Human Rights Developments
In stark contrast to 1993, when Pakistan experienced four changes in government, in 1994 a coalition led by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) held onto its control of the national parliament and the two largest provincial governments, Punjab and Sindh, without significant interference from the president or army. With the political situation thus relatively stable, the government could have addressed the problem of widespread and endemic human rights abuses. It failed to do so, however, and torture, persecution of religious minorities, arbitrary detention, discrimination against women, bonded labor, and other violations of labor rights continued. There were also several reports of extrajudicial executions in the context of violence in Sindh between the government and the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, or MQM, a political party that claims to represent Urdu speakers who fled to Pakistan from India after 1947 and has itself been responsible for serious violations of human rights.
In late April, conflict in Sindh between the MQM and the PPP government flared up. The government's inability to broker a power-sharing arrangement in the region with the MQM, whose primarily urban-based supporters claimed to be underrepresented in the provincial power structure, led to riots in Karachi from April 29 to May 5, leaving thirty-two dead. Police reportedly fired indiscriminately at people in riot-torn neighborhoods. On May 3, police and rangers were reported to have summarily executed five men in two separate incidents in the town of Sukkur, apparently for supposed ties to the MQM.
In October, riots broke out again in Karachi, with some thirty people killed. While much of the violence in Karachi was a direct result of MQM-government conflict, it also involved clashes between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. The Pakistan government has been complicit in the sectarian violence to the extent that it has routinely failed to denounce, punish or prosecute those involved.
The treatment of religious minorities deteriorated as systematic use was made of the so-called blasphemy law. The blasphemy law makes offenses against Islam, broadly defined, punishable by death and serves as a judicial tool for vengeance in cases of religious, political, social or economic rivalry. While most cases were dismissed, the blasphemy law was also used to incite obscurantist sentiments, which resulted in public violence against the accused. It was also used disproportionately against religious minorities, especially Christians and Ahmadis. In June, in a positive move, the federal cabinet approved a bill to amend the procedure for registering cases of blasphemy. However, after a number of religious parties and the opposition sought to block the proposed amendments, the government deferred its decision to bring the bill before parliament.
Despite the government's stated desire to regulate the use of blasphemy laws, accusations continued to multiply, resulting in attacks on the accused which the police then ignored. On April 5, Manzoor Masih, a Christian on trial under the blasphemy law, was shot and killed after his court hearing in Lahore. The authorities made no concerted effort to find or punish his killers.
Many Muslims have also been prosecuted under the law. While many of the cases do not reach the courts because of the weakness of the evidence against the accused, the public response to accusations can be dangerous. In April, Farooq Sajjad, a practitioner of traditional medicine, was accused and detained near Gujranwalla for allegedly burning a copy of the Qur'an. Soon afterwards, a local mob broke into the police lockup, dragged Sajjad into the streets, and stoned him to death. His corpse was set afire and paraded around town. The police took no action to intervene.
The status of women continued to be neglected by the government. While the government gained media attention during the year for prosecuting Maulvi Mohammad Sharif in a case in which he was charged with inserting electrified iron rods into his wife's vagina, it did not seek to implement legislative reforms to protect women. The Hudood Ordinances, a penal code based on an interpretation of Islamic law which, as applied in Pakistan, explicitly discriminates against women, remain on the statute books. One feature of the Hudood Ordinances is that to secure a conviction for rape, four male Muslim witnesses must testify against the defendant, and if the victim is thought to have accepted the forced intercourse passively, she can be charged and convicted for adultery. Many rape victims thus no longer attempt to prosecute their rapists for fear of prosecution themselves. Such was the case of five women in Larkana who were gang-raped in January and revoked their allegations when they were threatened with prosecution under the Hudood Ordinances.
Abuse of women in custody, 60 percent of whom have been placed in Pakistan jails under the Hudood Ordinances, continued unabated as did the trafficking of women into Pakistan from Bangladesh for purposes of prostitution.
The basic rights of workers in Pakistan continued to be violated as the government failed to respect a number of International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions to which it is a party including those on freedom of association and the prohibition of forced labor. Pakistan, under Benazir Bhutto, has emphasized economic development over worker rights, allowing multinational corporations and many domestic industries the right to restrict unions. The government did nothing to address the plight of bonded laborers.
Torture continued to be widespread and endemic in Pakistan. Detainees were routinely slapped, beaten with sticks, stripped naked and sexually abused, hung upside down by a rope from the ceiling, and burned with cigarettes. Among case reports were those of men whose genitals were crushed with pliers, and their legs pulled apart until bones were broken or ligaments torn. An official with the Pakistan CIA (a body created to investigate cases which fall outside the purview of the police) publicly stated in February, "Without torture interrogation is impossible."
The Right to Monitor
Human rights groups generally functioned freely in Pakistan during 1994. In late June, amid the controversy surrounding the government's proposal to amend the blasphemy laws, a militant religious group urged "those who love Islam" to kill Asma Jehangir, General Secretary of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She was not harmed.
The Role of the
In June, the ILO and Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding which, according to the ILO, "will enable the government progressively to prohibit, restrict, and regulate child labor with a view to its ultimate elimination." In exchange for financial and advisory services from the ILO, the government agreed to establish national steering committees, comprising representatives from ministries, employers' groups, and workers' groups, to carry out an action program. The ILO also called on Pakistan to liberate all adult or child bonded laborers, as national legislation had abolished the bonded labor system in March 1992.
U.S. aid to Pakistan, which was canceled under the Pressler Amendment in 1990 as a result of Pakistan's nuclear program, was not restored in 1994. However, the U.S. government sought closer ties, and U.S. Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary visited Pakistan in September to promote stronger economic links between the countries.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Asia
Human Rights Watch/Asia testified on the widespread existence of bonded child labor in Pakistan at the U.S. Department of Labor hearings on child labor. The Arms Project of Human Rights Watch released a newsletter documenting the complicity of the Pakistan government in the flow of arms to groups responsible for human rights abuses in Punjab and Kashmir. Human Rights Watch/Asia invited I.A. Rehman, director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), to be honored for his work at Human Rights Watch's observance of Human Rights Day in December.
Human Rights Developments
To the extent that Thailand's human rights practices came to international attention at all, the focus was on ill-treatment of refugees and immigrants, police abuses, forced prostitution and worker rights. Thai nongovernmental organizations focused as well on human rights violations associated with land disputes. The Thai government came under fire during the year for succumbing to pressure from its neighbors to restrict freedoms on their behalf. Thus, in July, bowing to pressure from Indonesia, the government withdrew the visas of eleven supporters of East Timor scheduled to attend a conference in Bangkok, and deported two Australians. In early September, at Malaysia's request, Thai police arrested and deported the leader of a Muslim organization, Al-Arqam, and nine of his followers, even though it was clear they faced arrest under Malaysia's draconian Internal Security Act for nothing more than peaceful religious activities. The Thai military also came under criticism for alleged continued support of the Khmer Rouge.
Burmese, Lao, and Cambodian refugees were forcibly repatriated during the year in violation of the principle of non-refoulement; Burmese in particular also faced abuse in Thai immigration detention centers. Ethnic minority refugees from Burma continued arriving in large numbers, bringing the refugee population on the Thai-Burmese border to nearly 77,000, up 4,000 from the year before.
Ethnic Mon refugees and migrant workers living in the Loh Loe camp south of Three Pagodas Pass were forced back into Burma in April, to a camp called Halockhani. The camp was also half a day's march from a Burmese military post, and in July, the new camp was attacked by the Burmese army and partly destroyed by fire. Sixteen men were taken away, and the Thai army's division commander responsible for the area acknowledged most of them had been taken to be used as porters. (Forced portering has been a particularly egregious practice of the Burmese military.) Some 6,000 refugees fled back into Thailand to a border checkpoint where they were told they could not stay; the Thai government cut off all supplies of food and medicine, and they were eventually forced to return in September. No journalist was allowed access to them in Thailand.
Days after the refugees were forced back, the state petroleum companies of Thailand and Burma, together with Total (France) and Unocal (U.S.), signed an agreement to build a 240-mile natural gas pipeline to transport gas from offshore oil fields in Burma's Yadana area to the Kanchanaburi district in Thailand. The pipeline would cross through Mon territory and enter Thailand at Nat Ei Daung, only a few miles from Loh Loe, the camp from which the refugees were first evicted.
In similar moves, close economic cooperation between Thailand and Laos, including the opening of the Friendship Bridge in April, was followed by a crackdown on ethnic Hmong refugees whom Laos accused of being anti-government activists. Under the terms of an agreement reached in July 1993 between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the governments of Thailand and Laos, some 8,000 ethnic Hmong refugees were repatriated from the drug rehabilitation center at Wat Tham Krabok where they had been living. Thai authorities claimed that the Wat was being used as a refuge for Hmong insurgents. On September 30, the Baan Na Pho refugee camp, which housed 20,000 Hmong, was closed and the residents sent back to Laos. Thai authorities insisted the repatriation was voluntary, but they also warned that those who did not return would be prosecuted under Thai immigration laws. UNHCR was able to interview some but not all of the returnees.
Cambodians faced a similar fate. In March, between 25,000 and 30,000 Cambodians who had fled fighting with the Khmer Rouge were pushed back into a malarial Khmer Rouge zone, to which international humanitarian agencies were barred from access. In April, 3,000 ethnic Karen refugees were denied entry into Thailand, forcing a Karen organization to establish Klay Mu Hta camp on the Burmese side of the Salween river. And in May and June, hundreds of Burmese Shan refugees, fleeing fighting between the Burmese army and drug warlord Khun Sa, were forcibly sent back by Thai authorities in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai Province.
The publication of the Human Rights Watch report A Modern Form of Slavery: Trafficking of Women and Girls into Brothels in Thailand in December 1993 added to the domestic and international debate on issue of trafficking of Burmese women and girls into forced prostitution and may have helped spark an initiative for legal reform that was continuing at the end of the year (see Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Project section).
In August, Police Major General Darun Sothipan admitted that torture of suspects occurred in police custody. The admission followed numerous reports of police corruption and abuse, including a statement from twenty Taiwanese prisoners that abuses in Thailand's jails were widespread and the trial of seven tourist police officers who had robbed and murdered over thirty Asian tourists in July. Most notorious were the revelations of high-ranking police involvement in the "Saudi jewel case" involving the theft in 1989 of some U.S.$20 million worth in jewels from a Saudi prince by his Thai servant who later fled to Bangkok. Seven police and one civilian went on trial during the year for their role in this case, which had involved seven murders, including the wife and son of a key witness on August 1.
In Parliament, discussions continued on amendments to the constitution to guarantee the civil and political rights of individuals, and a first draft of a bill to establish a national human rights commission.
Worker rights continued to be abused. Following the May 1993 fire at the Kader factory outside Bangkok in which 188 workers died and 469 were injured, workers and activists complained that none of the owners, designers or government safety inspectors were brought to justice. Only one man was arrested in connection with the fire, a guard at the factory who admitted smoking a cigarette on duty. While it was clear that safety procedures at the factory were ignored by both the owners and government inspectors, so that the workers were unable to escape before the entire building collapsed on top of them, there were no plans to prosecute the management or owners of the Kader Company, which produced "Cabbage Patch" dolls.
The Right to Monitor
Most Thai human rights organizations and activists were able to operate without obstruction in Thailand, and many had a cooperative relationship with the government, especially in the areas of trafficking of women and child labor. Bangkok was rapidly becoming the city in mainland East Asia where regional and international human rights organizations felt they could operate most freely, especially as Hong Kong, the other regional hub, became increasingly sensitive to Chinese government concerns.
But several areas of human rights work remained highly sensitive and subject to government monitoring and restrictions: any work related to Burmese refugees or immigrants; activities related to abuses by a neighboring ASEAN country, such as Indonesia; and work that touched on the commercial activities of the Thai military, such as logging.
The Role of the
The Clinton administration's policy towards Thailand was aimed at further strengthening political, economic and security relations with Prime Minister Chuan's government, while relegating human rights concerns to the margins of discussion. Throughout the year there were signs of strain in the Thai-U.S. relationship though, as Thailand reacted vociferously to U.S. claims of human rights abuses and linkages of foreign aid to Thailand's support of abusive regimes in neighboring Burma and Cambodia. The issues of forced prostitution and trafficking of Burmese women were addressed by the administration as serious violations of women's rights in Thailand.
Arms sales to Thailand remained brisk as Bangkok obtained much of its military equipment from the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) accounted for the bulk of the transfers in fiscal year 1993: FMS agreements reached $388 million, with another $12 million in commercial transfers. In fiscal year 1995, FMS sales were estimated to total $350 million, which would make Thailand the largest U.S. arms recipient in the East Asia and Pacific region, and sixth in estimated U.S. arms sales globally.
The 1995 fiscal year Foreign Aid Bill contained $875,000 for the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which the administration said would provide education focused on civilian control of the military and would help to "institutionalize Thai democracy." Congress attached a provision requiring a report by February 1995 on "the efforts of the Thai Government to impede support for Burmese democracy advocates, exiles and refugees" and Thai support for the Khmer Rouge. The State Department also called in the Thai ambassador to protest the treatment of Mon refugees at Halochani, but when President Clinton met with Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai on October 6 refugee issues were not raised.
In December 1993, the U.S. Trade Representative's office had officially suspended its review, under the annual Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) process, of worker rights abuses in the state sector in Thailand. The suspension was based on a commitment by the Thai government to undertake certain reforms in the State Enterprise Labor Relations Act restricting freedom of association and the right to organize for state enterprise employees, but as of November 1994 those reforms had yet to be implemented.
In July 1994, the U.S. Labor Department published a detailed study of the use of child labor in American imports from countries worldwide titled (By the Sweat and Toil of Children). It described Thailand's use of at least four million child workers in the garment, seafood processing, and furniture industries. Thailand is a party to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, but has not ratified international labor conventions on minimum age for employment.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Asia
Following the publication of the report A Modern Form of Slavery in December 1993, much of Human Rights Watch/Asia's work in Thailand continued to focus on human rights violations associated with the trafficking of Burmese women into Thailand.
Human Rights Watch/Asia also continued to monitor the treatment of Burmese and other refugees in Thailand. In May, a research mission visited ethnic Mon refugees in Thailand. A report scheduled for publication in December analyzed the reasons why refugees continued to leave Burma and their treatment by Thai authorities.