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Watching Human Rights in Southeast Asia

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Beyond the Mekong | Politics | Southeast Asia

Watching Human Rights in Southeast Asia

A conversation with Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch ahead of the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit.

Watching Human Rights in Southeast Asia
Credit: Photo Supplied

In his role as Deputy Director for Asia at New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Phil Robertson has spearheaded investigations into human rights violations across Southeast Asia for the past 15 years, calling out and upsetting governments of all stripes.

Much of his work has focused on human rights, labor rights, protection of migrant workers, and counter-human trafficking efforts with a variety of non-governmental organizations, international and regional trade union federations, and UN agencies.

As Southeast Asian leaders were gathering in Melbourne for the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, Robertson spoke with The Diplomat’s Luke Hunt about elections and the deteriorating freedoms in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam over the last decade.

He says regional governments have accelerated their levels of cooperation in pursuing political activists across borders – now termed as transnational repression – which has resulted in the jailing, disappearances and suspected killings of dissidents.

This includes activists who are supposed to hold refugee protection status from the United Nations, including six Cambodians arrested by Thai authorities ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Hun Manet in early February.

But there are many others, among them Laos civil society leader Sombath Somphone, Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit who disappeared in Cambodia, and the Vietnamese blogger Thai Van Duong who went missing in Thailand before resurfacing in Vietnam in police custody.

Robertson also weighs in on media standards in Southeast Asia, and in Western countries where interest in Southeast Asia is waning. And in Australia where journalist Antoinette Lattoufe was sacked by the ABC for reposting an HRW statement in regards to Israel and Gaza.