PHILIPPINES: Human Rights Now report on extrajudicial killings in the Philippines
In the Philippines, hundreds of social activists and human rights defenders have been unlawfully killed as well as subjected to enforced disappearances since the Arroyo Administration came into power. Human Rights Now (HRN), a Tokyo-based international human rights NGO, conducted an investigation of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the Philippines on April 14-21, 2007.
The fact-finding mission conducted interviews concerning 15 cases of extrajudicial killings (involving 33 victims) and three cases of forced disappearances (involving 9 victims). Additionally, the team conducted interviews to understand the background to the series of human rights violations.
In most of the cases investigated, the HRN fact-finding team found that the killings, disappearances, and tortures could be attributed to or could most likely be attributed to the military or police forces of the Philippines.
First, among the cases the fact-finding team investigated, in 8 out of 15 cases of extrajudicial killings, the witnesses identified the perpetrators as elements of the AFP or belonging to the CAFGU, the army or paramilitary organization under the control of the army. In two of the three forced disappearance cases, witness and released victims clearly testified about the military's involvement.
Second, all extrajudicial cases have several patterns in common with other cases, such as: (a ) the victims are limited to certain groups, (b) victims were condemned by the government or AFP as enemy of state or NPA front, (c) victims were publicly exposing the human rights violations allegedly committed by the AFP, (d) victims were harassed, threatened with death, encouraged by the military to stop their leftist activity, or under persistent surveillance. The team detailed its finding in the report.
In terms of the number of killings, we recognize that more evaluation and clarification is necessary to determine the exact number. What is important to note is that a number of extrajudicial killings were indeed committed by state agencies.
HRN has grave concerns about the characteristics of the targeted victims in these killings. In the cases we investigated, the victims include highly respected lawyers, human rights activists, union leaders, a church bishop, a city councilor and left-wing activists. Most of the victims were advocates for the rights of ordinary citizens. Such killings perpetuate fear among the people and have a chilling effect on the society as a whole. It undermines freedom of expression, and ultimately, democracy in society.
HRN also has grave concerned that despite the facts stated above, perpetrators within the government have not been brought to justice and human rights violators are enjoying impunity. The fact-finding team found that it is extremely uncommon for the perpetrators of extrajudicial killing and abduction to be arrested or face trail.
In the 15 killing extrajudicial cases we have investigated, only one case has been prosecuted, no case gained conviction, and the alleged perpetrators are still in active duty in the military. HRN found systematic failure of investigations of the extrajudicial killings cases by the police, and PNP Task Force continuously disregards the accounts of victims families. Although the judiciary established new procedure to address the enforced disappearances, such as writ of amparo and writ of habeas data, many victims of disappearances are still missing with little cooperation of the military.
The impunity has brought about future human rights violations. For instance, the mission found that a military personnel who allegedly perpetrated extrajudicial killing of human rights activists in 2003, is also the perpetrator of rape and torture of the abducted student.
As a State party to the ICCPR, the State of the Philippines has a legal duty to ensure the right to life. In the case of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, the government has obligation to investigate thoroughly, identify the responsible persons, not only the actual perpetrators, but also identifying the chain of command, as well as ensuring reparation for the victims. HRN urges the Philippines government to conduct thorough investigation of the human rights violation and fight against impunity to restore rule of law and to prevent recurrences.
The fact-finding team underscores that the root cause of the extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearances in the Philippines is the national counter- insurgency policy which does not differentiate between the NPA, armed rebels, and legal organizations and activists. HRN obtains the Oplan Bantay Laya, a document of the militarys counter-insurgency strategy, and found that it stated neutralization of the target. Legitimate civil society organizations, such as human rights group, farmers organization, labor organization, religious organization and leftist organization are labeled as enemy of state NPA front Accordingly, they are targeted for elimination in the course of counter-insurgency operation. Extrajudicial killing is a highly probable measure of such elimination. In order to protect the fundamental human rights of civilian in the country, the Arroyo administration must put an end of the counter insurgency policy which links legal organization and activists to the insurgents, and target civilian for neutralization.
HRN is aware of the human rights violations by non-state actors in the country. The fact that non-state actors are committing human rights violations does not negate the states own obligation to protect human rights. At the same time, HRN urge all party of the internal conflicts in the Philippines to adhere of international humanitarian law and refrain from attack and abuse of civilian.
Lastly, HRN would like to call upon the government and CPP/NPA to proceed with peace negotiations and to implement the CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law).?
International Community, in particular the top donor Japanese government, should play a meaningful role to restore human rights and peace in the Philippines.
To read the full text of the report: http://www.pinoyhr.net/reports/EJK_HRN_2008.pdf
Kazuko Ito, Attorney at Law
Human Rights Now
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. The above statement has only been forwarded by the AHRC.