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Torture practiced with impunity and without fear of prosecution

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission


Torture practiced with impunity and without fear of prosecution

The Philippine government prohibits the use of torture as stipulated in its 1987 constitution. It is also a state party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), but the government¡¦s failure to criminalise the practice of torture has virtually shielded the police, military and other public officials from prosecution for ordering or torturing others, thus creating an environment of impunity. Although the government¡¦s law enforcement agencies have denied the practice of torture by their ranks, reality in the country suggests otherwise.

In most cases, allegations of torture are not investigated. Where there are allegations of torture, the burden to prove this claim rests on the victim. Even if the victim intends to seek legal remedies for the violation of their rights and to prosecute the perpetrators, there is no law against torture. There is also no institution that will look after the needs of torture victims. Consequently, the victims are left isolated, persecuted and traumatised, and they are frequently forced to face charges in court that are often the result of forced confessions after being tortured.
There is a proposed law against torture pending in Congress in the Philippines¡XHouse Bill 4307 entitled Act Penalising the Commission of Acts of Torture and Other Purposes¡Xthat stipulates torture as a criminal offence. The bill covers a detailed proposal of how to address torture in terms of prevention, prosecution, rehabilitation and the indemnification of victims. The bill, however, has had difficulty passing into law. There is strong opposition from some government law enforcement agencies, public officials and even legislators regarding torture. Most of those who oppose the bill are critical of the captured insurgents, suspected terrorists, political detainees, militants and other progressive groups which comprise the victims of torture in most cases. Freedom from torture is perceived as more of a political issue rather than a basic human right.

Although ordinary Filipino citizens also experience torture, most of these cases are not investigated, brought into public discussion or reported to the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, relevant police officials and the military ombudsman for investigation and sanctions. Society¡¦s poor understanding and inability to articulate that freedom from torture is a basic right is essentially the main factor as to why torture has not yet been considered a criminal offence in the Philippines. An average Filipino, in particular those victims of heinous crimes, still believe that torture is an effective way of investigation and initial punishment.

One argument put forward by some law enforcement agencies and public officials regarding their concern if torture is criminalised is that the police and military and other investigating agencies will have difficulty investigating cases. Forced confessions obtained from suspects through the use of torture, instead of investigations with the aid of scientific methods of gathering evidence, remain the usual practice by law enforcers. The law enforcement agency¡¦s inability and lack of skills to perform an effective investigation is the major factor that has led them to employ torture as a so-called means of investigation.

Any effort to address the endemic problem of torture should essentially begin with the victims themselves. Victims must be assured that the violators of their rights will be brought to justice, including the prosecution of the perpetrators. Victims must also be rehabilitated, indemnified and protected.

Finally, the Philippine government must criminalise the practice of torture without delay. Such an act would help lessen and prevent, if not eradicate, the practice of torture.

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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 2005-06-23

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