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AHRC condemns unrestrained killings of activists in Philippines

AHRC condemns unrestrained killings of activists in Philippines

(Hong Kong, April 13, 2005) The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemned the Philippine authorities on Wednesday for taking no action to stop the killings of human rights and political activists in the country.

Government and army officials were also slammed for branding the victims as communist sympathisers to justify their inaction and failure to bring the perpetrators to justice.

"The government of the Philippines is now faced with a very serious new threat to the protection of human rights and democracy in the country," the AHRC said in a statement.

The Hong Kong-based regional human rights group warned that the Philippine government was "playing an extremely dangerous game" by reverting to labelling tactics similar to that under the Marcos regime and failing to act on these recent killings.

Describing the killings as "unrestrained", the rights group noted that the approach of targeting political opponents and human rights defenders undermines the rule of law in the Philippines and is contrary to the country's international obligations.

At least 18 human rights and political activists have been killed or disappeared in the Philippines since January.

The latest reported attack was on Alden Ambida, a provincial coordinator of the opposition Bayan Muna party in Eastern Samar, on Monday. He is now fighting for his life in hospital.

Three other Bayan Muna leaders and a supporter were killed last month.

No perpetrators have been arrested and prosecuted so far.

"Common among all the victims is that they were persons critical of the government," the AHRC noted.

Yet government and army officials have labelled the victims communist sympathisers, the rights group said. It cited the death of Abelardo Ladera, a Bayan Muna party leader, as an example. Ladera was written off as a killing by communists and not properly investigated by the authorities.

Last week, Brigadier General Jose Angel Hondrado, the army civil relations chief, even openly listed human rights, political, religious and media organisations allegedly "influenced or infiltrated" by communists.

"The effect of this branding has been to excuse the authorities of responsibility in dealing with the cases: by implication, killing an alleged communist is not a crime in the Philippines," the AHRC said.

"The listing of these organisations as 'communist sympathisers' by the army is tantamount to an invitation to murder their members without fear of consequences. The army stands to gain most from labelling victims as communists where its personnel have had a hand in the killings," the rights group added. 

The group questioned why the government had not taken urgent steps to deal with the recent killings of the activists as it did in some murder cases of journalists, which saw speedy inquiries and arrests of suspects.

"Despite outcry by many groups in the country, why has the president remained mute (on the killings of human rights and political activists)?" the AHRC asked.

The AHRC demanded full investigations and judicial inquiries on the killings without delay and to hold the perpetrators accountable for their crimes as well as to make sure that this pattern of killings will not be allowed to continue.

"To do this, the government, and president in particular, should publicly voice concern over the killings and direct the concerned authorities to take the necessary action," the AHRC urged.

The Department of Justice should instruct the National Bureau of Investigation to take over these cases as the bureau is the most appropriate and relatively independent agency available for the task.

The AHRC also called for protection to all witnesses related to the cases. The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines must play an active role by conducting impartial probes into the cases and making recommendations to indemnify the victims' families, the group said.

The government was urged to condemn and demand the retraction of the statements by the armed forces listing groups as "communist sympathisers".

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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.

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