal “and then some problems occurred.” The man damaged some shops, got a small knife and stabbed himself, the story says.

Armsworthy has not received a police report. She has found photos posted on a local media site’s Facebook page that show a white floor in the airport’s cafeteria soaked with blood, as four people kneel around what appears to be a body. In another photo, two men in brown uniforms take stock of what was found at the scene, including four knives, a bloodied passport and a clean pair of black shoes.

Three of the knives were 30 centimetres long, with the fourth measuring 33 centimetres long, according to a medical report from Lao authorities.

“All we ask is to find out what happened. And if it’s in an international airport with surveillance, I don’t know why that’s so difficult,” Armsworthy says.

Amnesty International’s most recent report on Laos says a lack of openness and scarcity of information are making monitoring of human rights situations challenging.

With little information available from consular services, Armsworthy has sought help from officials in Alberta, where she lives, and Ontario, where her parents live and Pech lived. Her emails and phone calls to Ontario RCMP, a member of parliament, and professors of law have gone unanswered, or she was directed back to consular services.

“It feels pretty hopeless,” Armsworthy says.

The Embassy of Canada in Bangkok, Thailand, assumes consular responsibility for Laos. Philip Cordier, acting embassy spokesman, directed questions about Pech’s death to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. —

When asked by the Journal about Pech’s death, the department and the office of Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Consular) provided identical statements.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of a Canadian citizen who passed away in Laos. Consular officials continue to provide assistance to the family and liaise with local authorities. To protect the private and personal information of the individual concerned, further details on this case cannot be released,” both statements read.

Armsworthy says her family does not feel they are receiving help from the government. Meanwhile, she’s continuing to search for answers on her own, and has launched a page on the fundraising website GoFundMe to help pay for a headstone for her brother’s grave.

The voice-mail messages Pech left shortly before he died remain the biggest clue in his mysterious death.

When Armsworthy listens to her brother’s messages, she hears him trying to stay calm, but she knows he’s scared.

“I just think about how my brother was by himself, trying to get help, and no one’s there to help him,” she says.

Her brother now gone, Armsworthy is still trying to help him.

Audio: Listen to the voice-mail messages Nara Pech left for his parents and his fiancée’s parents:

On mobile:

Dying Abroad

In 2014, 1,335 Canadians died abroad and their deaths were reported to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. Not every death is reported, said Erica Meekes, spokeswoman with consular affairs. Of those reported, the government says three-quarters were related to natural causes.

When a Canadian citizen dies outside the country, the government can provide some assistance to families, but there are other tasks officials will not complete. According to the Government of Canada’s website, authorities at the nearest Canadian government office abroad can:

Start the process of notifying next of kin;

Provide guidance on how to obtain appropriate documentation, such as death certificates and police reports, and how to bring embalmed or cremated remains to Canada. The family or the deceased’s insurance company must pay all costs related to the repatriation of remains and personal belongings;

Inform on interment options, costs and a list of local funeral providers, as well as lab facilities offering forensic identification services;

Identify the remains of a Canadian citizen if local authorities, family members or friends are not able to do so;

Help to get documents necessary for insurance companies to facilitate the payment or investigation of claims.

Officials will not:

Pay for the burial, cremation or repatriation of the remains;

Intervene in private legal matters relating to the death;

Translate official documents, such as death certificates or autopsy reports, for the family;

Provide legal advice on issues such as estate law, wills and trusts;

Investigate the death of a Canadian or intervene in a local investigation of the death.

June 2, 2015

Canadian’s mysterious death at Laos airport has victim’s family searching for answers

Canadian’s mysterious death at Laos airport has victim’s family searching for answers

May 27, 2015

Heirs of the ‘Secret War’ in Laos

Heirs of the ‘Secret War’ in Laos


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