KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s environment minister Yeo Bee Yin announced on Jan. 20 that her country has returned almost 4,000 tonnes of plastic rubbish to mostly Western countries in recent months. “We do not want to be the garbage bin of the world,” the minister said, warning would-be sending countries to “dream on” if they expect Malaysia to recycle their rubbish for them. The cost of repatriating the rubbish from Malaysia will be borne by sending countries and shippers, Yeo said, echoing her counterparts in the Philippines and Indonesia, countries that have also reacted furiously to the trade in foreign plastic rubbish and sought to make senders pay for shipping their garbage back to where it came from. Since China banned the import of plastic waste for recycling in 2017, Southeast Asia has become a magnet for the largely-illegal trade, while images of fields of plastic rubbish bobbing on turquoise seas and of stinking plastic-engorged landfills have fueled concerns about a worldwide “plastics crisis,” with China, estimated to be the world’s biggest source of plastic pollution, becoming the latest country to ban single-use plastics on Jan. 19. This stern “polluters-will-pay-a-price” message is the subject of a new study by the World Economic Forum and PwC, one of the world’s “Big Four” accounting firms. Not only are polluters likely to see their good names tarnished or face financial sanctions, businesses and governments are shooting themselves in the foot by damaging the environment upon which some commercial activity depends.
BANGKOK — The lead lawyer in the upcoming genocide hearings against Myanmar wants the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) to push for investigators be allowed into the country. “We will be asking the court to order Myanmar to allow access to UN agencies that are duly authorized by the UN to gather the facts,” said Paul Reichler, head of International Litigation and Arbitration practice at U.S.-based law firm Foley Hoag. “We hope that the court will order Myanmar to allow access to its territory for this purpose.” Foley Hoag was hired by Gambia to lead its legal team at The Hague in the Netherlands, where the opening hearings in a case alleging genocide against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, will take place from Dec. 10-12. Myanmar will be represented by State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, who will “defend the national interest of Myanmar,” according to a government statement. Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and was a political prisoner of Myanmar’s military junta for 15 years, during which she was admired internationally for her fight against dictatorship.
PHNOM PENH — Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha and U.S. ambassador W. Patrick Murphy did not say much after their one-hour meeting on Nov. 11, a day after a Cambodian court allowed Sokha, who is accused of treason, to be freed from house arrest. Sokha, 66, remains barred from political activities, so he was left to apologize to journalists at the end of the meeting, saying, “I’m not sure what political language is defined as, so I’m not sure what I can say and what I cannot.” But Ambassador Murphy called for the lifting of the charges against Sokha and implored the Cambodian government to “find a way to restore Mr. Kem Sokha’s entire freedoms and liberties.” Sokha was arrested two years ago during a Cambodian government crackdown on the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was later banned, before the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won all 125 seats going during the 2018 national elections, turning Cambodia into a de facto single-party state.
PHNOM PENH — In parallel signals that press freedom remains under duress in parts of Southeast Asia, courts in Cambodia and Myanmar recently ordered reruns of cases against prominent journalists. The decisions, announced within days of each other in late September and early October, came as other countries in the region weighed up new laws concerning freedom of speech. On Sept. 30, a court in the central Myanmar city of Mandalay ordered a re-hearing in a lawsuit against Swe Win, the editor of local news publication Myanmar Now, who was accused of defaming a prominent Buddhist monk. Then on Oct. 2 a judge in Phnom Penh ordered a reinvestigation of former Radio Free Asia journalists Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, who are facing between seven and 15 years in jail over charges of espionage and the production of pornography. On the day of the Cambodia announcement, Sothearin told reporters outside the court that he was “very disappointed” with the prospect of reinvestigation, which local civil society groups said showed that the charges were politically-motivated in the first place. Both the Cambodian and Myanmar decisions mean a double prolongation of cases that otherwise had looked to have run aground, and Rohit Mahajan, RFA’s vice president of communications and external relations said that the Cambodian case decision was “an admission of there being no real evidence to convict.”
KUALA LUMPUR — While Philippine citizens disagree with the Duterte administration’s head-in-the-sand response to Chinese aggression in the disputed South China Sea, a substantial number still support his so-called drug war that has claimed thousands of lives. But there are serious public misgivings about the industrial-scale extrajudicial killings that could yet result in President Rodrigo Duterte being charged by international prosecutors. Last week several hundred protesters marked the third anniversary of a landmark international tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines and against aspects of China’s expansive claims to the South China Sea. The same week survey by local polling outfit Social Weather Stations showed 87 percent backing for the proposition that the Philippines “should assert its right to the islands in the West Philippine Sea (the local name for the South China Sea) as stipulated in the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). However President Duterte, who marked three years in office on June 30, has several times referred to an apparent threat by China to go to war should the Philippines assert its claims to the sea based on the court’s ruling, which China refused to recognize.
KUALA LUMPUR — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has singled out China for its “extreme hostility” to religion and accused the ruling Communist Party of demanding “that it all alone be called God.” Pompeo was speaking at the release of the U.S. Government’s 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom on June 21. “In China, the government’s intense persecution of many faiths — Falun Gong practitioners Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists among them — is the norm,” Pompeo said. “The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding. The party demands that it alone be called God.”
KUALA LUMPUR — The United States has kept Malaysia on its watch list of countries that do not meet minimum efforts for the elimination of human trafficking. The 2019 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, launched on June 20 by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said Malaysia’s government had not demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous year. But the report noted that Malaysia’s year-old government led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had initiated an official Royal Commission of Inquiry into the mass graves of human trafficking victims at Wang Kelian near the border with Thailand. “In general, the situation has not changed in any significant way,” said Dobby Chew of human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia.
SINGAPORE — Efforts by Southeast Asian lawmakers to highlight religious discrimination could help prevent future atrocities along the lines of the recent expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar, according to the head of the the United Nations’ human rights fact-finding mission to the country.“Religious persecution matters because, left unchecked, it leads up to atrocity crimes. This is a condition that is not unique to Myanmar but to the region as a whole,” said mission head Marzuki Darusman, an Indonesian lawyer. But the MPs may have their work cut in the wake of growing politicization of religion and persecution of minorities.“it is very important to spread the message of freedom of religion, but this is a region where religion has been exploited for political purposes,” said Kyaw Win, a Muslim from Myanmar and founder of the Burma Human Rights Network.Indonesia has seen the hounding and jailing of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Protestant ex-governor of Jakarta, and the August 2018 imprisonment of a Buddhist in North Sumatra after she allegedly complained that the speakers at a neighborhood mosque were too loud.
SINGAPORE — Just over a year ago the United States moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, sparking protests in Muslim-majority countries and drawing official condemnation at the United Nations. An estimated 30,000 people demonstrated in Jakarta as Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his country “rejects” the American move as it “may disrupt the peace process in Israel and Palestine.” In late 2017, when US President Donald Trump announced he would live up to his campaign promise to move the embassy, the Malaysian government endorsed a huge protest at the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, while Asia’s Muslim UN representatives lined up in New York to excoriate the US.
JAKARTA — As alcohol consumption rises across Asia, Indonesians, including local Catholics, appear to be oblivious to the region’s growing taste for a tipple, but Catholics elsewhere in Asia appear to be drinking more as incomes rise. New research published by The Lancet medical journal suggests Asia is the world’s booze growth market, as consumption is either leveling off or dropping in most other places. The report found that from 1990-2017, consumption increased by 104 percent across Southeast Asia and 54 percent in Western Pacific, going by to geographical regions designated by the World Health Organization (WHO). Some 79 percent of Indonesians are teetotalers, down from 84 percent in 1990, the data showed. This compares to over 90 percent of people who abstain from drinking for life in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, where Catholic charity Caritas has been working to help those young people who do fall prey to drug and alcohol addiction. “Muslim countries consume way less alcohol (than non-Muslim nations), and consequently (they have) substantially less of a problem drinking,” said Dr Jürgen Rehm from the University of Toronto, one of the authors of the report.