Kin of Ampatuan massacre victims seek UN help

“In this [Ampatuan] case, our criminal justice system is not working. The much-needed reforms in our institutions never happened.” Harry Roque, lawyer for the families of 14 victims


MANILA – Frustrated at the snail-paced trial, relatives of victims of the Ampatuan massacre have sought intervention of the United Nations (UN) into the case.

Relatives of 14 of the victims submitted yesterday an electronic complaint before the United Nations Human Rights Committee seeking redress and reparation for the killing of their loved ones.

The Ampatuan massacre on Nov. 23, 2009 claimed the lives of 58 civilians, of whom 32 are journalists. The primary suspects belong to the powerful Ampatuan clan.

“It is the state’s responsibility to provide adequate legal remedy,” Harry Roque, legal counsel of the families, said in a press conference, Nov. 19 at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications (UP-CMC) Auditorium. “In this [Ampatuan] case, our criminal justice system is not working. The much needed reforms in our institutions never happened.”

Roque said after four years, the trial is only 20 percent completed. “It will not be resolved under the Aquino administration. That is impossible.”

Citing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Philippines is a signatory, Roque said the state failed in its obligation to protect the right to life of the victims.

“This obligation is rooted in human rights treaties to which the Philippines is a party. In particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Charter — as interpreted by the subsequent practice of state parties — impose the obligation to promote and protect human rights,” the petition stated.

Earlier, Malacañang dismissed the proposal to provide compensation to the families. In a report, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Philippine government, as an entity, is not involved in the crime.

Reacting to this, Roque, also chairman of the Center for International Law (CenterLaw), called Malacañang’s lawyers as “ignoramuses” of international law.

Roque lamented that while the Aquino administration paid compensation to the families of Hong Kong nationals who died in the August 2010 hostage crisis, the families of Ampatuan massacre victims receive no compensation at all.

“Don’t tell us they don’t have the money,” Roque said. “Not now that it has been exposed that politicians pocketed billions of pesos [from the nation’s coffers.”

This morning, the Media Defence Southeast Asia (MDSEA) filed a letter of allegation to three UN special rapporteurs, inviting them to intervene and investigate the numerous cases of killings of journalists, including the Ampatuan Massacre.

The letter was addressed to Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom Of Opinion And Expression; Christof Heyns , UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary Or Arbitrary Executions; and Pablo De Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence

UN special rapporteurs may conduct independent investigations and put forward recommendations to UN member countries.

The MDSEA alleged that the Philippine government violated the right to life of the journalists killed and their right to freedom of expression. Both rights, the MDSEA stated, are enshrined in the ICCPR and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“One killing of journalist is a gross violation of human rights. One killing is permanent censorship,” MDSEA legal officer Gilbert Andres said in a press conference this morning. “The Philippines is ranked third in the Impunity Index and that is something we should not be proud of.”

Alternative media outfits and human rights advocates recently tagged Aquino as “Impunity King” for his administration’s failure to resolve the Ampatuan massacre and other human rights abuses.

In a report, Presidential Communications Operations Office Sonny Coloma said the tag is baseless and excessive.

In reaction, human rights alliance Karapatan said, “The sheer failure of accountability mechanisms under the Aquino administration is attested to by the continuing rights violations; that no high official especially among state security forces has been jailed and convicted for their heinous crimes; and that BS Aquino continues his blame games instead of owning up to his administration’s liability.” ()

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