Asia and the Pacific
“We left everything behind. We have nothing now… The Taleban were very cruel to us, and then the government began bombing so we had to flee with whatever we could gather. So who can we turn to?”
This schoolteacher spoke to Amnesty International as she was fleeing the intense fighting that forced more than 2 million people out of their homes in
Her sentiments apply equally to the millions of other people across the Asia-Pacific region who have been forced, whether through insecurity or economic necessity, to leave their homes and, in many cases, their countries.
At the beginning of the year, nearly half a million Pakistanis were already displaced. Although the communities Amnesty International spoke to had been subject to the Taleban’s harsh practices – including public executions, torture, and severe restrictions on women and girls’ ability to receive health care and attend school – most explained that they had fled out of fear of the Pakistani government’s brutal counter-insurgency offensives. Indeed, by April, as the Taleban aggressively extended their control to areas within easy driving distance of
The government’s response to the long-standing conflict in the north-western border with
By the end of 2009, millions of people across the Asia-Pacific region were still waiting for their governments to protect their rights. Whether in their own homes or in makeshift shelters, accountability for the injustice they suffer remained an ideal celebrated more often in the breach, especially for the marginalized and powerless. But for people on the move, whether crossing international frontiers as refugees, asylum-seekers and migrant workers, or travelling within the borders of their own country due to displacement or for work; nobody assumed responsibility for them. They lacked the standing to assert their human rights, and they faced violations of all of them: civil, political, economic, social and cultural.
Some 300,000 Sri Lankans were trapped on a narrow coastal strip of north-eastern
"Afghan women again paid a high price in the conflict, as the Taleban targeted women human rights defenders and activists as well as schools and health clinics, particularly those for girls and women."
There was little sign that the Sri Lankan authorities would provide accountability for any of the atrocities allegedly committed by both sides during the fighting, especially in its final bloody phase, despite a promise to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.
The Sri Lankan government also promised to allow hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils who survived the war to return home, but in fact more than 100,000 remained in military-run camps by year’s end, denied their freedom of movement. Many of them had previously survived months of difficult conditions as they were forced to travel with retreating LTTE forces who forcibly recruited civilians, including children, and in some cases used them as human shields. The government of
Tens of thousands of Afghans were displaced by a combination of escalating violence by the Taleban and the inability of the central government and its international allies to improve the country’s political and economic situation. The Afghan Taleban were responsible for some two thirds of the more than 2,400 civilian casualties, with the peak of the attacks occurring as the Taleban tried to disrupt the presidential election.
Despite the Taleban’s attacks, millions of Afghans turned out to exercise their right to vote on election day, only to have their selection undermined as a result of the failure of the Afghan government and its international supporters to provide an adequate human rights protection mechanism. Supporters of the main candidates, including President Hamid Karzai, intimidated and harassed political activists and journalists before, during, and after the elections. The balloting itself was immediately criticized by independent observers as fraudulent, and the process of verifying the results dragged on for months, further eroding the election’s legitimacy and the Afghan people’s right to participate in the conduct of their public affairs.
Afghan women again paid a high price in the conflict, as the Taleban targeted women human rights defenders and activists as well as schools and health clinics, particularly those for girls and women, while ongoing insecurity eroded the very modest gains Afghan women had made since the fall of the Taleban government.
In the conflict-afflicted
The history of impunity for these forces formed the backdrop to the shocking, execution-style killing of at least 57 people, including more than 30 journalists, on 23 November on the eve of registration for local gubernatorial elections. The egregious nature of the crime led the government to impose martial law briefly to reimpose its writ and press charges against several members of the powerful Ampatuan family, which has dominated the province’s politics for a decade.
Repression of dissent
In other parts of the Asia-Pacific region, it was not sharp conflict that spurred the dislocation of people and the subsequent denial of their rights, but rather ongoing repression.
Thousands of people fled
"The discrimination that migrant workers faced throughout the region, even in their own countries, formed the backdrop to one of the worst recent outbreaks of unrest in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region."
North Korean authorities also continued to bar their own citizens from freely moving around inside the country. People had to obtain official permission to travel. Although the authorities have reportedly relaxed enforcement of such rules, as thousands have left their homes in search of food or economic opportunities, people remained vulnerable under the current law and were often subjected to extortion by officials.
Thousands of people were displaced in
The year witnessed another painful reminder of the desperation
As the year was ending, Thai authorities also forcibly returned around 4,500 Lao Hmong, including 158 recognized refugees and many others fleeing persecution, to
In December, the Chinese government successfully pressed Cambodian authorities to return 20 Uighur asylum-seekers who were fleeing the crackdown after the July unrest in the Xinjiang
The vast majority of people who left their homes in the Asia-Pacific region were driven by economic need. Millions of people in China who had moved to the country’s economic hubs were forced back to their homes in rural areas, more aware of the growing inequities between China’s newly wealthy and the millions still living with inadequate health care and education.
In 2009, as in all recent years, millions left their homes in countries such as the Philippines, Nepal, Indonesia and Bangladesh, to pursue livelihoods in others, namely South Korea, Japan and Malaysia, or even further abroad. Despite some improvements in the national and bilateral legal frameworks governing the hiring, transportation and treatment of migrant labourers, most of those participating in this massive global flow of migrant labour were not able to enjoy their rights fully. In many cases, this was due to government practices, but they also often found themselves as easy targets of heightened racism and xenophobia in economically difficult times.
The discrimination that migrant workers faced throughout the region, even in their own countries, formed the backdrop to one of the worst recent outbreaks of unrest in
On 26 June, hundreds of Uighur workers clashed with thousands of Han Chinese workers at a factory where Uighurs had been recruited from the XUAR. By early July, the protests in the XUAR had turned
"In many other cases, economic motives prompted authorities to forcibly evict people from their homes."
One of the starkest examples of the abuse of migrant workers came to light in
Even where migrant workers received greater legal protection,
Housing – forced evictions
In many other cases, economic motives prompted authorities to forcibly evict people from their homes. Cambodian authorities, for example, forcibly evicted low-income families from a redevelopment site in central
In April 2009, the Indian authorities gave Sterlite Industries India Ltd and the state-owned Orissa Mining Corporation permission to mine bauxite in Dongria Kondh traditional lands for the next 25 years.
In each case, the destruction of their home significantly undermined the ability of the people concerned to enjoy their rights, and to get redress for the violations of them.
In a year when the Copenhagen Climate Change summit sought, and failed, to achieve a global consensus to address environmental change, it was easy to see the impact of large-scale shifts in the human environment. The government of the
By and large, the countries in the Asia-Pacific region have not responded adequately to the challenges of protecting the rights of those who have left their homes behind. Most countries in the region have not even ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, which sets out the rights of people who have fled their country due to persecution or clear danger.
Frameworks to protect the rights of internally displaced people remained even more poorly developed, compared with the international legal framework for the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers. But the greatest challenge for the protection of dislocated people in the region remained the poor record of accountability for many of the region’s governments.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in the case of
The UN Human Rights Council on 27 May passed a deeply flawed resolution on
China and India, apparently vying for access to Myanmar’s resources, did not use their political and economic influence to curb the Myanmar government’s practice of excluding internal critics like Aung San Suu Kyi, or of ending the repression of various ethnic minorities. Even the widely reported spectacle of the Rohingyas adrift on the sea did not prompt appropriate action from
All ASEAN members finally ratified the ASEAN Charter, containing several provisions addressing human rights, including one that called for the establishment of a human rights body. Nevertheless, most countries in the region had still not signed up to many of the major global human rights treaties. In particular, Amnesty International believes that the region shirked its responsibility to establish a clear regional response to the ongoing problems created by flows of people across borders, or the underlying human rights problems that prompt such movements.
There are strong indications that the rate of movement of people across the globe, within and across borders, is going to increase, whether as a result of conflict, economic need, or environmental disruptions. Yet there are no signs that the international community is amending and adapting the current legal framework to address this development. What is required is an acknowledgement that people leave their homes for a variety of reasons, and that, whatever the reason, every human is still entitled to enjoy the full range of their human rights.
"There are strong indications that the rate of movement of people across the globe, within and across borders, is going to increase, whether as a result of conflict, economic need, or environmental disruptions."
Individual nation states cannot always address the migration of their own people – whether because the scale of internal movement is too great, or because it crosses regional and global borders. This understanding has grown in recent decades but must accelerate further to accommodate the reality of a global population on the move.
The people of the Asia-Pacific region constitute a major portion of the global population of migrant workers, refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people. They are waiting for the region’s governments and regional groups to follow and facilitate these trends.