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 — 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.”
PHNOM PENH — With no end in sight to the so-called trade war between the US and China, the European Union (EU) sees a chance to act as the guardian of free trade and hold its own against the two giants. But as the bloc gets increasingly bogged down in spats with individual Southeast Asian countries, prospects for a wider regional trade relationship look increasingly precarious. With Cambodia’s eligibility for preferential market access to the EU coming under question and with the likelihood growing that Myanmar could be put under similar scrutiny, the EU appears to be hedging against any consequent damage to its relations with Southeast Asia by seeking free trade agreements and closer defence ties with some of the region’s countries. While for now Cambodia can export duty-free to the 28-country, 513 million-population European Union market, this week saw the end of the “monitoring and engagement” phase of a review of that access, potentially putting $5 billion worth of Cambodian garment exports at risk. A European Commission spokesperson said in an August 12 email that “over the next six months, the Commission and the European External Action Service will analyse all the evidence collected”.
JAKARTA — Myanmar attracted the most foreign direct investment of any of the world’s so-called “least developed countries” in 2017, even as the nation’s reputation plummeted over its forced expulsion of tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims. The $4.3 billion worth of realized FDI that went into the resource-rich Southeast Asian country put it on top of the global economy’s bottom division of 47 nations, according to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Myanmar edged out second-place Ethiopia, with Asian neighbors Cambodia and Bangladesh taking third and fifth spots. Even so the nations remain far behind Association of Southeast Asian Nations peers such as Indonesia and Vietnam.
YANGON — Kyaw Soe Win, who was jailed from 1992 to 1998, now leads AAPP(B)’s work with ex-prisoners suffering mental health problems. “Friends, colleagues provided the photos to us,” he said of the hundreds of images, some grainy, faded, black and white, and dating to the 1960s. Inside the museum is a plastic table-top model of Insein, crafted by Htin Aung, another former political prisoner who works with Kyaw Soe Win. The display occupies the middle of the room alongside smaller examples of art and craft works by ex-detainees, as well as rusted shackles worn by prisoners forced to work in chain gangs in remote areas.
RANGOON — One of Burma’s thousands of former political prisoners, Bo Kyi fled to Thailand after he was freed from jail in 1997. He then spent the best part of 2 decades keeping track of and lobbying for the release of others jailed in his homeland for opposing the country’s former military dictatorship. His Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), or AAPP, opened an office in Rangoon, after Burma, officially known as Myanmar, after the army surprisingly handed power to a civilian government in 2011. The high point of that transition came in 2015 when the National League for Democracy, the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, probably the world’s best known political prisoner since Nelson Mandela, won parliamentary elections. But now, three weeks after the AAPP opened a museum in Yangon commemorating those jailed fighting for democracy, Bo Kyi is angry. “We have a hybrid regime, we do not have democratic government, we still have political prisoners,” he said.
JAKARTA – Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson has a record of freeing detainees held by some of the world’s harshest dictatorships. But in working for the release of detained Reuters journalists in Myanmar, he hit a brick wall. “I had success in freeing prisoners in Sudan, Cuba, North Korea, Mexico,” said Richardson, a former cabinet member under U.S. President Bill Clinton, in a telephone interview from his office in the New Mexico capital of Santa Fe. But Richardson could report no such triumph after interceding last week with Myanmar’s de factor leader, Aung San Suu Kyi — herself a former political prisoner — over the two journalists, who face over a decade in jail for alleged breaches of the country’s state secrets law. According to Richardson’s account of their Jan. 22 meeting, Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and who now holds the official title of state counsellor, bristled when he raised the detention of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, arrested in mid-December. He suggested her reaction was stronger than those of some of the most notorious leaders of other authoritarian regimes he has dealt with.
JAKARTA — Thousands of Indonesian Muslims chanting “Allahu Akbar” protested in central Jakarta on Wednesday at Burma’s treatment of its 1.1 million Rohingya minority. Around 146,000 Rohingya have fled Burma military counter-insurgency operations into Bangladesh over the past two weeks. The army’s reprisals came after Rohingya militants stormed Burma army and police posts in August. Wednesday’s protest was the fourth and biggest pro-Rohingya demonstration over the past week in the Indonesian capital, the commercial centre of the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country. The event was peaceful, though toward the end several dozen demonstrators tried to push through police barricades and razor-wire set up about 200 yards from the Burmese embassy. Overhead swung an effigy of the Buddhist monk Wirathu, leader of an anti-Islamic movement in Burma that has been blamed for stirring anti-Rohingya feeling in the predominantly Buddhist country.
YANGON — Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, made a rare admission of fallibility in a televised address to the nation on March 30. “We did what we could for the sake of our country and the people in the first year,” she said in a speech marking the first anniversary of her civilian-dominated government. “We know that we haven’t been able to make as much progress as people had hoped.” That seemed an uncharacteristic acknowledgement of a sputtering economy under her National League for Democracy-led administration. Key economic data suggest that “progress,” as Suu Kyi herself conceded, has slowed. Approved foreign direct investment is estimated to have fallen by a third in fiscal 2016, which ended on March 31, from the record $9.4 billion achieved in fiscal 2015, the last year under the government of former President Thein Sein. Annual growth in gross domestic product is expected to slow to 6.5% in fiscal year 2016, from 7.3% the previous year, according to the World Bank.