Monday, March 14, 2005

Where Monsoons Meet No. 10

Being a miscellany of recent stories from Southeast Asia.

  • Philippines. The story of the deaths of 27 schoolchildren in Bohol was just too sad for words. They died after eating a snack of cassava roots which are likely to have been contaminated with a pesticide. The official statement of the Department of Health notes that: "It is very much possible that the food was prepared in an environment that was highly toxic and contaminated with chemical poisons and bacteria". My friend, Joe, has been in a friendly debate with me over how to regulate the millions of street vendors and he has a point. Ignorance, neglect and under-regulation have led to a needless tragedy. It is beyond words.
  • Taiwan. It was a great crime and there has been no redress. Taiwanese women who were forced to be sex slaves (or "comfort women" as they were euphemistically known) for the Japanese military during the Second World War are campaigning for Japan to take legal responsibility for the crime. They join women in many other countries – Korea, the Philippines, China, Indonesia, Burma, and the Pacific Islands – in seeking redress from the Japanese authorities. In a typical evasion of all moral responsibility the high court in Tokyo rejected the Taiwanese women's demand on the basis that the claims were filed many years after the abuse occurred. Neither has the Japanese government ever issued an apology or even a disclosure. The only successful conviction of Japanese officers was made in 1948 in the case of 35 Dutch women. There is an excellent website here, maintained by Chunghee Sarah Soh, on the so-called "comfort women". With the current climate of conservative nationalism in Japan and Koizumi's pandering to the militarist past there's little likelihood of an immediate change of heart from Tokyo. But this crime requires atonement in the lifetime of its survivors. As the campaigning lawyer, Karen Parker, said many years ago before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights:
    Fifty years is long time. It is a long time for these women to relive those awful rapes over and over and over again. Japan, your surviving victims are elderly, many if not most suffering from health consequences from your rapes. Do the right thing. Pay them.
  • Indonesia–Aceh. There is an interesting report here on the reconstuction effort in post-tsunami Aceh. Rachel Harvey suggests that we are at the beginning of the longer-term phase of rehabilitation. But as she points out there remains a great deal of suspicion of the actions of the Indonesian military who are building barracks-style camps across the province. And then there is the problem of compensation and relocation of devastated communities. Of course, all this is going on at the same time as talks on the secessionist struggle between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Harvey concludes her report:
    After decades of imposing policies on the province, there is an opportunity here for the central government in Jakarta to show that it respects the wishes and aspirations of the Acehnese people. If taken, the blueprint could become part of efforts towards political as well as physical reconstruction in Aceh.
    It's a mighty big if ...


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