Conflicts, crackdowns mar 2008 Asian rights record: HRW
In its annual report for 2008, the New York-based group detailed worsening trends in much of Asia, including China's Olympic-year crackdown on civil liberties and its repression of protests across the Tibetan plateau.
Wars turned more bloody in Afghanistan, which saw the "worst violence since the fall of the Taliban," and Sri Lanka, where the government last January formally scrapped a ceasefire with the separatist Tamil Tigers.
Conflicts also flared up again in less-watched hotspots, including Muslim regions of Thailand and the Philippines, while Indonesian forces in remote West Papua "continue to engage in abuses ... with virtual impunity," it said.
HRW pointed to some progress in parts of South Asia, including the return to civilian rule in Pakistan after the end of the Pervez Musharraf presidency, and improvements ahead of polls in Bangladesh last month.
Elections in Nepal, where Maoists took power and the king abdicated, "marked a new era... after a decade of conflict that claimed over 13,000 lives."
But HRW also highlighted tighter restrictions on freedom of association, expression and religion in China, which it said "broke its promise to improve human rights in conjunction with its hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games."
In Tibet, where simmering anger against Chinese rule erupted into major protests last March, HRW said that following mass arrests of suspected demonstrators the whereabouts of several hundred detainees remained unknown.
HRW also criticised Asia's other population giant, India, for "serious abuses," including in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which was again rocked by major unrest in 2008.
The report pointed to India's "pattern of denial of justice and impunity" and a "failure to protect women, children and marginalized groups such Dalits, tribal groups and religious minorities."
India, as an emerging global player, was now often placing economic and strategic interests over rights concerns as it tried to compete with China in countries such as Myanmar, said HRW.
"As the world's most populous democracy, India might be expected to be at the forefront of global efforts to promote human rights," it said. "However, its current foreign policy often would make a confirmed dictator proud."
In Myanmar, also known as Burma -- which HRW said also draws support from China, Russia and Thailand -- democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi went into her sixth straight year of house arrest, one of over 2,150 political prisoners.
"The Burmese military continues to violate the rights of civilians in ethnic conflict areas and extrajudicial killings, forced labour, land confiscation without due process and other violations continued in 2008," said the report.
When Cyclone Nargis struck the country last May, "more than two million people waited for weeks for relief operations to reach them" after the reclusive regime denied access to foreign aid groups.
Life in Asia's other hermit state, North Korea, remained even more dire, with the regime continuing to "enslave" citizens in prison camps and executing people for crimes that include hoarding food, said the report.
Reports that leader Kim Jong-Il suffered a stroke in September "could have far-reaching consequences for human rights and governance," the group said.
Across much of Southeast Asia, human rights were also on shaky ground.
In Thailand "the end of a military-installed administration has not led to the restoration of rights and democracy" as political tensions "led to protracted protests and occasional deadly clashes."
Cambodia "continued its drift toward authoritarianism" as Prime Minister Hun Sen consolidated power through flawed July elections, while a tribunal to address Khmer Rouge-era crimes made slow progress.