WTF Friday, 1/25/2013

This week’s high(low)lights:

  • Members of the Thai navy and police have been caught selling Rohingya refugees to human traffickers. I have no words. (H/T: Jeffrey Stein.)
  • A unit of German soldiers are reportedly growing breasts. They truly are the master race. (H/T: Erica Borghard, on a roll this week!)
  • A Republican lawmaker in New Mexico “accidentally” proposed legislation that would make rape victims seeking abortion vulnerable to felony evidence tampering charges. A likely story.

WTF Friday, 10/7/11

MSF leaves Thailand after negotiations to provide care to migrant workers and undocumented foreigners fails. It’s cool. They have a really awesome registration scheme.

“With Gaddafi and his sons gone, Al Alem is optimistic Libya’s new leaders, the National Transitional Council, will pay more attention to sport..” Dude, take it from me, that’s a slippery slope.

Oh, by the way this exists.

WTF Friday, 8/5/11

Some things never change. A Shinawatra is the prime minister of Thailand and apparently (at least in NYT-world) “plebeian” is still a word people use.

Robert Mugabe not exactly getting good publicity over the past week.

With a move to limit private television and radio, the Bolivian government will have just about “nothing left to take over,” according to political economist, Carlos Toranzo. You’d be surprised what they can nationalize nowadays…

Cambodia-Thailand Border Dispute, Now with Internet Functionality


After over a century of arguing with Thailand about possession of the area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple, Cambodia has turned its attention to a new opponent: webbernet giant Google.

According to the AP, Cambodia’s government has submitted a complaint to the company regarding the Google Earth map of the border region between Cambodia and Thailand, describing it as “devoid of truth and reality, and professionally irresponsible, if not pretentious.”

Cambodia’s objection stems from the fact that the map allegedly places the border between the two countries so that half of the Preah Vihear temple is in Thailand. I don’t have Google Earth installed, but I checked Google Maps and it actually shows the entire temple on the Thailand side.

This contravenes a 1962 ICJ ruling that held that the territory belonged to Cambodia pursuant to demonstrated mutual acceptance of a 1907 delimitation of the border region. (Cambodia presumably feels that the 1907 map is less pretentious, and would therefore prefer Google use that one.)

Current tensions result from the fact that despite the Court’s decision, and the handover of the temple, Thailand has never withdrawn from the surrounding area. In 2008, following Cambodia’s (successful) campaign to have the temple designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, border clashes resumed.

Things never quite settled back down since (exacerbated by pesky little details like Cambodia refusing to extradite deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra) and the dispute is all over the regional news again following a visit to the temple by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. While there yesterday, he announced that Cambodia would be returning to the ICJ to complain of Thailand’s presence on its territory. No word yet on whether they plan to sue Google for irresponsible mapping.

*Picture of the temple taken from the Preah Vihear Wikipedia page.

More Things Unlikely to Turn Out Well

Following last week’s reports that the Thai government had been forcing hundreds of Rohingya refugees into unsupplied boats and setting them adrift in the open ocean, and that its navy had beaten dozens of refugees as they lay bound and helpless on a beach in full view of visiting tourists, the local represtentative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees asked to visit 126 Rohingya currently in custody.

The 126 were rumored to be the survivors of a group of approximately 1000 people who had previously been towed out to sea and left to die. Some of these were rescued by the Indian navy, but as many as 500 are believed to have drowned. UNHCR was eager to interview the survivors who had returned to Thailand, to determine whether they were being ill-treated, and also gather more information about their initial abandonment at sea.

The Thai government refused, (probably because they were ill-treating the survivors, and had previously left them to die at sea), initially saying that the Thai Senate’s Human Rights Committee would have to debate the matter first. The committee must have debated fast, because this morning brought a statement from the government that the 126 people had already been “escorted to the sea.” No word on whether this escort included seaworthy boats, food, or water, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.


*Photo of Indian Coast Guard rescuing Rohingya refugees from their stranded boat provided to AP by the Indian Coast Guard.

You Stay Classy, Thai Government

In the last month, the Thai government has seized, detained and then marooned at sea approximately 1000 Rohingya refugees. According to numerous press reports, these “rejected” refugees were set adrift in boats without engines, with inadequate supplies of food and water. At least 300 of them are believed to have died, and many more are missing.

From the New York Times:

“In one case last month, the reports say, 410 Rohingya migrants were taken out to sea on a Thai Navy vessel and forced onto an open barge with just four barrels of water and two sacks of rice. Four people were thrown overboard with their hands and feet tied, in order to encourage the others to board the barge, according to the reports.

After drifting for two weeks, about 100 of them were rescued on the Andaman Islands, which are administered by India. About 300 remain missing after trying to swim to shore, according to several reports from the news media and human rights groups.

In a second case soon afterward, 580 people were reportedly seized off the Thai coast on three overcrowded fishing boats. These were towed back out to sea after their engines were removed, said Chris Lewa, an expert on Rohingya issues who heads a private human rights group called the Arakan Project.”

Though the Thai government denies the allegations, and says that all refugees are processed through legal channels, their navy clearly hasn’t gotten the memo: they’re not exactly keeping their mistreatment of the Rohingyas on the down low. Several weeks ago, tourists vacationing in the Similan islands were shocked when their sightseeing boat landed on a beach covered in bound Rohingya refugees, lying on the sand as navy guards whipped them with a leather strap and knotted vines.

One of the vacationers was a journalism student, who has posted his photos of the incident here. He told the South China Morning Post (ungated version here):

“We motored into Donald Duck Bay and saw this strange sight, which we later found out to be the refugees.

We had never seen anything like it before in our entire lives – at first we thought it was a bunch of logs, or seals. Then, maybe, a protest, or illegal fishermen. Other people on the boat thought it was some sort of photo shoot or art display.

At this stage we definitely didn’t think it was refugees – thinking that if it was, the Thai navy would probably not have let us into the cove. Maybe it was an error of judgment by the Thai officers, who seemed a bit disorganised.

We arrived on the beach where people were sun baking and snorkelling, and went for a walk up to the peak. There is a picture of the beach taken from here showing the refugees. We all felt really bad, because here we were, sun baking and snorkelling and having a great holiday, and these people were bound on the beach in the open sun, obviously in a bad condition.

Some of them were trying to sit up and looked like they were complaining, but they were answered with a whip on the back and head. One of them was dragged to the shade – not looking like he was in good shape – where he lay for the rest of our time there. This had an effect on the others, who complained, but they were then hit with the whip.”

Nice, Thailand. Real nice. Not only did you murder hundreds of people, you TOTALLY RUINED that dude’s snorkeling trip.

*Photos of bound refugees on the beach via the South China Morning Post

And the Award for "Most Creative Rationale for Kicking a Prime Minister out of Office" Goes to…

The Thai Constitutional Court handed down a verdict today that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej must step down because he violated the constitution by hosting a televised cooking program while in office.

Samak, whose hold on political power is already quite shaky (see here re: two-week occupation of prime minister’s office by anti-government protesters), began hosting his popular show, translated alternately as “Tasting While Grumbling” or “Tasting and Complaining” (for reals) in 2000. He was taken off the air in 2007 when the army-appointed government commandeered the network. Upon taking office in January of this year, Samak informed reporters that he would be bringing back the weekly program. In response to questions about possible constitutional conflicts, he replied: “No. I checked the constitution already, there’s no obstruction with that.”

Apparently he did not check it carefully enough, because today his opponents prevailed on a constitutional claim that Samak had unlawfully accepted private employment while in public office. D’oh. The court rejected Samak’s defense that he appeared on the show as a freelancer rather than an employee and ordered him to resign.

Samak’s (questionably) ruling People Power Party replied with a resounding “sucks to you, constitutional court, we’ll just reappoint him!” No word yet on how they plan to respond if the appeals court scheduled to review Samak’s conviction for defamation later this month upholds the three year jail sentence imposed by the lower court.

Something Strange in the (Andean) Neighborhood, Part III

The New York Times just posted a story saying that Viktor Bout, one of the world’s most notorious arms traffickers, was just arrested in Thailand in connection with his sales of arms to the FARC.

Some observations:

1. I am fascinated by the sudden roll up of so many high profile people whose whereabouts were (I assume) already known. Raul Reyes was engaged in high profile negotiations with the Colombian, French, and Venezuelan governments over hostage releases, so cannot have been too hard to locate. Bout, similarly, is known to have been living in Thailand since the beginning of this year. Why the sudden moves against them? Who will be next?

2. According to The Times, the American authorities are currently interrogating Bout, and are eager to get their hands on him. (Bangkok, apparently, is equally eager to be rid of him.) However, he is wanted in connection with activities in Colombia, and Colombia does not extradite to the United States, so presumably the Americans will do what they can to keep him out of there. Will that mean that he won’t be prosecuted in Colombia?

3. Bout has good taste in hotels. He was arrested at the Sirom Sofitel in Bangkok, and I once stayed in their sister hotel by the Bangkok airport. It was by far the most luxurious place I have ever been.