|Human Rights Watch: Justice absent in killings and 'disappearances'|
|Written by the Human Rights Watch|
|Thursday, 27 March 2008 12:20|
The United Nations should carefully review the Philippine government’s failure to hold accountable those responsible for killings and “disappearances,” Human Rights Watch said today. The first-ever Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines at the UN Human Rights Council takes place in Geneva on April 11, 2008.
Killings and enforced disappearances
Since 2001, hundreds of members of left-wing political parties, activists, journalists, and outspoken clergy have been killed or “disappeared.” The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, Philippine human rights groups, and Human Rights Watch all found strong evidence of military involvement in many of these cases.
Scrutiny of the Philippines is part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a new UN mechanism used in assessing the human rights record of all United Nations member states. The Philippine government and nongovernmental organizations have made written submissions to the Human Rights Council. On April 11, in Geneva, member states will examine the human rights situation in the Philippines in a three-hour open session that will also be streamed live on the web. This is the first time the Philippine government has undergone such review, which will happen every four years.
In its submission, the Philippine government lists a number of specific measures it has taken to address extrajudicial killings, including implementing the findings of the government Melo commission report and Task Force Usig (Task Force Prosecution), better coordination between police, prosecution and other agencies, strengthening laws on witness protection, and new human rights offices within the armed forces and the national police.
The Supreme Court’s new procedure of the writ of amparo – a habeas corpus-like procedure in which state agencies are compelled to reveal to the court the whereabouts of named persons, disclose documentary evidence or allow court-authorized searches of premises – has shown some success in “resurfacing” more than half-a-dozen people. But some 100 cases remain pending, including that of Jonas Burgos, an agricultural activist who was abducted by alleged security forces in broad daylight in an urban mall in April 2007. While an important safeguard against government abuse, the writ of amparo is no substitute for prosecuting perpetrators of arbitrary arrest and detention.
In its UPR submission, the government claims that “as a concrete manifestation of the Philippines’ willingness to cooperate with the international human rights system,” it invited UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston in February 2007. The government has chosen to quote only positive selections from Alston’s report, omitting, for example, his finding that the military remained in denial about the killings, and has not rejected earlier government attacks on the report, such as the high-ranking military officer who called the UN rapporteur “brainwashed.”
The government’s UPR submission notes that the Philippines repealed the anti-subversion law and decriminalized the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Although membership in the CPP has been legal since 1992, high-ranking military and police officers have repeatedly made statements to Human Rights Watch that imply that membership is illegal and which conflate the CPP with its armed wing, the New People’s Army. Some officers have also publicly suggested that members of certain nongovernmental organizations are valid targets of attack because of their alleged association or sympathy with the CPP or the New People’s Army.
Human Rights Watch also expressed concerns that the 2007 anti-terrorism law, the Human Security Act, contained provisions that could allow authorities to hold detainees indefinitely, and engage in spurious prosecutions. The UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism called for the law to be repealed or its implementation to be delayed.