Friday, December 31, 2010

Torturing Suspects 'the Norm' in Indonesia

Law enforcement officials from police to prison wardens routinely torture Indonesian suspects and convicts to extract confessions or obtain information, a new report asserted Friday.

Beatings, intimidation, burnings and rape are so commonplace that they are considered the norm, with few victims ever bothering to lodge complaints, said Restaria Hutabarat of the Jakarta-based Legal Aid Foundation.

The torture findings, published this week, were based on yearlong interviews with 1,154 suspects and prison inmates in the capital, Jakarta, and four other major cities in 2009 and 2010. Questionnaires also were given to 419 police, prosecutors, judges, wardens and rights activists who accompanied suspects during the legal process.

``We found that torture is systematic,'' Hutabarat said Friday, adding that it starts with the arrest and continues during interrogations, trials and after imprisonment. ``It is seen as a normal way to get information and extract confessions.''

National police spokesman Col. Boy Rafli Amar said he would study the 21-page report.

``If officers are abusing civilians, they should face sanctions,'' he said. ``It's unacceptable.''

One of the main problems, researchers wrote, is that under Indonesian law, torture carried out by law enforcers is not considered a crime.

And, as opposed to most other democratic countries, evidence obtained through violence and intimidation is legally accepted in the court.

``This has to change,'' said Hutabarat.

Convicted drug user, Suliyanti, who spent five years in prison on drug charges, agreed with the report's findings. The 48-year-old said she was abused from the moment of her arrest and until her release in 2007.

``I was kicked and beaten, even stripped and groped,'' she told The Associated Press. ``I know many other female suspects and convicts who were also raped.

Jakarta Globe/Associated Press

End Sanctions on Myanmar

YANGON — It is time the West ended it sanctions against Myanmar, whether or not the opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Burmese exile groups agree. This is not to imply that the recent elections were anything other than rigged, or deny that the regime remains ruthless, corrupt and incompetent. But sanctions are neither in the interests of the West nor of the majority of Burmese for whom livelihood issues are the dominant concern.

Short of an attempt at a people power revolution, which most likely would be greeted by the military with the same brutality as in 1988 and 2007, a strategy of persistence and patience is the only way forward.

It is clear that sanctions have not only failed to achieve their aims, they could well have made the situation worse by increasing the anti-Western paranoia of the military leader Than Shwe, providing the regime with a useful enemy, and increasing the influence of neighboring states, notably China, which have scant regard for democracy or are driven entirely by commercial interests.

The failure of sanctions has underscored the decline of Western influence in this region. Travel sanctions against the families of Burmese generals have deprived them of Western education and contacts. Trade sanctions, which may have had some initial impact, are now easily avoided. The lack of foreign investment — other than in resources — is more the result of economic mismanagement than of sanctions.

There are a number of additional reasons that sanctions should be ended now. Cracks are appearing in the authoritarian structure. The elections, however fraudulent, gave an opportunity for opposition voices to be heard. The boycott by Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy may have made sense. But it is clear that respect for her courage and principles is tempered by widespread criticism of her stubbornness and apparent concern more for constitutional issues than social and economic ones. That she would easily win a free and fair election is barely relevant to the actual situation here.

The new constitution, which takes effect next year, devolves very little power away from the executive to the legislative branch. But at least there may be some debate and slightly more transparency. Optimists also believe that once some generals take off their uniforms and become ministers they will be freer to make policies than they are in the current system, under which almost nothing happens without approval by the 10 generals in charge. Civil society organizations have also emerged partly as a result of government failings at the time of the 2008 Nargis cyclone catastrophe.

Optimists see positive developments in the inclusion of some businessmen in the legislative assemblies . Although they are seen as regime proxies — no substantial business can exist without connections to the generals — some of them understand why the current system is incapable of generating wealth for the people. Economic reforms like ending a multi-tier exchange rate and making private investment less subject to official whims, are a possibility.

Reform would be promoted if institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank were able to lend here. This country currently lacks even an official government budget. The proceeds of booming gas and other resource exports have gone into building the extravagant new capital, Naypyidaw, and into the dozens of gaudy mansions that have sprouted in the posher suburbs of Yangon while the densely populated downtown deteriorates.

Involvement by international organizations might also help divert money from dams designed to sell power to China to irrigation and electrification for the nation’s rural majority. The Burmese could also use help combating malnutrition, in a country that was once the world’s largest rice exporter.

It is important to try to engage now with the less obstinate members of the ruling elite. The regime is gaining added confidence from the prospect of additional revenue from new offshore gas developments. Meanwhile, Than Shwe is 77 and a succession of some sort is likely within a decade. There is at least the chance that the sons and daughters of generals, and middle-ranking officers, see their own survival and prosperity linked to a gradual shift to civilian rule and a more open market economy.

It is hard for those who claim to carry the flag of Burmese nationalism not to know just how far their country has fallen behind not just Thailand but now China, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Do not imagine that engagement will be anything other than a slow and frustrating process. Significant progress on the constitutional front is unlikely until social and economic issues have been addressed. But Myanmar is just as capable of fundamental reform as were Indonesia and Vietnam.

Engagement does not mean keeping quiet about human rights abuses. The more contact Myanmar has with the outside world — the more businessmen, academics, artists, politicians, journalists and tourists who visit — the stronger will be the impetus for change.
Editorial, New York Times

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A March of Folly in Pakistan

News reports that senior U.S. commanders in Afghanistan want to expand Special Operations ground raids into Pakistan’s tribal areas may well have been leaked deliberately in order to increase pressure on Pakistani military leaders to take tougher action against Taliban fighters seeking refugee in their country.

However, if American generals genuinely want to increase such raids, then it needs to be stated emphatically that this is not just a lunatic idea, but one that demonstrates how far senior American (and British) commanders have become obsessed with the war in Afghanistan at the expense of the struggle against terrorism as a whole.

Pakistan, with its huge population (around 200 million), large army, nuclear weapons, extensive extremist networks and diaspora in the West, is a far more important country than Afghanistan and presents a vastly greater potential threat of anti-Western terrorism. Moreover, the one thing that would certainly lead to the collapse of the Pakistani state and an immense surge in extremist and terrorist strength would be if the Pakistani Army were to split and parts of it were to mutiny against the alliance with America. U.S. ground raids into Pakistan would risk precisely this disastrous outcome. In fact, after all the talk about the danger of state collapse and Islamist revolution in Pakistan, it would be the U.S. itself that would bring these events about.

Advocates of ground raids seem to think that they are merely an extension of the current campaign of drone attacks on targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas, which have caused great resentment and have had very doubtful success.

Pakistani officers from captain to lieutenant general have told me that the entry of U.S. ground forces into Pakistan in pursuit of the Taliban and Al Qaeda is by far the most dangerous scenario for both Pakistan-U.S. relations and the unity of the Pakistani Army. As one retired general explained, drone attacks, though ordinary officers and soldiers find them humiliating, are not a critical issue because the Pakistani military cannot do anything about them.

“U.S. ground forces inside Pakistan are a different matter because the soldiers can do something about them,” he said. “They can fight. And if they don’t fight, they will feel utterly humiliated before their wives, mothers, children. It would be a matter of honor, which as you know is a tremendous thing in our society. These men have sworn an oath to defend Pakistani soil. So they would fight. And if the generals told them not to fight, many of them would mutiny, starting with the Frontier Corps.”

The most dangerous moment in my visits to Pakistan since 9/11 came in August and September of 2008, when on two occasions U.S. forces entered Pakistan’s tribal areas to raid suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda bases. On the second occasion, Pakistani soldiers fired in the air to turn the Americans back.

Pakistan is a good deal more resilient than many Western analysts assume, and the capacity of extremists to spread insurgency and revolution (as opposed to terrorism) is still fairly limited. But if the army were to split the state might collapse very quickly. Western fears of such a collapse have focused on the fate of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons; but the breakup of the military would not just risk but ensure that massive conventional armaments (including anti-aircraft missiles) and military expertise would pass to the terrorists.

This would also mean certain defeat for the West in Afghanistan. For what Western reporting has missed is that though Afghan Taliban fighters find shelter in Pakistan, they have not received the kind of active support and aid that the West and Pakistan gave to the Afghan mujahedeen fighting the Soviets and their Communist allies in the 1980s. If the West wants to convert shelter into support, U.S. ground raids would be an excellent way to begin.

In their concern with victory in Afghanistan, the U.S. generals are beginning to show signs of a classic error in military strategy, which is to become obsessed with a feature of the battlefield at the expense of the battle as a whole: Napoleon at Waterloo throwing more and more troops into the attempt to storm the Château d’Hougoumont; Hitler making the same mistake at Stalingrad.

They are also forgetting that success against terrorism does not in the end mean killing more Taliban in Afghanistan or Pakistan; it means preventing more attacks in the West. Exchanging dead or captured Taliban commanders in Pakistan’s tribal areas for a vastly increased terrorist threat in the West means exchanging very limited and temporary tactical success for very grave and long-term strategic failure.

New York Times. By Anatol Lieven professor in the War Studies Department at King’s College London and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington. His next book, “Pakistan: A Hard Country,” will appear in April 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Indonesia - Most Disturbing Trend of 2010 Isn’t Going Anywhere in 2011

As the euphoria of New Year celebrations draw near and we begin to reflect on the events of the past year, one trend in particular should add a sobering touch to our perception of the year that was.

The Moderate Muslim Society says Indonesia saw at least 81 cases of inter-religious conflict in 2010 — an increase of more than 30 percent from 2009.

The Wahid Institute on Tuesday said it had recorded 196 cases of violence based on intolerance and religious discrimination in Indonesia during 2010, an increase of almost 50 percent from a year earlier.

And looking even further back, reports show that these incidents have, surprisingly, risen significantly since the fall of the New Order.

2010 was rife with examples of hard-line Islamic groups repressing minority groups by denying permission to build houses of worship, sometimes with the backing of government officials.

The year has indeed given rise to the question of whether these kind of incidents are part and parcel of the democratic era.

Democracy is widely interpreted as a condition in which people can freely express whatever they like in order to create a government that can accommodate the needs of all. The end goal for democracy is the common good of a people, which is often signified by a society’s increasing prosperity.

Prosperity, however, is not always the result of something so quantifiable as increasing incomes. Other factors are involved, such as the ability to live a life without threat of religious violence.

This condition is imperative for Indonesia in particular, since diversity — especially in religion — is at the very core of our national identity. Without religious tolerance, a key component of our societal prosperity is lost.

The crucial questions as we go forward are thus: How can Indonesians live peacefully in the next year in the face of rising intolerance? And can democracy, as it exists here, guarantee the prosperity of all?

In German philosopher Jurgen Habermas’s model of deliberative democracy, discourse is considered an integral part of a well-functioning society. It is only when all people are allowed to communicate freely, without dominance or subservience, he said, that consensus will be reached that can bind all people without coercion.

A deliberative democracy is ideal for Indonesia, as conflicts can never be solved with more conflict. It is only with the presence of mind to build communication that intolerance will wane.

It is regretful that our government itself has played a role in some acts of intolerance. In one stark example, our religious affairs minister said that disbanding the Islamic sect Ahmadiyah was necessary in order to make society more peaceful.

Other examples can be seen in the administrative difficulty Christians have faced in trying to build houses of worship in regions like Bekasi, and in the incident in Tanjung Balai in which a Buddha statue was torn down with the backing of the religious affairs minister.

And the Wahid Institute found that 72 percent of actors in cases of religious violence in 2010 were from local governments, legislative councils, the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) and the police.

From these cases, it can be concluded that government — both local and central — has helped fan the flames of intolerance, either explicitly or implicitly.

Thus, in 2011, what is of the utmost importance is the inclusiveness of the government. Requests to build houses of worship have to be fully accommodated by local government since it is indeed their duty. Furthermore, protection or marginalized groups has to be guaranteed in order to prevent assaults from other mass organizations.

This duty is a must since local government is charged with guaranteeing inter-religious harmony, as was noted in a 2006 joint regulation between the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Home Ministry.

But how can a local government guarantee harmony if it cannot issue building permits — and then lets others tear down houses of worship? Clearly law and reality are in conflict here.

Indonesia still has its work cut out for it in 2011. Hope that the year of intolerance can be used as a source of learning to make the new year something new entirely.

By Nicholaus Prasetya student at the Bandung Institute of Technology (Jakarta Globe)

Nobel laureate not alone in the fight for freedom in China

As 2010 draws to a close, one story that is sure to make it to the top of the biggest stories countdown is the choice of Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize, for "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China," as stated by the Nobel Committee.

We all know that neither Mr Liu nor his wife were permitted by the Chinese government to attend the presentation of the Prize, and that he remains behind bars in a Chinese prison on this, his 55th birthday. The Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy, a global network of activists, practitioners, donors, scholars and others engaged in advancing democracy, extends its heartfelt greetings to him on this special day.

We also want to assure Mr Liu that while he may be alone in his prison cell, he is far from alone in the world. Beginning well before his nomination for the Nobel Prize, and especially since his egregious arrest in 2008, people of all races, religions and nationalities have been celebrating his work and expressing solidarity with him, and he has no doubt provided profound inspiration to thousands worldwide.
In this way, while Mr Liu is paying a price for his work, the world is reaping a harvest of renewed determination and courage to oppose tyranny and to build and strengthen democratic societies. We are certain he knows of this great company he keeps, and we hope it adds to the fortitude for which he has long been recognised.

On the other hand, we lament that Mr Liu is not alone in another sense: We are reminded by his imprisonment of the thousands of individuals like him who suffer and will continue to suffer the same, and in some cases even worse, fates.

Human rights defenders and democracy activists in more countries than we would wish to count have been forced into exile, imprisoned, attacked or murdered. But while their courage and determination are on the rise, so, too, are the challenges. In fact, the recently published 2010 Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index has confirmed what many of us already know all too well: democracy has in fact declined around the world and worse.

"The decades-long global trend in democratisation had previously come to a halt," according to the Index report. "Now democracy is in retreat. The dominant pattern in all regions over the past two years has been backsliding on previously attained progress in democratisation."

Translated into human terms: "some 2.5 billion people, more than one-third of the world's population, still live under authoritarian rule (with a large share being, of course, in China)".

Mr Liu himself has been painfully aware not only of the "large share" of population living under authoritarianism in China, but his government's role in sustaining authoritarianism elsewhere. As he wrote in a 2006 essay, "The negative effects of the rise of dictatorship on world democratisation," which was cited at his trial:

"While the [Communist Party of China - CPC] has pursued market reforms on the economic front and made every effort to integrate China into the global economy, when it comes to politics, it is tenaciously clinging to its dictatorial system. The current CPC regime is flush with money, and money diplomacy is very effective: it has enabled the remaining despotic regimes to linger on."

In fact, Mr Liu continued, the CPC regime "has replaced the former Soviet Union to become a blood transfusion machine for other dictatorships. It provides large quantities of economic assistance to dictatorships such as North Korea, Cuba and Burma."

He also cites the ways in which it has assisted "rogue regimes" in Sudan, Syria, Cuba and Zimbabwe, as well as in various Latin American countries that have turned to the political left, and has used energy cooperation to "attract the extremely anti-American, anti-Western Muslim countries, such as Iran".

It is no wonder that Mr Liu now sits in a Chinese prison; knowledge is power, and the prospect of such power in the hands of the people must make authoritarian regimes tremble. Mr Liu's main crime was his attempt to bring knowledge to the people of China and the world. For this, we applaud him. And we should all take to heart his message of hope, so well articulated in his 2009 statement issued from prison, "I have no enemies": "I firmly believe that China's political progress will not stop, and, filled with optimism, I look forward to the advent of a future free China. For there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom, and China will in the end become a nation ruled by law, where human rights reign supreme."

The World Movement for Democracy stands with Liu Xiaobo on his 55th birthday, as we do with all those who struggle for democracy and human rights around the world. He and they are not alone.

By Kim Campbell former prime minister of Canada. She is a Canadian MP and chair of the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy (

Monday, December 27, 2010

Asylum seekers risk boats because it is the only option

The so-called 'queue' where asylum seekers wait their turn is a myth.
As I was watching the horrific scenes of the recent Christmas Island boat tragedy, it reminded me of my own treacherous journey nine years ago.

In 2001, as a 20-year-old Afghan refugee, I made the perilous sea voyage from Indonesia towards Australia. I was one of 170 asylum seekers, including families and children, crammed into a small and leaky boat. On the third night, the engine suddenly went quiet. The boat was floating on the sea the whole night, but we had no control over it. Everyone on board thought they would die. Children were crying and moaning.

Pushed by the currents, we found ourselves aground the next morning. The bottom of the boat hit a rock. As the boat tilted, it seemed we were all about to be flung overboard. But the boat's crew, two Indonesians, threw out an anchor and managed to bring the boat level. They saved us from drowning. Unlike those who perished off Christmas Island, something else worked in our favour - the currents were not so strong.

Our boat, however, was severely damaged. For the next five days, our survival was pure chance, a void filled only by the prayers and hopes of everyone on board. To our joy and relief, we were finally intercepted by the Australian navy on Ashmore Reef.

Many of those who tried to get to Christmas Island were not so lucky, yet they were only metres from shore. I feel such strong sympathy with the survivors and their families who lost loved ones. We can't even begin to imagine the terrible impact this has on them.

The Christmas Island incident underlines how dangerous it is to come by boat. And, yet again, the questions are being asked: why on earth do asylum seekers make such treacherous journeys to Australia? Are they aware of the risk? Why are they not waiting in a queue for resettlement?

My experience as a former refugee will help answer some of these questions.
Many have perished on the way to Australia. Since 2001, more than 500 asylum seekers have died at sea. The SIEV X in October 2001 took the lives of 353 asylum seekers. Another boat carrying 105 asylum seekers disappeared at the end of 2009, their fate unknown.

I knew it was dangerous to come to Australia. In Indonesia, I became even more aware of the enormous danger of going by boat. It was then I heard about the boats breaking down and people being drowned.

However, going back to Afghanistan, from where I had fled, was not an option. It was almost a death sentence. The Taliban had control of 90 per cent of Afghanistan. They were notorious for imposing a fundamental and outdated version of Islam and butchering the Hazara ethnic group; I was a member of that group and thus an easy target.

In Indonesia, I heard stories of asylum seekers who had stayed for years, in shelters provided by the International Organisation for Migration, but their applications were not processed. There was only a slim chance that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees would process my application. Some of our fellow asylum seekers who had waited for years for the ''orderly'' process eventually became frustrated and decided to take the risky journey with us.

We knew the journey by boat was a last resort, and that we could lose our lives. The trauma of this journey has troubled many asylum seekers for years.

For most who leave their countries for safety, there is no choice other than a risky journey. The so-called ''queue'' in which asylum seekers wait for an orderly process in a third country is a myth. In Pakistan, where I spent some time as a refugee, the UNHCR accepted hardly any applications. Pakistan accommodated between 3 and 4 million Afghan refugees. There would have been an inundation of applications.

And why don't people simply apply to Australian consulates overseas? Australian posts overseas do not accept direct applications from a refugee applicant. You have to be referred by the UNHCR, a family member or a sponsor based in Australia. Many with extended family members who tried to sponsor their families were not successful through the normal process. Some of those who came by boat have exhausted all other possibilities. They are forced to alternatives with disastrous consequences for their lives.

Think about Madian El Ibrahimy, whose wife and their two children drowned in the Christmas Island boat disaster. He was in an Australian detention centre waiting for his visa but not knowing when or if it would come. His wife could not wait any longer to be with him and so made the perilous journey with their children.

People who come to Australia by boat are ordinary families torn apart by war. They are so desperate they take high risks, but they have no alternative.
By Abdul Karim Hekmat freelance writer and youth worker (Sydney Morning Herald)

Philippines - Peace efforts or appeasement moves?

MAKING the communists end their armed struggle, which is mainly carried out by the New People’s Army, is an essential condition for capitalist market-economy prosperity in our country.

It doesn’t matter if, as some of the Armed Forces top brass said last year, the NPA has become a rag-tag force fighting for survival, or, as some in the AFP command were saying last week, the NPA is still a considerable force that the government military cannot finish off so easily. Whether the NPA is weak or strong, has but a few hundred armed soldiers or thousands of them, the fact that it is capable of killing AFP men and policemen, ambushing AFP detachments and raiding police stations and AFP armories, and in other ways disturbing the peace in the countryside and occasionally some cities, the Philippines is officially a red-rebellion beset country.

Therefore, the world media, the United Nations, the World Bank and the private lending institutions and investment houses will continue to have doubts about our country’s ability to enjoy sustainable development.

Peace in the countryside is what will ensure that productivity and economic growth can surge, sustainably, not just in Metro Manila and Southern Luzon and the happily rebellion-free provinces of Northern Luzon and the other regions our country but also those areas in Bicol, the Visayas and Mindanao that have a strong NPA presence. Even provinces in Southern Tagalog still have NPA commands, like Mindoro Occidental.

The operational capability of the communist military makes it difficult for serious investors to decide to pour their profit-motivated dollars into agri-business, energy and commercial ventures in places outside Metro Manila and the more peace-assured urban centers.

And it is an accepted fact that foreign investment—the gigantic element in President Benigno Aquino 3 rd’s Private Public Partnerships (PPPs)—is what we need to fund projects and enterprises that will create jobs and reduce massive poverty in our country.

That communist rebel capability in the provinces also reduces the efficiency, civility and economic prospects of Metro Manila and other urbanized areas of our country. For it is from the rebel-disturbed provinces where the millions of squatters come from. These tax the carrying capacity of our cities, multiply the dirt, the clogging of esteros and culverts, and in other ways subvert city-planning and the orderliness that cities must have to become fully prosperous, productive and pleasant to live in and attractive as tourists destinations.

Unless the communist rebel armies’ disappearance allows the countryside to become safe for these squatters to return to, and become new sites of industrial and business development, the Philippines will never rise above its Third World-country level.

It is therefore good for the government to resume talks with the communists.
Opinion, Manila Times

Bali Latest Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Read the full report at:

Be strong! We're on the home stretch – New Years Eve is straight ahead!

The police beat this week includes news of the mysterious deaths of two French tourists in north Bali; the destruction of illicit drugs and pornography by Bali law enforcement officials; and the deployment of 9,000 police personnel to keep the peace over the current busy holiday season.

In other news: Legislators in Bali are up in arms over the mismanagement of the I.B. Mantra Highway project; Money is being allocated (once again) for a massive inoculation program against rabies; and rumors are circulating that Bali's governor may be headed for a post on the presidential cabinet.

There's important and welcome news that Customs officials are making a hasty retreat on earlier announced plans to "get tough" on the amount of personal effects carried by inbound passengers to Indonesia.

Economic news in the week's Update looks at projected growth rates for 2010; the over-supply of hotel rooms in Bali; and plans by tax officials to scrutinize foreign residents in Bali who may be skirting their tax obligations.

Read about on-line vehicle registration coming in 2011; a new water-recreation park that's just opened in Pecatu; and efforts underway to obtain UNESCO Geopark status for Mount Batur.

Christmas coverage looks at Bali's very busy airport during the current holidays; Garuda's ability to ignore snow storms in Europe; and a chance to Bungy jump with Santa Claus.

Feeling frivolous? Read the interview with Singapore author Peter Dorney who's just written his rib-tickling "Bali & Chips."

There's also a useful list of all Balinese and Indonesian public holidays for 2010.

Finally, on a serious note, we sadly remember Brenda Unseld, a true friend of Indonesia who died last week in Basel, Switzerland.

Thanks to Gending Kedis and Bali Theatre at the Bali Safari and Marine Park for making this edition of Bali Update possible!

In 2011 promote your business to 20,000 Bali Update subscribers and the hundreds of thousands who visit each month. Book a banner now! Merry Christmas!

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...
J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Democratic and stable, but still deeply corrupt

VIdeo scandal ... the torture of Papuans remains unpunished.

JAKARTA: In September the Indonesian leader, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was moved to write to Barack Obama.

He was agitated about the plans of the Florida pastor Terry Jones to burn Korans on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. If allowed to proceed, it would ''humiliate'' Muslims around the world and threaten world peace, Dr Yudhoyono told the US President.

The sentiments were a reflection of how many people felt, but in the country with the world's largest Muslim population the reaction was somewhat unexpected. Dr Yudhoyono came under fierce criticism from the mainstream media and tens of thousands of Indonesians who took to social media to vent their displeasure.
The reason? For much of the previous six months in Indonesia there had been an alarming escalation in attacks by hardliners on Christians and followers of Ahmadiyya, the minority Islamic sect with some 200,000 members and a history in Indonesia going back to 1925.

While the rants of a fringe preacher on the other side of the world upset him, Dr Yudhoyono had been silent about the surge in sectarian violence in his own country.
In many ways, the incident was emblematic of so much of what was disappointing in Indonesia in 2010. A year when the economy motored along but when worrying signs emerged that the very Indonesian values that earned Mr Obama's praise when he visited last month - democracy, tolerance and ''unity in diversity'' - were under pressure.

Indonesia remains an overwhelmingly moderate country, but religious violence has risen, directly aided and abetted at times by the police force. Dr Yudhoyono's response, when it came, was to appoint a new police chief with close ties to militant Islamic gangs linked to attacks on Christians.

Concerns about the security services were further inflamed when soldiers were captured on video torturing prisoners in Papua. Despite swift condemnation and assurances of justice by Dr Yudhoyono, the soldiers remain unpunished.

Meanwhile, Indonesia's leading reformer, the former finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, was forced to quit due to pressure from Dr Yudhoyono's coalition partners, including the head of Golkar, Aburizal Bakrie, whose companies were under investigation by Dr Indrawati's ministry for unpaid taxes.

Despite Dr Yudhoyono's thumping election win on the back of an anti-graft platform, the fight against pernicious, ingrained corruption faltered. Almost no legislation of note passed through parliament.

As Dr Yudhoyono's spokesman, Daniel Sparingga, remarked to The Jakarta Post this month about the year in politics: ''We have achieved almost nothing of substance, to be honest.''

For investors though, corrupt officials are an inconvenient part of doing increasingly lucrative business. Much of the economic growth in Indonesia has been driven by resource extraction aided by rising commodity prices. Gas, oil, coal and palm oil production is booming.

But the country's burgeoning middle class and pool of cheap labour are also attracting foreign investors, anxious to tap into a market of more than 240 million people and a workforce where the minimum wage is less than $200 a month.
Foreign direct investment rose by a third to $14 billion in 2010, while the sharemarket picked up 40 per cent.

Investors like Indonesia's relative stability. And it is remarkable, given the chaos of 1998 that heralded Indonesia's adventure in democracy.

Still, while every man and woman has the vote and elections are fair, the institutions that underpin that democracy - the parliament, the judiciary, security forces and bureaucracy - are deeply corrupt and inefficient.

Graft, the selective use of the rule of law and crumbling infrastructure remain a curb on Indonesia's growth. If - when - the terms of trade shift unfavourably and the hot money retreats, the continued failure to tackle these scourges is likely to be felt more keenly. By Tom Allard, Jakarta, for The Sydney Morning Herald

Indonesia Needs to Get the Message Out: Killing Wildlife Is a Punishable Crime

Indonesia is famed for its wildlife diversity. Straddling the contact zone between Asia and Australia, evolution has created some of the earth’s most remarkable species here. Think babirusa , Komodo dragon, orangutan and birds of paradise, and you get the picture.

Most of us also know that Indonesia has a major problem maintaining this diversity through effective conservation programs. Not a day goes by without Indonesia appearing somewhere in the world’s media with a negative story on how it is managing its wildlife.

Most conservation critiques in this country focus on the rapid loss of forests. As the forests disappear, the argument goes, so does the wildlife.

This is partly, but not always, true. Recent studies have shown that most forest species are a lot more adaptable than we once thought, and that most species survive in well-managed timber concessions.

What animals cannot tolerate, however, is being shot, speared, poisoned or otherwise killed. And this is happening a lot more in Indonesia than generally is acknowledged.

Globally endangered species such as the wild banteng, pangolins, crocodiles, tigers, elephants and rhinos are threatened less by habitat loss than they are by hunting. Banteng happily graze on grasses in deforested areas, but poaching has decimated populations even in former strongholds such as the Baluran and Alas Purwo national parks in East Java.

The previously very common pangolin has been hunted out from large parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan for the Chinese medicine trade. Crocodiles used to line the banks of major rivers in the millions, but have now all but disappeared. The stories of shot tigers, elephants and rhinos are all too familiar.

It’s not just mammals and reptiles that are overhunted. Indonesia’s love for caged birds has driven many species to the brink of extinction. The song of the famous cucak rowo or straw-headed bulbul is often heard in the streets of Jakarta and other towns, but has disappeared from all but the most remote parts of Kalimantan and Sumatra.

The critically endangered white-shouldered ibis — only a few dozen of which remain in river areas in East Kalimantan and Cambodia — is a large bird that feeds on river banks. If there ever was a sitting duck, this is it.

Indonesia is an interesting case. As opposed to many countries where wildlife poaching has been well documented, Indonesia’s prohibition on private gun possession has possibly fed the suggestion that hunting cannot be much of a problem. But many local hunters make their own guns, or they use snares, spears, blowpipes, poison and other means to kill animals.

Hunting is happening inside and outside protected areas and enforcement of anti-hunting laws is nearly nonexistent. Only the anti-poaching teams for tiger and rhino protection seem to have had some success in catching poachers and getting them prosecuted. The rest of the hunting goes on largely unnoticed, uncontrolled and unpunished.

Indonesia does have laws against killing, trading or otherwise harming protected species, but apart from a handful of cases in which tiger and rhino poachers were jailed, no one has ever been effectively prosecuted for illegally killing protected wildlife in Indonesia.

A recent report by the wildlife trade organization Traffic suggested that more than 1,000 orangutans are killed or captured each year in Kalimantan for the wildlife trade alone. Recent surveys by the Nature Conservancy and the Indonesian Association of Primatologists (Perhappi) suggest that this figure may be an underestimate, and that many more orangutans are killed simply for local consumption.

Obviously, government authorities are not effectively addressing the hunting issue. Admittedly, to effectively control and reduce hunting is difficult. Even relatively well-organized and funded countries such as Britain have major problems controlling the illegal killing of endangered species like golden eagles.

But Indonesia needs to start thinking seriously about reducing the hunting of its endangered wildlife. Most citizens here may not even be aware of hunting prohibitions. And if they are, they may not care because they do not understand the consequences of their hunting, either to themselves (since chances of punishment are negligible) or to wildlife populations. New efforts in law enforcement and nationwide public campaigns would be a good start, and Indonesia could do well to follow the example of its neighbor.

Malaysia has recently drawn up new legislation that means stricter penalties for poachers. The Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, enacted in August, will mean increased fines and jail sentences for illegal wildlife hunting and trade. Penalties will be handed out to makers of products that contain parts of protected species, and those who set up snares would face jail.

Having such laws in Indonesia and enforcing them would be very helpful for wildlife conservation. Such laws should make it impossible, for example, for illegal wildlife products such as bear gall bladders to remain openly for sale in the duty free shopping zone in Jakarta’s international airport (check the various drawers in the shop selling shark fins).

Indonesia also urgently needs to review its list of protected species. When a species is considered endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union it means that it is expected to go extinct in the near future unless better managed. But species such as the endangered Javan warty pig remain unprotected by Indonesian law.

In the end, Indonesia will only manage to keep its incredible wildlife resources if it gains the support of its citizens. But that could take decades.

In the meantime, real and immediate action is required to stop some of the most destructive hunting practices. Televised campaigns could send the message that hunting is neither cool nor civilized, and often illegal. If that starts to resonate more widely, many species could be diverted from the road to extinction.

By Erik Meijaard forest director for People and Nature Consulting International in Bali. (Jakarta Globe)

Ten things we can do about Burma

Burma has been under the jackboot of a supremely despotic military junta for almost half a century now, with collapsing institutions, arbitrary imprisonment, widespread torture, organised rapes and killings, and the terrorisation of minority communities including the Chins, the Karen, the Shan and the Rohingyas. The release in November of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from unjust imprisonment was not just a great moment for celebration, it should also make us think more clearly about what the world can do to help Burma achieve reconciliation and build a democratic foundation for the future.

The military generals designed the recent election, the first in twenty years, in a crooked way to ensure that they, or their proxies or cohorts, will stay in power. Most gratuitously, 25 per cent of the seats were reserved for military rulers; strong pro-democracy candidates were barred from participation; opposition leaders and activists were kept in confinement; and criticism of the regime was totally banned in pre-election speeches.

So, what can the world do now? The answer is: A great deal.

First, many analysts of Burmese affairs have called for an international Commission of Enquiry on Burma, possibly led by the United Nations. The case for this is very strong, especially after the manipulated election.

Second, the framework of sanctions and embargos has to be made more effective. General sanctions that hurt the Burmese people (such as restrictions on garment exports from Burma) can be sensibly replaced by those that isolate the military rulers - by targeting their business activities and their financial transactions overseas.

Third, at the top of the list of potentially effective targeted sanctions must be an embargo on the trading of arms and armaments of all kinds.

Fourth, there is a strong political case for considering imposing sanctions on those natural commodities - such as minerals, gems, timber, and oil and gas - that yield huge profits for individuals in the regime.

Fifth, severe financial restrictions and prohibitions imposed on large transactions from Burma can be a well-targeted and effective policy.

Sixth, a ban on foreign travel imposed on the generals at the head of the regime can also be effective.

Seventh, neighbouring countries, particularly China but also Thailand and India - which provide support to the military regime in exchange for their own commercial gains - have a special responsibility. Aside from the doubtful morality of supporting such an oppressive regime, this continued and tacit support may well turn out to be a prudential mistake. The tyrants of Burma will, sooner or later, fall - as all tyrants eventually do. However, the memory of the betrayal of the Burmese people will last a long time, just as the intense anti-Americanism in Latin America today draws on the history of US support for the brutal South and Central American regimes of yesteryear.

Eighth, the Western countries are sharp in rhetoric when denouncing Burma's rulers, but they do not do what is entirely within their power to do - like withdrawing from lucrative Burmese business, and imposing financial sanctions.
This is bad in itself, but it also makes it harder to persuade China, India and Thailand to do the right thing.

Ninth, and most important - there has to be an end to the sense of dejection and hopelessness that is so dominant among the Burmese people. The fight, we have to remember, is for the beginning of democracy in Burma, not for tiny concessions from an entrenched military government.

Finally, in a non-defeatist approach, we have to start thinking about how a post-military government will deal with the culprits of the past. There is a strong case for not threatening bloody revenge but opting instead for the sagacity of offering amnesty in exchange for remorse. Even butchers have to find a "way out" if they are not to go on fighting - and tyrannising - to the bitter end.

With well-targeted policies, carried out with determination and clarity of reasoning, we can make the Burmese leaders withdraw.
The change can come more quickly than most people imagine.

By Amartya Sen Indian economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. (The Nation, Bangkok)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mediating Philippines Mindanao

IT comes as no surprise that the armed men who abducted two Malaysians from a seaweed farm in Sabah and whisked them away in a speedboat to the Philippines in February have been linked to the Abu Sayyaf as this militant group has been tied to dozens of kidnappings. Indeed, it is self-styled freedom fighters like them who have been behind most of the kidnappings in Mindanao. Though foreigners as well as locals have been held for ransom, most of the abductions have taken place in southern Philippines. But as this kidnapping in Malaysian territory and the high-profile case at Sipadan a decade ago show, this roving band of bandits is not averse to making raids across the border. But as serious a threat as cross-border hostage-taking are to the personal safety of our citizens and visitors, what is obviously a greater national concern is the crossing of Filipinos seeking refuge from turmoil and trouble.

However, though signing a deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front appears to figure in Manila's priorities, there seems to be doubt over Kuala Lumpur's ability to continue as an honest broker because of the perceived bias of the Malaysian facilitator. To be sure, as it is the four decades of armed conflict in the southern Philippines that has crippled the economy, bred the assorted bands of bandits, and forced thousands to flee to Sabah, it is in Malaysia's interest to see peace in Mindanao. This is why the country has been willing to serve as peace monitors and as mediators between the government of the Philippines and the seekers of a Bangsamoro homeland.

Of course, it has not been smooth sailing for Malaysia as host of the peace talks. It took years of shuttling, acting as go-between and helping to bridge the differences to get an accord on ancestral domain, only to see all the work undone when it was thrown out by the courts in Manila two years ago. While it is understandable to insist that a mediator does not take sides in a conflict, it is, however, hard to understand why the credentials of someone who has been hitherto trusted and accepted by all parties has now been questioned. In any event, whatever the case may be, it is hoped that the facilitation issue is resolved amicably and quickly so that the stalled talks can be revived. Forty years of conflict and violence have been more than long enough to radicalise more than one generation. The imperative now is to find a peaceful solution in Mindanao. New Straits Times Kuala Lumpur

Friday, December 24, 2010

Xmas and an epistemic Muslim community

Pamulang, Nov. 27, 2010. The gathering started from something fun but a little bizarre. The host, Neng Dara, a commissioner at the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan), initially invited us just for a “family” gathering through our mailing list.

There was no indication there would be a serious discussion related to her concerns about Indonesia’s current issues. Then, amid an opening full of laughter, she suddenly talked about Indonesia’s future, especially about the current issue of decreasing tolerance among Indonesians.

The forum, voluntarily founded at the outset as a study group in 1986 by some students of Jakarta State Islamic University, somehow could not be detached from what we can call “something serious”. That night, Saiful Mujani, a world-renowned Indonesian professor and a founder of the forum, talked about his nostalgia of the 1980s, when he and his colleagues brought the forum into being. But he mixed his stories with an apprehension of the contemporary threats of pro-violence religious radicalism. So, there was again happiness as well as concern at the gathering that night.

Perhaps this was a small-scale communicative community given the ideal opportunity to make a speech that German philosopher Jurgen Habermas gave years ago. In the vision he painted, freedom flows and every mind opens. Everyday talk, however trivial it may be, is free from errors such as repression or anything that might hamper honesty or alike. Such a community would enable us to talk with dignity so that everybody has a respected place, regardless of the job he or she does.

In our case, Saiful calls this an epistemic community. It is a forum in which members feel an attachment with such an intellectual spirit in mind. We are all Muslims but we are concerned about our non-Muslims’ sufferings caused by state or majority arbitrariness. The seniors (who are not students anymore) are now working for diverse institutions and companies but they have at least several things in common: Reading books and other reading material, they have political awareness and are actively involved to different extents in social affairs and human rights activities.

Our community is also like a “clandestine” voluntary association with a zest to fight tyranny or such and the status quo. There is a filmmaker among us, for example, and she makes movies sounding social injustice. There is a poet and he writes things without weird that shackle creativity. There is a religious cleric but he talks about Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche without arbitrarily blaming their thoughts.

Another story that night was about the pragmatic tendency of contemporary students’ academic lives. Their propensity toward how to be well-employed, well-paid or well-linked to political figures after their university years is assumed to have weakened their potential to be agents of social change. The evidence is clear: Study groups with strong social academic backgrounds and academically crafted social movements are hardly found nowadays. Instead, most student activities are measured mathematically: post-study financial return or future employment opportunities.

We also see that students’ associations hardly involve themselves in defending minority rights. They might have political protest agendas, for instance, but they don’t seem to have enough awareness of or concern for human rights or racism issues. Their concerns are for catchy political issues, which shows their consciences are developed more by mainstream vistas, not, for example, by fundamental knowledge found through in-depth reading and reasoning.

That night, at the gathering, we were also reminded again about how Indonesia is now traversing the transition to a democracy where everyone, or groups, has a better chance to voice a thought regardless of triviality or even artificiality. But, it is something we accept with gratitude as well as anxiety. This transition allows us to enjoy more freedom than before but at the same time we sadly see, for example, religious radicalism arising with violent inclination.

Now, welcoming 2010’s Christmas, the availability of epistemic Muslim communities in Indonesia seems to be very promising due to peacebuilding efforts. Imagine if members of these communities were everywhere at all institutions. They would influence their surroundings with the notion of a “free market of ideas” as well as the necessity to respect one’s choice. They will better guarantee amity instead of hostility. We will see a Christmas day without cops with cocked-rifles; a Christmas day as it should be.

That’s why, that night, two agendas were agreed. First, our epistemic forum must run as usual at any cost. The very small segment of university students who join our forum will keep learning things that have likely been abandoned in the university curricula: progressive social sciences, enlightening philosophy, logical and rational religious studies, or the way students’ protests must be intelligently conducted.

Secondly, an active participation in the democratization process is a must for everybody. But it could be manifested in various ways. NGO activists will do what they can to endorse the process while university lecturers might be acting as the motivators among their academic fellows. The journalists will ensure that the news voices an atmosphere of freedom, while political observers will keep enunciating people’s welfare as the utmost aim of each polity.

Hopefully, with this and other epistemic Muslim communities, however small they are, we might see a Christmas day as peaceful as an Idul Fitri day. Having a ritual in a church is likely to be as safe as performing an Islamic ritual in a mosque.
Khairil Azhar researcher at Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta. Jakarta

China and Intellectual Property

For years, Chinese officials have promised to improve their protection of intellectual property. But the infringement of copyrights, patents and trade secrets has, in many instances, gotten worse. Last week, they made some new promises. While we welcome China’s willingness to utter commitments in this area, we remain skeptical of its ability or desire to protect foreign innovation.

At the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade in Washington, Chinese officials promised better protection for foreign software. They promised not to discriminate against foreign intellectual property in government procurement. They even agreed to keep talking about improving how they award patents, a crucial step to prevent the proliferation of parasitic patents of little merit.

Yet for all the new agreements, stringent protection of foreigners’ intellectual property is at odds with China’s development strategy. Foreign companies operating in China complain that Beijing views the appropriation of foreign innovations as part of a policy mix aimed at developing domestic technology.

Bootleg copies of the “Dark Knight” and Shenzen sweatshops churning out fake Louis Vuitton bags are only part of the problem. Last March, the United States International Trade Commission banned imports of cast steel railway wheels made by the Chinese group Tianrui. Tianrui had hired nine employees from the Chinese licensee of Amsted Industries of Chicago, a maker of railway parts. They came with an armful of trade secrets that allowed Tianrui to muscle into the business.

This type of intellectual property theft is increasingly common, according to American companies operating in China. In fact, they say, it is tacitly supported by Beijing, and includes forcing foreigners to disclose their technology in order to gain contracts.

China’s new antimonopoly laws would allow compulsory licensing of foreign technologies in some cases and require foreign companies that wanted to merge with or buy a Chinese company to transfer technology to China. Several foreign companies have found themselves competing against Chinese firms using a slight variation of the foreign technology.

In 2005, the China National Railway Signal and Communication Corporation invited Germany’s Siemens to join in building trains for the Beijing-Tianjin high-speed railway. Most of the technology came from Siemens, which trained 1,000 C.N.R. technicians in Germany. But most of the trains were built in China. For the next project — the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail — the Ministry of Transportation decided it wanted domestic technology, and C.N.R. bumped Siemens out. CSR Corporation, another Chinese train builder, did the same with Kawasaki Heavy Industries of Japan.

China’s attempt to move up the tech ladder is natural. Many countries in history have pursued technological progress by first trying to piggyback on foreign inventions — tweaking and improving — before blazing their own trails. Still, intellectual property misappropriation cannot be a government policy goal, especially in a country the size of China, which can flood world markets with ill-begotten high-tech products.

The United States has made some progress at the World Trade Organization against the theft of intellectual property in China. But it must be much more vigilant and aggressive.
Editorial, New York Times

Thursday, December 23, 2010

India’s Battle Within: Coming to Grips With the Politics of Greed

In the comparisons of China and India that have become commonplace in recent years, India is often given the edge on account of its political system. India has a deep-rooted democracy, the argument goes, while China is a brittle autocracy whose government functions without transparency or accountability. Indeed, the idea of India as Asia’s democratic alternative to China was underscored during US President Barack Obama’s November visit to India, where he declared that “in Asia and around the world, India is not simply emerging; India has emerged.”

A cursory look at Indian newspapers over the past six weeks, though, portrays a country submerged in corruption. Exhibit A: The so-called 2G telecom scam, the allocation of licenses for a pittance, an alleged $40 billion fraud that taints powerful politicians, leading industrialists and some of the best known names in Indian journalism.

And though the Indian economy continues to grow at an impressive 9 percent per year, the depth of the rot suggested by the scandal raises questions about the sustainability of the Indian model of development. The fact that corner-cutting corporations benefited the most from the corruption casts a shadow over the economic reform process.

Despite loosening government control over the economy, enough remains for politicians to milk. The country’s businesses — hardly Boy Scouts themselves — remain beholden to an anarchic and greedy political class whose appetites have multiplied manifold since the advent of economic reforms nearly two decades ago.

That the taint comes from the telecom industry, a poster child of Indian reform thanks to a massive user base of 600 million, built up over the past decade, could hurt public appetite for further reforms. And unless the country moves decisively to stem the rot, large businesses — both foreign and domestic — may think twice about future investments. The ultimate loser would be the people of India.

The 2G scandal, involving the 2008 allocation of valuable telecommunications spectrum to favored firms at throwaway prices, already brought this year’s winter session of Parliament to a halt over unsuccessful opposition demands for a wide-ranging inquiry.

The man at the center of the storm, A. Raja, the former telecommunications minister, was forced to resign pending an investigation. Raja claims innocence.

Meanwhile, the publication by two news magazines last month of a series of secretly taped phone conversations between Nira Radia, a high-powered lobbyist for two of India’s richest men — Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries and Ratan Tata of the Tata Group — and influential journalists, politicians and industrialists has India agog.

The recordings, part of an income-tax probe of Radia, reveal a country run by clubby elites whose allegiance to one another is apparently greater than to the general public they’re supposed to serve.

Though most speakers on the tapes are not accused of illegal activity — and virtually all claim that the conversations have been misinterpreted by the public and the press — taken collectively the tapes nonetheless create an overwhelming impression that the exercise of power in India is compromised by a culture of rampant cronyism.

So far, middle-class ire — expressed on Twitter, Facebook and a plethora of blogs — focuses on the state of Indian journalism. Over the years, educated Indians have grown cynical about politics and politicians. Individuals regarded as personally honest — such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and senior opposition leader L.K. Advani — are the exception rather than the norm. More worrying, from a longer-term perspective, is the idea that the tapes reveal undue corporate influence in the affairs of India. For the first time since the advent of economic reforms, a large section of educated Indians blames business rather than government for creating a national problem.

That India’s institutions have failed to rein in corruption is undeniable. Transparency International ranks India 87 out of 178 countries surveyed for perceptions of public corruption, behind the likes of Malawi and Morocco. China is No. 78.

But though individual business houses are often guilty of gaming the system, the genesis of the problem in India is cultural and political. At best, 300 million Indians can be called middle class by even the most generous estimate. Most of the rest are too poor and ill-educated to make corruption an electoral issue. Caste, creed and the price of onions are more likely to influence their vote than looting in distant Delhi.

Moreover, India’s splintered polity is littered with caste-based or regional parties with little conception of the national interest. The former telecommunications minister, Raja, belongs to one such party, the DMK, an important Congress ally from the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

For its part, the middle class tends to personalize corruption rather than focus on the system. In prosperous democracies, leaders are deemed upright as much for presiding over a clean government as for personal honesty. By contrast, until now Prime Minister Singh has remained beyond reproach despite the misdeeds of his cabinet colleagues.

But this doesn’t mean India can’t begin to curb graft. The uproar over the Radia tapes shows that society’s capacity for outrage remains intact. And unlike many developing countries, India has credible institutions such as the Election Commission, the Supreme Court and the Securities and Exchange Board of India.

If India wants to be taken seriously as a world power, it must establish similar institutions to fight corruption. A good place to start would be an independent anticorruption commission backed with investigative powers, prosecutorial heft and fast-track courts.

Unlike in China, where the threat of harsh punishment can deter blatant corruption, India has nurtured an anything-goes environment where the powerful rarely face trial or conviction. Only when Indian businessmen aren’t held hostage by an erratic and all-powerful political class — when public servants begin to pay for breaking the law — will the country’s future prosperity be assured.

By Sadanand Dhume author of ‘My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with a Radical Islamist.’ Jakarta Globe

Baby shortage is a demographic time bomb in East Asia’s tiger economies

East Asia’s booming economies have for years been the envy of the world, but a shortfall in one crucial area—babies—threatens to render yesterday’s tigers toothless. Some of the world’s lowest birth rates look set to slash labor forces in Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, where fewer workers will support more retirees and their ballooning healthcare and pension costs.

Shuffling along in the vanguard of ageing Asia is Japan, whose population started slowly shrinking three years ago and where almost a quarter of people are over 65 while children make up just 13 percent.

On current trends, Japan’s population of 127 million will by 2055 shrivel to 90 million, its level when it kicked off its post-war boom in 1955, warns the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

Asian population giant China may still be near its prime, with armies of young rural workers flocking to its factories. But, thanks to the 30-year-old one-child policy, its demographic time bomb is also ticking.

“Over the past 50 years, economic and social modernization in Asia has been accompanied by a remarkable drop in birth rates,” the Hawaii-based think-tank the East-West Center says in a new research paper.

“Gains in education, employment and living standards, combined with dramatic breakthroughs in health and family-planning technology, have led to lower fertility in every country of the region.”

Falling fertility rates are a common trend for societies as they grow richer, and many European nations are also below the level needed to keep a population stable—about 2.1 children per woman over her lifetime.

While in traditional rural societies children tend to take over the farm and care for their elderly parents, in modern, urban societies, many couples, with better access to birth control, see offspring as an unaffordable luxury.

China now has 1.6 births a woman, Singapore has 1.2 and South Korea has slightly fewer than 1.1. Taiwan has just 1.03 births a woman.

One way to counter declining populations is to allow more immigration—but governments from Singapore to Tokyo have been reluctant to do so.

At the same time Singaporeans, who have turned their city-state into an Asian hub of commerce and service industries, have long been famously disinclined to procreate.

The government has for years put on match-making events for university graduates on the assumption that Singapore’s best and brightest could be coaxed into producing a generation of brainy offspring.

While that model in social engineering has failed to bring a baby boom, bureaucrats across the region have sought to tweak policies and tax codes to get more couples in the mood, but seldom with great success.

At the core of the problem, say analysts, have been gender attitudes steeped in Confucian traditions—with men still expecting their wives to handle the childcare and household chores that may not top a modern woman’s wishlist.

Kim Hye-Young, researcher at the Korea Women’s Development Institute, said: “The big problem is that South Korean women, compared to men, have too much to lose when getting married in this system.

“This reality makes marriage, let alone having a child, look like a very unattractive option in South Korea, perhaps far more so than in other countries,” she said.

In Japan, where women remain woefully under-represented in corporate boardrooms, falling pregnant still all too often spells career death.

“Women are voting with their wombs, refraining from having children because the opportunity costs are so high and rigid employment policies make many of them choose between raising a family or pursuing a career,” writes Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo.

Other factors also play a role, he writes in a new book on contemporary Japan: many young people—unlike their jobs-for-life fathers—now skip between temporary jobs and lack the financial security to start a family.

Compounding the geriatric trend in Japan are long life expectancies—a world-record 86.44 years for women and 79.59 years for men.

This means the social welfare burden is growing for a government that already has a debt-to-GDP ration nearing 200 percent, the rich world’s highest.

The center-left government in power since last year has introduced family friendly policies, from child payments to free school tuition, to ease the burden on parents struggling to raise kids in their cramped apartments.

High-tech Japan has also built robots to help with elderly care, while electronics giants have tapped a huge market for elderly-friendly gadgets, such as mobile phones with extra-large displays and buttons.

In the long run, Japan needs to take fundamental steps to deal with the growing strain of a graying society, warns ratings agency Standard and Poor’s.

“Barring structural changes in old-age related government spending, a rapidly graying society will lift
expenditures,” it warns. “This, in turn, threatens to weaken the sovereign ratings on Japan in the long term.”

Polls in Asia indicate that most people are aware of the threat that silent playgrounds and empty classrooms spell for their graying societies, but remain unlikely to rush to their bedrooms to help avert societal doom.

In Taiwan, a survey of childless workers last month found that 87 percent thought the declining birth rate was a serious problem and two thirds worried the result would be a society unable to look after its elderly.

Still, few said they would start making babies to save their island, according to the survey by human resources service 104 Job Bank. But almost two thirds said they did not intend to have any children in future.

The East-West Center paper concluded that it “seems likely that fertility in East Asian societies will remain low—at least for the foreseeable future—as women make difficult choices between careers and motherhood.” BY FRANK ZELLER AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Indonesia’s Aceh’s Ordeal and Recovery

A new UNDP report says the Indonesian province is coming back from the 2004 tsunami, but slowly

Almost exactly six years ago — on Boxing Day 2004 — the Indonesian province of Aceh was hit by one of history’s biggest disasters, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that killed 127,000 people in the province alone. In all, the disaster caused 229,866 deaths in eight countries.

Along with the tsunami, the province, which perches at the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, was dealing with an offensive by the central government that sought to end a rebellion by the Free Aceh separatist movement which was demanding autonomy and the right to apply shariah law. The magnitude of the earthquake and tsunami was so great that, along with the government offensive, it effectively brought the 30-year-old conflict to an end and spurred real peace talks.

“Long years of military and political struggle, coupled with changing economic conditions and continuing natural disasters, have left Aceh today as one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia,” according to a 175-page report by the United Nations Development Program which was released Wednesday. “Nevertheless, since the tsunami of December 2004 and the Peace Accords that followed in August 2005 the people of Aceh, with support from many key international and national players, have achieved remarkable progress in consolidating peace healing the wounds from conflict and disaster and rebuilding their communities.”

The report was requested by the Aceh government. The first of several planned by the UNDP, its gist is that although the rebuilding of the province has been impressive, Aceh continues to lag behind the rest of Indonesia in terms of poverty, life expectancy and other quality of life indicators.

“Massive recovery programs after the tsunami have repaired much of the damage and destruction caused by both the tsunami and conflict,” the report says. “Most of the people displaced by these events have been able to return home or settle in new locations. Positive social conditions in Aceh provide a potential basis for participatory human development, although the settlement of displaced persons and former combatants has caused friction in some communities. Extortion and domestic violence remain endemic problems.

Following the disaster, Aceh’s Human Development Index, as measured by the UNDP, kept pace with the national average up to 2007 but fell sharply in 2008, “mostly to a fall in personal spending, which reflects the winding down of massive recovery programs that created a large number of temporary jobs after the tsunami.”

Thus the human development Indicator scale ranks Aceh 29th of the country’s 33 provinces. The report notes that women bear the brunt of much of the misery, with women’s health and empowerment still discouraging over the period 1996 through 2008. Women, the report says, are largely left out of the decision-making process at the community level and face domestic violence perpetuated by men. Although life expectancy is low at 68.5 years, compared with a national average of 71.5 years, it is improving, up from 67.7 years in 2002.Aceh faces five major challenges: to improve security; to expand efforts to mitigate future natural disasters; to reduce poverty; to reverse the downward trend in women’s well-being; and to redress inequalities in less developed areas of the province,” the report points out.

Poverty peaked at 30 percent of the populace in 2002 at the height of the separatist conflict but has since declined to a still-high 22 percent in 2010. That is still well above the average of 14 percent for Indonesia as a whole. Although gross regional per capita domestic product places Aceh as one of the country’s richest provinces, the largest share of provincial GDP comes from the oil and gas industry, which is dwindling as the province’s reserves are depleted. How much trickles down to the poor is shown by the fact that household spending is very low. Investment has been negligible for many years, the report notes, partly because of the conflict and because of lingering perceptions of insecurity, extortion and unresolved regulatory issues concerning business activities.

Finally, the report advocates six primary goals to further enhance human development in the province. They are:

Empower people for development, which the UNDP calls “perhaps the single most effective instrument for enhancing human development, enabling people to make their own collective decisions on what needs to be done.

Ensure benefits for everyone: All government programs should pay special attention to addressing the needs of particular social groups that may have been overlooked or who are unable to get the help they need for one reason or another.

Improve the quality of public services: The main challenge is to improve the quality of services, particularly health and education.

Enhance opportunities for productive employment: Reduce the high rates of unemployment and under-employment as a means to reduce poverty and raise household incomes.

Couple disaster mitigation with environmental programs: Disaster mitigation efforts should be coupled with other agencies responsible for the environment. Steps to mainstream measures to mitigate natural disasters should be reinforced in a broad range of government and donor programs, particularly in the forestry, agricultural and fisheries sectors.

Make better use of public resources: The huge increase in fiscal resources flowing into Aceh underline the imperatives of minimizing misuse and ensuring resources are channeled towards programs and services that are effective in further advancing human development.

Other recommendations: The report makes a number of other recommendations for specific sectors. These include: security, poverty, women, basic infrastructure, education, health care, justice, economic development, and the allocation of fiscal resources. Asia Sentinel

Stop Abusing Asia’s Victims

Greater protection of trafficked people the key to reducing exploitation

Whether they find themselves forced to work in factories, domestic labor, prostitution or construction and agriculture, victims of human trafficking are exploited by high-profit, low-risk organized crime syndicates.

These syndicates shift billions of dollars around the world through globalized financial systems and are adept at reshaping their strategies to circumvent criminal investigation and changing migration laws. According to the International Labor Organization, as many as 2.4 million people are in forced labor worldwide as a result of human trafficking.

The reality is that trafficking thrives in a world where the poorest are being driven into greater destitution and marginalization and avenues to legal migration are diminishing. The human cost of slavery can be devastating for individuals, families and communities, with victims exposed to potential blackmail, theft of passports, torture, rape, drug addiction and starvation.

In the Asia Pacific region, trafficking, which is different from people smuggling of migrants, is commonly associated with debt bondage, sexual servitude and contract slavery, where people are lured by guarantees of employment, but find themselves enslaved on arrival at their destination.

While regional initiatives such as the Asia Regional Trafficking in Persons Project aim to strengthen national criminal justice systems to increase prosecutions, investigations are long, complex, often transnational and very time- and resource-intensive. At the same time, governments and non-government organizations in the region are renewing a call for greater protection of victims at the prevention, support and prosecution stages, and empowering their role in the wider process of combating the cycle of exploitation.

According to Jennifer Burn, Director of the Anti-Slavery Project at the University of Technology in Sydney, one of the first challenges is that the characteristics of trafficked people are diverse and changing.

“Recent research and our knowledge of case law shows us that the old stereotypical image of the trafficked person is no longer valid, if it was ever valid,” Burn explained, “Any person of any visa status could be subject to trafficking. What that means practically is that the indicators of trafficking become much more complex because the trafficked person may not be unlawful, may not be hiding away.” Indeed, they may hold valid working visas for the country concerned.

Australia is a destination for vulnerable women and men trafficked from Southeast Asia. At the National Roundtable on People Trafficking, held at Parliament House, Canberra, on Nov. 24, anti-trafficking groups, unions, industry bodies and cabinet ministers discussed improvements to Australia’s counter-trafficking strategy, including new criminal charges to target slavery, forced marriages and exploitative labor practices in Australia. Also compensation to victims of trafficking and an improved framework of victim protection was proposed, which may include suppression of witnesses’ identities and more sensitive means of their providing evidence in court.

“Currently, each of the states in Australia has its own victim compensation scheme; each state has its own legislation,” Burn said. “But in no state is there a specific category for a person who has been a victim of trafficking. Rather, you have to be able to show that the claimant is a victim of some other kind of crime, like sexual assault, for example.”

Nina Vallins at Project Respect, a community-based organization working to support women trafficked into the sex industry in Australia, added:

“A really important step in recovery is compensation, because a lot of these women have been made financially worse off by the experience of being trafficked, but also in terms of giving them that recognition from the state of the pain and suffering that they have experienced.”

Last year, Project Respect and other Australian community service organizations assisted 109 women trafficked from South Korea, China, Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan. For Vallins it is also crucial to stop the exploitation, rather than the movement of people.

“The real prevention is actually trying to stop exploitation here in Australia, and that is about reducing demand for trafficked women and then also better enforcement of laws and reducing the impunity of traffickers,” she said.

Trafficking is inherently a cross-border issue and any country in the region can be a source, place of transit or destination. According to the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, Burma’s Anti-Trafficking Unit reported 155 cases in 2009 involving forced marriage, labor and prostitution. In Thailand, 530 people trafficked from Cambodia, China, Laos, Burma and Vietnam received assistance from the Bureau of Anti-Trafficking in Women and Children in 2009, while 103 Thai victims were returned from 12 countries including Bahrain, Singapore, Malaysia, United Kingdom and the United States.

Malaysia is a destination for people trafficked from countries including Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, India and Pakistan, while Indonesia has identified trafficked people from China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Uzbekistan, the Netherlands, Poland and Venezuela.

Regional co-operation is therefore vital to protecting victims. Examples include the inauguration this year of the Asean Commission on Women and Children’s Rights, the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime and the Co-ordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking, as well as many bilateral and multilateral agreements that currently exist between governments in the Asia Pacific.

At the Seoul International Conference Against Trafficking in Migrant Women held in June, the Asia Pacific Forum emphasized the importance of a human-rights based approach to empower victims in the justice process.

“Victims of trafficking who are protected and supported are in a better position to co-operate in the prosecution of their exploiters,” their report said. “Protecting and supporting victims can therefore help to end the cycle of exploitation.”

According to APF, National Human Rights Institutions have a significant role to play in providing human rights training to law enforcement officers, public education and awareness, monitoring counter-trafficking initiatives, advocating for comprehensive birth registration and the right of victims to employment or government-funded education, as well as ensuring safe and voluntary repatriation.

Jennifer Burn believes there could be more research into the most effective ways of supporting those who return home to their country of origin, and there could be more than one model of repatriation.

“What happens is that there will be a government or church run shelter, but anybody who goes there is immediately identified as being a trafficked person,” she explained, “Some people don’t want to go to the shelter, because then everybody will know what happened to them. That’s why I’m thinking that there could be more work around identifying the best practices for return and repatriation.

But the best scenario is when the exploitation of people is prevented before it begins. In Thailand, the Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities is a non-profit NGO working for community-based freedom from trafficking and slavery, especially in northern Thailand and the Mekong Sub-Region. Working closely with teachers, monks, police, community and village leaders, DEPDC identifies women and girls at risk, providing them with safe accommodation, a secure education and life skills training.

This year alone, the Thai organization has given shelter to 116 children, provided education to 447 children and community members, and conducted awareness workshops on human trafficking, safe migration, nationality and citizenship, HIV/AIDS and domestic violence to more than 6000 children and community members in five countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-Region.

According to the Thai NGO, nationality and citizenship play an important role as statelessness is a primary risk factor for trafficking and exploitation.

“The percentage of stateless, migrant children that we serve varies from 48% in the prevention-oriented shelters to 62% in the Community Learning Centre,” said a DEPDC spokesperson, “Stateless and undocumented status affects ethnic minority children the most with more than 97% of children in our primary school for vulnerable children coming from one of seven different minority ethnicities.”

By ensuring children know their rights and have real opportunities for safe and legitimate employment, DEPDC claims to have prevented thousands from falling prey to sex trafficking and forced labor. The NGO now has more than 4000 ‘former daughters’ who represent success stories in the battle against trafficking.
By Catherine Wilson Australia-based freelance writer. Asia Sentinel