‘Bleak domineering vision’: Amnesty says human rights at risk as Asia Pacific’s strongmen rise | World news

The year across the Asia-Pacific has been dominated by repression, but also resistance, as the two largest countries on Earth sought to impose a “bleak domineering vision” for the region, according to Amnesty International’s annual human rights review.

The 2019 review, released on Thursday, paints a bleak picture for minorities across the region, with Uyghurs in China interned in “re-education camps”, and a siege imposed across Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state.

But Amnesty said while governments became increasingly repressive, it was countered by emerging public resistance: in Hong Kong, where protests against a proposed extradition law metamorphosed into broader demands around respect for human rights, free expression and peaceful assembly; in India, where millions turned out to resist new laws that discriminate against Muslims taking out citizenship; and in West Papua, where Papuans demonstrated against racist and discriminatory treatment and reaffirmed demands for independence from Indonesia.

The region is increasingly governed by strongman leaders: in Sri Lanka, former military chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected president, in the Philippines, president Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” claimed hundreds more lives through extrajudicial killings, and Hun Sen consolidated his grip on power in Cambodia as political violence worsened.

“Across south-east Asia, repressive governments entrenched themselves further, silenced their opponents, muzzled the media and shrank civic space to the point where, in many countries, even participation in a peaceful protest can trigger arrest,” the report said. “In south Asia, governments appeared anxious to keep up, innovating new ways to perpetuate old patterns of repression – especially through the introduction of draconian laws that punish dissent online.”

Amnesty argued that repression is often legitimised by governments demonising critics as “as pawns of ‘foreign forces’, who are at best ‘naive’ and at worst ‘treasonous’”.

Amnesty International’s Australia national director, Samantha Klintworth, told the Guardian that Australia had a responsibility to uphold human rights around the world and domestically.

“We have a huge responsibility in that space, as a member of the UN human rights council, to stand up to countries where we see repression, but at the same time, we have to make sure our own backyard is in order, in order to be a credible authoritative voice.”

Klintworth said the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, particularly children, within the criminal justice system remained a major human rights concern in Australia, as did the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, detained in Australia and offshore.

The Queensland Human Rights Act came into force this month, but federally, Australia remains the only western country in the world without a human rights act or bill of rights.

While governments across the Asia Pacific sought to suppress dissent, protests and civil resistance have had an effect across the region. In Sri Lanka, lawyers and activists successfully prevented the resumption of executions. In Taiwan, the fight for equality for LGBTI people resulted in same-sex marriage becoming legal in March.

Pakistan passed laws to tackle climate change and air pollution in the interests of its citizens, and a massive, months-long campaign of protests on the streets of Hong Kong resulted in the withdrawal of a proposed extradition bill with China, which had become emblematic of widespread dissatisfaction among the city’s young.

“The wheels of justice slowly began to turn for the Rohingya,” Amnesty wrote, “as the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorised an investigation into crimes committed by the Myanmar military in 2017. This followed a decision by Gambia to take Myanmar to the International Court of Justice for the crime of genocide.”

“There are also hopes that the ICC will revisit its decision to not authorise an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides in Afghanistan, after capitulating to pressure from the US administration.”

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