State terrorism highlights workshop sessions among Southeast Asian countries

This was the result of the first workshop at the Conference on Counterterrorism Measures and Development in South and Southeast Asia at Waterfront Insular Hotel. The "working conference" was organized by Cordaid, Western Mindanao State University, the Mindanao PeaceWeavers, and the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID).

In Sri Lanka, many CSOs experience the "harsh government action which has taken its toll on public discourse which can be seen as unpatriotic among government agencies." Religious groups have mobilized also because they are also affected by the crisis, especially in relation to counterterrorism measures."

George Lopez, a professor at the Notre Dame University in Indiana, US, who reported a workshop proceeding, said many CSOs in Sri Lanka "operate in a climate of increasing fear, forced disappearance, and extra-judicial killings."

Government critics in Bangladesh are engaged into "classic human rights activism" by conducting independent investigation on alleged abuses of the state, collecting data from the grassroots affected by the government's CTMs, and involving the media for alternative reporting."

Malaysia's Internal Security Act (ISA) also legitimizes state oppression against vocal CSOs while engaging in a state-sponsored propaganda aimed at suppressing democratic space, according to Binky Palm-Dallupan, who reported the case experiences of CSOs in Malaysia.

A parliamentary committee was also set up by Malaysia's legislative chamber to undertake a "questioning process among NGOs which seems like a loyalty check among Malaysian CSOs."

Women in South Thailand are also complaining about the government's counterterrorism measures because it infringes on their gender rights.

Challenging through dialogue

A non-violent approach to engage the governments of Bangladesh, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, is through dialogue, said Dallupan "because that is the only way where CSOs can lay down their cards and to start influencing."

Solidarity movements among CSOs in Southeast Asia as they deal with CTMs "must be anchored also in dialogue that transcends boundaries in the South." This regional movement will also "enhance collective advocacy among nations needing international support and establish linkages and networking within the region."

Dallupan said that CSOs need to come up with pro-active strategies to challenge the security paradigms of governments which include a "continuing dialogue with the military and possible training with them on CTMs."

However, terrorism must be clearly defined first before CSOs embark on policy dialogue with their respective governments," Jenny Chapman said.

Chapman the bigger challenge among CSOs is "how to work out for an acceptable definition of terrorism" (See other story)

Alternative information

Media has a critical role to play in advancing the legitimate issues of CSOs, the participants found out during the workshops.

Chapman said many people in Sri Lanka "don't know the real CTM situation in their own country because of the lack of alternative information available for the people."

"Alternative information is necessary to bring up the issues from the communities," said Lopez, adding that "presenting real-life situations need a better media."

Sri Lankans don not have a broader view and understanding of the counterterrorism activities in their country thus making them more vulnerable to state oppression and terrorism," Chapman said. "They are not allowed to grasp the exact view of what is happening in their own country," she added.

"The current situations in Southeast Asia enabled CSOs to widen their creativity by focusing less on advocacy-based work to more information-based community development programs," Dallupan said.

Bottom-top organizing

Still, it is going back to basic organizing at the grassroots level, conference participants realized.

"We can only make CTMs work for us if we link ourselves to the grassroots, their experiences, and their issues," Dallupan said.

Deepening of understanding about CTM and conscious probing into the context of the global war on terror can strengthen South to South solidarity, Chapman noted. This interplay, according to Dallupan, will also institutionalize cross-border advocacy work among CSOs.

"Many NGOs are involved in the peace process and now that there is this CTMs anywhere, it is necessary for them to involve their communities and strengthen basic community organizing," Dallupan said. (Rick R. Flores/MindaNews contributor)