Monday, March 28, 2005

Where Monsoons Meet No. 11

Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide
Being a miscellany of recent stories from Southeast Asia.

  • Burma. A recent meeting of the International Labour Organisation stated categorically that "that no adequate moves have been taken by the Burmese military regime (the "Government" of Myanmar) to reduce forced labour in Burma/Myanmar". This follows last month's visit to the country by a very high-level team to reassess the labour situation. For an international organisation, the ILO's language is unusually forthright. Its Governing Body has "expressed grave doubts" about the junta's credibility in dealing with the forced labour issue and argued that the "wait-and-see" attitude that has been the norm for the last three years is no longer tenable. The responses of various ILO constituents to the situation in Burma has been mixed. Some governments - the US, Japan, the UK and Canada - have all adopted (relatively modest) sanctions. Many international and national workers' organisations have targeted the withdrawal of multinational corporations from Burma and called for an extension of sanctions. As far as business interests are concerned it's not surprising that the ILO says that "no specific information is available" though it does cite some disinvestment by individual companies. The ILO has given the Burmese junta a new deadline of June before taking any further steps. It shouldn't hold its breath.
  • Cambodia. There are real fears that the long-delayed quest for justice for the Cambodian genocide may founder because of a lack of funds. There have already been years of delay in setting up a tribunal and plenty of compromises along the way. Two years ago the United Nations has signed off on a formula to conduct the trials in Cambodian courts with international assistance; a draft tribunal law made its way through the Cambodian legislative process; and many of the prime suspects, with the exception of Pol Pot himself, who died in 1998, are within the reach of the courts. But there may not be enough money to get the tribunal process moving. The agreed budget is $56 million, mostly from the UN. But donors have been slow to come forward – to date only five countries have made pledges – and the Cambodian government says it can only meet one-tenth of its share. Youk Chang, of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, offers this eloquent statement as to why the tribunal is vital: "It's important to understand that if we continue to delay the process, many survivors will die without seeing justice being done, and many prime suspects and perpetrators will die without being punished, which will be very difficult for many Cambodian people trying to move on with their lives". In international aid terms the amount needed is a pittance. And the reasons for the tribunal are compelling. Let's hope that the impasse can be broken. Some articles on the struggle for justice in Cambodia are available here from the excellent Cambodia Genocide Program at Yale.
  • Thailand. More than one month after the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, imposed his hardline policy, the violence in southern Thailand shows no signs of abating. Yesterday, 22 people were injured in a train ambush at Sungai Padi near the Malaysian border. There are reports here, here and here. As things stand at the government simply has no policy to deal with the causes of the rebel movement still less its horrible consequences.


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