The culture of impunity, criminalization of dissent, and violence against those who stand up for peace, human rights and justice, and challenge power abuse, are increasing across Asia, with rising numbers of arbitrary arrests and incarceration, and unsolved cases of enforced disappearances, physical attacks and extra-judicial killings. In many cases, these abuses are linked to the mainstream development paradigm, which adds to the disadvantages faced by those already marginalized while further consolidating wealth and power in the hands of corporations and oligarch families. This in turn increases resistance by affected communities, but such resistance is increasingly met with harsh tactics of criminalization, rights suppression and outright brutality by state and non-state actors.
The closing of civil society space has been accompanied by chilling signs of rising authoritarianism and fascism in the Asia region. Ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and Duterte’s brutal drug war in the Philippines are two extremes in a region where respect for basic human rights and genuine democracy is deteriorating. Maintaining “peace and order” and “national security” are used as a justification by authoritarian governments to continue denying people’s right to citizenship, self-determination, cultures and identities, and as an excuse to perpetuate repression and violence. Religion, class, ethnicity and other social conditions are being used by regimes to sow division and consolidate political power. Fake news, misinformation, and social media echo chambers help to deepen social and political divisions. Meanwhile, there is little credible opposition to the regimes in power; the political left remains fragmented, disorganized and disconnected.
The Power and Democracy thematic area seeks to systematically show the links between development, rights, peace, justice, democracy and the exercise of power in Asia. Focus will partner with local, national, regional and international organisations, peoples’ movements and networks to call attention to these worrying trends, and expand critical analysis on economic and development policies to investigate and show the links between development pathways and human rights protections and abuses.
End Impunity: This is a campaign that aims to: produce and publish information on situations and causes of state, corporate and individual impunity, and criminalization of dissent; draw public attention to those who have been murdered, incarcerated and forcibly disappeared by publishing their stories and profiles; and mobilise calls and actions to bring perpetrators to justice.
Challenging populist authoritarianism: In many countries in Asia new forms of authoritarianism are on the rise, where extreme forms/systems of state authoritarianism enjoy the support of a significant proportion of the population, especially among the middle and upper classes. Focus will develop a discourse on the rise of such authoritarianism in Asia, its links to neoliberalism and the dominant development model, and strategies to counter this trend.