The U.S. State Department, in its latest annual report gauging the state of human rights worldwide, on Wednesday criticized governments in South and Southeast Asia for abuses including unlawful or arbitrary killings, torture and criminalization of same-sex sexual activities last year.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented the annual 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. While his remarks did not name any of the countries in the two regions, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand were all criticized in individual reports about arbitrary killings linked to their governments.
“We have told those who disgrace the concept of human dignity they will pay a price, that their abuses will be meticulously documented and then publicized,” the secretary of state told reporters as he announced the report’s release at the state.gov website.
In the Philippines, the State Department faulted President Rodrigo Duterte by pointing to ongoing extrajudicial killings tied to the war on drugs that was launched in 2016 when Duterte took office. It noted that the numbers had decreased and that the national police internal affairs service was tasked with investigating all deaths or injuries committed during police operations.
“There were no reports that civilian control over other security forces was inadequate,” it stated.
Last month, Duterte remained defiant. He lashed out at critics of his drug war, vowing it would be “harsher in the days to come.”
“I’m putting everybody on notice, I will not allow my country to be destroyed by drugs. I don’t want my country to end up as a failed state,” Duterte said.
“I am declaring war. I am not declaring punitive police action,” he adding, saying he was prepared to “kill anybody who stands in the way.”
Elections in Bangladesh, Malaysia
The report noted that Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League Party had won a third-consecutive term, but questioned the fairness of the vote.
The State Department called it “an improbably lopsided December parliamentary election that was not considered free and fair, and was marred by reported irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters.”
The department also said there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and violence that created issues for opposition candidates and their supporters to hold rallies and campaign freely. In addition, international election monitors were not issued accreditation within the proper timeframe, the report noted.
In February, a group of American lawmakers sent a letter to Pompeo expressing concerns over violence, mass arrests and a crackdown on free speech leading up to and during the Bangladesh election on Dec. 30. The letter drew a response from Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen.
“I have seen the content of the letter. Listen, the allegation of fraud in the election is the observation of the foreign affairs committee, not of the U.S. government,” Momen told BenarNews last month. “The U.S. secretary of state has congratulated me for assuming the office of foreign minister.”
“This is very common practice; there is nothing to be worried about it (the letter).”
Bangladesh, along with India, Indonesia and Malaysia were targeted by the State Department’s report for violence and criminalization linked to sexual orientation.
The report’s chapter on Malaysia also found fault with the country’s general election in May 2018, although it did not question the fairness of the outcome.
“The opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition defeated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, resulting in the first transfer of power between coalitions since independence in 1957. Before and during the campaign, opposition politicians and civil society organizations alleged electoral irregularities and systemic disadvantages for opposition groups due to lack of media access and malapportioned districts favoring the then-ruling coalition,” the report stated.
Pompeo said the report, which had been produced every year since 1977, was able to bring about change by publicizing abuses and pressuring non-compliant regimes.
“Over the years, this report has pushed governments to change course and cease engaging in brutality and other abuses,” he said in remarks posted to the department’s website.
“We hope that it will continue to do so and cause oppressive regimes to honor human rights in places where those voices are often silenced and where deep yearnings for tolerance and respect have for too long gone unfulfilled,” the top U.S. diplomat added.