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Human Rights Groups Protest Indonesian Official’s US Visit

At least a dozen non-government organizations are protesting the U.S. decision to grant Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto a visa to visit Washington for talks despite his alleged involvement with human rights violations.

Prabowo is scheduled to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley on Friday. Indonesian Minister of Defense spokesperson Dahnil Simanjuntak told VOA's Indonesian Service that Esper issued the invitation to Prabowo, onetime chief of the Kopassus, an Indonesian Army (TNI) special forces unit accused of human rights violations by rights groups and Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights. Prabowo was first denied entry to the U.S. in 2000 due to allegations of human rights abuse in East Timor, West Papua and during 1998 student protests in Jakarta.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department echoed the statement on Wednesday that "the U.S. Department of Defense plans to host Minister Prabowo at the Pentagon on Friday [Oct. 16] to further strengthen the U.S.-Indonesian bilateral relationship." Some topics for discussion between the two officials include regional issues, defense trade, security cooperation, military-to-military activities, and the response to COVID-19.

Amnesty International USA on Tuesday sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo protesting Prabowo’s visit. It was signed by Amnesty International Indonesia, Commission for Missing Persons and Violence, Public Interets Lawyer Network, Asia Justice and Rights, Committee for Solidarity Action for Munir, Imparsial, Public Virtue Institute, Setara Institute, Indonesia Corruption Watch, Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH), Institute for Public Studies and Advocacy and LBH Press in Indonesia.

“Prabowo Subianto is a former Indonesian general who has been banned, since 2000, from entering the U.S. due to his alleged direct involvement in human rights violations,” the letter said. It continued, “The State Department’s recent decision to lift the ban on Prabowo Subinato is an abrupt, complete reversal of a longstanding U.S. foreign policy which has been in place for 20 years. … The invitation to Prabowo Subianto must be rescinded if it purports to provide him immunity for the atrocity crimes of which he is accused.”

Prabowo has repeatedly denied involvement in rights abuses.

“If he does indeed travel to the U.S, the U.S. government will have the obligation under, at least, article 5 (2) of the Convention Against Torture to investigate, and if there is sufficient admissible evidence that he is criminally responsible for torture, bring him to trial or extradite him to any other country willing to exercise jurisdiction over the alleged crimes,” the letter said.

The letter continued, saying that “allowing Prabowo to freely travel to the U.S. to meet with senior U.S. government officials may violate the Leahy Laws and would be catastrophic for human rights in Indonesia.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,…
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, to examine the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

The Leahy Law prohibits the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Defense from providing military assistance to security forces units that violate rights with impunity. It is named for Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who sponsored the legislation.

On Tuesday, Leahy said in a statement, “Indonesian Minister of Defense Prabowo has been credibly implicated in gross violations of human rights, including kidnapping, torture, and disappearances, and under our law he is ineligible to enter this country.”

Leahy continued, “By granting him a visa, the President and Secretary of State have shown once again that for them ‘law and order’ is an empty slogan that ignores the imperative of justice. The State Department should apply the law and deny him a visa, and the Pentagon should reaffirm its commitment to the rule of law.”

East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), a New York-based organization that advocated for East Timor's independence issued a petition to reject Prabowo’s visit, calling him a “serial rights violator … not worthy of (a) U.S. visit.” The group pointed out that U.S. law allows for the prosecution of non-U.S. citizens who have engaged in torture.

Analysts think it is unlikely that legal action will take place during Prabowo’s visit. “It's likely that he has diplomatic immunity and therefore can't be charged with a crime or can't be arrested while he's in the U.S.” said Ilya Somin, a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

“I think this visit's really been choreographed at the highest levels and the minister is going to be greeted with great respect in Washington,” said Brian Harding a former Pentagon official now with the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Pentagon spokesman John Supple confirmed on Oct. 9 that the U.S. Department of Defense will receive Prabowo at the Pentagon to strengthen bilateral defense relations between the United States and Indonesia.

The U.S. State Department said, “Visa records are confidential under U.S. law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases. Whenever an individual applies for a U.S. visa, a consular officer reviews the facts of the case and determines whether the applicant is eligible for that visa based on U.S. law."

The U.S. State Department emphasized that "we consistently advocate for respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms with all of our defense partners, including Indonesia."

A spokesperson for the Indonesian Minister of Defense Dahnil Simanjuntak told VOA last week the country does not establish military alliances with any country, "but maintains the same closeness with all countries. Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, has been actively conducting defense diplomacy with various countries including America.”

Yuni Salim of VOA Indonesia, Carla Babb and Cindy S. Spang contributed to this report.

Original Article from Isaan.Live

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Thai Parliament Opens Special Session Over Protest Tensions

Thailand’s Parliament began a special session Monday that was called to address tensions as pro-democracy protests draw students and other demonstrators into the streets almost daily demanding the prime minister's resignation.

As Speaker of the House Chuan Leekpai began the session, only 450 of the total of 731 members of both houses had signed in for the meeting.

The demonstrations by student-led groups in the Bangkok and other cities have three main demands: that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha step down, the constitution be amended to make it more democratic and reforms be made to the monarchy to make it more accountable.

Public criticism of the monarchy is unprecedented in a country where the royal institution has been considered sacrosanct, and royalists have denounced the protesters for raising the issue.

“The only way to a lasting solution for all sides that is fair for those on the streets as well as for the many millions who choose not to go on the streets is to discuss and resolve these differences through the parliamentary process,” Prayuth said last week.

Opposition leader from Pheu Thai Party, Sompong Amornwat delivers a speech during a special session at the parliament in…
Opposition leader from Pheu Thai Party, Sompong Amornwat delivers a speech during a special session at the parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 26, 2020.

The non-voting session of Parliament is expected to last two days.

The protesters have little confidence in the parliamentary path, declaring the government’s efforts insincere.

They noted the points of discussion submitted by Prayuth’s government for debate dealt not with the protesters' concerns but were thinly disguised criticisms of the protests themselves.

They concern instead the risk of the coronavirus spreading at rallies, the alleged interference with a royal motorcade by a small crowd earlier this month, and illegal gatherings and the destruction of images of the royal family.

The protesters allege Prayuth, who led a coup in 2014 as the army chief, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s election because laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. The protesters also say the constitution, written and enacted under military rule, is undemocratic.

Parliament in September was scheduled to vote on six proposed constitutional amendments but instead set up a committee to further consider such proposals, and then recessed.

Constitutional changes require a joint vote of the House and the Senate, but the proposals lack support in the Senate, whose members are not elected and are generally very conservative and hostile to the protesters.

Instead of confronting lawmakers and counter-protesters on Monday, the pro-democracy protest organizers have called for an afternoon march to the German Embassy, apparently to bring attention to the time King Maha Vajiralongkorn spends in Germany.

Germany's foreign minister, questioned in Parliament by a member of the Green Party, recently expressed concern over any political activities the king might be conducting on the country's soil.

Protesters’ criticism of the royal institution has roiled conservative Thais. Self-proclaimed “defenders of the monarchy” mobilized last week online and in rallies in several cities, in many cases led by local civil servants.

A small group of royalist demonstrators were outside Parliament on Monday morning, saying they were there to let lawmakers know of their opposition to any changes in the status of the monarchy.

Original Article from Isaan.Live

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Typhoon Displaces Thousands, Floods Villages in Philippines

A fast-moving typhoon forced thousands of villagers to flee to safety in provinces south of the Philippine capital Monday, flooding rural villages and ripping off roofs, officials said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from Typhoon Molave, but authorities reported at least one person was missing and seven others were rescued after their yacht sank off Batangas province south of Manila.

The typhoon has sustained winds of 125 kilometers (77 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 180 kph (112 miles) per hour and was blowing westward at 25 kph (15 mph). Molave is expected to start blowing out of the country into the South China Sea on Monday, government forecasters said.

At least 25,000 villagers were displaced with about 20,000 taking shelter in schools and government buildings which were turned into evacuation centers, according to the Office of Civil Defense.

“Villagers are now asking to be rescued because of the sudden wind which blew away roofs,” Humerlito Dolor, governor of Oriental Mindoro province, told DZMM radio.

Dolor said pounding rains overnight swamped farming villages in his province then fierce winds toppled trees and power posts early on Monday, knocking off power. Authorities were clearing roads of fallen trees and debris in some towns after the typhoon passed, he said.

More than 1,800 cargo truck drivers, workers and passengers were stranded in ports after the coast guard barred ships and ferry boats from venturing into rough seas.

About 20 typhoons and storms annually batter the Philippines, and the Southeast Asian archipelago is seismically active, with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

Original Article from Isaan.Live

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Australian Anguish at Passenger Strip Searches in Qatar

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports Australia has formally complained about what it is calling the "offensive and grossly inappropriate" treatment of passengers at Doha airport in Qatar. The report says thirteen Australian women were taken off a flight to Sydney after a newborn baby was found in an airport bathroom and the travelers were forced to have invasive internal examinations.

Airport authorities say when a premature baby was discovered in a bathroom at the Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, on October 2, all female passengers onboard a flight preparing to fly to Sydney were taken off the aircraft. The group included 13 Australian women.

They were taken to two ambulances waiting outside the airport and subjected to strip searches. Some of the women have told local media they were terrified and were not told why the examinations were being carried out.

The Australian Federal Police have been informed, although it is unclear what powers investigators might have over an incident that occurred in the Middle East.

Australian foreign minister Marise Payne says Australia has formally complained to Qatar.

“We also understand the matter has been reported to the Australian Federal Police. This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events. It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life in any context. We have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter,” Payne said.

Media reports have said the Australian women could take legal action against authorities in Qatar.

Australian Labor opposition leader Anthony Albanese says their treatment has been unbelievable.

“Reports of this treatment are really disturbing. The idea that women could be subject to these very intrusive searches is in my view an absolute disgrace," Albanese said.

In a statement, airport officials in Doha said the baby was “safe” and being cared for in Qatar.

They added that medical staff had expressed concern to them “about the health and welfare of a mother who had just given birth and requested she be located prior to departing.”

Australian authorities have said they are expecting a report on the incident from the Qatari Government later this week.

Original Article from Isaan.Live

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