13 February 2001
In this issue:
Faith and Ideology: Asian Women's Experiences
China - Beijings Balancing Act
Philippines - KMU urges new president to junk globalisation
Burma - General Rejects Notion of Western Democracy
Laos - Laos stops World Bank forestry programme
Pakistan - Pakistani Christians acquitted of blasphemy
Sri Lanka - More torture, but still no convictions
Korea - PARK Kyung Seo made Ambassador at Large for Human Rights
|1. FEATURE - top|
Faith and Ideology: Asian Women's Experiences
By YONG Ting Jin
I am aware that by now you have had many discussions on globalisation. My role now is to add in the perspective of Asian women in the discussions because just as globalisation affects people differently according to their social, economic and political locations, there is also a difference in impact due to the matter of gender. I am glad that the CCA-URM and the Mission & Evangelism Desks of the CCA recognise that fact, hence, they have included the women's voice in this consultation. Of course I am aware that a larger purpose for this consultation is for participants "to reflect and to look for some answers for URM and people's movements in their wrestling on the issues of ideology, faith and spirituality in the new millennium... People's movements and URM seem to have lost both ideological and faith and spirituality foundation in struggling side by side with the people for facing the global economic power. A mission which fights for justice needs clear and strong ideological and theological and spirituality basis." I am glad for the fact that the women's perspective is taken seriously in this assessment of the faith and ideology of civil society.
Questioning the Ideology behind Globalisation
Over the last decade, many people-oriented groups and movements experienced a deepening of the ideological vacuum. The search for an alternative ideologies has continued and there seems to be no clear answer to people's questions. Since the fall of State Socialism, socialism had been depicted as a system that failed to deliver. Consequently, capitalism seems to have triumphed and succeeded as the system that works, the system that will not only usher in and realise "the abundant and good life" on earth through globalisation but even bring it to its ultimate consummation in the new millennium. The new world order, one global village, borderless world, global market, economic liberalisation are among the slogans being peddled promising the "abundant and good life" in this world. It seems then that the ideology of global capitalism reigns! And globalisation is the new label replacing neo-colonialism and imperialism.
How Asian Women Analyse Globalisation
I would like to present some Asian women's analyses of globalisation. Although the impact seems to be predominantly economic, globalisation is not just about economics. It is also a socio-cultural, political and religious issue that has wide negative effects on all spheres of life. Drawing from other Asians' analyses, Hope Antone makes a concise summary that globalisation is "a new colonialism that manifests itself through economic domination, cultural aggression, and political imperialism." She describes and defines it in the following:
In line with incorporating and integrating Asian economies into the global market economy based on the economic development model for the NICs [newly industrialised countries] towards achieving a fully developed status, one new strategy is to increase the labour force. Other than the influx of migrant workers, women have been drafted into this development process, as in the case of Malaysia. However, far from gaining "liberation" and "equality" through gainful employment and "modernisation", women have in fact become further burdened and oppressed. This has given rise to new issues relating to gender and development apart from other multiple existing forms of violence against women in the home and workplaces.
In the light of this trend of globalisation, women in Asia are caught at the crossroads of development. A wide cross-section of them -- indigenous women, urban settler women, sex workers, domestic workers, women in the community threatened by environmental health hazards, battered women, women workers, women who experience sexual harassment and violence against them at some point in their lives in and outside the home -- are being incorporated into the mainstream of economic development under the disguise of "equal opportunity", "equality", "equal participation", "women's contribution" and "value" to the full development of the nation. This new strategy of mobilising the whole nation towards achieving a fully developed status accelerated in high gear over the last decade, as in the case of Malaysia towards "Vision 2020".
Lilith M. Usog says "The most recent phenomenon is the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade [GATT] and the World Trade Organisation [WTO] wrapped in the term Globalisation with an aim of creating a global village under the guise of development... If globalisation means development, then why the Asian crisis?"
In her update on the exploitation of women labour force, Irene Xavier views globalisation as "global capitalism in an age of technology which has direct impact on women workers". On another occasion, she names several ill effects of globalisation on women in Asia:
Xavier's conclusion is that such stress results in the deterioration of women's health. Altogether, globalisation leads to "an erosion of women's democratic space in economics, politics and culture. Gender relations continue to be unequal."
On the plight of women migrant workers, May-an Villalba asserts that "the idea that the world is integrating economically or "globalising" is simply not true as far as migrant workers are concerned... Yes, migrant workers may be filling a temporary labour vacuum in the host countries and are being paid wages which are comparably better than in their home countries. But no, poor migrant workers are not being 'integrated'. They are not considered a true, much less a 'permanent' factor of production. They are a tradable and movable human resource that may not enjoy tenure of work and real labour rights. Hence, she points out, Globalisation is simply an illusion of corporations so that they may operate globally without constraints, simply because they proclaim the power of capital, technology and trade which they claim they alone are the bearers of".
Globalisation that comes with the advancement of information technology has further impact on women while offering some gains for many. Cecilia Ng advocates for a more gender-friendly information technology and thinks that women's skills, knowledge and access to information technology should be enhanced. She asserts that the information communication technology [ICT] serves to provide excellent facilities to the current phase of globalisation and economic liberalisation. These ICTs are "mainly controlled and dominated by MNCs located in the industrialised countries".
In another comprehensive analysis on globalisation and women, Ng raises a critical question: "is globalisation weakening or strengthening patriarchy? In other words, are women, as a result of globalisation, gaining more rights or because they are now more visible in their claim for gender and social equality, the forces of conservatism (in the name of tradition, religion and even love) have reacted, making their struggle an uphill one?" While she argues that there have certainly been gains in view of women's rights being recognised as human rights, she also points out that "these gains have been made both as a result of and in spite of globalisation - through centuries of struggle... There have been increased economic opportunities for women but also mounting threats". She then highlights at least five major areas of concern in relation to opportunities and threats: feminisation of employment, migration and the family, violence against women, commoditisation of women and privatisation.
Where is God in this age of globalisation and technology?
Is the gospel of the Jubilee and God's reign relevant in the 21st century? Does God really reign or is it the ideology and forces of globalisation that reign? There is much to reflect about in the face of a rapidly changing Asia entering into the 21st Century with new issues and challenges of globalisation to come. What comes to mind immediately as an analogy from which we can draw some lessons is the story of the "Tower of Babel" and "Cain the City Builder". We can see in the first 11 chapters of Genesis the many parallel accounts that can illustrate the realities of globalisation. The dynamic signs of the tower of Babel, Cain's spirit of the City and that of the city-builders describe to us globalisation.
The story culminates in a series of narratives pointing to the origin and increase of the sinful character of humanity and society. The tower is gloriously reaching up to heaven. It is held around the myth of the city and a name. Cain, the murderer of his brother Abel, goes to build a city for himself, where he can attain material security. He is also the first city-builder by his own inauguration of a new world as opposed to God's Creation. He creates, names and constructs his own beginning; the city and all that it represents. He transmits his life to his children and descendants, for the entire history of the city has its beginning in Cain's act. All the builders are sons of Cain who act with his purpose.
The "sons of men" said to one another, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves." Corresponding to this, the Lord said, "Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language..." (Gen. 11:4-8). The city that culminates with a tower is the means of acquiring the name because to make a name for oneself means power and control with the attempt at building and creating. It is a conquering step of "mankind" towards the city of his independence and pride, distinct from the spirituality of God but in continuous revolt to mark his own success and advance against God. "Let us go" is the conquering step of the triumphant subject now taking over all of creation and his own destiny by his name. Such is the nature of the entire human enterprise.
This general human condition has reached its high point in Babel, which means "confusion". The "one language and few words" is not a language of communication between people. It is a language of power, domination, and of how to make a name for self-glory. Indeed, this entire human history bears the language of the city and urban civilization.
The essential character of city development as described in the earliest accounts of human existence has its sharp parallels with the current trends of globalisation. Today, the modern city is the administrative and ideological centre of the nation-state around which the entire economic, social and political life revolves. It is secured with schemes and strategies that desire to be as wise as God and with no accountability to God. The characters of Cain and his descendants as the first city builders and the character of today's cities have striking similarities. There is no more exercise of stewardship over God's Creation but only the abuse and destruction of ecology and the life-support system in creation.
Furthermore, the city with a tower reaching high up to the heavens flies the flag of globalisation. Behind this lies the political, military and economic power of a few who are brought about and united by the vision and language of a common capitalist ideology. This global capitalism is expressed in the few words of a borderless world, one global village, new economic or world order, modernisation, industrialisation and information technology; free market, liberalisation and privatisation. It has multiple faces and subtle manifestations in the forms of MNCs, TNCs, G7, WTO and World Bank, etc.
The city also belongs to the design of the "sons of men", the patriarchs of urban civilization and modernisation. This design does not bear the mark or essence of God's Creation, who created male and female in God's image. But rather, the "sons of men" create the city in their own image, based on their own religion of self-worship and patriarchal system. Therefore, men build the city and women are co-opted to satisfy the human desire for the purpose of cheap human labour and reproduction. Genesis 4-11 is revisited but now with heightened gender socialization, manipulation and sophistication to maintain the system of patriarchy. Even the story and its interpretation of Cain and Abel reflects subtly the exclusiveness of "brotherhood" ("am I my brother's keeper?"), not humankind inclusive of women.
Women have no place or role in the construction of the city. The "sons of men", the conquerors and city-builders have a name and language for themselves that exclude and marginalise women, the disabled, the poor and oppressed. But this name and language have an age-long patriarchal face while the women and the marginalised groups are faceless and nameless. Their language comes in many words of suffering, oppression and the struggle to be treated as fully human, equally made in God's image.
Calling globalisation a beast in contemporary time, Jeannie Nacpil-Manipon asks pertinent questions: "What manner of a beast is this Globalisation, which seduces powers and principalities with the promise of glory and wealth, which gives benevolently, but takes away mercilessly? ...Globalisation favours certain actors, powers and forces, and mercilessly excludes others. It facilitates and allows access and unhampered control over markets, commodities and almost all the earth's resources to a certain few, while the millions of marginalized people are deprived of the access to resources, their share of benefits, their control over their own lives and future." The Global Beast can be appropriately called "Legion" because it is many -- it has multiple faces, names, subtle forms and manifestations.
In light of the above, what are the alternative thinking and visions that will bring forth light into the 21st century and the new millennium? Perhaps the most recent events that have mobilised international mass actions are the anti-globalisation campaigns and the Jubilee 2000 movement. People who formed themselves into Jubilee 2000 movement both in and outside of the church have persistently called for the cancellation of Third World debt as seen in the 1999 WTO Conference in Seattle and the largest protest represented in Prague this September 2000.
With the rhetoric around the millennium comes also the question of an unknown future with great uncertainty for many people wherever they are. What kind of ideologies or theologies or spirituality can serve as effective counter-culture to the dominant capitalist ideology? What message of hope do we as people of faith have for a despairing humanity plagued with the present global crisis?
Renewing the Vision of Jubilee in the New Age
The Jubilee prompts us to look at our global realities with new hope and renewed vision. As contained in the core message of God's Reign and Jubilee, God's historic time or "kairos" is here and now in the 21st century and new millennium. God's "kairos" is the time of liberation of the captives and oppressed for all of humanity. Hence the new age of liberation is offered to all women and men.
The 50th year is God's sacred "kairos". It is a time of revolution, liberation from inequality and injustice and celebration of the righteousness of God: slaves are to be set free, land to be redistributed and returned to its original owners, and the debts of the poor to be written off. It is also a time in which people of faith in obedience to God would set right the unequal and unjust relationships in society. Therefore the Jubilee Year is God's sacred time for God's people to re-order and restructure life. Socially, one needs to put into action following the summary of the Law: to love God above all and to love neighbour as oneself. Economically, one learns to live and work for the establishment of an economy of sharing and co-operation (Acts 2:44). Politically, one who is the master shall be the servant of the people and power is employed for the service of people and not for domination. The Jubilee is a sacred renewal of a covenant between God and the people of faith when the 50th year is supposed to set and usher in such a new social order for the next 49 years!
In his first mission address Jesus embraced fully the Jubilee vision together with the vision of the "baseleia" [God's Reign that has come] as the GOSPEL, the "good news". In Luke 4:19 the Jubilee vision is the culmination of the gospel in the Reign of God that has come. Jesus regarded himself as the fulfilment of the Jubilee vision as he was sent to inaugurate the Reign of God here and now in these words "today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (v. 21).
The Jubilee bears precisely the characteristic marks of the "baseleia" of God. Jesus brought with him the testimony of Isaiah 61 that the time of God has come to put an end to all oppression and bondage and injustice under Roman power. Jesus said when the "baseleia" came it could not keep the old structures and lifestyles intact. As in the parable of the wine and wineskins, if new wine is contained in old wineskins, the latter will burst. Hence, new wine needs new wineskins (Mk 2:21-22).
Likewise, we see Jesus setting aside, challenging and discarding many an established tradition and institution in the areas of religion, social practices, norms, economics and politics. This placed Jesus in a situation of historical conflict with the vested interests - conflicts with both the religious Jewish leaders and Roman political authorities [Luke 4:21].
This Jubilee vision is a New Order of life under God's Reign. Jesus was guided by this vision to carry out his mission. He used many parables to illustrate the ideals of the baseleia and his sayings were pregnant with ideas of the new creation, the new order of life, new humanity and human relationships; all expressed in the language of the Jubilee! They were spoken to the ordinary people to reflect about life and the concrete experiences of their situation. Therefore he sought to communicate a vision of new age, a new vision of human community, a new vision for the whole of life when love, peace with justice, equality and dignity will prevail among all people, both women and men, young and old. In word and action Jesus embraced fully the acceptable "Jubilee" year of Yahweh.
It is a NEW age when God's will is worked out through God's people establishing a new social, economic and political order. This new age is to re-order and restructure life socially, based on the summary of the Law which is to love God and "love your neighbour as you love yourself"; economically through the establishment of an economy of sharing and co-operation (Acts 2:44) and politically, where the masters shall be the servants of the people and power is employed for the service of people and not for their domination... In this new age people must repent and turn to a new mentality fit for the new social and humanising order.
The Jubilee is Good News to Women
The new order also speaks of a time in which God would set right the wrong relationships in society where equality and human relationships in social-personal terms should be corrected and changed. Here in particular the old and unequal gender relations between men and women were to be corrected and set right in God's sight. The woman 's status will be restored. In God's Reign and historic time, the "acceptable year", woman is truly recognised as God's own creation, sharing in the very image of God with full dignity, respect and value.
Seen within the oppressive social structures and realities, JESUS the embodiment and fulfilment of God's Jubilee is GOOD NEWS TO WOMEN! At Jesus' time, the women responded and accepted this good news wholeheartedly! It is good news against the old system that is bad news. The old system is oppressive which has subjected women's lives to many forms of violence and discrimination. It denies the human dignity, value and status of women. It has dehumanised women and distorted the image of God in them. The old system is also patriarchal from the home to social and religious places. It is an old society where women experienced domination at all social, cultural, economic, political and religious levels.
From Challenges to Alternatives
In view of the ongoing aggressive trends and challenges of globalisation by the powers that be, what lies ahead for women? Coming back to the original objectives of this consultation on the search for an alternative ideology [or ideologies], it seems difficult to point to one single answer or identify an ideology that can truly answer to people's questions and in particular the woman's question. The systems of state-socialism and capitalism are unable to respond to the woman's question as patriarchy is a part and parcel of the system. But as Cecilia has recalled the critical question whether globalisation has weakened or strengthened patriarchy, women found themselves having to wage a double struggle resisting the ideology behind globalisation and the male-dominated structures within it. While women work and struggle alongside with the male-dominated people's movements for peace and justice, they find themselves having to fight against the "enemy from within" for their own rights, equality and justice. Women find that the old system is oppressive which has subjugated their lives to many forms of violence and exploitation. The old system is also patriarchal from the home to social and religious places. It is an old society where women experienced domination at all social, cultural, economic, political and religious levels.
In view of women's realities and experiences, I am not sure if we need to look for another ideology or theology or spirituality. But the reflection of the tower of Babel and the biblical Jubilee in the context of God's Reign are indeed inspiration for women to pursue and persist with the centuries of struggle in spite of or as a result of the manipulative 'isms' that have caused women much pain and suffering. Despite this, women of many different economic sectors, social classes and background, races and religions are working for life-giving alternatives with and without the general people's movements. The challenge is once again issued to look towards the biblical jubilee for a renewal of our vision with the renewed hope for change and transformation of oneself and the society at large.
**[The above article was presented at the recent CCA-FMU/URM Consultation and Discussion on Ideology, Faith and People's Movement in the New Millenium that was held in Chiangmai, Thailand, 8-11 December 2000]
|2. NEWS in Brief - top|
BEIJING'S BALACING ACT: ECONOMIC ASPIRATIONS AND INTERNAL UNREST
China's Ministry of Public Security ordered the formation of riot police squads that will receive better equipment and training, including handling mass disorders and terrorist cases. Beijing wants to better prepare itself for coping with growing social and ethnic unrest in the country. Chinese authorities also aim at creating police units able to respond with measured force to various challenges. While continuing on the path of economic reform, Beijing seems to foresee growing social protest turning to major violence and has introduced special police forces as a means to tackle the problem.
Chinas Ministry of Public Security ordered a substantial buildup of specially trained riot police, according to Xinhua. The units, similar to American Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) forces, will also be trained for anti-terrorist and hostage operations and mine clearing. Squads of at least 300 members are to be formed in major municipalities like Beijing and Shanghai, while 200-member squads are required for provincial capitals. Other important cities have been mandated to organize anti-riot police units for their needs.
China has had an anti-riot police force in the past, yet it was relatively weak in training and equipment. The enhancement orders reveal two of the Chinese governments key concerns for the near future. First, Beijing fears public unrest is going to accelerate - and with it social instability - requiring a swift and efficient reaction. Second, Beijing is concerned about its international image, particularly in the area of human rights. Balancing these concerns, a key problem a decade ago during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, will be a major challenge for Beijing.
Since the early days of Chinas economic opening and reform, started by former President Deng Xiaoping, Beijing has faced a dilemma: how to balance economic and social reforms without abandoning the one-party rule system. Central to this is ensuring social stability in the face of a rapidly changing Chinese economic landscape while at the same time presenting a positive image to the outside to ensure continued investment and trade. Top Chinese officials re-emphasized the importance of this in New Year speeches.
The economic reforms Beijing is seeking to implement are themselves a driving factor of social unrest. The increasing number of jobless people resulting from economic restructuring, coupled with the upcoming peak of layoffs from state-owned enterprises [SOEs] and a surplus of rural laborers, will bring huge employment risks to the country by 2004. Urban workers protesting against unpaid wages and social security benefits have become routine in major industrial cities where decaying SOEs are being shuttered or slimmed down to better compete against market forces.
About 6.7 million workers laid-off from SOEs are paid a meager sum for basic living necessities, according to official estimates. Job training centers for re-employment were set up nationwide. The Chinese government, however, vows to close the centers by 2003 in a bid to establish a sound labor market under a market economy, but not before 3 million people are added to unemployment rolls.
China's overall employment faces further pressure in the near future; the country's entry into the World Trade Organization is expected to reduce the number of jobs by 2004, according to the China Daily Hong Kong edition, Jan. 30, 2000.
The unemployment rate may jump as high as 7 percent by 2003, compared with the current official 3 percent. The official figure does not count millions of SOE layoffs. Experts at the State Development Research Center of the State Council estimate the country's real jobless rate already stands at more than 10 percent. Demand for labor may decline by 25 percent in traditional industries because of pressure from powerful foreign competitors following WTO entry, according to official estimates.
In the countryside, farmers angry over declining real wages and exorbitant taxes have staged numerous protests against local officials. The agricultural industry may suffer most from China's WTO entry, with a possible decrease of 10 million jobs in that sector, according to China Daily. Incomplete statistics indicate China already has 300 million surplus rural laborers.
Shrinking economic security is fueling other actions Beijing views as anti-government. The Falun Gong flourishes as Chinese look for security that was once provided by the Communist Party. Beijings fear of the Falun Gong has grown as the group has resisted government attempts to quash it.
Beijing harbors a deep-seated fear of unrest and alternate power centers to the government as it moves closer to a socialist market economy, but it must temper its response in order to avoid, or at least minimize, international condemnation. Chinas economic opening and reform program depends upon other nations trading and investing in China. The human rights issue continues to be a point of contention between China and potential economic partners in Europe and North America.
The massive use of military force to crush the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square caused criticism and sanctions from the international community. Criticism continues regarding the ongoing crackdown on the Falun Gong, government policies on Tibet and limited religious freedoms.
While Beijing cannot allow protests, demonstrations and anti-government actions to proceed unchecked, it must ensure its reactions do not endanger its economic progress. With this concern in mind, Beijing has recently taken several steps to demonstrate its acceptance of human rights and to modify its police force.
Beijing has made an effort to portray its crackdown on the Falun Gong as an attempt to crush a harmful cult, most recently releasing several articles through official news sources detailing the attempted self-immolation of an alleged 12-year-old member of the group. As well, Beijing affirmed its commitment to human rights during U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annans recent visit.
In an early step toward changing the appearance and tone of police forces, Beijing last year unveiled new blue uniforms, abandoning the military-style green uniforms. In announcing the establishment of the new anti-riot units, the State Security Ministry pointed out that incompetent, poorly trained and ill-equipped forces are not only incapable of maintaining social stability, but also are likely to use "inappropriate measures", thus escalating potential conflicts.
Introducing a more professional police force trained to avoid the excesses of hard-line anti-riot tactics is a move to impress the international community, decrease human rights abuse criticism and thus help improve relations with the West. Chinese authorities aim at creating police units able to respond with measured force to various challenges. Beijing fears localized protests could spread wider, or become more violent, if heavy-handed measures are used.
Beijing is desperate to improve its international image, particularly in the realm of human rights, which has long been the means by which European and American nations criticized the regime. Doing this requires the appearance of tolerance toward democracy and free speech, clean government, human rights, ethnic rights and religious rights. At the same time, Beijing cannot allow social unrest to threaten the stability of the government or nation.
Beijing evidently foresees that growing social protest has the potential to erupt into major violence in city and rural areas. At the same time, it is determined to continue on the path of economic reforms. Beijing faces the predicament of presenting an image of strength and authority internally while at the same time maintaining a positive image of reform and gentle-handedness abroad. Whether it is capable of succeeding remains to be seen.
KMU URGES NEW PRESIDENT TO JUNK GLOBALISATION POLICIES
The militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) has deplored reports that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo insists on implementing the globalization policies of deregulation, liberalization and privatization, and that she will base her government's programs on these policies.
KMU chairperson Crispin Beltran said that the president would do very well to rethink her adherence to these policies because they are what have hastened the destruction of economies not only in Asia, but all over the globe.
"Globalization is the bane of all economies and all working peoples. It is precisely because of these policies that hundreds of thousands of workers have lost their jobs, and currencies all over Asia plummeted. President Macapagal-Arroyo will not be able undo the damage done by the previous administrations that advocated globalization if she insists on pushing for full blast privatization, deregulation, and liberalization in the economy. On the contrary, she will be exacerbating the crisis, and hastening the economy's destruction," he said.
Beltran urged the president to reverse the policies of globalization. "Nationalization and stricter government control over the strategic businesses and industries such as oil, water, electricity, telecommunication and transportation are what's needed on the onset to turn this economy around. Further opening the national economy to foreign business will result in the closure of small local businesses, confiscation of lands and dislocation of millions more of farmers in the countryside; greater unemployment and the heightened and more rampant labor rights violations," he said.
"We strongly urge GMA to junk these policies. There are not enough safety nets for the kind of damage globalization creates. Under globalization, all the nets have holes, or there are no nets at all and the people's livelihood crash directly to the ground."
The labor leader meanwhile also said that the local big business groups should not be too enthusiastic about the economy's chances for recovery.
"The crisis is not merely a result of the corruption and repressiveness of the previously deposed Estrada administration. Even before juetengate, the economy was already in recession. Fundamentally, the crisis is a result of government's adherence and implementation of the globalization policies that have made the economy very vulnerable to the plunder of big foreign businesses, and their local partners and counterparts in the local business and landed community," he pointed out.
"The protests will be starting up again soon enough if the livelihood of Filipinos continue to plummet along with the value of the peso. Already, the retrenchments from various factories all over he country have begun to pile up. The new administration should address these very basic issues as soon as it can if it intends to win the confidence and trust not just of big business, but more importantly, of the Filipino people," he concluded.
GENERAL REJECTS NOTION OF WESTERN DEMOCRACY
The military has dampened hopes of a breakthrough in moving the country towards democracy, with a senior leader quoted yesterday as saying democracy will take time to build and will never follow the Western model.
News this month that senior members of the ruling military held secret talks with pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi raised hopes that the country's political stalemate could finally be broken. But the official Kyemon newspaper quoted Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, Secretary One of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, as saying Burma would resist international pressure to adopt Western-style democracy.
"It can be witnessed that some big neo-colonialist countries are interfering and applying pressure on Burma on all fronts to force the adoption of a democratic system identical to theirs," General Khin Nyunt told an audience of teachers in the capital on Wednesday. "In fact, it is impossible to introduce the same democratic system to all countries as they differ in historical backgrounds, geographical conditions, national characters, traditions and culture, and the evolution of their political, economic and social conditions.
"A certain period of time is needed to implement the national policy and create a disciplined and durable democratic system which will be the most compatible with the desires of all nationalities," the powerful intelligence chief said.
Burma's military, which has ruled since 1962, insists it is committed to building democracy but says premature political reform would cause anarchy and national disintegration.
The opposition National League for Democracy won elections in 1990 by a landslide, but the junta has never allowed it to govern.
However, the military now appears to be taking a more conciliatory line with its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Newspaper articles and cartoons attacking the league have suddenly ceased.
But chances of a quick breakthrough remain remote. General Khin Nyunt said foreign countries should stop meddling in Burma's affairs. "Such undue influence and interference will hinder the democratisation process," he was quoted as saying.
In Thailand, meanwhile, the twin boys who lead the ethnic Karen rebel Burmese group God's Army were said to be anxious to meet their parents - refugees in a Thai camp - after emerging from the jungles where they lived fugitives' life for 12 months. Johnny and Luther Htoo, believed to be 13 or 14, have also promised to cut down on smoking, said Payakkaphan Phokaew, the chief of the Suan Phung district where the twins and 12 young followers surrendered to Thai authorities on Tuesday, ending an ineffective, three-year armed campaign their ragtag guerilla group had carried out against the Burmese military.
LAOS STOPS WORLD BANK FORESTRY PROGRAMME
The Government of Laos (GoL) has halted the Forest Management and Conservation Programme (FOMACOP) after the first five-year phase because of difficulties between the GoL and external actors including the World Bank over the management of logging revenues from the programme. Initiated by the GoL to promote "Sustainable Forest Management", the FOMACOP was planned to be a 10-15 years programme with the first phase beginning in January 1995 and ending in September 2000. FOMACOP had two sub-programmes: forest management and biodiversity conservation. The forest management programme consisted of "Village Forestry" in 60 villages comprising 20,000 village people and 145,000 hectares (ha) of land and forests in the Savannakhet and Khammoune provinces.
FOMACOP started with a total budget of US$20.3 million financed by a loan of $8.3 million from the World Bank, $5.6 million for technical assistance from the Government of Finland, a grant of $5 million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and $1 million from the GoL. Implemented by the Department of Forestry and the district forestry offices, the consultants for FOMACOP were the Finland-based Jaakko Poyry Consulting (of Finland), CARE International and Burapha Consultants in Laos.
One of the main features of the programme was the establishment of Village Forestry Associations (VFAs) that consisted of training local communities in "village forestry" that including logging of "village forest management areas" ranging in size from 400 to 600 ha. While the forests remained under state ownership, the village people in the programme areas would keep the revenue from logging "after paying royalties and other taxes". The programme ran into difficulties in early 2000, after a World Bank Evaluation Mission reported in its Mission Aide-Memoire dated February 5, 2000 that: "Accompanying the investment program, the project design anticipated significant reforms in the policy framework. These included preparation of sector legislation, deregulation of market controls on wood to ensure export parity pricing of timber and issuance of implementing regulations, satisfactory to the Bank, for forest management. Compliance with these measures has been slow and partial.
"The timeline shows a persistent pattern of policy changes, incomplete and inconsistent directions and excessive intrusion into the management and commercial practices of the VFAs... These doubts are consistent with the mission's assessment of the revenue foregone by virtue of the timber sales procedure imposed by the Government... it can be estimated that foregone Government revenues will amount to approximately US$800,000 and losses to VFAs to nearly US$700,000 ... losses of this magnitude are not justifiable. They are suggestive of aggressive rent-seeking and preferential treatment of favored local timber purchasers at significant cost to the economy and intended project beneficiaries."
The Aide-Memoire also warned that: "the village forestry model ... has enormous potential to contribute to sustainable poverty alleviation and Government revenue mobilization. The prospect that this potential will be ignored is deeply troubling and will be raised by the mission with the World Bank Management and Finland Ministry of Foreign Affairs."
Marko Katila, Former Chief Technical Adviser of FOMACOP, stated that with the village forestry management, "the villagers can sell the logs, and pay taxes like everyone else. They can keep the balance for communal development purposes only and to finance their future conservation and management efforts. On average, each village has received about US$3000 per year, which may not sound a lot of money but for villagers it is quite a lot."
About the reasons for GoL halting the programme, Katila said: "The main problems have been mainly at the policy level. FOMACOP has been in many ways a pioneering project in Laos in the area of community forestry. For many government forestry officers and industry people, the idea of community/village forestry was so new that they have been slow to accept it, which in way is understandable, because traditionally forestry has been state-driven and industry-oriented in Laos."
"Also, FOMACOP has been a pilot project so maybe it is not realistic to expect a single project to change things so quickly. However, that fact is some groups have wanted to continue practising forestry as "business as usual", which of course has created problems in the project area e.g. in the areas of log sales. One problem is that Laos still does not a have a clear policy and legal framework that would recognize village forestry and villagers' rights and also duties regarding forest resources, especially when it comes to natural production forests."
The programme spent only US$1.8 million of the $8.3 million credit during the six years of Phase I; the GoL has returned the remaining funds to the World Bank. Although the programme is now stopped, the Finnish government has offered to provide a grant of US$18,000 for the government to continue with the work started by FOMACOP, said Mr. Buahong Phantanusi, former head of the Forest Management and Conservation Project in Laos.
[Source: World Rainforest Movement's Bulletin No 41, December 2000.]
PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS ACQUITTED OF BLASPHEMY
Three Christians were acquitted by a Pakistani high court of blasphemy on January 25th this year. In a ruling issued by Justices Naeem Ullah Sharwani and Khawaja Mohammad Sharif of the Lahore High Court, Hussain Masih, his son Isaac Masih and Iqbal Sehr Ghouri were cleared of the blasphemy charges, which carried a potential death penalty.
On 25th November 1998 Ijaz Ahmed, a Muslim resident of Alipur Chatta, claimed he found burnt pages of the Koran and two letters with derogatory remarks about the Islamic Prophet Mohammed near his toilet. The toilet was situated next to a wall of clay bricks which separated Ijaz Ahmed's house from Hussain Mash's house. Ijaz Ahmed informed the police and accused his Christian neighbour Hussain Masih, Isaac Masih and Sehr Ghouri of committing this blasphemous act. Police arrested Sehr Ghuri on 2nd December 1998. Hussain Masih and his son Isaac Maish went into hiding.
On 12 December 1998 members from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) went on a fact finding trip to Alipur Chatta. Sehr Ghouri's father, Barkat Masih, told the fact-finding team that 23-year-old Sehr was a friend of Isaac Masih and was very active in religious activities. Isaac Masih held regular prayer meetings at his house and these were the source of the dispute which Isaac was having with his Muslim neighbour, Ijaz Ahmed. Isaac had a loud speaker on which he used to play Christian hymns and Ijaz Ahmed tried to stop Isaac doing this as his children were also learning the hymns and prayers. Barkat said that his son Sehr was implicated in this case because he used to help Isaac arrange the prayer meetings .
Mohammed Afzal, the head constable in the area, told the team that on 25th November 1998 Ijaz Ahmed came to the police station with hundreds of Muslim leaders and threatened to set the station on fire if the case of blasphemy was not registered against the Christians. The head constable said that they registered the case against the Christians to avoid violence in the city and added that they did not have enough police officers to confront the tense situation at that time.
On 23rd December 1998 Hussain Masih who had been in hiding, approached CLAAS. He was very scared and did not want to appear before the police. On 29th December 1998 a CLAAS lawyer in Gujranwala persuaded Hussain Masih to appear before the Additional Sessions Judge, who had him sent to a judicial lock up. Isaac Masih is still in hiding.
The accused were represented by a CLAAS lawyer and CLAAS brought this case to the attention of Christian human rights group, the Jubilee Campaign, requesting their assistance. Jubilee mobilised British Parliamentarians to raise this case with the Pakistani High Commissioner in London and the British Foreign Office.
Jubilee Campaign's Researcher and Parliamentary Officer, Wilfred Wong, says,"This is the first time that Pakistani Christians have been acquitted of blasphemy since 1995, when the charges against Salamat and Rehmat Masih were dropped. Unfortunately there are still several other Christians in detention who have been falsely accused of blasphemy against Islam and one of them, Ayub Masih, has already been sentenced to death. Jubilee will continue to campaign for their release and for the repeal of Pakistan's blasphemy laws which have been used as a weapon against the country's non-Muslim minorities."
|3. RESOURCES Received - top|
DAGA receives a lot of juournals, periodicals, newsletters and many other forms of printed resources from its network of Action Groups in Asia and around the world. Please click on "Resources" in the left bar for an extended listing.
|4. Urgent APPEAL - top|
SRI LANKA - MORE TORTURE, BUT STILL NO CONVICTIONS
The AHRC has received information about two further cases of torture in Sri Lanka, details of which are following. The Sri Lankan government was praised by the international community for ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture, and for enacting a Law in 1994 making torture punishable by a minimum of 7 years imprisonment. Six years later, there has still not been a single conviction under this law, despite many credible cases of severe torture, such as those described in this appeal. While impunity continues, torture continues. Please read the following cases and take the small action suggested below to push the Sri Lankan government to address this crisis.
TWO RECENT CASES OF TORTURE
CASE 1) Complaint against Rajagiriya Police
Mr. A.M. Maithreepala, residing at no. 3/178, Obeysekarapura, Rajagiriya, was arrested by Sub-Inspector Senanayaka of Rajagiriya Police on 29th December 2000 on charges of selling drugs and was tortured. The arrestee was a patient who had undergone an operation prior to his arrest and torture. Later he was produced before Courts and remanded, but died on the 19th January 2001. Before his death he had revealed to his family members that he was beaten up. This incident has been reported to Ravaya paper by the sister of the deceased. No complaint has yet been made to any of the institutions for fear of reprisals from the police and due to the absence of persons that can act on this information.
CASE 2) Complaint against the Polannaruwa Tourist Police
Mr. L.P. Maithreepala Senadira, a resident of no.155, Pansalgodella, Galamuna, was taken into custody on 7th January 2001 at 3am by the Polannaruwa tourist police on suspicion of selling illicit arrack (a type of liquor). The police had gone to the house of the suspect and asked for arrack and when they were told that there is no arrack he was blindfolded and taken to the police jeep. When the wife objected to the husband being taken by the police, she was threatened with forceful removal by Sub-Inspector Manawadu of Polannaruwa and was asked to remain inside. On this occasion the two brothers of Maithreepala Senadira were also taken into custody. At the Polonnaruwa police station, Maithreepala Senadira was tied to a pillar, his clothes were removed and he was beaten with a pipe and sticks by S.I. Manawadu. As a result of this torture his sexual organs were severely injured and the bleeding was so serious he was taken to the Polonnaruwa hospital by the the torturer himself. Mr. Maithreepala Senadira's injuries to the sexual organs required six stitches, and his back and spine showed signs of severe beatings. The S.I. had threatened those who knew this not to reveal the information to anyone. For this reason Mr. Maithreepala Senadira was also transferred from Polonnaruwa hospital to Peradeniya hospital.
Following is from the Amnesty International Report on Torture in Sri Lanka, 1999
Sri Lanka ratified the UN Convention against Torture in January 1994, then, in November 1994, passed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act which gave effect to Sri Lanka's obligations under the UN Convention against Torture. The Act was certified on 20 December 1994, and made torture punishable by imprisonment for a term not less than seven years.
Despite the long-term existence of legislation to punish torture and the enactment of the Torture Act in 1994, this violation continues to be committed with impunity....while a handful of cases are reportedly pending in the courts, so far no one has been convicted in relation to the crime of torture in Sri Lanka.
In May 1998, the Committee against Torture called upon the Government of Sri Lanka to take firmer action to bring to justice perpetrators of torture. The government delegation acknowledged that apart from one case where members of the police are facing charges of voluntarily causing hurt under section 314 of the Penal Code, no other cases in relation to torture were pending before the courts.
The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka which has granted compensation in scores of cases where people were found to have been tortured by agents of the state has repeatedly expressed its frustration at the lack of follow-up by the relevant authorities (the Inspector General of Police and Attorney General) to its recommendations for further investigations and "appropriate action (by way of criminal proceedings and/or disciplinary action)" against members of the security forces involved in acts of torture (see also below).
The Supreme Court has also commented on the prevailing climate of impunity in relation to torture. For instance, in a judgment of 24 February 1995 (SC Applications 396 and 397/93), it commented that "the incidence of unlawful arrest and detention and torture by police officers has not declined, which situation is attributable to the failure on the part of authorities to impose prompt, adequate and effective sanctions against offending officers. The Court views this situation with dismay and hopes that it will be remedied forthwith." In an earlier judgment of 31 August 1994 (SC Applications 433/93), the court had stated: "The fact that police officers continue to commit unlawful acts, including torture, despite regular judicial condemnation of such acts, shows that the authorities have permitted such acts by their failure to impose effective sanctions."
Recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture (extract from CAT/C/SR.341 of 26 May 1998)
Please write letters to the President of Sri Lanka, the Human Rights Commission, the Committee to Inquire into Unlawful Arrests and Harrassments and send a copy to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. A sample letter is following.
I wish to draw your attention to two new cases of torture at the hands of your police force. The cases are of Mr. A.M. Maithreepala, residing at no.3/178, Obeysekarapura, Rajagiriya, was arrested on 29th December 2000, who was tortured under Rajagiriya police custody and died on 19 January 2001; and of Mr. L.P. Maithreepala Senadira, a resident of no.155, Pansalgodella, Galamuna, was taken into custody on 7th January 2001 at 3am by the tourist police. The accusation in the later case is as follows: "At the Polonnaruwa police station, Mr. L.P. Maithreepala Senadira was tied to a pillar, his clothes were removed and he was beaten with a pipe and sticks by S.I. Manawadu. As a result of this torture his sexual organs were severely injured and the bleeding was so serious he was taken to the Polonnaruwa hospital by the the torturer himself. Mr. Maithreepala Senadira's injuries to the sexual organs required six stitches, and his back and spine showed signs of severe beatings. The S.I. had threatened those who knew this not to reveal the information to anyone. For this reason Mr. Maithreepala Senadira was also transferred from Polonnaruwa hospital to Peradeniya hospital."
Please ensure that these cases are investigated by an independent tribunal, that Mr. Maitreepala is given proper medical and trauma treatment, and that a post-mortem is carried out on the body of the deceased Mr. A.M. Maithreepala, who died on 19 January 2001.
No civilised nation will allow cases such as these to go without investigation, prosecution and conviction under the law of the country. Yet, despite the Convention Against Torture Law being passed more than six years ago, and despite many incidents such as those reported here, not one person has been convicted and sentenced to the minimum seven years imprisonment under this act.
This appalling record must be rectified if Sri Lanka is to be taken seriously as a nation which wishes to stop the widespread use of torture by its police and armed forces. I urge you to see to it that the incidents reported here are used to implement the recommendations of the Committee Against Torture, Amnesty International and Sri Lanka's own Supreme Court to end to impunity for torture and to send a strong message that torture is unacceptable in Sri Lanka. The law has been waiting to be used for this purpose for six years - now is surely the time to use it, on the officials from Rajagiriya and Polonnaruwa police in charge of the torture cases cited above.
PLEASE SEND LETTERS TO
Her Excellency President Chandrika B. Kumaratunga
Mr. Batty Weerakoon
Mr. Fais Musthapa
*** Please send a copy of your letter to
Sir Nigel RODLEY
|5. ANNOUNCEMENT - top|
KOREA: PARK Kyung Seo made Ambassador at Large for Human Rights
We are happy to announce that Dr. PARK Kyung Seo has recently been appointed as Ambassador at Large for Human Rights by the Korean Government. Dr. Park is a well known figure among the NGOs and ecumenical movement in Asia. While in his former capacity as Asia Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Park provided support and encouragement to numerous NGOs and ecumenical organisations in Asia working for peace, justice and human rights. Park is also the prime mover in the ecumenical efforts towards the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsular and has actively advocated for true democracy in Burma as well as peace and reconciliation in Cambodia and Sri Lanka.
Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA):