LONDON (AFP) — The conflicts in Sri Lanka and Pakistan have added to human rights abuses in Asia this year, Amnesty International said in its annual report.
As the global economic downturn bites, Amnesty said millions of migrant workers in China who have lost their jobs face “an uncertain future”.
On a more positive note, the rights group noted that the devastating cyclone in Myanmar last year prompted China and other nations in Southeast Asia to take rare steps to ensure that survivors received desperately needed aid.
Amnesty expressed concern at the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Sri Lanka fighting and the two million people displaced by the Pakistan army’s offensive on the Taliban.
Although mostly written before the Sri Lankan army declared victory in its war against the Tamil Tigers in recent days, the report bemoaned the fact that international human rights monitors were barred from the conflict zone.
“Credible reports indicate that dozens of people have been arrested and taken to unknown location or to places where all access to outsiders is denied,” it said.
It criticised both sides in the Sri Lankan conflict — the rebels for effectively using civilians as a human shield and the government for limiting access to areas controlled by the rebels.
This, Amnesty said, led to medical supplies running low and therefore an increase in preventable deaths.
Turning to Myanmar, Amnesty said the world “watched in horror” as its government refused to acknowledge the scale of Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 130,000 people in May last year.
But it noted that the cyclone prompted China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to drop its reluctance to intervene in a country’s affairs.
Both China and ASEAN publicly and successfully called on the Myanmar authorities to provide access to aid after the country’s authorities attempted to resist outside offers of help.
“Setting aside its historic reluctance to speak in the language of human rights, ASEAN’s valuable efforts in the wake of Cyclone Nargis helped those devastated receive critical assistance,” it concluded.
Amnesty said those moves were part of a wider trend.
“Under increasing political and economic pressure, many people in the Asia-Pacific region turned to the international human rights framework to bolster their efforts to secure greater dignity for themselves and others,” it said.
But in Myanmar in the past few months, the government “has penalized people for helping their fellow Burmese to survive” with 21 people arrested after delivering aid or even burying the dead.
While praising China over Myanmar, Amnesty said the hosting of the Beijing Olympics had brought “heightened tension throughout the country as authorities tightened control over human rights defenders,” including in Tibet.
It said Chinese forces originally detained more than 1,000 people over the unrest in Tibet in March last year and “hundreds remained in detention or were unaccounted for” at the end of 2008.
Amnesty chief Irene Khan called on countries doing business with China to make respect for human rights a condition of trade.
“We are not asking countries to stop trading with China, we are asking them to use their leverage,” Khan said. “We have seen that China is not immune to pressure or public opinion.”