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Alarming rise in violence, rights abuses across Asia

Asian nations continue to trample human rights by muzzling freedom of speech and shrinking civic spaces, says the annual human rights report from the US State Department

Published: April 26, 2024 11:27 AM GMT

Updated: April 26, 2024 11:29 AM GMT

The US State Department’s 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices criticized Asian nations for failing to improve human rights situations. Released on Tuesday, the report accused Israeli forces of extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearance; torture, and cruel treatment of people amid the ongoing war with Hamas.

China has been accused of genocide for targeting predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. Impunity for violence and rights abuses by police and militia in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan was cited as a significant problem.

India’s ruling pro-Hindu Bhartiya Janta Party was criticized for failing to halt the sectarian conflict between tribal Christians and the Hindu-majority Meitei community in Manipur state. The clashes left about 200 dead and displaced over 60,000. Pakistan has been censured for failing to protect minorities and rising violence against minority communities. The report accused North Korea’s communist regime of continuing its rights violations of its citizens including violence and cruel treatment in detention facilities.

The Myanmar junta has been accused of killing civilians, arresting, and kidnapping dissident activists, and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims. Cambodia came under fire for torture, cruelty, and inhumane conditions faced by political prisoners, journalists, and people subjected to arbitrary arrest.

A woman takes part in a rally in Brussels in this April 18, 2018 photo, urging the European Union to pressure China to close its re-education camps in Xinjiang, where nearly 1 million Uighur Muslims are detained.

A woman takes part in a rally in Brussels in this April 18, 2018 photo, urging the European Union to pressure China to close its re-education camps in Xinjiang, where nearly 1 million Uighur Muslims are detained. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunande/AFP via Getty Images)

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Catholic Church officials in Sri Lanka have reiterated their call for an impartial and fair investigation to ensure justice for victims as they marked the fifth anniversary of the deadly Easter Sunday bombings last Sunday.

Church leaders, religious figures, survivors, relatives of victims and diplomats were among the hundreds to who joined a commemoration program at St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo. The venue was among three churches and three luxury hotels that suicide bombers allegedly linked to an Islamic extremist outfit attacked simultaneously on April 21, 2019.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo places a candle to honor the victims of 2019 Easter Sunday bombings on the fifth anniversary on April 21. (Photo: Archdiocese of Colombo)

The bombings left 279 people, primarily Catholic mass-goers, dead and wounded over 500. With the banner in the background that marked the standstill wall clock pointing 8.45 am – the exact time the extremists detonated the bombs that killed hundreds of churchgoers, it featured an accompanying text: “We are still awake until justice is done."

Candles were lit by families of victims, clergy, and representatives of religious leaders who participated in the ceremony in solidarity.


A failure to resolve a five-decade-old liturgy dispute in an Indian Catholic archdiocese has prompted its priests to seek Vatican recognition of the archdiocese as an independent Church. Some 300 priests of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese under Kerala state-based Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church arrived at the decision at an emergency meeting last Friday.

The priests asked apostolic administrator Bishop Bosco Puthur to communicate their decision to the Vatican. It came after the apostolic administrator informed the Church’s synod would not accept their demand to continue with their Mass mode.

Devotees at a holy Mass in Kerala, headquarters of Syro Malabar Church, which is plagued by five decades old liturgy dispute. (Photo: AFP)

The dispute stems from the synod’s attempts to implement a uniform Mass that requires all priests to turn to the altar during Eucharistic prayer, but the archdiocesan priests refused to accept this and continued to face the congregation throughout the Mass.

The archdiocese is the seat of the head of the Church which has five million members. The discord over Mass led to street protests, physical assaults, closure of the cathedral, and resignation of the former Church head Cardinal George Alencherry.

Bangladeshi authorities beefed up security in central Faridpur district amid rising sectarian tensions following the lynching of two Muslim siblings by Hindu villagers more than a week ago.

On Wednesday, the government deployed additional security forces including paramilitary border guards to deter further violence following clashes between police and angry Muslim protesters that left 15 injured.

Islamist activists shout anti-India slogans during a demonstration in Dhaka on June 10, 2022, to protest against defamatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad by Indian politician Nupur Sharma. Bangladesh government deployed additional security forces in the central Faridpur district following Hindu mob lynching of two Muslims. (Photo: AFP)

Police fired rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who blocked the Faridpur-Khulna highway for hours. The protesters demanded punishment for the perpetrators responsible for the lynching, which came after an alleged arson attack on a temple in a Hindu-majority village.

Local leaders expressed fear of sectarian clashes following weekly Muslim prayer on Friday. The hardline Islamic group, Hefazat-e-Islam, backed the Muslim protesters and condemned police for firing rubber bullets at them. Police arrested 12 Hindus in connection with the mob lynching.


About 5,500 refugees who fled into Thailand from the Myanmar border city of Myawaddy are returning home after fierce weekend fighting. Sources say fighting has subsided and anti-regime forces called for cooperation and further negotiations with the mediation of Thailand.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin visited neighboring Mae Sot town across the border on Tuesday for a situation update, including the provision of aid for civilians affected by the civil war on both sides of the border.

Returning Myanmar nationals ride a pick-up van back to Myanmar on the Thailand-Myanmar Friendship bridge after crossing the Tak immigration checkpoint in Thailand's Mae Sot district on April 12. (Photo: AFP)

Myanmar’s exiled National Unity Government, its armed wing the People’s Defense Force, and some 20 armed rebel organizations are calling for increased cooperation and direct negotiations with neighboring countries.

Thailand has called for the release of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and backed negotiations with anti-regime forces and has been widely praised for its treatment of refugees. Cambodia, once criticized for being too close to Myanmar’s military and its chief Gen Min Aung Hlaing, has backed Thai calls for the release of Suu Kyi.


A Catholic leader and a rights activist have described the inclusion of Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2024 as “hollow and controversial.” Father James Abella, chancellor of the Diocese of Borongan in Eastern Samar, said Marcos government was continuously failing to improve economy and eradicate poverty.

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TIME hailed Marcos for bringing back technocrats into government, steadying the post-pandemic economy, and elevating the Philippines on the world stage.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is seen at Malacanang Palace in Manila, in this handout photo taken on April 22, 2023, and released by the Presidential Communications Office. (Photo AFP)

Danilo Carranza, secretary general of the Movement for Agrarian Reform and Social Justice, said the selection may “sound hollow in the face of the situation of poor people who continue to be excluded from the attention they need from the government.”

The president’s dictator father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. ruled the Philippines from 1972-1986 with an iron fist until being toppled in a popular revolution. Rights groups say 3,200 people were killed, 34,000 were tortured, and some 70,000 people were imprisoned during the martial law era.


At least four people died, dozens were injured, over 100,000 evacuated and millions were affected following unprecedented flooding in southern China this week.

On Wednesday, thousands raced to salvage property from the muddy waters, as authorities warned of more heavy rains to come.

Workers clear debris from a flooded area following torrential rains in Qingyuan, in northern Guangdong province on April 24. (Photo: AFP)

Massive downpours have struck Guangdong province in recent days, triggering deluges. The severe floods are virtually unheard of so early in the year even in lush, subtropical Guangdong. A senior official linked the flooding to worsening climate change.

The authorities said it would need several days to clean up the mess. Elsewhere, residents waded through knee-deep water to salvage chairs and other belongings from the floods. 


A total of 80 Catholics were elected from among the ruling and opposition parties during the recent parliamentary election in South Korea, the largest figure in the history of the East Asian nation.

Fifty-three Catholic lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Party of Korea won seats in the 22nd National Assembly election held on April 10, while 16 came from the ruling People Power Party, and the rest from other parties including the New Reform Party.

Democratic Party (DP) leader Lee Jae-myung reacts to the election results in Seoul, South Korea on April 10 (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/AFP)

South Korea’s unicameral parliament holds an election every four years. Overall, Catholics now make up 27 percent of the 300-seat parliament, an increase of two percent from 25 percent in the 21st National Assembly election held four years ago.

Christians make up 28 percent of the nation’s 31.74 million people including 11 percent Catholics.


Environmentalists in Vietnam have warned against the negative impacts of a large canal project planned by neighboring Cambodia along the Mekong River.

It is feared that the 180-kilometer project, which links the capital Phnom Penh with the coastal Cambodian province of Kep near the Vietnam border, may lead to a 50 percent decrease in water flow to Vietnam’s southern regions in the Mekong Delta.

Ferries transport passengers and vehicles across the Mekong River in  Phnom Penh on April 9. The $1.7-billion Funan Techo Canal project will link Phnom Penh with the coastal province of Kep. (Photo: AFP)

Media reports said that over half of the cultivated area in the Delta could be subject to saltwater intrusion during the dry season and the high tide period.

Earlier this month, Cambodia announced plans to construct the US$1.7 billion Funan Techo Canal, to facilitate the seamless movement of goods and services across the country.

Once completed, the first capital-to-coastal waterway will pass through key regions like Kadal, Takeo, and Kampot, to ensure Cambodia emerges as an economic hub in Southeast Asia.

But experts warn it will affect the biodiversity in the 40,000-square-meter Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, home to more than 17.4 million people.

It accounts for 50 percent of the country's rice production and 65 percent of aquaculture and contributes 17 percent of the communist nation’s GDP.

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