Asian Media – Rule of law declining internationally

Nov 5, 2022
Halloween crowds in the alleyway across Itaewon Station where most casualties fell, on the evening of the disaster.

In Asian media this week: Cambodia retains sorry legal status

Plus: US aims to keep maritime control; North Korea steps up missile provocation; India’s traumatising rape test outlawed; one week, three human tragedies; desperation leads to ruin in Myanmar

Cambodia the regional rule-of-law straggler

Commitment to the rule of law across the globe continues to decline, according to the World Justice Project, an NGO that publishes an annual rule of law index.

The group said when releasing its 2022 index that adherence to the rule of law fell in more than 60 per cent of the 140 countries it surveyed – the fifth straight year of international decline.

Cambodia ranked second last, ucanews.com, an Asian Catholic news site, reported. It was one place behind Afghanistan and one place in front of Venezuela.

“Human rights groups have claimed that Cambodia has silenced dissent by using the courts to ban the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party and stage five mass trials, resulting in the arrests and jailing of many CNRP leaders and supporters,” Ucanews said.

The Khmer Times dutifully reported Cambodia’s Ministry of Justice as saying the report was politically motivated.

The Jakarta Post’s report had a note of frustration. Indonesia’s score remained low, it said, highlighting the country’s struggle to uphold legal norms.

Indonesia ranked 64th, behind neighbours Singapore (17th) and Malaysia (55th).

“The rule of law score comes amid widespread concern over democratic backsliding in the country,” the paper said.

The Hong Kong Free Press said HK had dropped three places in the index, falling out of the top 20 and being rated 22nd.

HKFP quoted a senior adviser to the World Justice Project as saying implementation of the national security law might have contributed to the decline.

The city’s score had dropped 2.8 percent, the second largest fall in the Asia-Pacific region, after Myanmar.

But public broadcaster RTHK said on its website the government believed international misunderstanding might be behind HK’s fall.

The government said HK ranked higher than some western countries which often unreasonably criticised the rule of law and human rights conditions in the city.

Read the full rule of law index report

Taiwan key to maritime control of Asia

Much of the public discussion about the threat of war over Taiwan centres on the idea that a tiny democracy should be defended against an all-powerful autocracy.

Eminent Singapore historian Wang Gungwu believes that Taiwan is the only reason for a possible war between China and the US – but takes the view that much of the conflict is concerned with maintaining naval supremacy.

Wang, a professor at the National University of Singapore and an emeritus professor of the ANU, was reported in The Straits Times, taking part in an Asia Future Summit that the paper organised.

The US is a global maritime superpower and would consider it unacceptable if China challenged it in that domain, he said.

“To the Americans, Taiwan is a crucial link in the maritime control over the whole of Asia,” he said. “This is why we have reason to fear that something could happen.”

A separate Straits Time report said Chinese President Xi Jinping had included in his report to the Communist Party’s recent national congress a command to the PLA to modernise so it can win a war against Taiwan.

The story, one in the paper’s excellent Power Play series, said that in 2017 Xi had simply said the PLA had to be able to “win wars”.

But this time he had used the phrase to “win local wars”.

“In a country where political language is laden with meaning, it was a subtle but not insignificant change,” China Correspondent Danson Cheong wrote.

Cheong noted China’s anti-secession law spelled out that it would resort to war of Taiwan declared independence or if it believed peaceful reunification was no longer possible.

But now this intent had been enshrined in China’s constitution, and the words “resolutely oppose and deter separatists seeking ‘Taiwan independence’,” had been added.

North Korea fires missile into South Korea territory

North Korea launched at least 17 missiles on Wednesday, including one that landed in South Korea waters for the first time since the division of the peninsular in 1953.

The Korea Times said President Yoon Suk-yeol ordered the military to make a swift and stern response.

South Korean fighters later fired three missiles into the sea north of the maritime border.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a news release: “North Korea’s missile, which landed near our territorial waters south of the Northern Limit Line… is very rare and intolerable.”

The Japan Times said the missile launch came as the US and South Korea conducted joint are exercises involving about 240 warplanes, including F-35 stealth fighters.

Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said North Korea’s continued provocations threatened the peace and security of the North Asia region.

The paper said that this year North Korea had conducted 28 launches of more than 60 missiles. They involved units in charge of weapons tipped with battlefield nuclear warheads.

Indian court outlaws shocking rape test

Rape survivors in India reporting their attacks have had an added trauma not experienced elsewhere.

In the words of an editorial in The Hindu newspaper: “For a rape survivor, trauma comes in repeat doses. First, there is the gruesome act and then follows the difficult task of reporting the assault. For years, an impediment to coming forward about a sexual offence has been the finger test a survivor is subjected to – a gross violation of privacy, a horror upon horrors.”

The Health and Family Welfare Ministry had issued guidelines saying the test must not be conducted – but it continued.

Now the Supreme Court has outlawed the test.

“This so-called test has no scientific basis,” the court said. “Instead it re-victimises and re-traumatises women who may have been sexually assaulted and is an affront to their dignity.”

The court also made the point that a woman’s sexual experience was irrelevant in determining whether she had been raped.

Regional disasters: human tragedies, human causes

The region suffered three disasters in the past week, each of them with human causes – if in different ways.

  • More than 150 people were killed in the Itaewon Halloween tragedy in South Korea
  • The Morbi suspension bridge disaster in India claimed 134 lives
  • The death toll in the Philippines from severe tropical storm Nalgae reached 121

In The Korea Times, Professor Eugene Lee from Seoul’s Sungkyunkwan University, wrote that the Itaewon tragedy was a gross failure of public safety on many levels.

The local government had access to video streams from CCTV cameras on the street where the crush had occurred and there were many calls and messages to emergency services about the incident.

“It was a slow but forceful, bone-shattering crowd crush,” Lee wrote. “What could have prevented this tragedy? A simple group text message asking people to disperse would have done the trick.”

The Korea Herald reported President Yoon Suk-yeol was enraged after learning police failed to act even after receiving 11 calls about the dangerous build-up of crowds.

Many of the callers said they feared they might be crushed the death, the paper said.

In India, most of the victims of the bridge tragedy were women and children.

Ucanews.com, which has its operating headquarters in India, asked whether the collapse of the British-era suspension bridge could have been avoided.

Its answer? “Yes. If due process and regulations had been followed. But the authorities would never admit it.”

The authorities awarded a 15-year contract for operating and maintaining the bridge to a company that lacked the relevant expertise. “It bagged the contract because the owner of the firm happened to be influential and politically connected with the powers that be,” Ucanews said.

In the Philippines, Inquirer.net put the death toll from tropical storm Nalgae (known locally as Paeng) at 121 and said disaster officials attributed the floods and landslides that devastated many parts of the country to continuous rains, deforestation and silted rivers.

Paeng is the 16th tropical cyclone to strike the Philippines this year.

In Myanmar, desperate people turn to gambling

Dire poverty in post-coup Myanmar, coupled with a breakdown of the rule of law, has fueled an upsurge in illegal gambling, now operating in the open.

Frontier Myanmar, a politics and business website now being run by exiled staff, reported that in one area cock fights were held weekly before the coup, often in remote fields. Now they take place openly in a village gambling hall every day.

“No one will be arrested,” a regular gambler said. “There are even plans to expand.”

Min Thu, a Yangon lawyer, said unemployment and the post-coup economic malaise encouraged desperate people to turn to gambling.

“When the economy became tight, many poor people started to gamble in the hope of making easy money but it ruined their lives,” he said.

Gambling den owners pay bribes to police so they can run their businesses without fear of arrest or closure.

It’s little surprise that police are in the know – and taking a cut, Frontier said.

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