Monday, June 07, 2010

Amnesty International calls on new government to address justice gap in the Philippines

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - Amnesty International Philippines is touring eight major cities around the Philippines this June to launch its Report 2010 on the State of the Worlds Human Rights, which documents abuses in 159 countries and territories around the world, including the Philippines.

Amnesty International’s human rights report comes at a time before the officials of national and local governments start their governance following the May 10 elections.

“We want to share our report to the widest possible audience in our country in order that the new government, national as well as local, can consider the human rights trends in the Philippines and the world in shaping the governance of our nation in the next six years. We also want to show how civil society organizations and journalists have contributed to human rights even as they face repression and sometimes death,” said Dr. Aurora Parong, Section Director of Amnesty International Philippines.

The report exposes evidences of repression, injustice, oppression and poverty in various parts of the world. Amnesty International highlighted abuses in the country that worsens the situation of the poor and marginalized.

“The Amnesty International Report for the year 2009 highlights a global justice gap that is made worse by power politics. Powerful governments are blocking advances in international justice by standing above the law on human rights, shielding allies from criticism and acting only when it is politically convenient.

Repression and injustice have flourished in the justice gap and power politics in the Philippines. There is politicizing of justice and pushing for accountability mainly when politically expedient. In the last nine years, the Arroyo government has widened the justice gap in the country. The tortuous road to justice for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre is
a good example,” explained Parong.

According to the report:

• Estimated 125,000 internally displaced people in Maguindanao province with only 20% of them living in centers for the displaced while many lived in tents unsuitable for long-term shelter, especially given typhoons and floods. It further said that living conditions were poor, with unclean water, inadequate sanitation and high levels of malnutrition.

• Unlawful killings by paramilitary groups, private armies and un-identified assailants continued with impunity, highlighting the killing of anti-mining activist Eliezer Billanes of South Cotabato, suspected MILF Katog Sapalon in Maguindanao province, human rights defender priest Father Cecilio Lucero in Samar, and the Maguindanao massacre.

• Indigenous Peoples living in remote areas throughout the country, and the Moros were particularly affected. Indigenous Peoples suffered both as a result of the conflict and from forced evictions from their lands in the interest of extraction industries. About 100 armed police and a demolition crew violently dispersed protesters in a site in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya where indigenous peoples were forcibly evicted.

• The government accused activists and left-leaning NGOs of being MILF or
communist supporters, some of whom were subjected to torture.

“Human rights organizations and human rights defenders came under attack in many countries. Amnesty International highly recognizes the contributions of civil society organizations and journalists to improve human rights situations of countries, thus we are particularly concerned that the government’s failure to fulfill its obligations to resolve human rights issues negate efforts made by human rights defenders.Inadequate protection for sectors like the media and other activist organizations is a weakness in governance. Many of these human rights violations are preventable under a rights-based governance where the people are at the center and accountability at its heart,” added Parong.

Locally, Zamboanga City and its neighboring provinces served as an arena for clashes between government troops against Muslim insurgents fighting for the secession of the Bangsamoro Nation.

“Zamboanga became the deployment center of military troops tasked to curb armed attacks. That being the situation, the presence of highly acclaimed peace advocate groups increased. The city now plays a very important role in forwarding the peace talks becoming the usual venue for negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines,” Parong reported.

Although, the relations between Muslim rebels and the government has been improving, there still have been reports of unlawful killings, illegal detention and migration due to displacement as a result of armed conflicts in neighboring areas.

“These reports of human rights violations are not unique in Mindanao alone but the rest of the country as well. Amnesty International calls on the incoming Aquino government and local government units to ensure that no one is indeed above the law in the Philippines and that all the long-standing problems of internal displacement, counter-insurgency campaign-related abuses, unlawful killings, torture and ill treatment, enforced disappearance and repression will be adequately and promptly addressed. The responsibility of setting a good example to end human rights violations lies heavily on the national leadership,” added Parong.

In a campaign on Making Human Rights a Priority in the yet to be concluded May 2010 elections, a human rights agenda for presidentiables were put forward by Amnesty International. The Manila launch of the report also appealed to Presidential front-runner Noynoy Aquino for a concrete first 100 days human rights agenda.

Despite failures in justice last year, Amnesty International recognizes some progress in various parts of the world. In the Philippines, Amnesty International welcomes the passage of an Anti Torture Law and a law penalizing crimes against humanity, genocide and other violations of international humanitarian law. But enforcement must be ensured and the Indigenous Peoples’ rights to free, prior and informed consent must not be circumvented or denied in practice.

“For us in the Philippines, the need for justice is a key lesson in the last nine years. Justice provides fairness and truth to those who suffer violations, it deters human rights abuses and ultimately delivers a more stable and secure Philippines.” concluded Dr. Parong.

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