DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 17 Nov) — Government forces, the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups and their allied forces committed violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) during the five-month siege in Marawi City from May 23 to October 23, a 34-page report of an international human-rights group said.
Released on Nov. 17 by the London-based Amnesty International, the report — “The ‘Battle of Marawi’: Death and Destruction in the Philippines” — said the “militants,” referring to the IS-allied groups, “committed unlawful killings, pillage, hostage-taking, and mistreatment of prisoners” while Philippine government forces “violated the prohibition against torture,” were accused of other “ill-treatment of detainees, and likely committed pillage” and “may also have carried out disproportionate air and ground attacks.”
It also cited looting by all parties in the war zone, as well as areas outside the war zone supposedly under government control.
The report concluded that the documented instances of extrajudicial execution and other forms of direct targeting of civilians by the ISIS-allied groups are “clear violations of the cardinal rule of distinction in IHL and amount to war crimes.”
It narrated how these groups “targeted Christian civilians for the worst of the abuses, including at least 25 extrajudicial killings, mass hostage-taking, and extensive looting of civilian property.”
It also cited at least 10 civilian deaths by aerial bombardment but noted that “it is likely that the total number of civilian deaths is significantly higher.”
When Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced on October 23 the termination of all combat operations in Marawi, the total number of persons killed then had reached 1,132. Of this number, 920 were classified as “enemies,” 165 were government forces and 47 civilians were allegedly “killed by the terrorists.”
No figures had been released by the military on the number of hostages or trapped civilians killed during air strikes although officials expressed the possibility of “collateral damage” especially since a still undetermined number of the hostaged civilians were forced by the militants to take up arms and may have been mistaken for as ISIS members.
Killed while fleeing
According to the AI report, civilians bore the brunt of war, citing accounts of hostage survivors, trapped residents who managed to escape and residents who witnessed killings as they were fleeing the city.
It said several witnesses described 10 separate incidents where militants “killed a total of at least 25 civilians by shooting them or slitting their throats.” Most were targeted “because they were Christians, and some were killed as they attempted to flee to safety.”
“It is a war crime to murder civilians,” AI stressed.
It reported on how six painters, all of them Christians, hid in their employers’ house for five days and decided to escape but three of them were shot at by an armed man in black.
The armed men held several hostages and allegedly subjected them to forced labor and used them as human shields.
“At least one hostage was summarily executed, and many were physically abused,” the report said.
Escapees as suspects
The report also cited instances where the military allegedly treated civilians who escaped from the militant-controlled areas “with suspicion, detaining them and subjecting them to torture or other ill-treatment.”
AI interviewed eight construction workers, one of whom was shot at by militants on their first attempt to escape Marawi City and when he and his companions succeeded in their second try, were detained by the Marines and allegedly tortured. One of the workers said they thought they were safe but the master sergeant arrived and accused them of being ISIS members. “They beat us…I was punched and kicked…My companion showed his ID, but the military said he was a sniper for ISIS… I was beaten with an Armalite [rifle]… They tied our hands and feet with electrical wire. I was crying and they would not listen… The military was very angry because 13 of their men were killed.”
The report said “extensive bombing of militant-held areas of Marawi city wiped out entire neighborhoods and killed civilians, highlighting the need for an investigation into its compliance with international humanitarian law.”
AI wrote a nine-point recommendation to government, first to investigate alleged violations of IHL and IHRL during the five-month war, “including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and ill-treatment of detainees” and to bring the suspected perpetrators to justice “in open, accessible civilian courts and in trials which meet international fair trial standards.”
It also urged government to initiate a “prompt, effective, and impartial investigation into the campaign of air and ground attacks by the military to determine the proportionality of the force used and the resulting destruction of civilian infrastructure and loss of civilian life;” work with civil society groups and community leaders to “come up with a credible list of casualties and determine the fate of the missing,” and “reveal the legal proceedings taken against all those who have been arrested for suspicion of belonging to the armed groups and allow them legal representation and access to their families and human rights groups.”
AI also asked government to ensure those who suffered violations “are afforded an effective remedy and reparations, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, and guarantees of non-repetition.”
It also asked government to undertake “immediate and effective reconstruction and rehabilitation plans in Marawi and ensure the safe and voluntary return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) as soon as possible.”
Displaced residents from nine barangays returned to Marawi between October 29 and November 3 while residents of 10 more barangays will return to Marawi City on November 18 to 20.
It also urged government to continue providing support to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in evacuation centers or those living with relatives “so that they are ensured an adequate standard of living, and offer rehabilitation for cases of trauma resulting from the fighting and displacement.”
Acting Social Welfare Secretary Emmanuel Leyco assured displaced and returning residents of Marawi on October 25 that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will establish a 24/7 presence in the city to work on “the other Ground Zero — the hearts and minds of the evacuees.”
The AI also recommended the termination of martial law “and especially consider refraining from extending it beyond the end-of-year period mandated by Congress” and to “immediately repeal the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.”
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law effective 10 p.m. on May 23, some eight hours after the clashes started. By then, two soldiers and a police officer had been killed while 12 others were injured.
Martial law was supposed to end after 60 days but Duterte sought an extension until the end of the year. Congress granted that extension.
At the Bangon Marawi Press Briefing on Friday, Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla told Malacanang reports that the violations cited by the AI are mere allegations.
He said AI requested for a comment from the AFP while it was preparing the report “but we informed them that this needs to be relayed officially through our government and we requested them to convey this to the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Permanent Mission we have in New York or the United Nations, where AI, I think, is based. Up to this time, we have not received it yet and perhaps it is still in the loop.”
AI is a London-based non-government organization which has been focusing on human rights since 1961. It has been monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in the Philippines for decades.
Padilla said they told AI that government forces are “respecting international humanitarian law and respecting human rights” and that Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, the Chief of Staff of theArmed Forces of the Philippines, had said he will “not tolerate or condone misdeeds of our soldiers to include violations of IHL and human rights.”
He assured they will “investigate and discipline” those found guilty of violating policies and regulations, including IHL and IHRL.
Padilla said they will answer the AI report “once we get it officially.”
The report was uploaded on the AI website on November 17, at 12:01 a.m. London time or 8:01 a.m. in the Philippines. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)