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The Work of Human Rights Watch
The Asia division made six countries the focus of particularly intensive work during the year: Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, and India, with concerns about women, refugees, political violence, and the human rights impact of the economic crisis given particular attention. The division used the Internet to establish contact with important new constituencies in Malaysia, Singapore, and elsewhere, from high school students to former government officials to people too frightened about surveillance of their messages to sign their own names.

Refugee protection was an important focus during the year. A Thai government policy beginning in June to deny entry to Burmese asylum seekers and a series of attacks by Burmese paramilitary forces on refugee camps in Thailand led to intensified monitoring of the treatment of Burmese refugees and examination of the reasons for their flight from Burma. A major report examining treatment of refugees in Thailand over the last decade was issued in October. We also sent a mission to Thailand in February and March to investigate the treatment of refugees and migrants in immigration detention centers. In other refugee-related work, we sent two missions to Pakistan during the year to interview Afghan refugees, the second prompted by reports of massacres by the Taliban of thousands of men belonging to the Hazara ethnic minority. A mission to Dharamsala, India, to interview refugees from eastern Tibet produced new information on the Chinese government’s treatment of those seeking to flee Tibet.

The economic crisis led us to examine the impact on worker rights in Asia, in a report produced to coincide with the ASEM summit in April. Two reports focused on violence against the ethnic Chinese minority in Indonesia, which had become a convenient scapegoat to blame for the country’s economic ills. The human rights impact of the crisis was also the theme of advocacy work with donor countries, the World Bank, regional meetings, and a G-8 meeting in Birmingham in May.

The Asia division intensively monitored the human rights situation in Cambodia in the lead-up to and aftermath of the July elections, using regular updates and briefings to press the international donor community to use its leverage to ensure a fairer atmosphere for campaigning as well as prosecutions for human rights violations by state agents. We worked closely with local Cambodian human rights groups and ensured that their concerns were voiced at the international level.

In India, we worked closely with local activists to initiate a campaign within the country to end violence against Dalits, including by trying to secure better enforcement of key laws. Human Rights Watch played a catalytic role in bringing local groups and activists together to formulate a national strategy on the issue, helping those activists to strengthen ties with each other as well as with the international human rights movement more generally.

Arbitrary detention remained an ongoing concern in the region. Research and advocacy work in China included efforts to draw attention to the arbitrariness of the administrative punishment of re-education through labor. Advocacy on behalf of detained opposition party members in Burma continued, and in Indonesia, the releases of political prisoners following Soeharto’s resignation provided a hook for looking at others convicted of political offenses who remained imprisoned.

At the international level, our offices in Washington, London, and Brussels promoted public debate on issues of concern to the Asian region, and ongoing advocacy with Japanese government officials helped produce official Japanese intervention on behalf of a political prisoner in Vietnam and the “disappeared” in Indonesia. Asia division staff testified nine times before the U.S. Congress during the year: three times on Indonesia, three times on China, twice on Cambodia, and once on general Asian human rights issues.

Throughout the year, Asia staff had regular contact with the World Bank, including social sector offices working on child laborand sexual violence, the bank’s Inspection Panel, and executive directors’ offices. Human Rights Watch joined a delegation of human rights NGOs meeting with President James Wolfensohn in June; at the September annual meetings of the World Bank and the IMF, an Asia staff member took part in a panel discussion on the intersection of corruption and human rights.

We used high-level visits to Asian countries as a focus for advocacy work, with particular attention to the steady stream of state visitors to China, including U.S. President Bill Clinton, French Premier Lionel Jospin, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. And we worked closely with other human rights advocates at the international level,including issuing a joint report on Indonesian political prisoners with Amnesty International.

At the regional and grassroots levels, advocacy efforts took place through direct contacts with fellow human rights organizations in the field, participation in regional meetings of Asian nongovernmental organizations, as well as through Internet networks. When the rape of ethnic Chinese women became a major issue in Indonesia after riots there in mid-May, our Asia and women’s rights staff compiled material for Indonesian women’s rights advocates on the experience of investigating rape and protecting the anonymity of rape victims in Bosnia, Rwanda, and South Africa. Our NGO liaison maintained regular Internet communication with thousands of nongovernmental groups in Asia through various networks based in the region.

For a listing of relevant reports and missions, see the Appendix on Missions. Partial listings also follow each country chapter.





China and Tibet


Indonesia and East Timor




Sri Lanka





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