Rights group opposes GMA’s inclusion in int’l body vs death penalty

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/4 August) – The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), which has consultative status in the United Nations, has protested the inclusion of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the International Commission against the Death Penalty, citing the trail of unsolved extrajudicial killings of even those who advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, “a failure for which she has not yet been held to account”.

The Hong Kong-based AHRC has officially sent an open letter to the president of the ICDP, former UN Educational, Scientific and Cultral Organization (Unesco) Director General Federico Mayor, “to express its deepest concern at the inclusion of Mrs. Arroyo as one of the 12 members of the ICDP”.

“During Mrs. Arroyo’s term as President in the Philippines, what we witnessed was not the execution of convicts but rather the extra judicial executions of human rights defenders and political activists, witnesses to court trials and complainants who were pursuing cases of human rights violations against the security forces,” said the AHRC statement to the press dated July 26 that contained the letter.

Wong Kai Shing, AHRC executive director, said that “these executions were all done outside the parameters of the law and when executions are done outside the parameters of the law it demonstrates the government’s incompetence and inability to protect its own people.”

“This is where Mrs. Arroyo and her regime failed grossly; a failure for which she has not yet been held to account. Her regime left hundreds, if not over a thousand, of unresolved cases of extrajudicial and summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture and systematic threats and the intimidation of any person working for the protection of rights,” Wong said.

She said that former advocates to abolish the death penalty were among those killed. “Take the case of Rashid ‘Jun’ Manahan, a former coordinator of a coalition of local NGOs campaigning and lobbying for the abolition of the death penalty. He was killed in Davao City in August 2004 on his way to a meeting that was to discuss the abolition of death penalty”.

While it was during Mrs. Arroyo ‘s term as President that the death penalty was abolished, the AHRC said that “the social movement and the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty already existed”.

The AHRC has made extensive documentation on the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in its special report titled “The Criminal Justice System of the Philippines is Rotten,” which it published on February 2007.

“Other investigation reports, for example, by the Melo Commission in January 2007 (Independent Commission to Address Media and Activist Killings), a body tasked to investigate extrajudicial killings; and that of Mr. Philip Alston in February 2007, former UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, are also available for your serious perusal,” she said in the statement sent to news organizations.

Wong said that “four years since the Melo Commission and Philip Alston’s reports were published, most of their findings and recommendations have not been effectively and adequately implemented. The implementation of these recommendations was negligible even during Mrs. Arroyo’s term.”

“The insignificant and minimal success in the prosecution of cases was visibly obvious during her term. The legacy that she left behind therefore is the unresolved cases of extrajudicial and summary executions by state agents under her command,” she added.

She said that “unless Mrs. Arroyo is either cleared of the suspicion of allowing human rights abuses to take place during her presidency or answers the serious allegation of her complacency towards human rights violations and her failure to protect the rights of the Filipino people, she has no credibility at all to advocate for other countries in Asia to abolish capital punishment”.

“We urge the ICDP to review and reconsider Mrs. Arroyo’s membership of the Commission due to the lack of her credibility. The ICDP should also take into consideration the negative implications of her membership of the Commission on the ongoing struggle and aspirations of the Filipino people for the recognition and protection of their rights,” Wong said.

She said that the AHRC and its sister organization, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), “have been working for the protection and promotion of human rights in countries in Asia, including the Philippines – of which Mrs. Arroyo is a former head of State”.

“We have also been involved in the campaign against the death penalty in countries where our assistance is sought. Of late are the cases in Saudi Arabia where we are assisting Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan domestic helper who was sentenced to death, and in the Philippines the case of the Abadilla Five, the five torture victims who were sentenced to death prior to the abolition of the death penalty in the country”, she said.

Copies of the AHRC letter were also furnished to offices of Ambassador Rafael Valle, president of the Support Group of the ICDP in Madrid, Spain, were it was launched last year, D. Álvaro Lozano Cutanda, consulate general of Spain, in Makati, Metro Manila, and Mr. Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Office of the High Commission on Human Rights-UNOG in Geneva, Switzerland.

The ICDP was created in Madrid, Spain, last year, and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who made the public announcement, said the ICDP’s immediate goal was “a global moratorium by 2015” to what he described as the “horror of capital punishment”. (MindaNews)