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Paano Magsimula ng Bodegong Bayan/ How to Start a Community Pantry

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/04/2021 - 5:12pm in

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A guide on how to start your own community pantry/bodegang bayan for your own neighborhood in Tagalog and English!

Let a thousand pantries bloom!

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Ενάντια σε μια καραντινα με χαρακτηριστικά στρατιωτικού νόμου

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/04/2021 - 7:12pm in


philippines, Asia

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Written by Simoun Magsalin with input from the Bandilang Itim Collective and translated into Greek by

Μια καραντίνα χωρίς εξαναγκασμό και βία είναι δυνατή αν μπορούμε να δούμε οτι

Simoun Magsalin

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Easter in Indonesia: a time to be wary

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 06/04/2021 - 3:57am in



Easter is different in Islam-dominated Indonesia.  High on the facade of the Catholic cathedral and other churches in Malang, East Java stand statues of a welcoming Jesus. Beneath his outstretched arms parishioners got the extra protection of six-wheeled armoured personnel carriers, soldiers and police ready to intimidate potential bombers.

The terror season opened on Palm Sunday in Makassar, the 13th century capital of South Sulawesi, the island directly above Java.  As parishioners at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral had finished Mass celebrating Jesus’ palm-decked arrival into Jerusalem, two martyrs in training arrived on a motorbike carrying heavy backpacks.

Their mission was to kill, and they were successful, shredding themselves in a detonation so fierce it took a day before discovering one was a woman. Twenty people in the yard were wounded. Among them the smart security guard who stopped the bike at the gate.

Three days later police shot dead a 25-year old woman who carried a gun into the national police headquarters in Jakarta. It’s unclear whether she used the weapon; no other casualties were reported.

AAP quoted National Police Chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo saying the Makassar militants were linked to a clash in January when police shot dead two suspects and arrested 19.

He also coupled the bombers to the banned Jamaah Anshorut Daulah (Congregation of Islamic State), particularly active in the Southern Philippines. Although the one-time Spanish colony is 86 per cent Catholic, the islands close to Indonesia are mainly Muslim.

So far this century separatists in the Philippines’ Sulu Sea region have claimed responsibility for at least 40 major bombings killing 400 and wounding 1,500.  The ocean border with Indonesia is notoriously porous and a haven for pirates and gun-runners.

Before Jakarta started getting serious about terrorism it was assumed militancy was a matter for minorities.  It only frightened foreigners, dismissed as kafir (infidels), so unworthy of concern.

Blasts in Bali (2002), Jakarta’s JW Marriott Hotel a year later, and then the Australian Embassy appeared to reinforce that view. Yet 38 of the 202 deaths in the Kuta nightclub explosion were Indonesians, while of the dozen Marriott hotel fatalities only one was an outsider – a Dutchman.

The change in attitudes accelerated when the police counterterrorism unit Densus 88 was formed after the Bali blast.  It’s funded, equipped, and trained by the US Security Service and the Australian Federal Police.

Densus 88 has gained a formidable reputation, though it appears to prefer squeezing triggers to demanding surrenders.  Certainly it’s become the vengeful assassins’ target of choice, though unbelievers are still in their sights.  As the pandemic has largely driven Westerners out of the Republic, local Christians have become soft substitutes.

The national government has also been urging the populace to understand terrorism is everyone’s business.  It has heavily promoted Pancasila, the five principles underpinning the state (monotheism, justice, unity, democracy and social justice), to defuse notions only pious Muslims can be true Indonesians, and convince that pluralism is not a plot to fracture the Unitary State.

City administrators hang big banners at intersections urging harmony and featuring portraits of worthies in uniform offering assurances.  There are NGOs advocating tolerance and before the plague universities ran chatathons featuring men (almost always) of various faiths being nice to each other.

The UN Security Council says JAD was established in 2015 as an umbrella organization for ‘almost two dozen Indonesian extremist groups that pledged allegiance to then-ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’.  The Iraqi promoted a worldwide caliphate with himself as boss   He went out with a bang in 2019, apparently triggering explosives while being hunted by US forces in Syria.

In JAD’s first year operatives blasted a Jakarta shopping centre killing two and injuring 25. In May 2017 fanatics wearing suicide vests took the lives of three police officers in East Jakarta.  The next month a cop was shot dead in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra.

Twelve months later the haters hit three churches in the East Java capital Surabaya killing 13 and injuring 40.  On 10 October 2019 a man and woman allegedly linked to JAD knifed, but failed to kill, a senior politician on a low-key visit to a small town outside Jakarta.

Wiranto (one name only) is a divisive figure who commanded the army from February 1998 to October 1999.  This was during the nation’s turbulent transition to democracy from the 32-year authoritarian rule of General Soeharto.  Wiranto, 74, has recovered from the assault and returned to his job as Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs.

The pattern of attacks suggests small groups sporadically active across the archipelago but they’re not the brightest flashes in the firefights.  The cathedral security guard who stopped the suicide bombers was suspicious because the gauche killers either didn’t think of disguise or decided wearing Christian clothes might contaminate their beliefs.

Christians (the term means Protestants in Indonesia) and Catholics seldom attend church unless well dressed, men in suits, unveiled women in knee-length skirts and sober blouses.  Anyone clad casually around a church on Sunday would attract attention.  Another giveaway of the genuine is showoffs necklaced with crucifixes and carrying bookmarked Bibles.

Aware that other zealots might follow the JAD bombing, the Indonesian Council of Muslim Scholars, along with Joko Widodo, immediately denounced the outrage.  In a national broadcast the President said: ‘I strongly condemn this act of terrorism …I’ve ordered the police chief to thoroughly investigate the perpetrators’ networks and tear down the networks to their roots.’

Council deputy chairman Anwar Abbas said the attack was a ‘heinous act that violated the tenets of any religion.’  Indeed, but for fanatics of any faith moderation and tolerance are obscenities.

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Asia Art Tours Interviews Bandilang Itim: Philippines & Anarchism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/04/2021 - 5:42pm in

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Asia Art Tours interviews Bandilang Itim.
Taken from: Part 1, Part 2.

To better understand the history of Anarchism in the Philippines and the state terror unleashed by Rodrigo Duterte, we were thrilled to speak with the Bandilang Itim collective. 

If I had to pick a word to describe the Philippine left today, it’s “trapo.”


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Book Review: Brewing Resistance: Indian Coffee House and the Emergency in Postcolonial India by Kristin Victoria Magistrelli Plys

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/03/2021 - 9:37pm in

In Brewing Resistance: Indian Coffee House and the Emergency in Postcolonial IndiaKristin Victoria Magistrelli Plys explores the Coffee House movement as a space of resistance or ‘autonomous zone’ that emerged to contest the authoritarian turn in India during the Emergency of 1975-77. This book is an important and timely reminder of the history of resistance that underscores the importance of tangible spaces in offering sites of protest against totalitarian regimes, writes Anand Badola

Brewing Resistance: Indian Coffee House and the Emergency in Postcolonial India. Kristin Victoria Magistrelli Plys. Cambridge University Press. 2020.

Find this book (affiliate link):amazon-logo

The world is witnessing a rising tide of totalitarian tendencies and democratic reversal. In a recent report by Freedom House, 2020 witnessed the largest increase in countries experiencing democratic decline. As a result of this, the world also witnessed a sea of protests resisting these totalitarian urges. From the George Floyd protests to the protests in Hong Kong to the ongoing farmer protests in India, there is growing resistance to oppression and state violence. It is in this context that Kristin Victoria Magistrelli Plys’s new book, Brewing Resistance: Indian Coffee House and the Emergency in Postcolonial India, offers a timely work of academic scholarship where diverse themes like economic development as politics, authoritarian rule and spaces of resistance converge.

The book revolves around the Coffee House movement as a space of resistance against the dictatorial turn that India took during the 1970s. But it also touches upon other themes which are relevant for our understanding of the nature of political praxis. The primary concern of the author is spaces of resistance in the face of totalitarian regimes. Such spaces are called ‘autonomous zones’, and Plys’s main argument is that the Indian Coffee House space was an autonomous zone during the Indian Emergency of 1975-77.

India’s Dictatorial Turn – Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, 1975-77

During the 1970s, then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, faced a lot of criticism and protests against her government. Plys presents a detailed account of the social movements of the time as they protested the economic policies of the Indian government, including the Jayaprakash Narayan movement (also known as the Bihar movement, 1974-75), the Dalit Panther movement (1972-74) inspired by the Black Panther movement in the US, the Railway Workers’ strike (1974) and the Student Federation of India strike at Jawaharlal Nehru University (1975). These social movements were against Indira Gandhi’s economic policies which had broken the aura around the Indian government, such as issues of high corruption, allegations of nepotism and rising unemployment.

It was, however, the Allahabad High Court’s judgment in 1975, declaring Indira Gandhi’s electoral victory in the previous election as illegitimate, that prompted her to declare an internal emergency. In one swoop, India turned from a democracy to a totalitarian regime. Plys goes into detail describing the state repression during this time. Most of the political opposition was arrested and jailed, the press and media were suppressed and heavily censored and there were also programmes of forced sterilisation, engineered by Indira Gandhi’s son, Sanjay Gandhi. Even the judiciary caved in as it gave one of the most controversial judgments in Indian judicial history when it stated that even the right to life was not guaranteed during the Emergency. It is in the context of state repression that the Indian Coffee House at Connaught Place, New Delhi, emerged as a space of resistance, where dissidents from across ideologies came together to actively resist the Emergency. Plys calls this space ‘an autonomous zone’.

Spaces of Resistance – Autonomous Zones

But what is an autonomous zone? And how is it different from deliberative spaces of political discussion as envisioned by philosophers like Jürgen Habermas? The Habermasian notion of the public space, be this coffee houses, salons and so forth, is based on the premise that democratic institutions and culture are intact in a country. But what happens when there’s democratic decline or reversal and authoritarian regimes emerge? That is why Plys rightly prefers the concept of autonomous zones as the focus of the book is on totalitarian regimes.

Building on Saul Newman’s work, the author describes autonomous zones as:

a physical place where people gather to challenge dominant cultural and social norms and envision utopian futures. The radical politics of the autonomous zone are not just a disruption of the existing order of space […] The autonomous zone, in other words, is not just a social movement resource, nor is it simply a space in which to develop subversive discursive practices, but a space outside of state and capital in which artists and intellectuals can envision (and on a small scale, enact) alternate social practices and relations (46)

Hence, autonomous zones are unique spaces created by different actors across ideologies who have a common aim to imagine and fight for a world that is free of oppression. These spaces typically have intellectuals, artists and people from diverse political backgrounds engaging in vibrant discussions or making plans to subvert totalitarian regimes. The author’s main contention is that without such spaces, any kind of resistance to totalitarian regimes is not at all possible, as the state actively engages in form of repression that curtail the basic democratic practice of protest.

The Coffee House Movement

The second half of the book revolves around the story of the Coffee House movement in India and how the Indian Coffee House, having colonial origins, became an autonomous zone, especially during the Emergency. Plys traces the journey of the Coffee House movement during British Rule in India and how things changed after India gained Independence in 1947. The Coffee House workers formed a union in 1947 and were intent on forming a cooperative society from this. The author narrates the story of the Coffee House movement as a response to the Nehruvian policies of economic development during the initial decades of Indian independence. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, driven by the modernisation theory of development, was determined to close the Coffee Houses, as he was against the idea of cooperatives.

But the Coffee House workers resisted, and Plys explores this aspect of the story in great detail. Indeed, this section almost feels like a different book as the focus turns to anti-colonial labour movements and their afterlives in decolonised countries. This is indeed the second line of enquiry pursued by the author, who explores what happens to these anti-colonial labour movements when ‘flag independence’ (merely political independence rather than the socio-economic liberation that the anti-colonial labour movement was pressing for) is attained. Drawing on the works of Frantz Fanon, Plys explores the transformation of the Coffee House movement as a continuation of the anti-colonial labour movement, a movement comprising workers controlling the Coffee House space.

An all-worker-run space, for Plys, is key for a space to be autonomous as the state and forces of capital cannot intervene in the inner functioning of such spaces. Hence, the author argues, because the Indian Coffee House was an autonomous zone, it was possible for it to become a space of resistance during the Indian Emergency. The author examines how this space was used by various dissidents to actively resist state repression. Building on interviews with people who were actively protesting during the Emergency, Plys tells the story of everyday resistance which the Coffee House made possible. It is here the book converges two ideas into one seamless and cogent story.

Futures of Resistance

Brewing Resistance makes a lasting impression as it discusses the importance of tangible spaces as places of resistance against totalitarian regimes. We can also see such autonomous zones emerging in the present day: for example, in the context of Anti-CAA protests in 2019-20 in India, where Shaheen Bagh emerged as an autonomous zone as people from diverse backgrounds came together, not only to resist the authoritarian tendencies of the state but also to envision a different path for Indian democracy. Similarly, in the current farmer protests, the farmers occupying areas around the border of New Delhi can be considered to form an autonomous zone. It is important that such spaces of resistance emerge, especially in an increasingly totalitarian world. It is vital that we do not forget to resist and protest at every turn of injustice; this book is a timely reminder of the history of resistance to give hope to the coming generations.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

Image Credit: Photo by Antevasin Nguyen on Unsplash.


To achieve its goals china needs to show more restraint in the region

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 28/03/2021 - 3:22am in



The much-anticipated meeting between top US and China foreign policy officials has come and gone with only the great gaps between the two to show for it. Despite growing US angst and opposition, China is proceeding apace toward its goal of regional and eventual world dominance.

As Graham Allison has prophesied “unless it crashes or cracks up,” China will be—as Lee Kuan Yew once put it– “the biggest player in the history of the world.” ‘Crashing’ or ‘cracking up’ seems unlikely in the foreseeable future. But there is another obstacle that could threaten its ambitions or at least the timing of reaching its goals. That potential obstacle is multinational opposition of the US-led West –and important countries in Asia. To achieve what it views as its rightful destiny sooner rather than later it needs regional stability –meaning a managed balance with the U.S. and its supporters. It has to avoid provoking a coordinated backlash that could combine resources and share the strategic task of containing or constraining it.

Such blowback regarding China’s policies and actions—particularly those in the South China and East China Seas– is rapidly producing an incipient loose coalition that could do just that—the Quad Plus. Indeed, some of Asia is welcoming –and even facilitating a continued U.S. military presence and Taiwan is even trying to insert itself into the equation.

The choice for China is not about right or wrong or changing goals. It is about where and when to exercise restraint. The lack of it -or its preciseness- is providing an opening for its US-led competitors to mobilize a coalition against it. Indeed the US strategy of painting China as a threat to its neighbours and ‘the’ international order is gaining ground. The Quad and its activities are obviously aimed at containing China’s rise. One of its core tenets is  “_ _ to prioritize the role of international law – – as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and facilitate collaboration, including in maritime security, to meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Sea.”

China’s actions in those seas including its new law authorizing its coast guard to use force to defend its “sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction” have nudged Indonesia and Vietnam towards the US camp. Even the Philippines– which had been deftly won over in the soft power contest– is now having second thoughts about downgrading its alliance with the U.S. There is growing support for the decision of the South China Sea International Arbitration Tribunal invalidating China’s historic claim and the potential of more legal action by Vietnam. European powers are even buying into the US strategy and its myth that China is a threat to commercial freedom of navigation.

Similarly, China’s actions and the new law have strengthened the US-Japan alliance and provided an excuse for their militarization of the East China Sea.

China is dealing with these challenges individually by exploiting fundamental differences in interests and values between Quad members; and using economics and its astute diplomacy to prevail over legalities. But dealing with them all together, combined all at once may be too much even for China. At the least these ‘thousand pin pricks’ will slow China’s march towards its goal.

China has declared that it does not seek confrontation with the U.S. or dominance of the region. It needs to demonstrate this –at least for the time being.

The struggle for now is diplomatic and economic –not military– although that possibility and the disaster it would cause for all concerned lurks in the background. China needs to change its approach to the region and the South China and East China Seas in particular. It needs to do what the U.S. does not – work ‘with the grain’.  In particular, China needs to up its diplomacy and drop its in your face wolf warrior approach.

As Kevin Rudd says “an effective foreign policy means bringing countries with you rather than alienating them.  It means respecting the region as important in its own right, and making Southeast Asia a core part of its diplomatic priorities”, not ignoring or trying to divide it. China should not take Southeast Asian nations for granted or push them to ‘choose’.

If China continues with its increasingly belligerent and militarist approach, it could well snatch defeat from the jaws of victory or at least make it much more difficult to achieve. If it plays its cards right, the only country that can prevent China from achieving its goals is China itself. Slow and steady—or in international relations terms– restraint and patience — will win the race.

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How not to win friends and influence people

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/03/2021 - 4:43am in



“No country is more important to Australia than Indonesia. If we fail to get this relationship right, and nurture and develop it, the whole web of our foreign relations is incomplete.” Paul Keating – 1994

Few have disagreed with then PM Paul Keating’s March 1994 speech, endorsed mildly by his successors and embellished by exporters. Though there’s been a wealth of words and a dearth of action, who’d dare doubt this article of faith?

Mark McGowan for one. The newly re-elected WA Premier has shredded the Asian Engagement ministry he created in 2017. He’s also dumped the State’s dedicated trade commissioner in Indonesia, a tough market to penetrate for even hardened operators at ease with the language and culture.

Connoisseurs of pointless memorabilia should grab a copy of the government’s WA’s Asian Engagement Strategy 2019-2030, Our Future with Asia – before the printout is quietly pulped.

Despite Indonesia mishandling the pandemic [1.5 million cases, 40 thousand deaths] market watchers still reckon the planet’s fourth most populous nation is set to become the fourth biggest economy by 2050. As Perth is just a coffee-and-kip flight to the archipelago, let’s go. The Balinese love us thirsty laid-back Ozzies – Jakarta can’t be that much different.

There’s been some screeching about betrayal because WA was once seriously keen on building lasting ties with East Java, particularly when Labor’s Dr Geoff Gallop was premier [1996-2001]. The problem’s been Perth-based decision makers’ expecting rapid returns for little outlay. Relating to Asia is a long game; like wine it needs to age.

There’s also disillusionment and envy. What are these trade wallahs up to when out of town? In their exotic postings they’re supposed to sell the State and nurture neophytes carrying embossed ballpoints, diarrhoea pills and delicious pie-charts.

They care for VIPs on overseas ‘fact-finding missions’ which in one case involved checking Japanese bath-houses.

Craig Peacock was WA’s man in Tokyo garnering praise for his competence and ability to hustle. He was certainly a great wool-puller, blurring his bosses’ eyesight. For 17 years he had a grand time till the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission picked apart his reports and receipts, allegedly finding a $540,000 fleecing plus some funny business involving politician mates desiring $700 massages.

Naturally there was an inquiry which spread beyond malfeasance into structure causing a furious McGowan to upend the barrel because one apple had codling moth. The Premier’s ‘hub and spokes’ response involves four new investment and trade commissioners in seemingly incompatible and certainly unmanageable geographical groupings: ‘India-Gulf, North-East Asia, China and ASEAN.’

Their department is JTSI, which sounds like an office where you’d ask for Winston Smith. The acronym is as weird as the combine – Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation. Rearranged as JIST it becomes Kiwi for a joke.

Unfortunately there’s nothing witty about forcing such disparate disciplines together in an isolated city to see which cracks first. This isn’t another absurd TV series but an apparently serious attempt to win new business.

Overseas officials and businessfolk used to centralised systems find it passing strange that states in a federation would compete to sell their goodies. Why duplicate when there are old Austrade hands in our largest Embassy in the world? These diplomats know the ropes and traps, and they’re backed by a Canberra department with 6,000 employees.

The WA appointee handling the ten heterogeneous nations which make up ASEAN [pop 600-plus million] will be based in Perth, then Singapore and eventually Jakarta if and when the plague subsides. Apart from confusing cities, currencies and timezones, pressures will include edgy minders demanding hourly feedback.

McGowan reckons ‘hubs’ will provide a ‘more flexible model to help diversify WA’s mining-dependent economy’. Indonesia Institute president Ross Taylor, a former Jakarta-based WA trade commissioner, has a different translation, ensuring he’ll miss out on breakfast invites at the next launch of an exciting strategy:

“The real issue is not the demise of the portfolio as it was completely ineffective, but rather the incompetent leadership of JTSI, which has left the critically important trade and investment function a mere shadow of its once visionary and professional self. For 20 years state governments have rebranded, restructured, culled, expanded and now diminished our engagement with Asia. International trade and investment is the life-blood of our economy. It deserves better than this.”

Australian traders seeking guides to the 4D labyrinth of Indonesian business negotiations will be better advised to ignore the JTSI jesters and recruit polyglot scions of Indonesian corporate families. There are plenty around. They’ve studied abroad so know how to engage with Australia.

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Does Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention violate international law?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 22/03/2021 - 4:55am in



The International Court of Justice cannot deal with what the military is doing to the people of Myanmar today because Daw Suu and the NLD failed for five years to ratify or accede to the Rome Statute. They have no one to blame but themselves.

On 1 February 2021, Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, launched a coup to topple the civilian side of the government. Its first arrests were of the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint. These have been followed by more than 2000 others: leaders of the National League for Democracy, leaders of other political parties and civil society organisations, and protesters. Almost all of those arrested are still detained. Do these detentions violate international law?


Treaty law

The principal prohibition of arbitrary detention is found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 9, which says:

“Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention”.

The ICCPR also requires humane conditions of detention. It provides for freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of association and the right to peaceful assembly.

Myanmar has not ratified or acceded to the ICCPR (ratification and accession are slightly different legal processes but they have the same legal result: the country become a state party to the treaty and is bound in law by its provisions). Myanmar has also not ratified or acceded to a number of other core international human rights treaties, including:

  • the Convention against Torture,
  • the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and,
  • the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.

Because it is not a party to these treaties, Myanmar is not bound by their provisions and cannot be considered to have violated their provisions.

Customary law

In addition to treaty law, international law has provisions in customary law that bind all states. The content of customary law, however, is contested. It is discerned from the practice of states based on a perceived obligation. There is an argument about what human rights are included in customary law. Certainly, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the UDHR) was adopted in 1948, it was not directly binding, because it was not a treaty, and it was not part of customary law. Some international lawyers argue that since then, all the UDHR has passed into customary law. I’m one of those. Others say some of it has. Others still deny that any part of the UDHR is now customary law.

UDHR Article 9 says:

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

Perhaps this provision is now part of customary law and so binding on Myanmar. Maybe it’s not and so under international law, the Myanmar generals can detain whoever they like, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

The NLD’s failure

If Aung San Suu Kyi’s arbitrary detention is not unlawful under international law, she has no one to blame but herself. For the last five years, Daw Suu has been State Counsellor and Minister for Foreign Affairs. Her party’s nominee has been President. She controlled around 60 per cent of the seats in the last parliament. The military has no legal or practical power to veto the ratification of treaties. At any time in the last five years, Myanmar could have ratified or acceded to the ICCPR and the other core human rights treaties and would then have been bound by their provisions. Daw Suu and the NLD did not do so.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

In their five years running the civilian side of the government, Daw Suu and the NLD also failed to ratify or accede to the Rome Statute, the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC). Therefore, the ICC only has jurisdiction in respect of Myanmar if the Security Council refers Myanmar to the ICC (which the Security Council has not and will not because China and Russia will veto such a resolution) or if a crime under the Rome Statute is partially committed in another state that is a party to the Rome Statute (and thus the forcible deportation of the Rohingya in 2017 comes under the ICC’s jurisdiction because Bangladesh is a party). Daw Suu and the NLD could have brought Myanmar within the jurisdiction of the ICC at any time during the past five years. They could even have backdated the jurisdiction to cover crimes committed since July 2002. They didn’t.

There is a bitter irony for the people of Myanmar, then, when NLD leaders (those not in detention) now describe the military’s actions as crimes against humanity and call for international intervention and referral to the ICC. The ICC cannot deal with what the military is doing to the people of Myanmar today because Daw Suu and the NLD failed for five years to ratify or accede to the Rome Statute. They have no one to blame but themselves.

What is to be done?

Yet all is not lost. No state has yet recognised the military regime as the legitimate government of Myanmar. With Daw Suu and U Win Myint in detention and incommunicado, the recently elected NLD parliamentarians are in the process of establishing an interim government. The Myanmar ambassador to the UN in New York has declared his allegiance to the interim government and the UN may soon recognise him as such. If the UN accepts the NLD-led interim government as the legitimate government of Myanmar, that government will be able to act internationally on behalf of Myanmar. Among other things, it will be able to ratify or accede to international treaties.

One of the first acts of the new government should be accession to the Rome Statute and the international human rights treaties to which Myanmar is not a party. That won’t cost it a cent. All it must do is lodge the necessary documents. Then Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Vice Senior General Soe Win and all the other generals, colonels, majors and captains, right down through the ranks, can be held to account before the ICC. Then the arbitrary detentions of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and all the other 2000 detainees will be violations of international law. So too will be the breaking up of peaceful demonstrations and assemblies, the closure of independent media outlets and the hacking of social media.

The new interim government has an opportunity to correct some of the failings of the NLD government over the past five years. Nothing will send a clearer signal to the generals, to Myanmar’s people and internationally that the military’s time is up.

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On the death of PNG’s first PM, Sir Michael Somare

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 21/03/2021 - 4:25am in


Asia, Politics

The death of Sir Michael Somare, first Prime Minister of PNG, has occasioned an outpouring of national grief and heartfelt obituaries for “the Father of the Nation”, “the Chief”. That he was, and remains, widely respected, even loved, across the country is beyond dispute. However, it is disturbing that the posthumous record presently being confected in the media and various halls of power has some of the hallmarks of a personality cult. A balanced account of Somare’s time in PNG’s politics is overdue.

The popular portrayal of Michael Somare – indeed one he liked to spruik himself – is as a leader in the movement from the 1960s, championing independence for Papua New Guinea from Australia’s colonial rule. The narrative runs on that he then matured into a wise and outstanding statesman, widely respected locally and across the South Pacific.

He was one of a group of idealistic young radicals who formed the “Bully Beef Club” at the PNG Administrative College in Port Moresby in the years before independence in 1975. Much of the talk of this group was about freeing Papua New Guineans from the grip of Australia’s colonial control. It echoed the fashionable New Left accounts of the time that condemned colonial powers for their exploitation of the lands and peoples under their tutelage. The relationship of this foreign ideology to the actual conditions on the ground across PNG was (and remains) tenuous at best. Nonetheless, it certainly helped to shape the ambitions of not a few of PNG’s emerging political leaders, Somare included.

Australia’s colonialism in PNG has yet to be subjected to an over-arching critical historical analysis, warts and all. Nor has a comprehensive critique of Australia’s post-independence relationship with PNG been undertaken, again warts and all. It is true that there have been various partial accounts of these histories, but there is none so far linking them into the kind of larger narrative that is now needed. Should this larger analysis be undertaken by some intrepid scholars, the roles of politicians, bureaucrats, media commentators and academics implicated in the terrible descent into the chaos that is contemporary PNG need to be thoroughly interrogated, without fear or favour. Not a few of these people are Australians.

The perhaps inconvenient truth is that it was Australia that took the lead in PNG’s decolonisation. Certainly, criticisms from post-colonial states in the United Nations in the 1960s had been stirring Australia to begin planning for an independent future for PNG. However, it was Gough Whitlam – first as Opposition Leader, then as Prime Minister – who led the charge towards PNG’s independence. The conversations and ideological enthusiasm among the Bully Beef Club members had little impact on his thinking. It may even be said that Whitlam should be regarded as the “Father” of an independent PNG.

Whitlam was certainly of the view that colonialism was bad for the colonised, for sure. But he also firmly believed it was bad for the colonisers. He promised that a government he led would grant independence to PNG in its first term of office. This constituted an anti-colonial revolution from above. Nonetheless, despite the excitable idealism of the Bully Beef Club members, there was deep concern, both within Australia and within PNG at that time – and since – that Whitlam was rushing Papua New Guinea into an independence for which it was ill-prepared.

As history has subsequently demonstrated, the exoticism of foreign ideologies and the idealism of the Bully Beef tyros would not be enough to steer independent PNG into an era of prosperity and social justice. They were certainly not enough to curb the ambitions of the nascent PNG political class. The tough demands of post-colonial politics and the heavy responsibilities of governing saw many of the Bully Beef Club generation swiftly shedding their idealism for the comforts, temptations and rewards of political power.

If we consider the trajectory PNG has taken since 1975, it is difficult not to despair. The country has taken on many of the trappings of a failed state. A failed state is one whose politicians and bureaucrats lack the resources and/or the will to guarantee the human security of the peoples whom they govern. Moreover, it is also likely to be a state that is riddled with corruption, misanthropy, and criminality at the highest levels.

Arguably one of the few honourable political leaders with whom an independent PNG has been blessed, the late Sir Makere Morauta once explained that corruption in independent PNG was (is) both “systemic and systematic”, across all sectors of the society and economy. Transparency International annually tracks PNG’s position as one of the most corrupt states in the world.

The country’s health system has become a devastating shamble beset by (among other crises) an HIV-AIDS epidemic, a tuberculosis epidemic, and now an alarming spread of the COVID-19 virus, possibly in new mutations. Hospitals are understaffed and under-resourced, basic equipment is non-existent, wards are horribly overcrowded.

Port Moresby General Hospital has just issued an urgent plea for desperately-needed basic equipment, including essential items for dealing with the alarming spread of COVID-19. Staff and patients alike are living in fear. Beds in the Hospital’s infectious diseases unit are full and overflowing. Mt Hagen Hospital is on the verge of closing. The pandemic is not only a threat to the health of all Papua New Guineans, but also to Australia which shares a porous border with PNG across the Torres Strait.

PNG’s education system has all but collapsed, propped up in a few places by the churches. Illiteracy rates are climbing. The country’s higher education system is fractured, poorly staffed and incapable of providing the human resources – the human capital – so badly needed to service the public and private sectors of the economy.

Law and order have all but broken down, with police among the worst miscreants. Foreign companies are ruthlessly exploiting PNG’s mining and forestry resources as well as being the providers of lucrative bribes for officials. Poverty is increasing alarmingly; government budgets are invariably in deficit and heavily reliant on overseas aid; the economy is tanking.

Meanwhile $20 million of public money has been spent on mourning and funeral ceremonies around the country for Sir Michael. One wonders if he would have approved.

It is this kind of state that Gareth Evans and others in 2001 might have had in mind when they defined the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, subsequently endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly. Evans et al. argued that where a state’s leaders lack either the means or the will (or both) to guarantee the security of its citizens, the international community has an obligation to intervene in a variety of possible ways, ranging from sanctions through to military intervention, in order to do so. This can also mean referring some (or all) of those leaders for prosecution in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

It is against this inglorious backdrop that Michael Somare’s political legacy must now be judged. Hagiography must not distort the truth. It’s time for scrupulously conducted research into PNG’s post-independence history to be placed at the top of PNG’s and Australia’s academic agendas. It is highly likely that those who are presently speaking so fulsomely about Michael Somare’s legacy, both in PNG and in Australia, will be red-faced when that much-needed research is published.

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Reflections from the ’80s: the HIV epidemic in Myanmar

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 21/03/2021 - 3:02am in


Asia, Human rights

For the last three years off the fifteen I worked in the US my clinical life was consumed with setting up a unit at Yale University to study and treat patients with the mysterious Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the cause of which was eventually discovered to be a unique retro-virus called, logically enough, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, (HIV). In those early years all the patients I treated died from their infection. By the time I returned to Australia (1985), HIV had been established as the causative agent and  the epidemic was spreading out of control in the US, Africa and much of Europe. Throughout Asia, however, there was a nonsensical apathy about AIDS as the belief spread that Asians must have  natural immunity to the disease.

We knew that semen, blood and breast milk could transmit the virus from one person to another as these fluids normally contain specific immune cells (’T cells’)in which the virus could live and multiply. Looking at Asian cultures it was not hard to guess that Thailand, with its very relaxed attitude to sexual activity would be a ‘sitting duck’ for the virus and soon this prediction was verified.

I was very vocal about my AIDS concern for Asia (and Australia) and was invited to join an action group to raise awareness of the issue in Asia which included leaders from the Thai red cross, UN AIDS, the WHO’s body set up to fight the global epidemic, and most importantly as it turned out, representatives from the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP).

At then time I was complete novice about any UN programs and which ones had influence in ASIA but I soon learnt that UNDP was held in high regard (because it funded many diverse programs in the developing countries of ASIA) and could get our group access to Government ministers and agencies in countries throughout the region. After a preliminary meeting in Manilla where we got financial support from the  Asian Development Bank, we visited  over the next three years a dozen or so Asian countries and that is how I found myself in Myanmar in 1988 for the first of three visits that ended with my being banned from the kingdom in 2002!

HIV was mainly being spread in Asia as elsewhere by men who had sex with men, female sex workers and the sharing of needles by intravenous drug users, activities that were  (and largely still are) illegal activities in Asian countries. A major tactic to minimise the spread of the infection was to increase condom usage.

The promotion was not so difficult in Thailand and we even had monks giving out condoms as they walked the streets. It was well known in Thailand however  that condoms imported from Europe and the US, though readily available, were too large for most Thai men so this Immunologist used to laboratories and hospital wards finds himself visiting a Thai brothel where some 60 women were literally on display each carrying a numbered placard so those inspecting them through a glass wall could decide whom they wished to ‘hire’.

With Thai red cross officials we met with the management and the girls at the end of a shift with a promise of money (provided by UNDP and the Thai government) if they would measure and document the size of their customer’s penises! The girls were delighted at the prospect of the extra money and the research was broadened to involve similar setups. I can only imagine with difficulty the conversation the girls must have had with their men but useful data was acquired even though, predictably, the girls frequently reported that as they started their scientific ‘measurements’ there was nothing to measure!

It was condom usage that resulted in UNDP arranging for us to visit Myanmar. In fact this was an excuse for us to get to Yangon to see if we could discover what anti-AIDS programs were in place. While the regime gave out no data it was well known that the country had many infections and that most were acquired bu IV drug users. The centre of the epidemic was the ‘Golden Triangle’ region where Thai, Chinese and Myanmar borders intersect. We had heard from dissidents that IV drug users were harshly punished in Myanmar and that the government was hostile to the idea of working with NGO’s that other countries had demonstrated could actually reach out to drug users and sex workers and influence behaviour.

Back to condoms. It was well know that locally available condoms in Myanmar were of such poor quality that they often were very likely to contain holes.This did not encourage use. A private sector initiative from the US had UNDP agreeing that it would try and have quality condoms, made readily available throughout the country and provided at no cost to Myanmar,. We arrived to see if we could persuade the government to accept the offer and at the same time see if we could discover more about the ‘underground’ NGOs that needed support. UNDP organised a two day conference for us to meet with their local representatives and clinicians involved in HIV efforts.

Six of us arrived at Yangon airport and were ushered straight through customs by non-verbal soldiers to an awaiting bus. We were give a schedule that explained we would be staying in the home of a retired Admiral and would be transported the next day to meet the senior official assigned to us who happened to be a very young Minister for the Navy! If you have been to Myanmar you will, I am sure have noticed as we did, the hundreds of brick Georgian residences that line the huge lake that is  the major geographical feature of Yangon. The houses were meant for Sussex or Devon not Yangon but the colonial Brits obviously wanted a bit of the old country around them.

We were met by our housekeeper come gardener come security agent who ushered us  to very sparse accomodation. It was all very strange, exciting but a bit scary, not a smile had been visited on us. We were clearly not welcome.

The next day we were taken to a huge red brick complex and settled in a room to await the minister and his translator. We had a bunch of condom samples and details of the very good deal on offer. We waited nearly 90 minutes before this ‘kid’ shows up. We delivered our sermon without interruption or questions. After this he said thank you and that we should meet at the same time tomorrow for a decision.

This we duly did but no minister this time, just the translator/spokesperson. He had the condom samples with him and told us that the Minister would accept the donations (hurrah) but that the  inserts with instruction re usage were in fact deemed pornographic and could not be distributed!  Ridiculous of course and totally impossible to comply when the condoms would have been available from pre-packaged vending machines. The deal was scrapped but far more serious issues were to be encountered later during  that visit and in return visits and these will be described in part two of this contribution.

At the end of the 80’s with HIV infections surging throughout Asia it was frustrating that conservative governments would not countenance the mass broadcasting of frank information about the sexual activity and IV drug use that was causing so many infections and deaths. There was a deep distrust of movements to have NGOs composed of educators from the effected populations engage in the dissemination of information. IV drug use, sodomy and prostitution were all illegal activities. This was particularly difficult in Myanmar. 

Under the guise of a ‘clinical meeting’ my delegation did meet with university students and representatives of the marginalised groups who were doing their best to minimise risky behaviour. It was clear that IV drug use was the major behavioural risk in Myanmar. We tried to convince government agents that using NGO’s to reach marginalised groups to tackle infection was known to be effective. There was no interest then, though over the coming years ,gradually some semi-offical support was given to NGOs.

We left Myanmar depressed after our first visit and moved on to Malaysia. No trouble meeting the Minister for Health there who was anxious for us to believe that all the HIV problems in Malaysia were associated with the influx of Thai prostitutes whom he declared “should be hung in a public square” Hypocrisy was abundant. That evening we were waiting outside our hotel for  a car to take us to a dinner meeting and got chatting with a group of uniformed US Airmen visiting to arrange for spare parts for the Malaysian airforce. They told us ‘wink, wink’’ that the Ministry had arranged for them to be accompanied by girls who ‘’would give them a good time”!

As for frank education of the populace ? As we left the KL airport there was a huge Billboard declaring that, “Marriage protects you from AIDS”. While in KL I gave lecture re HIV in the town hall, and talked frankly about infected T cells in semen etc. At question time a young lady popped up and asked me “What happens to your T cells when you get married?”

My second visit to Myanmar occurred in 2000 when  a number of Asian activists re HIV were invited to join a public march through the streets of Yangon for World AIDS day, December 1, 2000. This was risky move by the locals who reasoned that with a few international visitors and perhaps some media coverage the March would not be banned. We tried to get permission for Aung San Suu Kyi to join the march but that was not allowed.

A few hundred marchers participated without harassment from local Police. We then retreated to the University Campus where students had assembled  wonderful exhibitions re the prevention and  treatment of AIDS. Rebellion was in the air. Intelligent young people determined to force democratic changes in their country. Importantly, I thought it seemed that self-help within the groups at risk of developing AIDS was being tolerated unofficially.

My third and final trip to Myanmar uncured in 2002 when I was asked to visit for a medical conference on the management of HIV infections. By then my advocacy had given me some status among Myamar physicians and it turned out that the Government wanted my advise re a specific regional problem –  Amazing.  So I arrived , bringing my wife with me for this trip. We were assigned a ‘driver/minder’ who accompanied Catherine to the huge Yangon Bazaar while I was working.

For the first time I was asked by the physicians to visit the hospital for infectious diseases to examine and discuss the management of those in hospital with AIDS. There were 20-25 inpatients in the ward ,mostly men and in virtually all cases their infection was caused by sharing drug injecting material.

Many had pneumonia, viral infections in their eyes that was causing blindness. Drugs of any sort were in short supply and the X-Ray machines were antiquated, probably dangerous and certainly produced poor quality pictures. But it was when I started a ward round to examine the patients that I was really shocked.

As I approached one bed occupied by a totally emaciated man, clearly soon to die ,his mother holding his hand and sobbing, saw me approaching and quickly pulled a sheet over his ankles. Curious I exposed his ankle to find a 17 th century style metal shackle locked around this man’s ankle. The skin under the shackle was broken, infected and a huge ulcer was forming. The man’s mother was embarrassed that her dying son was so treated.

The doctors and nurses accompanying me explained that all the patients who had been IV drug users were under arrest and the staff were ordered to keep all shackled to their beds. Appeals to authorities to stop this practice with desperately ill patients were ignored.  I was incensed at the cruelty involved and determined to see if could change the practice by letting the world know what was occurring.

As I let the ward, still quite shaken by what I had seen we passed an out patient area where pregnant Mum’s were attending a prenatal clinic. The one doctor handling the clinic ran up to be and in excellent English told me she had trained in Melbourne, daily had about 160 patients to see and felt helpless to help many as she did not have any ultrasound equipment. Could I ask at home for donations of ultrasound equipment. Three months later Australian radiologists had delivered her the equipment she needed. As it turns out this was only positive accomplishment from my visit.

The next day my wife and I were to fly to Kawthoung a tiny town on the southernmost tip of Myanmar which borders with Thailand. At that time the only way to get there was to fly or take a long boat journey. On this tiny peninsula Thai and Myanmar citizens intermingled freely and there had been a lot of HIV infections in this area. The Myanmar government actually asked me to visit and look at the effectiveness or otherwise of the prevention programs initiated. As it turns out in this isolated spot Myanmar had a penal colony.

As our very ancient Fokker Friendship landed we noticed a large number of people, including foreigners, jostling for positions that might see them get on the return flight. They were literally desperate to get out. As we left the airport we saw perhaps 70 or 80 men in prison garb wielding old fashioned scythes to cut the grass around the airport. They were shackled to heavy metal balls and most looked emaciated and ill. I met with the Mayor and his council as well as some of the health personnel, got sufficient information to write a report and we flew back to Yangon two days later

Before we were to leave and fly to Thailand the head doctor from the AIDS ward caught up with me a begged me not to say anything about the shackled patients, it would do no good and make his life even more difficult. However consumed by righteous indignation and  still naive about influencing in any way totalitarian regimes , I arranged through the Thai tried Cross to hold a press conference on the matter and told the media of the cruelty I had witnessed. This resulted in UNDP being told I would not again be granted a visa to visit Myanmar and the head doctor in the AIDS unit being demoted!

As much as possible I have kept a close eye on the HIV epidemic in Myanmar and am full of respect for all those who continue to deal with one of the most persistent HIV epidemics in Asia. Contacts had been telling me of the dangerous spread of HIV among the Rohingya exiles in Bangladesh where  heroin is readily available. What will happen to fragile but successful programs to supply anti-retroviral drugs to the HIV infected in Myanmar with the cruel, deadly suppression of the peoples demand for  democracy is just one of the problems that that will be associated with the murderous disruption of life in a country subjected to brutal suppression for so long.

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