Asian Rights Body says Arroyo Gov’t Can’t Deliver Justice to Victims

The Philippine government is showing little signs of willingness or capacity to deliver justice to victims of human rights violations. This is the assessment made by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a non-government organization promoting human rights issues in Asia. The AHRC made this assessment in a report it issued Dec. 21.

BY Bulatlat.com

The Philippine government is showing little signs of political will or capacity to deliver justice to victims of human rights violations. Instead, the Arroyo government is being asked to establish a truly independent body to probe extrajudicial killings.

This is the assessment and recommendation made by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a non-government organization promoting human rights issues in Asia. The AHRC made this assessment in a report it issued Dec. 21 this year.

“With gross violations of human rights continuing unabated and avenues for seeking justice and redress completely lacking, the Philippine government’s institutions are showing little sign of having the will or capacity to deliver justice,” the AHRC stated in its report, titled Getting Away with Murder: Widespread Extrajudicial Killings Combine with a Defective System to Ensure Impunity and Injustice. “The human rights crisis in the country has worsened during 2006. There are numerous serious cases, in particular the shocking targeted extra-judicial killings of activists, enforced disappearance and torture, being documented almost daily. In fact, these gross violations have already become a subconsciously acceptable way of life for Filipinos. These rights violation cases only represent a fairly well-documented fraction of the reality of human rights – or the lack of – in the country.”

Based on data from Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), there have been more than 185 extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in 2006 alone.

“While the government claims to have upheld human rights at home and abroad, in reality the victims of violations and their relatives are experiencing the complete opposite,” the AHRC continued. “The government’s election to two of the United Nations main organs – the Human Rights Council and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in May and November respectively – does not exonerate the government from its bleak human rights records.”

Ineffective policy investigation

The AHRC cited in particular what it described as the lack of effective investigations by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

“While the police are on occasion able to identify suspects, make arrests and file charges in court, the results of investigations are frequently being challenged or questioned by victims themselves,” the AHRC noted. “Police investigators likewise often make premature pronouncements as to the motive of the killings, and reject any suggestions from the victims’ families that may be helpful in the investigation of the case. The police have also adopted a strange definition of what they consider as been solved cases. Even if the police’s actions do not lead to the successful prosecution of the alleged perpetrators in court, and even if arrests of alleged perpetrators have not been made, they consider cases as being solved. Once the case is with the prosecutor, they reason, their job is done. What happens after that is someone else’s business.”

The AHRC also criticized the Department of Justice (DoJ) for acting on what it described as “defective and partial” police investigations. This, the human rights group said, often resulted in the victims’ being constrained to deny “fabricated charges” against them by the police. It cited the case of Cavite labor leader Gerardo Cristobal, who was allegedly ambushed by policemen last April and subsequently slapped with frustrated murder charges.

Likewise, the implementation of international human rights instruments to which the Philippines is a State-party is poor, the AHRC also said. “Although the government is a State-party to international human rights Covenants and Conventions, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), its actual implementation of the provisions enshrined within these instruments is derisory,” the AHRC stated.

Failure to comply with UN laws

The human rights group also noted that the Philippines has failed to implement most of the December 2003 concluding observations of the UN Human Rights Committee regarding the ICCPR. “The unabated extrajudicial killings of activists, could have been prevented if not completely stopped had the government seriously addressed (the) ‘lack of appropriate measures to investigate crimes allegedly committed by State security forces and agents,’ and had taken all necessary measures to improve the witness protection programme,” the AHRC stated.

The AHRC did not mince words in criticizing the Melo Commission, formed last August by the Arroyo administration ostensibly to look into the killings of activists and journalists, saying the body is “duplicating” the functions of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

The AHRC’s assessment of the 2006 Philippine human rights situation is part of its report on the state of human rights in 11 Asian countries for this year. In its summary of the report, the AHRC stated:

Specifically, Asia’s people feel discontent over the authoritarianism of democratically elected governments as well as military regimes. They are restlessness over restrictions on their freedom of expression, association and assembly. They are angry at the use of martial law and emergency and terrorism laws that steal their rights in the name of making them secure. They are frustrated over rampant corruption and dissatisfied over the ineffectiveness of states to stop manifold forms of discrimination that are widely experienced throughout the continent. They are distressed as extrajudicial killings, disappearances and torture continue unabated, and they are disappointed over the ineffectiveness of parliaments, judiciaries, police forces and prosecution systems to address these deficiencies. Moreover, states are not dealing with this discontent in a positive manner by trying to resolve these problems. Instead, governments resort to even worse military and policing methods to deal with them. This is the grim picture of Asia as it approaches 2007.

2006 has witnessed certain notably highs and lows. Firstly, Nepal has witnessed a historic popular revolt that has effectively over-thrown the country’s King, whose regime was responsible for gross and massive violations of human rights. This has led to a political process that could well enable a lasting end to the internal conflict that has raged in the country for over a decade, if all parties abide by their commitments, although much needs to be done in order to dismantle impunity and achieve justice for the thousands of human rights victims in the country. Sri Lanka has descended into further violence, and the AHRC has branded the country the most violent place in Asia at the moment, with the State having singularly failed to take any serious steps to bring the situation under control. In Thailand, respect for human rights and the rule of law were set back many years with the return to power of the military on September 19. The Philippines has been the stage of a campaign widespread, targeted political extra-judicial killings, accompanied by the abject failure of the government to do anything to halt them or bring those accountable to justice. In other countries, such as Bangladesh, Burma, and Pakistan, endemic, gross violations continue unabated, while the international community turns a blind eye. In India, the majority of the population continue to suffer from poverty and a lack of access to rights, despite the much heralded economic boom that the country is experiencing.

In its assessment of the Philippine human rights situation for 2006, the AHRC recommended, among other things, that the government establish a truly independent body to probe extrajudicial killings – one that would not undermine the CHR’s work but instead actively engage it in the investigation process. The AHRC also recommended that full protection for victims and witnesses be ensured, that perpetrators of human rights violations be meted due punishment, and the families of victims be given full reparation. (Bulatlat.com)

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