No improvement in PH human rights situation – Human Rights Watch

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/21 May) – There has been no marked improvement in the country’s human rights performance since 2008, a New York-based human rights monitor said Monday.

In a statement posted on its website, Human Rights Watch said the administration of President Benigno Aquino III “has failed to take significant measures to prosecute members of the military, police, and militias implicated in extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances.”

“In particular, the government’s claims of progress in some areas – such as training state security forces to respect human rights – deflect attention from the more serious problem of failing to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those responsible for abuses,” Human Rights Watch said.

The group urged United Nations member countries to call on the Philippine government during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council to honor its commitments to ensure accountability for serious human rights abuses. The UPR is scheduled for May 29, 2012 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Under the UPR which is done every four years, the UN subjects [its] member states to an examination of their human rights record and to propose recommendations.

Human Rights Watch noted that in 2008, in its first UPR, the UN proposed 17 recommendations to the Philippines.

The Philippines accepted 11 of these recommendations, including one “to completely eliminate torture and extrajudicial killings” and “to intensify its efforts to carry out investigations and prosecutions on extrajudicial killings and punish those responsible,” it said.

The Philippine government it has fulfilled these commitments. However, Human Rights Watch pointed out that while the number of extrajudicial killings has fallen sharply from the high levels of the past decade, “those responsible have not been prosecuted and serious abuses continue.”

Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, asked UN member states to “see through the Philippine government’s rhetoric and question the lack of progress on accountability over the past four years,” adding, the UPR is an important opportunity to hold the Philippine government to its word.

Human Rights Watch said that since 2008, the government has successfully prosecuted only four cases of extrajudicial killings, all under the Arroyo administration.

It added that in 2011, it documented at least 10 cases of killings and disappearances attributed to the security forces that occurred during Aquino’s first year in office.

“Not a single suspect has been successfully prosecuted in any of these cases,” Human Rights Watch said.

The government’s UPR report cited the creation of the military’s Human Rights Office as a step towards improving the armed forces’ human rights record.

The report, as cited by Human Rights, said: “In line with the AFP’s zero-tolerance for human rights campaign, cases, particularly those on extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance and torture that informed armed forces officers and personnel are acted upon by Human Rights Officers in accordance with due process of law and the military justice system.”

But Human Rights Watch said the military’s Human Rights Office has not revealed the details of the cases that have been investigated and acted upon.

“In practice, the military’s Human Rights Office both investigates abuses and publicly defends the military when soldiers are implicated in rights violations – contradictory functions that undermine the office’s credibility, Human Rights Watch added. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno)