JAKARTA — Official crackdowns on emigrants in Malaysia and Thailand have cast further doubt on over prospects that member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations can finalize a long discussed deal on migrant workers’ rights. In June and July around 100,000 mostly Myanmar migrant workers fled Thailand after the military government in Bangkok announced hefty new fines for undocumented workers and their employers. Then, starting July 1, Malaysia made a series of arrests of alleged undocumented migrant workers, affecting more than 3,000 workers and around 60 employers accused of giving work to illegals. These tough actions — though a reprise of previous years’ crackdowns — come as the region’s governments mull proposed enhancements to the 2007 ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed in Cebu in the central Philippines during one of Manila’s past tenures as the group’s chair. Two years after the Cebu declaration, ASEAN countries started moves toward a set of region-wide legal norms, but progress has been slow. With Manila again chairing ASEAN this year, there has been a renewed push to address migrant rights — an important social and political issue in the Philippines.
TANJUNG GUSTO — Coming from all over Indonesia, vividly-garbed traditional dancers yelled ‘horas’, which means hello in the Batak language of north Sumatra. But the pageantry could not mask their disappointment at being snubbed by the country’s president. Hundreds of Indonesia’s tribal leaders had traveled to Tanjung Gusto, a small village on Sumatra, the biggest of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands. They arrived with high expectations that the government was about to grant at least some of their demands for control of what they claim as their ancestral lands.
JAKARTA — After Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s succession of tirades against the country’s Catholic Church leaders, bishops hardly expected a presidential climb down, even after their entreaty asking the government to ease up on a violent anti-drugs campaign. In less than eight months, more than 7,600 people, mostly drug traffickers and drug users, have been executed extrajudicially, often by a gunshot to the head, their bodies left on the blood-strewn street as a warning. Some have been killed in police operations and some have been murdered by unidentified paramilitary squads. The bloodshed prompted a February pastoral letter signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, which said, “This traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped and overcome. But the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers.”
YANGON — Numbering around 1 million people living in western Myanmar, along with several hundred thousand refugees and migrants in neighboring countries, there are few peoples in the world as marooned as the Muslim Rohingya. Most are stateless, denied citizenship by Myanmar due to a 1982 law dictated while the country, then known as Burma, was run by the army. But the end of dictatorship in 2011 and the rise to power of an elected government last year — headed by one of the world’s best-known former political prisoners Aung San Suu Kyi — has done little to help the Rohingya. “They have been suffering, they are being tortured and killed, simply because they uphold their Muslim faith,” said Pope Francis in his latest weekly audience Feb. 8.
YANGON — A Feb. 3 report by the U.N. Human Rights Council featured harrowing accounts by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh of army abuses in northern Rakhine, including the gang rape of women and murder of children. In response to the report, Myanmar’s government, which is led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, initially softened its prior outright denials of military abuse and promised to investigate the allegations. But on Feb. 7, it said it needed more information from the U.N. Naypyitaw’s earlier denials had prompted criticism from around the world. On Jan. 20, Yanghee Lee, the U.N. human rights envoy to Myanmar, said: “For the government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the government appears less and less credible.”
Previously, Myanmar railed against a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on the Rohingya crisis, held in Malaysia on Jan. 19, during which Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak reiterated harsh criticisms of Naypyitaw’s policies, saying: “The killing must stop, the burning of houses must stop, the violation of women and girls must stop.” He had earlier urged international intervention in Myanmar and accused the government of “genocide” against the Rohingya.
YANGON — Myanmar’s minority Muslim Rohingya are holding fast to their identity in the face of official discrimination, public scorn and military action. Excluded from Myanmar’s 2014 census unless they assented to the epithet “Bengali,” most of the country’s roughly 1.1 million Rohingya live as virtual aliens in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. How long they have lived in Rakhine State and under what name is a highly contentious matter in Myanmar. “The Arakanese people and the Myanmar people do not accept the term Rohingya,” said Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party, the biggest party in Rakhine State. Like the Myanmar government, Aye Maung refers to the Rohingya as “Bengali,” implying that the Rohingya are foreigners. Rohingya disagree. “Nobody can deny us to call ourselves by our name, that is our right,” said Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.
RANGOON – More than a year after Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory in Burma’s first valid national election in a quarter century, the former political prisoner is looking increasingly aloof from her own history as a victim of human rights abuses. The plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority in the west of Burma, or Myanmar as it is officially called, is well known. Denied citizenship and regarded as Bengali immigrants, the Rohingya not only have been subject to decades of official discrimination but have been largely scorned and ostracized by most Burmese people. Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal opinion on the Rohingya is unknown, she says little to the press these days, but since taking up her role as Burma’s de facto leader last year, she has done little to alleviate their plight — bar ask officials not to refer to them as “Bengali,” a term the Rohingya do not accept as it implies that they are immigrants from Bangladesh.
JAKARTA — There is, it seems, a link between hard work and untimely death in Asia. Perhaps the most luridly tragic side effect of Asia’s push for growth is karoshi, a Japanese term describing death from overwork, often by suicides but also linked to exhaustion and stress. Japan saw compensation claims for karoshi and illnesses related to overwork rise to a record high of 2,310 cases in 2015. A government white paper published this October warned that almost a quarter of the workforce could be vulnerable to karoshi, with the benchmark set at employees who work more than 80 hours of overtime each month.
The suicide of Matsuri Takahashi, an employee of advertising agency Dentsu, in December 2015 seems to have sparked a more determined push for reform. The 24-year-old jumped to her death from a company dormitory after putting in more than 100 hours of overtime the previous month. On Nov. 7, Tokyo Labor Bureau officials raided Dentsu offices on suspicion of violating labor laws. The following day, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, minister of health, labor and welfare, said the ministry “will thoroughly investigate, eyeing the possibility of sending the case to prosecutors.”
JAKARTA — America’s quirky electoral college system is meant as “a compromise between election of the president by a vote in Congress and election of the president by a popular vote of qualified citizens,” according to the U.S. National Archives. “In a global perspective, the most common format is a two-round system. This involves the public choosing between a greater range of candidates to begin with. The finalists (usually two) then go head-to-head for the presidency in a final vote,” said Toby Green, an elections expert at the University of East Anglia. The system helps ensure the dominance of the two main parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. In 1992, although independent candidate Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote nationwide, he did not win any electoral college votes. The overall national vote does not usually equal the electoral college vote outcome. For example, Barack Obama win 51% of the nationwide vote in 2012, but 61% of the electoral college vote. In 2008, Obama won 53% of the popular vote but 68% of the electoral college vote. In four elections since 1800, the winning president has lost the popular vote — the last time in 2000 when George W. Bush won a cliffhanger election by getting Florida’s electoral college votes.
JAKARTA — A year after China began phasing out its infamous one child policy, global sports and fashion brands are hoping to sell more babywear and childrenswear in the world’s second biggest economy. “It seems reasonable to assume that now people are allowed to have more than one child, many will take advantage of the opportunity,” said a spokesperson for Adidas, a German sportswear giant perhaps best known for the three stripe logo that has long adorned the shirts and boots of the world’s best football players. In a recent survey of the Chinese childrenswear market, business research group Euromonitor forecast a 62.5% sales volume increase in babywear up to 2020, with a 38.3% increase in childrenswear projected for the same period. An Adidas spokesman told the Nikkei Asian Review that “the market for kids’ sports products and apparel continues to go from strength to strength in China and we fully expect this trend to continue.”