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Abstract

Between 1969 and 1979 Indonesia’s New Order regime consigned some 12,000 leftist political prisoners to a penal settlement on the island of Buru in eastern Indonesia. The prisoners were sent there without trial as part of a mass detention campaign undertaken by the state security organisation, Kopkamtib. Once on the island, they were expected to create a new, viable settlement by clearing jungle and planting crops. The authorities had no intention of releasing the prisoners, but rather expected then to settle on the island for good. In order to enhance the ‘normalcy’ of the settlement, the authorities persuaded and coerced the families of some prisoners to move to Buru. Although conditions were better in Savanajaya, the settlement allocated to families, than in other parts of the penal colony, the family members of detainees were subject to many of the same rules of detention. Prisoners and their families suffered both from difficult conditions on Buru and from harsh ill-treatment by camp guards. Under international pressure, the New Order regime dismantled the settlement in 1979, and most of the detainees returned to Java.

In: Detention Camps in Asia
Author: Sarah Kovner

Abstract

Prisoner-of-war (POW) camps in Fukuoka are today infamous for Japanese brutality during the Second World War. But in 1945, some U.S. authorities judged that most Allied prisoners in Japan were treated in much the same way as Japan’s own servicemen. Recent scholarship has revealed the full complexity of the POW experience across Japan’s vast wartime empire, and challenged popular misconceptions that imagine a consistent policy of mistreating servicemen. But understanding what happened in Fukuoka is particularly important in establishing the nature and extent of Tokyo’s culpability for the abuse that did occur. Unlike in newly conquered territories like Burma and the Philippines, these camps were directly under the War Minister’s purview. What factors dictated the conditions of captivity in Fukuoka and the rest of Japan? How did POWs compare it to their experiences in other camps? What role did the camps play in Japan’s war economy? And how did prisoners’ situation change over the course of the conflict? This paper seeks to reconstruct the POW experience in the Fukuoka region by focusing on a particular camp and analysing it using evidence from multiple archives, including high-level War Ministry policy documents, the extensive record of the war crimes trials, and accounts written by prisoners from several countries.

In: Detention Camps in Asia
Author: James Leibold

Abstract

Beginning in early 2017, China detained upwards of a million Muslims in extrajudicial ‘transformation through education’ camps in the far western region of Xinjiang. Inside these camps Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim ethnic minorities were subjected to coercive political indoctrination in order to ‘cleanse’ Xinjiang of the ‘three evil forces’ of terrorism, separatism and extremism. The camps were also designed to shore up Chinese Communist Party control over this restive borderland where the dominant Han ethnic group still comprises a demographic minority. This chapter explores the pathology and cultural logic of these mass internment camps, seeking to place them in the broader context of ideological remoulding efforts in the People’s Republic of China. Like the counter-revolutionaries of old, Uyghurs and other Muslims are now naturalised as abnormal, sick and dangerous, thus requiring invasive cultural and political ‘surgery’ to cure their ‘disease’. This radical treatment has serious and hazardous implications for Chinese society under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In: Detention Camps in Asia
Author: Jess Melvin

Abstract

This chapter uses eyewitness testimony and internal military documents to investigate the operation of detention camps during the 1965–1966 Indonesian genocide. It argues that different types of detention camps were used by the military during this period. These different types of camps were established at different times and used for different functions. The chapter focuses on ‘detain/kill’ sites that were utilised during the systematic mass killing phase of the military’s campaign. The purpose of this type of detention camp was to process detainees for death. By comparing the rare eyewitness account of a survivor of a ‘detain/kill’ detention camp in Takengon, Central Aceh, with the military’s own records, I point to the military’s coordinating role behind what was a systematic campaign to annihilate Indonesia’s communist group.

In: Detention Camps in Asia
Author: Sandra Wilson

Abstract

The Japanese military held very large numbers of Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees in camps throughout the Japanese empire during the conflict in the Pacific (1941–1945). Conditions in many camps were notoriously bad: prisoners of war suffered from poor living conditions, overwork, and shortages of food and medicines, and could be subject to brutal treatment by guards. Deaths in detention numbered 35,756 according to figures presented to the Tokyo War Crimes Trial. Civilian internees also suffered from lack of food and medical care, from crowded conditions and from brutality. Evidence presented at Allied war crimes trials, together with post-war memoirs by former prisoners and internees, have reinforced an image of prisoners’ unrelieved suffering. In fact, however, conditions in the camps varied widely. Three key factors primarily affected the conditions of camp life: the overwhelming number of prisoners and internees and the speed with which they were captured; the policy of putting prisoners of war to work; and a perceived hardening of Japanese public attitudes to prisoners and internees.

In: Detention Camps in Asia
Author: Robert Cribb

Abstract

Detention camps are administrative institutions created by states to contain and segregate people whom they consider dangerous because of their actions, their potential actions or their identity. Camps have held both prisoners of war and civilian internees. It is often claimed that camps benefit detainees by protecting them from hostile elements in broader society and by training them for eventual integration. In practice detention disempowers detainees because it subjects them to unaccountable discipline, to a loss of hope and often to physical conditions that are spartan at best.

The term ‘camp’ was once a synonym for temporary accommodation outside urban areas. During the nineteenth century, state authorities began to use camps as places for the mass detention of people whose liberty they had reason to fear, both their own civilians and enemy soldiers captured in war. The international historiography of detention camps has focussed on the extermination camps of Nazi Germany and the counter-insurgency camps of Euro-American colonial powers. Although detention camps in Asia have been structurally similar to those in other parts of the world, the prime justification offered by state authorities in Asia for inflicting conditions resembling judicial punishment on formally innocent people has been the need to protect detainees and the rest of society. Detainees often live in terrible conditions, but the core purpose of the camps is social segregation. Agamben and Foucault see camps as a mirror reflecting broader repressive trends in society. The ‘world-system’ theory of Wallerstein, by contrast, suggests that they can be seen as oppressive institutions that enable freedom in other parts of society.

In: Detention Camps in Asia
Author: Karl Hack

Abstract

This chapter argues that resettlement, detention camps, rehabilitation, and deportation need to be seen as elements of an integrated British counter-insurgency strategy in late colonial Malaya. In each case, the emphasis was on more than mere ‘detention’ or removal. Detention camps, for instance, were also places for segregating, sorting, rehabilitating, and beginning release processes. By contrast, New Villages, were attempts to protect and control rural dwellers. Residents were treated more harshly when perceived as supporting insurgents, but the authorities balanced coercion with promised better treatment if information was forthcoming, and the gradual development of New Villages. Overall, then, ‘detention camps’ need to be seen both as just one form of population segregation, and the act of ‘detention’ as one part of a variegated processes allowing for segregation, control and influence.

In: Detention Camps in Asia
Author: Hannah Loney

Abstract

The small island of Ataúro, located approximately twenty-five kilometres off the north coast of East Timor, has a long history of being used as a prison island. The Portuguese colonial administration did so over a long period, as did the Japanese occupying forces during the Second World War. The Government of Indonesia, which occupied East Timor from 1975 to 1999, implemented a similar policy. From 1980 until 1984, Ataúro was used as a holding centre for an estimated 4,000 people from across the territory – most of whom were women, children, and the elderly – as part of a military administrative strategy of isolating, detaining, and surveilling individuals and families who were considered a possible support base for the East Timorese resistance. This chapter examines life on Ataúro Island for those detainees. Conditions on the island changed across the course of the period, but daily life was generally marked by a harsh regime of deprivation, isolation, and disease. Following their release, former detainees continued to be subjected to various systems of surveillance, sporadic interrogation and detention, and restrictive policies on movement. This chapter argues that the use of Ataúro as a “prison island” is emblematic of the occupying regime’s systematic attempts to displace local populations, to cut off ties between civilians and the resistance and, in so doing, to deeply disrupt the social fabric of East Timorese societies.

In: Detention Camps in Asia
Author: Nick Cheesman

Abstract

In January 1959, a newly formed military-led government set up a camp in the Cocos Islands, the remotest archipelago within Burma’s territory, to confine detainees cast as threats to law and order. Who did it send? Why? What did they encounter there and how did they get back to the mainland? This chapter addresses these questions via a reading of former detainees’ memoirs. In doing so it attends to how the detainees imagined and acted upon possibilities for their own liberation from the camp, and possibilities for the freedom of Burma from military domination. And it considers how the political history of Burma might be reimagined through a reading of memoirs and other sources recounting struggles for liberation, individually and collectively.

In: Detention Camps in Asia
Author: Grace J. Chae

Abstract

The Korean War is best known as the seminal battleground of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. However, it was also a civil struggle between factions with differing visions of a post-colonial Korea. This latter feature is most pronounced in studies on the detention of Korean male prisoners of war (POWs) in U.S. custody. As POW captures increased after MacArthur’s ‘Inch’ŏn landing’, so, too, did the complexity of the population. Military intelligence discovered that Korean prisoners not only consisted of North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) soldiers, but there were also southern and northern refugees, as well as Republic of Korea soldiers and civilians who willingly joined or were forcibly conscripted into the NKPA. As the armistice negotiations intensified on the issue of voluntary repatriation, conditions in the camps grew uncertain and increasingly violent. Amid this narrative lies the fragmented story of 700 Korean female POWs. Although their experiences in many ways parallel those of their male peers, their story also reveals an ambivalence on the part of their American captors, providing further insights into the role that gender, race, and politics played in the U.S. military’s detention of POWs during the Korean War.

In: Detention Camps in Asia