TIME South Korea

South Korea Must End the ‘Rampant Abuse’ of Migrant Farm Workers, Says Amnesty

Rice Harvest In South Korea Ahead Of Import And Export Price Indices
A South Korean farmer is silhouetted as he sits on a sack of rice on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. SeongJoon Cho—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Far from the glitz and glamour of Seoul, a migrant underclass endures horrific abuse

South Korea’s farming industry is rife with exploitation of migrant labor, according to a report by Amnesty International released Monday, which alleges violence, squalid housing, excessive working hours, no regular rest days and mandatory unpaid overtime.

Moreover, the rights group says that the Seoul government is directly complicit in ongoing abuses through its Employment Permit System (EPS), which involves some 20,000 migrant agricultural workers from poorer nations such as Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam.

“The exploitation of migrant farm workers in South Korea is a stain on the country,” said Norma Kang Muico, Asia-Pacific migrant-rights researcher at Amnesty International, in a statement, decrying a “shameful system that allows trafficking for exploitation and forced labor to flourish.”

Many migrant laborers build up enormous debts equivalent to two years’ salary in order to be included in the EPS scheme, according to Amnesty’s Bitter Harvest report, which is based on dozens of interviews with migrant workers in 10 different locations across South Korea.

While EPS employers have the right to sack migrants without justification, those employed under the scheme have no right to quit or change jobs without a release form, leaving gaping avenues for exploitation. Migrants who quit without permission are labeled “runaways” and are liable for arrest and summary deportation.

“My boss told me that he will never release me and will use me for three years and not allow me to extend my contract,” a 26-year-old Vietnamese woman, who claimed not to have been paid by her employer, told Amnesty.

Other migrants told of physical abuse. One Cambodian worker described being set upon after he sat down in a field due to a sore back. “The manager became furious and grabbed me by the collar,” he said. “The manager’s younger brother held me by the neck while the manager beat me.”

Many migrants spoke of only being paid for days worked during harvest-time despite signing three-year contracts, leaving them destitute and unable to find alternative employment during the harsh winters.

Amnesty International has urged the South Korean government to ensure reasonable work conditions and allow EPS workers to take up alternative employment while complaints are being investigated, among other reforms.

“If South Koreans were trapped in a similar cycle of abuse, there would rightly be outrage,” adds Muico.

TIME world affairs

A Serial Israel-Basher Shouldn’t Be Judging the Jewish State

Netherlands World Court Croatia Serbia
Members of the Serbian delegation, from left: Sasa Orbadovic, William Schabas, Andreas Zimmermann, Christian Tams and Wayne Jordash await the start of public hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, March 3, 2014. Jiri Buller—AP

Rabbi Marvin Hier is Dean and Founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The appointment of William Schabas to head the inquiry mocks the U.S.'s judicial standards

The iconic Lady Justice holding evenly balanced scales reflects a truth that national traditions, the law, and, yes, common decency demand that judges should be above reproach. Mocking this baseline ethical standard, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) selected a notorious anti-Israel zealot—Canadian lawyer William Schabas—to head its latest “verdict first, trial later” inquisition against the Jewish state.

According to the U.S. Code governing judicial conduct, a judge should recuse himself or be disqualified if “his impartiality might be reasonably questioned” for “a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party.” That should have led the U.S. to immediately denounce a charade that violates American law and tradition and leaves open the possibility that this flawed international commission’s findings could set legal precedents that not only further demonize our Israeli ally, but could negatively impact Americans defending our nation against terrorists in the future.

Schabas is already on record that when it comes to Israel/Palestine; his primary motivation is “to talk about crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression that have been committed, all of which can be shown to have been perpetrated at various times during the history of the state of Israel.” His fondest hope would be to see Netanyahu “in the dock of an international court.” He’s even called for the prosecution for “war crimes” of Nobel Peace Prize winner, former Israeli President Shimon Peres.

It’s not too late for the U.S. to pull the plug on this travesty. This is why the Simon Wiesenthal Center has urged U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as well as Attorney General Eric Holder to declare the UNHRC’s new kangaroo court against Israel without legal standing in the U.S., before it perpetrates another “legal” lynching that brazenly mocks our basic judicial standards.

Various U.S. administrations have had their hands full with previous UN-based “inquiries.” The UNHRC, renamed from the Human Rights Commission to the Human Rights Council in 2006, is an organization with a sordid history of invoking the cause of “human rights” while suppressing action against the world’s worst human rights abusers. It casts a blind eye to the inhuman rights records of Saddam’s Iraq, the Assads’ Syria, Bashir’s Sudan, the mullahs’ Iran, the Saudis’ male-only theocracy, China’s Tiananmen tank crew, sadists’ targeting of Tibetan society, the geriatric Castro brothers and late Hugo Chavez’s Latin prison farms.

Why didn’t these outrages find the their way to the UNHRC’s podium? For the simple reason that many of the heads these Orwellian regimes served on the UNHRC, sometimes even chairing it.

The UNHRC has served as a virtual good old boys club controlled by the world’s worst human rights abusers—including Iran, Sudan, China, and Cuba. Their main goals: to protect themselves and their allies from the glare of global spotlight on their human rights abuses; and to assure each other of a whitewashed clean bill of health while piling nonstop one-sided resolutions on Israel condemning the Jewish state—not Hamas terrorists—for “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity.” That first effort culminated in the 2009 Goldstone Report, which sought to degrade Israel’s ability to defend its civilians from non-state terrorists onslaughts. This report also set the stage for more international legal challenges to other democracies struggling against the transitional menace of terrorism. Its contents were so odious that Judge Goldstone ultimately repudiated it, implying he had been duped.

Here is an example of the kind of “guidance” from biased NGOs that the UNHRC relies on in drawing up its indictments against Israel. The International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD) characterized Israel as “the largest open-air prison in the world” and accused it of “loose hordes of marauding gangs of Israeli illegal settlers” so as to launch pogroms against Palestinians. In addition, EAFORD charged “the human organs” of “dead, kidnapped and killed Palestinians…can be a source of immense wealth through illegal trafficking in the world market. Israeli physicians, medical centers, rabbis and the Israeli army may to be involved.”

The Bush Administration belatedly disengaged from the UNHRC, but the Obama Administration has eagerly reengaged with it. To paraphrase what has been said of unsuccessful second marriages, the results of Obama’s “smart diplomacy” in the case of the UNHRC has been a triumph of misplaced hope over experienced evildoers.

The threats of another dose of legal demonization of an embattled Jewish state from UN “justice” are clear. We wrote not only to the U.S. Secretary of State but also to the Attorney General of the United States because the UNHRC’s perverted norms of justice threaten to enter the bloodstream of American society and mores. The resulting damage to our legal and societal norms could corrode the foundations upon which the American experiment was founded: freedom and fairness.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is Dean and Founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Australia

Australian Plan to Resettle Refugees in Impoverished Cambodia Sparks Concern

Australia Edges Closer To Cambodia Refugee Transfer Deal
A lotus-flower seller stands underneath the Australian flag along the riverside in Phnom Penh on Aug. 13, 2014. After months of negotiations Australia and Cambodia look set to agree on a deal that will see 1,000 refugees transferred from Australia to Cambodia Omar Havana—Getty Images

Poor and repressive, Cambodia is better known for generating refugees than accepting them, but under a pact with Canberra that will soon change

Australia is to ink a deal on Friday to resettle refugees in Cambodia, despite the Southeast Asian nation’s poverty and appalling rights record.

The forthcoming pact comes just months after Canberra scolded Cambodia at the U.N. for a litany of human-rights abuses including the killing of peaceful protesters, the crushing of political opposition and use of extrajudicial detentions.

The controversial arrangement — thought to be for the initial permanent resettlement of 1,000 people, although there is apparently no upper cap — will be signed in Phnom Penh between Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng.

“We are world renowned for what we do on refugee resettlement so, who better is placed than Australia to work with a country such as Cambodia to help them develop that capability to do the job as well,” Morrison told Australia’s National Press Club earlier this month.

There are unconfirmed reports that Australia will pay the Cambodian government $40 million to seal the deal; requests to Canberra from TIME for clarification went unanswered.

The UNHCR has raised “strong concerns” as the plan “goes against the whole idea of the international asylum system,” says Bangkok-based spokeswoman Vivian Tan. “We have asked both sides to reconsider, but it looks like it is going ahead.”

Australia’s new Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott was elected partly on the back of promises to stem the flood of asylum seekers arriving by boat on his nation’s shores.

Fetid and overcrowded immigration detention centers in Papua New Guinea, and the nearby island nation of Nauru, established by the preceding Labour government, are used to house new arrivals.

Of the 1,233 asylum seekers currently detained in Nauru, 250 status determinations have been carried out, leading to 206 declarations of genuine refugee status, according to Human Rights Watch.

“In Nauru, they were identified as refugees and not just irregular migrants trying to find work,” says Tan. “These are people with a demonstrated need for international protection.”

Authoritarian Cambodia is listed as “not free” by advocacy group Freedom House, and, after decades of poverty owing to civil war, genocide and Vietnamese occupation, is better known for generating refugees than accepting them.

Even today, a sizable proportion of Cambodia’s 15 million population is driven to neighboring countries like Thailand in search of work.

According to Ou Virak, president of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, “Everybody knows we are not well equipped to accept refugees,” pointing to the fact that “no refugees themselves are coming to Cambodia.”

There is an unavoidable catch-22, he adds, as not providing refugees with basic support would be a “gross violation” of their rights, but fulfilling their needs will enrage impoverished Khmers, many of whom struggle to survive. Already, violent attacks against Cambodia’s Vietnamese community, measuring around 5% of the total population, are relatively common.

“They will be in a state of limbo for many years, if they can integrate at all,” says Ou Virak, adding that there are huge questions over how long Canberra will keep providing financial assistance. “Giving food to refugees and sustaining their calorie needs is not enough.”

TIME Malaysia

Shari‘a Law Is Threatening LGBT Rights Across Muslim-Majority Southeast Asia

Protesters raise placards during a prote
Protesters raise placards during a protest outside a mosque in Shah Alam, near Kuala Lumpur, on Nov. 4, 2011. The demonstration was to urge the government to give recognition to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community AFP/Getty Images

Harsh interpretations of Quranic law are being used to justify violence against transgender people in particular, activists say

Growing religious conservatism is threatening LGTB rights in Muslim-majority nations across Southeast Asia, say activists, with a new report claiming serious abuses against Malaysia’s transgender community.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published I’m Scared to Be a Woman: Human Rights Abuses Against Transgender People in Malaysia. The document makes serious allegations of physical and sexual assault committed against transgender people while in official custody.

Malaysia is a 60% Muslim nation where 13 of 15 states have invoked Shari‘a law to ban transvestism among Muslim men; three states also prohibit women “posing as men.” The statues are loosely defined and leave gaping loopholes for abuse, venality and vindictive prosecution, says HRW.

“Malaysian authorities frequently abuse transgender women at the expense of their dignity and in violation of their basic rights,” Boris Dittrich, LGBT-rights advocacy director at HRW, said in a statement. Malaysia’s Religious Department and other state officials have license to do “whatever they like” with transgender women, he added.

The 73-page report includes testimony from 42 transgender women, three transgender men and 21 other medical professionals, legal representatives, activists and outreach workers.

Victoria, a transwoman from Negeri Sembilan state, told HRW she was “completely humiliated” when Religious Department officials photographed her naked while under arrest in 2011. “They were rough,” she said. “One of them squeezed my breasts. One of them took a police baton and poked at my genitals.”

Gender-reassignment surgery was once available in Malaysia, but rising Islamic conservatism led to a ban issued by the National Fatwa Council in 1982. Thus many transgender people undergo medical transitioning in neighboring Thailand, but this leaves them in legal limbo upon their return.

Such problems are not limited to Malaysia. Brunei recently adopted a Shari‘a penal code, with draconian sanctions such as death by stoning for adulterers and flogging or even death for homosexual acts. The code applies the death penalty to both Muslims and non-Muslims in the case of adultery and sodomy, says the International Council of Jurists, despite official claims that non-Muslims will not be subjected to Shari‘a.

In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, the semiautonomous state of Aceh is also adopting increasingly harsh interpretations of Shari‘a. A draft bylaw announced this week would punish anal sex between men and “the rubbing of body parts between women for stimulation” with 100 lashes. The law would also apply to non-Muslims.

“We have studied the implementation of Shari‘a in countries like Saudi Arabia, Brunei Darussalam and Jordan to draft this law and we are happy with it,” said Ramli Sulaiman, an Aceh lawmaker who led the drafting commission, reports AFP.

Other states in Indonesia only use Shari‘a for civil matters such as divorce and alimony. But since 2006, an increasing number of districts have issued local ordinances based on Shari‘a to govern social conduct. Although many of these are unconstitutional, the central government often fails to decisively strike them down for political reasons, says Freedom House.

According to Faisal Riza, an activist for the Violet Grey LGBT advocacy group, who hails from Aceh but is now based in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, Shari‘a law makes “society feel free to take action or use violence against LGBT people, especially transgender people.”

Discrimination is “getting worse,” he tells TIME, and is exacerbated by “lack of formal education and job access, so some [transgender people] become sex workers.” Possession of condoms is often deemed evidence of prostitution, leaving another window open for abuse and corruption, as well as hampering efforts to tackle the spread of communicable disease, including HIV/AIDS.

In Malaysia, LGBT activists hope an upcoming court case may give them some legal protection. Following the arrest of 16 transgender women at a wedding party in the western coast state of Negeri Sembilan in June, four applicants are claiming that local Shari‘a law is incompatible with national and constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, freedom of movement and equality. The Putrajaya Court of Appeal is slated to rule on the issue on Nov. 7.

“Malaysia urgently needs to scrap laws that discriminate against transgender people, adhere to international rights standards, and put in place comprehensive non-discrimination legislation that protects them,” said HRW’s Dittrich.

TIME Australia

Gay Asylum Seekers Could Be Resettled in Papua New Guinea, Which Outlaws Homosexuality

(FILE) Manus Island Detention Centre
This handout photo provided by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, shows facilities at the Manus Island Regional Processing Facility, used for the detention of asylum seekers that arrive by boat, primarily to Christmas Island off the Australian mainland, on October 16, 2012, in Papua New Guinea. Handout—Getty Images

The men had originally sought refuge in Australia

Several gay people, who fled persecution in their home countries and sought asylum in Australia, are reportedly to be resettled in Papua New Guinea (PNG), where homosexuality is a crime.

The asylum seekers are currently held by the Australian immigration officials on Manus Island in PNG, where they could eventually live permanently, the Guardian claims.

Homosexuality in PNG is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

The Guardian says it has seen what purport to be letters written in Farsi by four gay Iranian men in the Australian-run detention center on Manus Island. The authors appear to detail persecution in their home country and the fear of being resettled in PNG.

“I thought Australia and its people would be my protector, but they taught me otherwise,” one letter reads.

“I am hoping that I will not be sent to PNG prison because I don’t want to be killed by indigenous people living in PNG like my fellow countryman did in February,” reads another.

The authenticity of the letters has not been confirmed.

A December report by Amnesty International says the detainees at the facility have been told that anyone found engaging in homosexual acts will immediately be reported to the PNG police. The report also details numerous other human-rights violations at the detention center.

Amnesty had “consistently raised the issue of gay men on Manus with the [Australian] immigration department” but “never had a clear response,” Graeme McGregor, Amnesty Australia’s refugee-camp coordinator, told the Guardian.

Ben Pynt, director of Humanitarian Research Partners, estimates there are around 36 gay men detained at Manus and several others who are too afraid to reveal their sexual orientation, the Guardian says.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment on the purported letters, said in December he was unaware of any claims of homosexuality among Manus inmates. He also denied that it was the Australian government’s policy to report homosexual activity among asylum seekers to the PNG government.

[Guardian]

TIME Military

U.S. Pledges to Destroy All Landmines Outside of Korean Peninsula

FRANCE-HANDICAP-MINE-NGO-DEMO
A sign reading ''Danger landmines, what is happening to those shoes'' is pictured in front of a pyramid of shoes during the annual demonstration by NGO Handicap International to denounce the use and sale of anti-personnel landmines, on Sept. 20, 2014 in Lyon, central France. Jeff Pachoud—AFP/Getty Images

Officials cited "unique circumstances" in the Koreas that prevented acceding to a universal ban

The U.S. has pledged to destroy all existing stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines outside of the Korean peninsula, administration officials said on Monday, but stopped short of acceding to an international ban on the weaponry.

The decision to destroy existing stockpiles builds on a previous commitment in June to not manufacture, acquire or do anything to replenish existing stockpiles of landmines. While administration officials reinforced their commitment to the goals of the Ottawa Convention, a 15-year-old international agreement that forbids the use or stockpiling of landmines, the U.S. did not formally join the treaty.

“Even as we take these further steps, the unique circumstances on the Korean Peninsula and our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea preclude us from changing our anti-personnel landmine policy there at this time, said National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden.

“We will continue our diligent efforts to pursue solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow us to accede to the Ottawa Convention while ensuring our ability to meet our alliance commitments to the Republic of Korea.”

More than 160 countries have joined the Ottawa Convention, but the U.S. has resisted pressure from several human rights organizations to sign the treaty, citing ongoing security concerns.

TIME China

Chinese Court Sentences Prominent Uighur Academic to Life for ‘Separatism’

University professor, blogger, and membe
University professor, blogger, and member of the Muslim Uighur minority, Ilham Tohti pauses before a classroom lecture in Beijing on June 12, 2010. Frederic J. Brown—AFP/Getty

International human-rights observers repeatedly called the trial a sham

A court in northern China has sentenced an ethnic Uighur academic to life in prison for promoting separatism in the nation’s restive Xinjiang province, his lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday.

Ilham Tohti, a prominent advocate for the rights for Muslim Uighurs in China, and an ex-economics professor at the Minzu University of China in Beijing, received the near maximum sentence for the charges, which carried possible sentences ranging from 10 years in prison to execution, Reuters says.

International human-rights advocates had widely decried the separatism allegations against Tohti. Outside China, he is seen as a thoughtful, peaceful and moderate voice who has challenged China’s official narrative of several violent incidents in Xinjiang.

The stiff sentence — the harshest one in years for a Chinese political dissident — appears to be part of Beijing’s aggressive intensification of its campaign to put a lid on brimming discontent in Xinjiang. Clashes between Han Chinese, the nation’s majority group, and Uighurs, an ethnic minority making up about half of Xinjiang’s population, have led to hundreds of deaths in the vast, northwestern region.

Human-rights observers say the Chinese government’s discrimination against Uighurs is to blame for the sometimes violent boiling over of anger in the region.

[Reuters]

TIME China

Chinese Firms Are Exporting ‘Torture Devices’ to Africa

China Tools of Torture
In this undated photo released by Amnesty International, Chinese made weighted leg cuffs are displayed at the Chengdu Jin'an Equipment’s booth at an exhibition at an undisclosed location AP

Amnesty International claims at least 130 Chinese firms are involved in the worrying trade

Chinese companies are increasingly getting into the business of selling torture instruments, such as restraint chairs and spiked batons, to police departments in countries with miserable human rights records, Amnesty International claimed in a report on Tuesday.

At least 130 Chinese companies are now selling or manufacturing such equipment, up from just 28 a decade ago, the rights group says.

But as more Chinese companies enter the business, Beijing has not upped protocols to ensure that the exports do not end up in the wrong hands. Instead, most of the equipment is going to African countries where the rule of law is poor and where the potential for abuse is high, according to the respected human-rights watchdog.

Some of the Chinese-made equipment, such as handcuffs and projectile stun guns, is standard police issue that “can have a legitimate use in law enforcement if used correctly and in line with international standards for law enforcement,” says Amnesty.

However, other instruments are described by Amnesty as “inherently abusive” and include weighted cuffs, neck cuffs, electric shock batons and spiked batons, among others.

The report is a collaboration between Amnesty and the Omega Research Foundation, a British group that studies the international use and distribution of law-enforcement equipment. Liberia, Uganda and Madagascar are among the countries that have imported such equipment from China.

The use of torture to extract confessions is ubiquitous in China, although the government has pledged to crack down on the practice. This week, three police officers and four security personnel from the Chinese city of Harbin were convicted of torturing seven suspects to get confessions, according to Xinhua, China’s state news outlet. One of the tortured suspects died of his injuries, Xinhua said.

TIME Syria

U.N. Investigators Document Worsening Atrocities of Syrian Civil War

An injured boy rests in a field hospital after air strikes near Damascus
An injured boy rests in a field hospital after what activists claim were two air strikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Douma, Syria on Sept. 14, 2014. Badra Mamet—Reuters

Says civilians being beheaded, stoned and crucified by ISIS, and bombed and tortured by regime

The civil war in Syria had reached new depths of “madness,” United Nations investigators warned at a Geneva briefing on Tuesday in which they presented fresh evidence of atrocities committed by fighters on both sides of the conflict.

“I have run out of words to depict the gravity of the crimes committed inside Syria,” said Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, who chairs the U.N. investigative panel on Syria, the New York Times reports.

Pinheiro cited evidence of mass killings across territory held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in northeastern Syria, where fighters have executed hundreds of captive Syrian soldiers as well as members of rival tribes. Pinheiro said ISIS fighters encouraged children to attend public executions, including beheadings, stonings and crucifixions.

But the Syrian government remained responsible for the majority of civilian deaths and injuries, Pinheiro said, due to daily shelling and aerial bombardments, as well as mass arrests and widespread torture at the hands of government interrogators. Investigators released a 17-page report that included eyewitness testimony from civilians on the ground. “If you want to know what effect this war has had you must listen to its victims,” Pinheiro said.

[NYT]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 15

1. Relief organizations today are dangerously politicized and risk irrelevancy. To survive, they must evolve into decentralized networks for sharing knowledge, aid, and true humanity.

By Paul Currion in Aeon

2. There is more to measuring economic strength than jobs. For manufacturing, America is one of the most cost-competitive countries in the industrial world.

By Harold L. Sirkin, Michael Zinser, and Justin Rose in BCG Perspectives

3. Could a secret online marketplace for illegal drugs provide a safer alternative to our modern drug war?

By Colin Moore in Substance

4. Marketing to so-called “influencers” is a waste of advertising dollars.

By Greg Satell in Harvard Business Review

5. Technology vs. Tradition: Menstrupedia tackles taboos in India to improve women’s health and lives.

By Priti Salian in TakePart

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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