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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of July 17, 2015

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Police officers hold barricade tapes to form a cordon outside the parliament building expecting the arrival of crowds for a second day of protests against Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's security-related legislation in Tokyo on  July 16, 2015 (Thomas Peter/Courtesy: Reuters). Police officers hold barricade tapes to form a cordon outside the parliament building expecting the arrival of crowds for a second day of protests against Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's security-related legislation in Tokyo on July 16, 2015 (Thomas Peter/Courtesy: Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Rough week for human rights in China. Chinese police detained dozens of human rights lawyers this week on allegations that they were running a “criminal gang.” The “gang’s” offense? Creating “social chaos” by appealing to authorities and the public on behalf of their clients. The lawyers have been the subject of harsh criticism in state media; authorities have also rolled out the increasingly familiar tactic of televised confessions to publicly shame those arrested. Read more »

Toward a Solution to the Rohingya Crisis

by Joshua Kurlantzick
migrants-rakhine-myanmar Migrants, who were found at sea on a boat, collect rainwater during a heavy rain fall at a temporary refuge camp near Kanyin Chaung jetty, outside Maungdaw township, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar on June 4, 2015. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

So far, despite global coverage of Southeast Asia’s desperate migrants, Myanmar leaders continue to try to cast doubt on the idea that there is a migration crisis at all, though Myanmar officials attended the regional conference on the migration crisis held in Thailand in late May. Still, Myanmar officials reportedly refused to attend the meeting unless it was pitched as a broad discussion about migration, rather than a meeting to address the crisis of fleeing Rohingya. At the meeting, Myanmar “categorically refused to discuss its role as a cause for the crisis,” notes Matthew Davies of Australian National University, an expert on human rights in Southeast Asia. Read more »

Small Steps Forward on the Rohingya Crisis

by Joshua Kurlantzick
indonesia-myanmar-aung san suu kyi An Indonesian student holds a poster of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a protest against what they say is the killing of Muslims in Myanmar, as police stand guard in front of the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia on May 29, 2015. (Beawiharta/Reuters)

For more than three years, as Rohingya in western Myanmar have faced violent attacks, seizure of their homes, and a growing climate of intolerance in public discourse, leaders across the Myanmar political spectrum have either remained silent or actually encouraged discrimination. The Myanmar government surely deserves much of the blame for this environment. Thein Sein’s government participated in last month’s regional crisis meeting in Bangkok on migration only reluctantly, and only after the scope of the meeting was publicly changed so that it addressed migration generally and not the Rohingya. Read more »

No Movement on Rohingya From Myanmar Government

by Joshua Kurlantzick
myanmar-rohingya-protests Monks and protesters participate in a march to denounce foreign criticism of the country's treatment of stateless Rohingya Muslims, in Yangon, Myanmar on May 27, 2015. (Aubrey Belford/Reuters)

Over the past week, the worldwide news coverage of Rohingya migrants at sea in Southeast Asian waters has helped convince some of the region’s governments to take action to prevent an imminent crisis. Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia last week agreed to take in around 7,000 migrants, at least temporarily, and the Thai government is apparently considering taking in migrants as well. The United States and other donors apparently will cover some of the costs of providing shelter and care for the migrants temporarily. Read more »

Human Rights Conditions of Overseas Laborers from North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder
North Korean men look up as they work along the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, in this photo taken September 8, 2014. (Jacky Chen/Courtesy: Reuters) North Korean men look up as they work along the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, in this photo taken September 8, 2014. (Jacky Chen/Courtesy: Reuters)

The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) has released a new report entitled Human Rights and North Korea’s Overseas Laborers: Dilemmas and Policy Challenges, by Yoon Yeosang and Lee Seung-ju This report provides the most comprehensive picture to date on the scope and conditions under which North Koreans are contracted for overseas labor assignments. The report was discussed at an event last week in Washington held at the Korea Economic Institute of America. Read more »

Strategies for Addressing the Rohingya Crisis

by Joshua Kurlantzick
migrants-thai-navy A boat with migrants is being towed away from Thailand by a Thai navy vessel, in waters near Koh Lipe island on May 16, 2015. (Aubrey Belford/Courtesy: Reuters)

As countries in Southeast Asia dither and argue with each other about how to handle the thousands of Rohingya migrants currently stranded on the seas, the migrants’ condition presumably is getting worse. Most of their boats are barely seaworthy, their conditions on board are often horrendous, and they frequently lack proper food and water. The United Nations has warned that the boats could become “floating coffins.” Read more »

Little Chance of a Regional Solution for the Rohingya

by Joshua Kurlantzick
rohingya-indonesia-aceh Rohingya migrants, who arrived in Indonesia by boat, queue up for their breakfast inside a temporary compound for refugees in Kuala Cangkoi village in Lhoksukon, Indonesia's Aceh Province on May 18, 2015. (Beawiharta/Courtesy: Reuters)

In the wake of the latest horrific reports of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar, the United States government has called Southeast Asian nations to come together and adopt a region-wide strategy for addressing the refugee crisis. “This is a regional issue. It needs a regional solution in short order,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters last week, according to the Associated Press. As of today, thousands of Rohingya reportedly remain at sea, off the coasts of Malaysia and Indonesia, on rickety boats, after human smugglers abandoned them; Malaysia and Indonesia refuse to accept any more of the refugees stranded at sea. Read more »

Stories of Ordinary North Koreans and Human Rights

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder
A woman holding an umbrella walks past near damaged houses by flooding in Kujang district, in the province of North Pyongan, in this photo taken on August 28, 2012. (Courtesy: Reuters) A woman holding an umbrella walks past near damaged houses by flooding in Kujang district, in the province of North Pyongan, in this photo taken on August 28, 2012. (Courtesy: Reuters)

Darcie Draudt is a research associate for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Last Thursday at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the U.S. delegation convened a meeting on the human rights situation in North Korea that featured testimony of North Korean escapees. The event was part of North Korean Freedom Week, hosted annually since 2004 by a coalition of U.S. and South Korean NGOs focused on increasing awareness and mobilizing action to promote freedom for the North Korean people. The UN meeting took a turn when the testifiers were interrupted by a statement the DPRK delegation, who had previously been assured they would have an opportunity to speak following the defectors and faced vehement objections most notably from U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. Read more »

Is the Mass Grave a “Turning Point” for Thai Policy on Trafficking?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Thailand-Songkhla A member of the security forces is seen at an abandoned camp in a jungle some three hundred meters from the border with Malaysia, in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 2, 2015. (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy: Reuters)

Last Friday, Thai police discovered a mass grave near the country’s southern border with Malaysia. Twenty-six bodies have been exhumed from the grave thus far. According to a report in the New York Times, the mass grave was located in an abandoned detention camp that was likely used by human smugglers. These camps, primarily for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, are common in southern Thailand. This one, the Times reported, was “made up of bamboo cages, watchtowers and what the Thai police described as a ‘torture room,’ without giving more details.” Read more »

Amid Spectacle of Malaysia Infighting, Democratic Slide Continues

by Joshua Kurlantzick
najib-razak-malaysia Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks during the opening ceremony of the 26th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on April 27, 2015. (Olivia Harris/Courtesy: Reuters)

Since the end of 2014, Malaysians, normally living in one of the most stable countries in Asia, have witnessed an extraordinary political spectacle. Although the same ruling coalition has run Malaysia since independence five decades ago, 89-year-old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad recently launched a fusillade of public attacks on the current prime minister, Najib Razak, his longtime political protégé. Read more »