Stop the killings, open letter & petition urge
(Hong Kong, July 6, 2006) The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on Thursday urged the new police chief in the Philippines to "exhaust all possible means" to stop the relentless killings of human rights defenders and social activists there.
In an open letter to General Oscar Calderon, who took his post on Wednesday, the Hong Kong-based regional rights group said that he should make the identification, arrest and prosecution of killers his top priority.
"It is not sufficient to say that simply addressing the unrelenting killings is a part of your agenda; it must be at the TOP of your agenda," Basil Fernando, executive director of the AHRC, said.
Meanwhile, a petition was launched on Thursday calling for the government of the Philippines to take unequivocal steps to stop the killings in order "to avert a new social crisis".
The online petition, which was launched by the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, Philippine Independent Church and Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants together with the AHRC, estimates that there have been over 290 killings of activists since 2004.
A new website, www.pinoyhr.net, was set up to host the petition.
Two more activists were reported killed just as the petition was being launched.
The petition describes the response of the authorities to the "extraordinary number" of killings as "completely inadequate".
Both the petition and the open letter identify witness protection as a key area for attention by the police chief and justice department.
"The Witness Protection Security and Benefit Act (6981) does not appear to be operative at all. Nor are we aware of any efforts made by the police to recommend that persons at risk be recommended to the Department of Justice as beneficiaries under this law," Fernando said in the letter.
He cited the killing of Enrico Cabanit in Davao del Norte on April 24 as an example.
Cabanit's daughter survived the attack but she has since received no protection, and the perpetrators of the crime remain at large.
Similarly, Amante Abelon survived an attack in Zambales on March 20 in which his wife and son were killed. He too has since been unprotected, and witnesses to the attack also fear for their lives.
The AHRC highlighted a number of other recent cases of concern, including the failed investigations into the killings of George Vigo and his wife on June 19 and Reverend Andy Pawican on May 21.
It also said that whereas the police had allegedly been behind an attempt to kill labour activist Gerardo Cristobal on April 28, the target was instead himself charged with attempted murder.
The petition states that the killings speak to the government's failure to meet its obligations under international law, in particular, in relation to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
It also called for the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines to play a stronger role in addressing the killings.
Full text of the petition is given below. It may also be read online at www.pinoyhr.net.
When it is signed, copies of the letter are sent to the justice department, UN human rights experts, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines and the Pope.
The government of the Philippines recently outlawed the death penalty just prior to a visit to the Pope by its president.
To sign the petition, please visit: www.pinoyhr.net/signature.php
PETITION: PHILIPPINES--STOP THE KILLINGS NOW
Dear Secretary of the Department of Justice
Recent years have seen an extraordinary number of political activists and human rights defenders extra-judicially killed in the Philippines. Reports indicate that approximately 290 such persons have been killed since 2004. These figures and the current situation in the Philippines are entirely unacceptable and require urgent intervention by the Government if the killings are to stop.
The unabated killings and attacks against activists in the Philippines have revealed a completely inadequate response by the government to prevent further deaths and to remedy this worsening situation. The police's responsibility in investigating these cases has fallen completely short of what is required, resulting in the perpetrators, in most cases, having yet to be prosecuted in a court of law. This lack of an effective police investigation into the killings and violence against activists and the Governments seeming unwillingness to properly intervene are the greatest obstacles in prosecuting the perpetrators and bringing an end to these deaths.
It appears that in the Philippines no system exists to properly ensure that perpetrators of serious crimes may be brought to justice for their actions. One of the basic elements of investigation, the gathering of evidence, appears to be non-existent in the Philippines right now. In most of the cases involving the killings of activists, this inability to properly gather evidence has meant that the perpetrators have not even been identified or persons who were present are so afraid that they are unwilling to be witnesses. Owing to this, many of the cases have not even made it to a court of law.
The failure to implement an effective investigation and a functioning witness protection mechanism appear to be major obstacles in bringing justice to cases of extra-judicial killings. Remedying this would require the effective implementation of the Republic Act 6981, an act providing for witness protection, security and benefit, including protection for activists who are facing threats to their lives. This would be extremely beneficial to all activists and human rights defenders who currently face such fears.
The Government of Philippines has failed to respond to the concluding observations and the recommendations made by the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations on 1 December 2003. The Government is obligated to take appropriate action, as State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to the Committee's conclusion and recommendation that reads:
"The Committee is concerned about the lack of appropriate measures to investigate crimes allegedly committed by State security forces and agents, in particular those committed against human rights defenders, journalists and leaders of indigenous peoples, and the lack of measures taken to prosecute and punish the perpetrators.
"The State party should adopt legislative and other measures to prevent such violations, in keeping articles 2, 6 and 9 of the Covenant, and ensure effective enforcement of the legislation."
The Government's failure to take adequate action in response to these recommendations and to the killings themselves, are clearly depriving Filipinos of their right to life. Such action has terrorised and silenced the people, in particular those critical of the state, which is entirely unacceptable. It has also denied Filipinos of an environment where the basic rule of law exists.
To prevent further killings of activists and human rights defenders and to avert a new social crisis in the country, the government must take immediate action regarding these matters. First, and most obviously, full investigations and judicial inquiries must follow without delay, with a view to holding the perpetrators fully accountable for their crimes and making clear that this pattern of killings will not be allowed to continue. Secondly, witness protection must be given to all persons who have witnessed the crimes. Thirdly, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines must play an active role by coordinating its work with the National Bureau of Investigation, rather than waiting for other agencies to take the initiative, and by considering recommendations to indemnify the families of the dead. Fourthly, the Government must condemn and demand the retraction of statements by the armed forces listing groups as 'communist sympathisers'.
Until these measures are taken, the perpetrators will remain free and the killings will undoubtedly continue. The Government of the Philippines must take action if this situation is to be averted.
As the Secretary of the Department of Justice I trust that you will be amongst the first to take the necessary action.
To sign: www.pinoyhr.net/signature.php
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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.
Posted on 2006-07-06