2019 a year of repression, resistance in Asia: Amnesty International

Governments finding new ways to perpetuate repression . . .

A new Amnesty International report, Human Rights in Asia-Pacific, sounds both a grim and optimistic note about the state of human rights across the region. On the one hand, regional governments are “innovating new ways to perpetuate old patterns of repression – especially through the introduction of draconian laws that punish dissent online.” On the other hand, there has been a groundswell of protest movements in several countries and jurisdictions, many of them youth-led and in defiance of persistent, worsening crackdowns by governments and police.

Not just the usual suspects . . .

The report shines a light on human rights concerns carried over from previous years, including the forced ‘re-education’ of China’s Muslims and the bloody drug war in the Philippines. But it also highlights worrying new developments and escalations, including India’s targeting of its Muslim minority. In August, New Delhi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, imposing a communications lockdown in the state, clamping down on civil liberties, and detaining hundreds of political leaders and activists. In December, its lower house passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, making Muslims without adequate paperwork proving their citizenship status vulnerable to deportation, with subsequent police responses to protests killing “at least 25.” Amnesty also highlights India’s role in moving to make two million people stateless in Assam and the arbitrary arrests of rights defenders.

Power (back) to the people?

Although the report paints a bleak picture of much of the region, it does point out what it considers some notable successes, such as Hong Kong’s protesters getting an unpopular extradition bill withdrawn, the staying power of student protests in India, and Sri Lanka’s legal and activist communities halting the resumption of executions. Another tentative bright spot: the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice moving ahead with separate processes related to claims of war crimes and genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority. Ottawa is explicit in its support for human rights defenders around the world. Amnesty International’s findings suggest that Asia provides no shortage of issues with which Canada would do well to watch.