EVENT [REPORT]: Disaster and Displacement - A Human Rights Perspective [Bangkok, 28-29 November 2018]

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On 29 November 2018, the Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS) hosted a workshop led and coordinated by our partner the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, to discuss about disaster and displacement in Asia Pacific. The discussion is part of a ten-country study on a range of types of disaster and displacement scenarios understood through a human rights perspective. The overall study examines how state actors fulfill their obligations to prevent displacement, conduct evacuation, protect people during displacement, and facilitate durable solutions in the aftermath. Aspects of the ongoing research were presented during the workshop by the researchers involved.

Regarding the prevention of displacement, the experience of Thailand and the Philippines were shared. For Thailand, Dr. Carl Middleton from Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS), Chulalongkorn University, presented on the 'Hat Yai Model', which is an effort to develop ‘soft infrastructure’ in the form of improved flood warning, and the strengthening of local government, community, civil society and local business capacity and collaboration to live with floods over the several days when it occurs. While it still has room for improvement, the researchers propose that the ‘Hat Yai Model’ as a preventative measure should be widely promoted in Thailand and beyond as a means to promote constructive state and non-state cooperation, enhance community empowerment and awareness, as well as to reduce the community’s vulnerability to flood disaster. Ryan Jeremiah D. Quan from Ateneo de Manila University School of Law presented the research on displacement prevention effort in the Philippines, particularly during the Typhoon Haiyan, which revealed that even though there is a disaster prevention system in place, there is a gap between the guidelines that are implemented by the government agencies on the national and provincial level and the experience and needs of the local government personnel in the field.

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The studies from Indonesia and Vanuatu provided insights about the evacuation process, especially for vulnerable groups. The study on Indonesia was presented by Andika Putra from ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). The study, which focused on recurrent eruptions of Mount Sinabung and how it affected persons with disabilities, revealed how the disaster management system and the rights of persons with disabilities are managed under two different legal frameworks, which are yet to be synchronized at both national and local level. It is also noted that when the government doesn't present itself, non-government actors such as religious groups played an important role in supporting people with disability.

Lack of representation from vulnerable groups was also found in the case of Vanuatu, which was struck by Cyclone Pam in 2015. Tess Van Geelen in her presentation showed how there is no permanent position within government institution to consistently represent these groups. Such a condition led to the lack of protection provisions in government policies and effective approach in responding to disasters. International assistance has supported the development of many exemplary protection policies, however, the government staff is presently not equipped with the skill to implement the protection policies.

In terms of protection of affected people during disaster, researchers looked at the experience from the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, and flooding in Bangladesh and Cambodia. The study in Nepal by Dr. Bala Raju Nikku highlighted the limited access to basic necessities and services, as well as mental health issues that became very common among displaced persons. Currently, there is limited capacity in the government to address this issue, and therefore mental health issue is not included in the protection planning. In the future, the researcher argued that it is very important to psychosocial assistance as the first aid for people facing the issue of displacement, especially for vulnerable groups such as women, children, and persons with disabilities.

The displacement scenario was revealed to be different in Bangladesh. MD Abdul Awal Khan from the Law Department of Independent University, Bangladesh, said on his presentation that currently there is no systemic plan on displacement organized by the government, causing people to move haphazardly. There is an existing policy with statutory provisions regarding disaster management, but the lack of implementation mechanism and strategies made it inadequate to mitigate when disaster happens. The lack of coordination between concerned government agencies is particularly affecting persons with disabilities, because there is no existing plan to handle such situation.

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Ratana Ly from Cambodia on her research examined how people who live with annual flooding experience displacement. People in area that flood has been living there for generations; they are tied to the land and are unwilling to move away to other areas, even though disaster may happen every year. From the Cambodia research, it was shown that disaster management-related policies need to address the local knowledge, so that policy can reflect local values.

The final two studies presented were on China and Myanmar examining durable solutions to the aforementioned issues. In China, Tang Yixia found on her research that the legal framework for disaster relief had encompassed various aspects from the prevention measures before disasters, emergency rescue measures at the time of disasters, coping strategies after disasters, as well as incorporating special provisions on the rights of women and minors. However, in implementation, human rights and gender perspective are still being left behind, which makes the protection of displaced persons’ rights not fully effective.

Myanmar, which has ratified various international human rights treaties, also has existing national laws and policies which promote protection of the human rights of displaced persons in the context of disaster. Prof. Dr. Khin Chit Chit of Yangon University revealed in her presentation that there is even a provision within the national law that require the government to prioritize children, women, and persons with disabilities. However, a more detailed regulation is needed to ensure that the government has a long-term plan to manage risks within these vulnerable groups. Harmonization between the disaster management laws with other related laws is also needed to ensure the substantial protection.

The feedback gathered during the consultation workshop, with valuable inputs from international organisations and experts in regards to internally displaced persons in the context of disaster, will be incorporated into these ongoing studies, will be incorporated into the finalization of the research projects.

For the research in Thailand and about the wider project, please visit our project page here, for updates.

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EVENT [RESOURCES]: Understanding the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Framework and China’s role in the Mekong Region [Bangkok, 3 September 2018]

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Program and List of Panelists:

08.15 - 09.00  Registration

09.00 - 09.15  Welcome remarks by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana, Dean of Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

09.15 - 10.45  Session 1: The Belt and Road Initiative:  Geopolitical implications for Asia

Moderator: Asst. Prof. Dr. Carl Middleton, Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

  • 'Geopolitics and Geoeconomics of the Belt and Road Initiative' by Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS), Chulalongkorn University

  • 'The Belt and Road Initiative: A Perspective from China' by Mr. Li Hong,Permanent Mission of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP)

  • 'What does the Belt and Road Initiative mean for US-Thailand relations?' by Benjamin Zawacki, Independent Analyst

  • 'Debt Diplomacy?: The experience of Sri Lanka' by Amantha Perera, Journalist

10.45 - 11.15  Coffee break

11.15 - 12.45  Session 2: Transboundary Water Cooperation – Progress and Challenges

Moderator: Dr. Ukrist Pathmanand, Mekong Research Center, Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University  

12.45 - 13.30  Lunch

13.30 - 14.45  Session 3: Rise of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Framework: Emerging cooperation issues

Moderator: Kamol Sukin, China Dialogue

14.45 - 15.15  Coffee Break

15.15 - 16.45  Session 4: Reporting on the Mekong and China’s role: Trends, challenges and successes for Southeast Asia’s media

Moderator: Sim Kok Eng Amy, Earth Journalism Network

16.45 - 17.00  Closing Reflections

  • Dr. Sam Geall, China Dialogue

  • Professor Surichai Wun’gaeo, Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Chulalongkorn University

EVENT [REPORT]: Policy Forum on Understanding the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Framework and China's role in the Mekong region [Bangkok, 3 September 2018]

On 3 September 2018, the Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS) and the Faculty of Political Science of Chulalongkorn University hosted a policy forum discussing the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) and China's role in the Mekong region. The forum was co-organized with chinadialogue, The Third Pole, and Earth Journalism Network. Over ninety participants were spending the full day discussing important issues on the cooperation framework and initiatives in Southeast Asia.

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The Dean of the Faculty of Political Science, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana, opened the event with welcoming remarks highlighting how the countries of mainland Southeast Asia are facing a period of rapid change with growing flows of investment from China into a range of projects. He observed that whilst economic growth continues, there remain unresolved challenges on environmental sustainability, social equity, and public participation.

The first session, moderated Dr. Carl Middleton from CSDS, discussed the geopolitical implications of the Belt and Road Initiative for Asia. Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak from the Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS) of Chulalongkorn University raised the question on how the Belt and Road Initiative posed challenges to the existing legal international regimes, while Mr. Li Hong who is the Permanent Representative of China to United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP) discussed the ideas behind the Belt and Road Initiatives and how it is an open initiative and it is expected to be a joint effort between the countries instead of just centering on China. Legal and Political Analyst Benjamin Zawacki explained the impact of Belt and Road Initiatives for the relations between Thailand and the US, including US proposals for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, as well as the crucial role Thailand could be playing once it takes up the ASEAN chair in 2019. Wrapping up the session was Amantha Perera, a journalist from Sri Lanka, who shared the experience of Sri Lanka dealing with investments from China which has led in some cases to a so-called “Debt Trap” when loans failed to perform. He also reminded how environmental impact from investments are rarely being properly assessed and not publicly disclosed.

The second session, moderated by Dr. Ukrist Pathmanand from the Mekong Research Center of Chulalongkorn University, discussed the progress and challenges on transboundary water cooperation. Dr. Anoulak Kittikhoun, Chief Strategy and Partnership Officer of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat explained about the MRC and how it was increasingly engaging with China, including through the LMC. Dr. John Dore, Lead Water Specialist from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade highlighted how around transboundary water governance on the Mekong River involved not only governments, but multiple actors and coalitions through multi-track diplomacy that influences development directions and decision-making. Meanwhile Supalak Ganjanakhundee from The Nation newspaper reflected on the Xe Pian - Xe Nam Noi disaster and how he expected the existing initiatives in the Mekong Region, including the MRC, to play a bigger part in responding to the disaster.

The third session, moderated by Kamol Sukin from chinadialogue, discussed emerging cooperation issues with the rise of the LMC. Courtney Weatherby from the Stimson Centre raised the issue of energy market shifts. In particular, she addressed how the price of non-hydropower renewables were dropping quickly, there are now innovations in energy transmission, and how China’s current excess hydropower could drastically alter investment needs in the Lower-Mekong region. Dr. Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa from Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) explained the necessity of sustainable scientific cooperation across the region to address knowledge gaps. She also highlighted how better approaches to knowledge production and need to influence policy, in particular the “co-production of knowledge” between researchers and practioners. Dr. Apichai Sunchindah, an Independent Development Specialist, highlighted the lack of sufficient cooperation between different existing regional frameworks and how ASEAN could help in backing initiatives in the Mekong Region to balance the influence of China.

In the last session, moderated by Sim Kok Eng Amy from Earth Journalism Network, journalists from China, Myanmar, and Vietnam shared the trends, challenges, and successes for Southeast Asia's media on reporting the Mekong and China's role. Wang Yan from News China highlighted journalists' role in reporting regional issues such as helping to facilitate communications between upstream and downstream countries and communities. Zayar Hlaing from Mawkun Magazine in Myanmar shared the story of the Sino-Myanmar pipeline project and its impact on the livelihood of people living along the pipeline. Bui Tien Dung from Vietnam shared about the importance of networking and capacity building for journalists working on environmental and social issues in the Mekong Region to improve the quality of the reporting. This session also highlighted the importance of cooperation between media and research institutes to help inform public debates.

For the closing remarks, Dr. Sam Geall from chinadialogue highlighted the importance of improved communication between China and the Lower Mekong countries and the role that journalists could play. Professor Surichai Wun'gaeo from the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies of Chulalongkorn University ended the forum with a reminder that any regional inter-governmental cooperation needs to be understood from the perspective of the impact on people’s lives, and emphasized the importance of always putting the well-being of people as the priority.

The shared presentations from this discussion can be accessed here. Some of the sessions were broadcast on Facebook Live and can also be viewed on the above link.

EVENT: The Political Economy of New Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia

Session organized at the 10th International Convention of Asian Scholars

11:30-13:15, 22nd July 2017, Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Center

Session convened by the Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Political authoritarianism is strengthening across Southeast Asia, mirroring a noted trend globally. This panel explored the politics, processes, and implications of the (re)assertion of authoritarianism, focusing on its political-economic regimes, but also including its ideologies and discourses. The panel engaged in a long-standing debate that globalisation and economic liberalism goes hand in hand with liberalisation and democratization in the political sphere. This association goes back to Lipset’s Modernisation Theory. Refuted by many and of fading interest by the 1970s, it came back into fashion in the 1990s with the spread of neoliberal capitalism and the so-called “third wave” of democratization.

The recent rise of authoritarian regimes in Southeast Asia and globally seems to be a sustained trend that may be connected to economic projects associated with a specific stage of capitalist development (crisis driven late capitalism), and that also mirror the interests of the elite in power. This can be analysed through what Poulantzas, in the 1970s, called authoritarian statism, whereby a growing role of the state seeks to ensure economic growth under conditions of capitalist crisis tendencies.

In this panel, we situated the new authoritarianism of contemporary Southeast Asia within a post-Washington and post-aid era of globalization. The region’s new authoritarianism builds upon legacies of past authoritarianism, in particular the various guises of developmental states - both capitalist and socialist - since the 1950s. Even if authoritarian statism receded in the 1990s and 2000s, it never fully ended. Now, the region is increasingly under the political and economic sway of China, but also subject to intensified attention of the United States. Some countries have visibly becoming more authoritarian in recent years, including by military coup (Thailand) or strong-handed leaders (the Philippines; Cambodia), whilst others apparently less so, in particular Myanmar.  Vietnam and Laos, meanwhile, have stated themselves as socialist-orientated market economies. Trends towards regional economic integration, market expansion and intensification, meanwhile, add a regional-scaled dynamic to political authoritarianism.

The panel sought to address the following conceptual and empirical questions:

  • How can we conceptualize the connection between the trend of authoritarianism and the current state of capitalist development in Southeast Asia?

  • What are the characteristics of the authoritarian states in Southeast Asia? What economic models of development are being proposed by these states?

  • What are the implications for civil society, social movements, democracy and human rights?

The following papers were presented :

  • The One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative and its influence on the political situation of China's neighbouring countries, by Dr. Wolfram Schaffar, University of Vienna

  • Thailand 4.0: the Rise of Neo-authoritarian Developmental State, by Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon, Chulalongkorn University

  • 'Ephemeral transnational' and 'authoritarian domestic' public spheres in Laos hydropower dams, Dr. Carl Middleton, Chulalongkorn University

  • Authoritarian development, frontier capitalism and indigenous counter-movements in Myanmar Rainer Einzenberger, University of Vienna

The panel was chaired by Dr. Chantana Banpasirichote Wungaeo of Chulalongkorn University.

The papers presented on the panel are part of a forthcoming Special Issue to be published in the Austrian Journal of Southeast Asia Studies in mid-2018.

EVENT: MAIDS and CSDS Welcome Trinity College Faculty and Students

On 14th June 2017, the MAIDS and CSDS programs were very glad to welcome Prof. Xiangming Chen and his Faculty Colleagues and 25 students from the Center for Urban and Global Studies of Trinity College, Hartford, US. The faculty staff and students were mid-journey through their field trip visiting "River Cities" in China, Thailand and Cambodia. 

The Trinity College faculty and students at Chulalongkorn University       (Credit: Saittawut Yutthaworakool)

The Trinity College faculty and students at Chulalongkorn University

  (Credit: Saittawut Yutthaworakool)

During the Visit, Dr. Carl Middleton of CSDS and MAIDS offered a lecture titled "Think global, act 'teleconnected' local: Exploring the connections between regional trade, water security, and community vulnerability in Bangkok and Tokyo." The lecture sought to stimulate discussion amongst the group on how processes of industrialization and urbanization in East Asia have impacted peri-urban wetland spaces and community livelihoods in Bangkok and Tokyo.

Following a brief discussion on the lecture, the group toured the Chulalongkorn University campus and visited the CU museum.

Dr Carl Middleton provides a lecture titled “Think Global, Act ‘Teleconnected’ Local”   (Credit: Saittawut Yutthaworakool)

Dr Carl Middleton provides a lecture titled “Think Global, Act ‘Teleconnected’ Local” (Credit: Saittawut Yutthaworakool)