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Leo Echegaray Faces Death Sentence Again on 5 February 1999

January 26, 1999

AHRC UA990126 Philippines 26 January 1999 <br>
ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION URGENT APPEAL [UPDATE] <br>
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On 23 December 1998 ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION issued an appeal to commute the death sentence of Leo Echegaray. Thanks to all your support he was given reprive for 6 months. Due strong pressure from the pro-death penalty lobby - he now faces death again on 5th February 1999. <br>
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7 September 1994: Leo Echegaray was sentenced to death for rape. Leo becomes the first person to be sentenced to death in the Philippines in 23 years. <br>
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4 January 1999: Leo Echegaray faced execution by lethal injection. <br>
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4 Janaury 1999: The Supreme Court gave a six month reprive just three hours before Leo's execution. <br>
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19 Janaury 1999: The Supreme Court lifted the reprieve and Leo is scheduled to be executed on 5 February 1999. Leo Echegaray was sentenced to death for raping the child of his mistress. This appeal is for commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment. The appeal is not based on any under-estimation of the crime he committed. It is based on the highest principle of recognition of death penalty as an inhuman punishment. <br>
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION: <br>
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In 1987, the Philippines' new constitution abolished the death penalty. <br>
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In 1993 capital punishment was reintroduced for \&quot;heinous\&quot; crimes including rape, murder, kidnap and drug trafficking. It is applicable for 46 offences and is mandatory for 21. There are 864 people on death row. More ten 450 were sentenced for rape of which 159 cases involved abuse of their own children or close relatives. Each month an average 12 people are sentenced to death. <br>
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The reintroduction of the death penalty constitutes a serious threat to the enjoyment of the right to life. The application of the term \&quot;heinous crimes\&quot; or \&quot;serious crimes\&quot; should be limited to such crimes as war crimes and crimes against humanity like genocide or ethnic cleansing. <br>
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On 17 July 1998, Philippines sign the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court adopted by United Nations diplomatic Conference of Plenipontentiaries on the Estalishment of an International Criminal Court. The Statutes states that the most serious punishment for convicted war criminals or person responsible for crimes against humanity is life imprisonment. It no longer holds water to claim that the death penalty is society's self-defenses as there are more effective civilized forms of remedies available in todays modern society. <br>
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Its a known fact that the death penalty is imposed disproportionately on the poorest and most disadvantaged people. Philippines needs to combat serious crimes. But there are no convincing evidence that the death penalty deters criminals more effectively than any other punishments. <br>
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RECOMMENDED ACTION: We encourage you to continue writing faxes and letters to the philippines government. Request the following action to be taken: <br>
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- urge President Estrada to commute the death sentence passed on Leo Echegaray to life imprisonment and to suspend the executions; <br>
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- express that the death penalty violates the right to life; <br>
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- urge the death penalty to be abolished as recommeded by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/8; <br>
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SEND APPEAL LETTER TO: <br>
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President Joseph Estrada, Malacang Palace, Manila, Philippines. Faxes: + 63 2 832 3793 (via Department of Foreign Affairs) + 63 2 731 1325 (via Press Secretary to the President); e-mails: erap@erap.com <br>
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SEND COPIES TO: <br>
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Serafin Cuevas, Secretary of Justice, Department of Justice, Padre Faura, Ermita, Manila. Philippines. E-mails: doj@erap.com; Faxes: + 63 2 521 1614 <br>
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Ms. Mary Robinson, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Palais des Nations, 8-14 avenue de la Paix, CH 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland. Telephone number: (41 22) 9173456; Fax number: (41 22) 9170213; E-mail: webadmin.hchr@unog.ch <br>
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and to diplomatic representatives of the Philippines accredited to your country. <br>
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Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
UA990126
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.