International News
Vietnamese Intellectuals Protest Controversial Decree 72
Monday, 26 August 2013 , Written by « Tra Mi »   
23 August 2013

Hundreds of Vietnamese intellectuals and professionals have issued a statement protesting a new decree that includes provisions banning the sharing of news and information on various social networks.

The group, which includes Vietnamese inside the country and overseas, say the measure - known as Decree 72 - will seriously violate freedom of expression and is against Vietnam’s laws, constitution, and international commitments on human rights.

Nguyen Quang A, former chairman of the non-governmental Vietnam Association for Information and head of the Vietnam Institutes of Development Studies, is the leading co-signatory.

In an interview with VOA's Vietnamese service, he dismissed Hanoi's arguments in favor of the law. “The government’s argument saying that the decree is to protect intellectual property rights is totally quibble.  There are already a great number of regulations in effect to protect copyrights, there’s no need to have Decree 72. This decree is a gross violation of people’s freedom of speech, it doesn’t have anything to do with intellectual property rights at all.”

He added he does not expect the statement to change the government's position, but hopes it will raise people's awareness.

The decree, which was announced in July and takes effect next month, mandates that blogs and social media sites should only be used to share personal information. It says users are "not allowed to quote, gather or summarize information from press organizations or government websites."

The United States, several human rights groups and such technology giants as Google and Facebook have criticized the decree.

The Asia Internet Coalition, formed by businesses such as eBay, Facebook, Google and Yahoo, has said the decree will "negatively affect Vietnam's Internet ecosystem" and deter foreign investors.

This report was prepared in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.
Scholars voice support for missing Lao activist
Tuesday, 23 July 2013 , Written by « ABC Radio Australia »   
Posted on July 23, 2013    

More than 40 scholars from Australia’s leading universities have banded together to call on Canberra to take a tougher stand with authorities in Laos over the disappearance of the country’s best known community leader.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Keith Barney, Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy.

BARNEY: No there is no new information, the families and those closest to the case indicate that there’s no new details with the investigation. Sombath’s family have called the police investigation superficial, and the Lao government has refused international offers of technical assistance with the investigation, for example with examining the original camera footage. So there does not seem to be the political will within Laos to seriously investigate the abduction.

LAM: And Keith Barney you and of course with your colleagues, you’re all calling on the Australian government to do more. What exactly do you expect of Canberra?

BARNEY: Well in relation to our concerned scholars letter, we received a reply from Senator Carr on June 21st and Bob Carr responded to questions raised by Senator Lee Rhiannon in the June senate estimate hearing, and in his letter Carr explained that he had personally raised Sombath’s case with his Lao counterparts, particularly the Lao Prime Minister and the Foreign Affairs Minister. And he mentioned the human rights dialogues with Laos that Australia engages in the latest being in April 2012. However in response to our request for a more formal public statement by the Australian government, in his letter Carr referred back to the senate estimate transcripts and in the transcripts it was stated that the request to issue a formal statement at the highest level would be taken on notice. So it seems as though the department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is being a bit circular in their response to date to our letter.

LAM: Indeed Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr did raise the issue of Sombath Somphone with the Laotian authorities directly when he visited Vientianne earlier this year, so why should things be different now?

BARNEY: Well we feel that Australia is lagging behind other countries in its rather muted response to date regarding Sombath. For example the US Secretary of State Clinton and Kerry have both issues formal press statements on Sombath’s case, and the EU parliament has passed a formal resolution calling for a speeded up investigation and for Lao authorities to end the practice of arbitrary arrests and secret detentions. So we’re requesting that the Australian Foreign Minister make a more formal public statement on Sombath’s abduction, so more than a tweet and more than a statement buried in senate estimate transcripts.

LAM: So Australia of course has a 50-million dollar aid program with Laos. Are you hopeful that that might give us some kind of political leverage?

BARNEY: Yes Australia does fund many worthy initiatives in Laos supporting human rights and improved governance, civil society and sustainable natural resources management. And in fact the organisation that Sombath Somphone founded, the Participatory Development Training Centre, was a previous recipient of Australian support. So Sombath is a leading and inspiring proponent of the good governance agenda that Australia wishes to support in Laos. And we feel that Australia needs to send a clear message that the poor investigation into his abduction is unacceptable and that his plight will be placed at the front end of all bilateral discussions with Laos until he’s located.
Transparency, Accountability and Citizen-Led Development
Wednesday, 17 July 2013 , Written by « Raymond C. Offenheiser »   
July 15, 2013

Empowered citizens are in a position to capitalize on their talents and harness local resources to tackle the root causes of poverty.  They are able to advance ideas with momentum from within their communities and hold people in power accountable.

For this to happen, transparency and accountability are mandatory and must be expected of governments and private sector actors.

Citizen-led development is key for empowering individuals and creating transparency and accountability. In the case of U.S. foreign assistance, Oxfam America advocates for it to be led and designed by the people who need it most. For too long, U.S. government development efforts have worked at cross-purposes with the very people who are trying to lead lasting change in poor countries. We realize that to empower citizens and build strong communities, it is necessary to harness the power of community-based ideas and resources and work hand-in-hand with communities to bring these ideas to fruition.

Martha Kwataine brings to life what citizen-led development can look like.

In rural areas of Malawi, educated health care workers are not interested in serving in rural areas because of their harsh living conditions. As a result, these areas often go under-served and people are left without adequate health care. To overcome this obstacle, the government of Malawi has offered scholarships to attract qualified candidates. But in 2010, the Malawian government withdrew the scholarships saying that there was no arrangement with international donors on the best way of continuing the program.

Kwataine, who leads the Malawi Health Equity Network, a coalition of local nonprofits and citizens working on access to quality health services and a partner of USAID, found this unacceptable. She urged the government to find other means of financing the scholarships. Kwataine argued that the scholarships, while an incentive, were vital to ensuring rural Malawians had access to health care professionals. After her vocal advocacy, government officials responded by awarding 1,200 health scholarships to staff in underserved areas.

In addition to active citizens and governments, corporations and private investors are playing an ever-greater role in development as actors and funders, especially in extractive industries.  Over the next 10 years, more than $1 trillion in wealth will be taken from Africa’s ground—although this is just a fraction of global extractives revenues.

We know that the use of these funds will either threaten the human rights of people in these countries through corruption, patronage and waste, or it will help strengthen transparent and increasingly capable public sectors that are held accountable by their citizens for making pro-poor investments. That is why Oxfam is making this work more and more central to our advocacy and programming efforts at the local, national and global levels.

 Whether we are fighting for effective aid or pushing for greater transparency in the extractives industry, it is critical to take a systemic approach that examines how government, civil society and the private sector impact the root causes of poverty and injustice.
Netizens may tweet for good government
Friday, 05 July 2013 , Written by « By Julie M. Aurelio, Philippine Daily Inquirer »   
July 3rd, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—The Filipinos’ penchant for social media can be turned into a tool for good governance and against corruption.

Through Facebook, tweets and text messages, a civil society network hopes to make netizens and mobile phone users aware they can hold their local government officials accountable for their shortcomings.

The Citizens Action Network for Accountability (Cana) on Tuesday launched an interactive accountability website where citizens may report on happenings in their local governments.

Cana aims to tap the Filipinos’ love affair with social media—be it Facebook, Twitter or the cell phone—to crowd-source reports from the ground and take them to cyberspace.

“If not through the Internet, there’s the cell phone. It could be texting simple messages, feedback on the delivery of basic services by local governments,” said Alan Davis, Cana project director.

Social involvement

Davis said ordinary citizens could share what was happening in their localities by texting reports to the local citizen action groups in their areas.

Twenty-eight local citizen action groups will be set up in Mindanao, in places like Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Basilan, to listen to those who would give voice to their social involvement.

The European Union-funded project was launched by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Center for Community Journalism and Development, MindaNews and National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

“Cana is built on the belief that the more we, as ordinary Filipinos, can start to understand how local government works, the more we can monitor, engage and shape, and ultimately ensure that it is always working for us,” said project manager Rorie Fajardo.

Cana’s We Can website is at

“It will also use the latest crowd-sourcing technology to ensure and continually build up real-time citizen engagement and reporting, sharing and learning both at the local and national levels,” Cana said in a statement.

The project will run for three years, after which the participating local groups will run the show.

Aside from monitoring, Cana also has education, training and networking programs to get more citizens involved.

Read more:
US senators call for halt to Cambodia aid
Friday, 28 June 2013 , Written by « By Abby Seiff »   

Updated on 28 June 2013     .

Citing concerns over Cambodia’s human rights record and lack of electoral reforms, a pair of US senators has asked congress to consider halting foreign aid should the elections go forward without Sam Rainsy and a revamping of the National Election Committee.

In the resolution entitled “Calling for More Accountable Foreign Assistance for Cambodia”, Senators Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio urge the Committee of Foreign Affairs to hold Cambodia accountable for a raft of rights violations.

“America’s investment in that Southeast Asian country has been anything but insignificant,” reads the resolution, dated June 7 and obtained yesterday.

“Unfortunately, we are not getting a return on this investment when it comes to the advancement of the rule of law, democracy, and human rights.”

The US is one of Cambodia’s largest donors, providing $1.25 billion in aid and military assistance between 1993 and 2011, according to the senators. An additional $73.5 million in aid has been earmarked for next year.

Pointing to the Kingdom’s rating on the Human Development Index (138 of 187), its Corruption Perceptions Index standing (157 of 174) and its “not free” ranking in Freedom House’s latest world report, the senators then call for the US government to pull all support for the elections unless they accept recommendations posited by UN special rapporteur Surya Subedi, among others.

“A Cambodian government formed as a result of such illegitimate elections should not be eligible for direct United States Government assistance, including for the military and police, and the Department of State and United States Agency for International Development should jointly reassess and reduce assistance for Cambodia in subsequent fiscal years, and urge international financial institutions to do the same,” they continue.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was “very thankful for their concern about the upcoming election”, but urged a more nuanced look, pointing out that Rainsy’s convictions made him ineligible to run and stressing that the ruling party had been nothing if not “mature and patient” in the run-up to the July vote.

“I wish the US government would strengthen the rule of law rather than polarise this election. This election represents the will of the people.”

Noting that the resolution remained pending, US Embassy spokesman John Simmons declined to comment on whether aid would in fact be suspended but urged the Cambodian government to “consider seriously the recommendations by the UN special rapporteur”.

“The upcoming national elections will be a critical test of the Royal Government of Cambodia’s commitment to strengthening the nation’s democracy,” he wrote in an email.

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