Human rights in peace talks way to break impasse?

Lawyer Soliman Santos Jr., SSN's regional focal point for Asia, told MindaNews because of its consideration of the rights of other sectors and parties in a conflict, the human rights approach is a possible remedy to the stalled peace talks.

Santos opened the launching here of a study report titled “Negotiating Justice? Human Rights and Peace Agreements” by the Geneva-based International Council on Human Rights Policy (ICHRP). The study examined how eight recent peace agreements addressed issues such as impunity and forcible displacement.

The report, presented by Robert Archer, ICHRP executive director, covered recommendations and guidelines that "can help negotiators, mediators, and human rights advocates address dilemmas that arise during the negotiation of peace agreements and when the latter are implemented".

The report concluded that human rights can make practical and positive contributions to many areas of conflict resolution.

Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies told MindaNews the perspectives, however, are not new. He said the Philippines has followed different models in various peace processes. “It’s problematic though,” he said.

Santos said the human rights framework can be used to factor in the human rights of the other sectors and parties like minorities involved in the negotiations. He added that the rights of the minority and the other sectors are important. "That's where maybe the resistance is," he said.

The GRP-MILF peace negotiations was stalled in the Sept. 6 and 7 talks in Kuala Lumpur. The two panels failed to resolve the impasse over the delimitation and delineation of territory of the "Bangsamoro Homeland."

The Philippine government submitted its new proposal on territory to the MILF ahead of its November 15 deadline. MILF peace panel member Lanang Ali said Thursday their reply on the proposal is forthcoming but said no meeting between the panels have been set yet.

Santos said the presentation of the report provided an opportunity for peace panels in the country to look at the experiences and perspectives of the peace agreements studied. He said it will also give the ICHRP a chance to get inputs from the Philippine's peace processes so they could hold deeper research on the matter.

He said the perspectives from the peace processes in Cambodia, El Salvador, Mozambique, Boznia and Herzegovina, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, and Burundi could expand the options of the peace processes in the country where there are pending problems.

He cited the ancestral domain issue with the GRP-MILF peace negotiations, the issue of impunity on political killings as raised by the National Democratic Front, and the problem of the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Prof. Randy Ponteras, who chairs AKBAYAN, a party-list group, welcomed the human rights perspectives in negotiations. He said it is useful especially with the government's policy of declaring the leftist National Democratic Front (NDF) as terrorists.

Lawyer Randolph Parcasio, chair of the Bangsamoro Lawyers Network who was the legal hand of the MNLF peace panel en route to the 1996 FPA signing, said the MNLF should have negotiated for human rights. But he stressed that the Bangsamoro's right to self-determination is pivotal in their concept of human rights.

Parcasio also cited the failure of the implementation of the peace process with the detention of MNLF chair Nur Misuari for rebellion.

He however raised concern over the report's stress on the role of third parties. He said the choice of which third party and if its role is to mediate or just to facilitate is crucial.

Lingga said the Moro struggle for self-determination of their political future is within the definition of human rights.

"But which is more important now, group rights or just individual rights?" he asked as he hit the government's reluctance to recognize the self-determination principle.

Archer said there is a need to consider the rights of the people who didn't consider themselves as part of the Bangsamoro in raising the right to self-determination.

Santos stressed, however, that the presentation of the report here does not mean the panels in the peace processes in the country have not yet touched human rights in their negotiations. "This is only to help expand the perspectives," he said.