Washington, DC – Cynthia Bunton, Regional Director for Asia at IRI, testified today before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus co-chaired by Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representatives Tom Lantos (D-CA 12th) and Frank Wolf (R-VA 10th).  In her testimony, Bunton highlighted the democratic transformation in the Asian region and urged Congress to remain engaged, “It is crucial for democracy’s continued expansion in the region that Congress continues to focus its attention on this issue.”

Bunton recognized the democratic progress of Mongolia, Bangladesh and Indonesia following decades of authoritarian rule.  She contrasted that with the lack of reform in China and North Korea. Bunton also highlighted the work of the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia and the work it does to advance democracy in their region.

Following years of Soviet dominated governments’ Mongolians demanded their right to choose their own leaders and elected their first parliament in 1990.  Although, those early successes quickly gave way to “volatility and unstable leadership,” Bunton went on to point out that Mongolia “has become one of the fairest and most stable systems in all of Asia.”

Following “three successive competitive and relatively peaceful elections,” the picture in Bangladesh is less positive.  The country’s leaders are in a political stalemate and election boycotts and violence are on the rise.

In Indonesia, democratic progress has been overshadowed by devastating natural disasters, but progress has continued.  A peace agreement has been signed with separatists in Aceh Province, “demonstrating the commitment of the Indonesian government to restoring and advancing democracy in that troubled region.”

In China, Bunton cited some encouraging signs.  “Civil society groups, legal advocates and the media are staking out ground to give voice to citizens’ concerns, and there is a growing consensus within China on the need for an end to official corruption, limits on state power and greater government transparency and accountability.”  She went on to point out that the system remains a one-party state and “political dissidents, journalists, workers’ activists and religious leaders can all be found in China’s prison population.”

With one of the worst human rights record in the world, Bunton stressed the need to support those who are resisting the North Korean regime.  “IRI believes there is work that can be done to support those fighting to loosen the draconian grip of the current regime, and we are in the process of exploring ways in which we might lend support to the brave men and women who are leading the struggle for a free and humane North Korea.”

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