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Outlawing torture must be a priority to show commitment to human rights

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Outlawing torture must be a priority to show commitment to human rights

On 7 June 2006 a Committee in the Philippine Congress approved a consolidated bill seeking to outlaw torture. By approving this long overdue bill, the Committee acknowledged the need to enact an enabling law on torture. While this development is warmly welcomed the issue of how to consistently push for it is a matter of further concern. Torture victims have long been denied the possibility to seek remedy and justice due to the absence of a law. Therefore, members of the legislative body can no longer delay this proposed bill and must consider it with the utmost priority. The Committee’s effort thus far will be meaningless if the Congress fails to meet the objective of enacting a law against torture.

It can be recalled that on April 19, before the Philippines was elected as a member to the UN Human Rights Council, it pledged to: “…focus on bridging national and international human rights goals, standards”. It also assured to “…seek to strengthen domestic support for the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (CAT)”. Legislation of domestic law according to international human rights standards is a precondition for implementation and protection of human rights. The government however, has continuously failed to meet its obligations under Article 2 and 4 of the CAT Convention. This has denied victims of their constitutional rights to seek redress.

Article 2 of the CAT Convention obligates the government to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture”, while Article 4 is to “ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its [Philippines] criminal law”. Years after the government acceded to the CAT Convention and after having it entered into force in June 1986 and June 1987, torture has not been outlawed. Although Section 12 (2) of the 1987 Philippine Constitution prohibits the use of torture, there are no existing mechanisms where victims can seek redress and legal remedies. Having these rights envisaged in the Constitution with no law to implement them has proved meaningless.

Although concerned government agencies, in particular the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP), investigate cases of torture, such inquiries are mostly inefficient or unacceptably delayed. Take the case of torture victims Jejhon Macalinsal, Aron Salah and Abubakar Amilhasan of General Santos City, Southern Philippines. Their case of torture was only acted upon by the Commission’s regional office on 5 June 2006; four years after the original incident occured. Not only have they been denied immediate redress for the crimes committed against them, but the possibility of effectively prosecuting the perpetrators after so many years, makes the pursuit of justice increasingly difficult.

The UN Human Rights Committee previously raised concerns about how the government was dealing with cases of torture and torture victims. In its December 2003 concluding observations on the Philippines in compliance to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), it noted its concern over reports torture is “persistent and widespread”. The Committee also highlighted the “lack of legislation [on torture]” in accordance with Articles 7 and 10 of the Covenant. This has long been proven as an obstacle for victims seeking legal remedies. Torture victims cannot prosecute perpetrators in court for torture offences.

Some of the victims have been able to file charges against their perpetrators, but these were based on existing laws where they could invoke the violations committed on them but not of torture. The case of 11 torture victims in Buguias, Benguet on 14 February 2006 demonstrates this point. The 11 victims filed charges against the policemen for violation of an Act defining certain rights of persons arrested, detained or under custodial investigation (Republic Act 7438) but not of torture. In another case, a female worker who had a miscarriage following a violent dispersal by police and guards in Rosario, Cavite on 21 January 2006 filed charges of unintentional abortion, while her two companions filed slight and serious physical injuries. The perpetrators allegedly involved in brutally beating them were likewise not charged with torture.

Rehabilitation programmes and adequate medical provisions by the government are also non-existent for torture victims in the Philippines. As a result of this it is extremely difficult for victims to recover from their trauma and injuries.

The Philippines, as member to the UN Human Rights Council, had also pledged to seek domestic support in ratifying the Optional Protocol of the CAT. However, the government’s sincerity and commitment to implement international human rights instruments and procedures is highly questioned by torture victims within the country. Part of the obligations for a State party ratifying the Optional Protocol--under Part IV Article 17--is for them to “maintain, designate or establish” a National Preventive Mechanism for the prevention of torture. However, there is no such effective mechanism for the prevention of torture in the Philippines. The government’s credibility in adhering to the provisions of the Protocol is likewise questioned as it has failed to outlaw torture fifteen years after acceding to the CAT Convention.

If the government was serious about preventing torture, it could have enacted an enabling law long before now. Further, this could have been done in full conformity with the provisions of the CAT Convention. A country which has failed to comply with the provisions of the CAT holds little credibility in carrying out the functioning of the “National Preventive Mechanism”, as required after ratifying the Protocol. While its desire to ratify the Protocol is greatly welcomed, the government must comply with its obligation to the CAT Convention if it is to illustrate its sincerity and commitment to the prevention of torture. Concurrently, the Government must implement the concluding observations of the UN Human Rights Committee regarding torture by ensuring that “all allegations of torture are effectively and promptly investigated…[and]…that those found responsible are prosecuted”.  This, however, can only be done with the enactment of an enabling law regarding torture.

It is long overdue that the legislators in the Philippines recognise the need for a law on torture. Without this persons will continue to be tortured and their perpetrators will maintain their level of impunity. Should they wish to remedy this situation and show the international community their commitment to human rights, the executive and members of the legislative body must enact this law without any further delay and thus bring justice to the country’s torture victims.

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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 2006-06-23

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