Report cites Philippines rights abuses

Human Rights Watch says Aquino's government has failed to prosecute soldiers implicated in alleged killing of activists.

    The government of the Philippines is failing to investigate and prosecute killings and abuses by the military, fuelling further injustices, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

    The report, released on Monday, detailed evidence of the military's involvement in seven killings and three enforced disappearances of leftist activists since Benigno Aquino III, Philippines' president, took office in June last year.

    "Activists are being gunned down in the street, while implicated soldiers walk free," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at HRW.

    "The Philippines can only bring an end to these horrific abuses if it is clear that anyone who orders or commits them will be jailed and their military careers will be over."

    In the past 10 years, only seven extrajudicial killing cases were successfully prosecuted, resulting in the conviction of 12 defendants - but none of these since Aquino took office, HRW said.

    "When President Benigno Aquino III took office a year ago, he promised to put an end to human rights violations by men in uniform," Al Jazeera's Marga Ortigas reported from the capital, Manila.

    "But there has yet been no notable convictions of military officers for such violations, and there are still reports that the abuses continue."

    A statement by HRW said: "There has not been a single conviction of anyone who was an active member of the military at the time of the killing. No senior military officers have been convicted either for direct involvement in these violations or as a matter of command responsibility."

    Police investigations have tended to stall, especially when evidence links to the military, while arrest warrants against those allegedly responsible have not been given follow through, the group said.

    Internal military investigations are almost non-existent and an inadequate government witness protection programme has further hindered efforts to bring those responsible to justice.

    'Frivolous suits'

    "Nothing is swept under the rug, they are all being investigated and where warranted, charges are filed," President Aquino said, speaking to Al Jazeera.

    "But at the same time, we also recognise that the security forces are also vulnerable to getting frivolous suits," he said.

    But the HRW's Pearson said: "President Aquino should work toward leaving behind a professional, accountable military as his government's legacy.

    "The brazen nature of some of these abuses - in broad daylight and in front of witnesses - shows how members of the military can kill and 'disappear' people with little regard for the consequences."

    "Tagging someone as a leftist activist is like sounding the alarm that they are on a military hit list," she said.

    People seen to be communist insurgents or leftist sympathisers are targeted by the military, which has been fighting them for decades. Many civilians live in fear of being suspected and as a result terrorised by the military, sources told Al Jazeera.

    The government needs to ensure that officials thoroughly investigate human rights abuses or face disciplinary action, HRW said.

    HRW's Pearson added: "The US, EU, and other donors should be asking the Philippine government hard questions about why killings and disappearances continue one year into the Aquino administration."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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