Saturday, August 14, 2010

FIDH-PAHRA Open Letter to Pres. Benigno Aquino III

The Honourable Mr Benigno Aquino III
President, Republic of the Philippines
Malacañang Palace
J.P. Laurel St., San Miguel
Manila, NCR, 1005

Paris – Manila, August 6, 2010

Subject: Commitments to justice and human rights require concrete actions

Your Excellency,

From July 5-9, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)and the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) jointlyconducted a mission of political dialogue with representatives of thenewly elected administration to discuss the progress of theimplementation of relevant United Nations human rights mechanisms'recommendations. FIDH and PAHRA welcome the commitments made by youradministration to address the human rights situation in thePhilippines, in a context of ongoing grave violations of human rights,in particular extrajudicial killings, torture and enforceddisappearances, and of a persistent culture of impunity.

We appreciate the cooperation of the authorities throughout themission. The delegates were able to meet with officials from a numberof bodies including the Department of Justice, Department of Interiorand Local Government, the House of Representatives, the Armed Forces ofthe Philippines (AFP), the Philippines National Police (PNP), theSupreme Court and the Presidential Human Rights Commission. Thesemeetings provided valuable opportunities for focused discussion on thecountry's human rights records and performance.

A noted progress is the passage into law of both the Anti TortureAct in 2009 and the Republic Act 9851 which covers crimes againstInternational Humanitarian Law, genocide, and other crimes againsthumanity. Our organisations urge the government of the Philippines toadopt as soon as possible the implementing rules and regulations of theAnti Torture Act, in close consultation with civil society and inaccordance with the guidance provided by the Istanbul Protocol toensure the Act's effective implementation. We encourage the governmentof the Philippines to ratify the Rome Statute of the InternationalCriminal Court and the Optional Protocol of the Convention againstTorture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). We also call on the government to establish a system of regularvisits undertaken by independent international and national bodies toplaces where people are deprived of their liberty. These actions willfurther demonstrate the government's determination to promote andprotect universal human rights at the national level.

In view of the many lives lost to extra-judicial killings, we callon your government to improve its compliance with the recommendationsmade by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary orarbitrary executions, considering there have already been at least sixknown cases of such killings since your inauguration. In this regard,our organisations welcome the commitments you made in your first Stateof the Nation Address to seek justice for victims of extra-judicialkillings and to "hold murderers accountable". We also take note of arecent announcement by the Secretary of Justice of the possible mergerof existing Task Forces into one body that would primarily focus onmedia killings, before being extended to other types of extra-judicialkillings. This body should be part of the necessary comprehensivereforms, conduct its investigation in an impartial and transparentmanner, and be given a strong mandate and adequate funding.

In the course of the mission, our delegates have met with victimsof grave violations of human rights, and we support their call on theauthorities to hold accountable the alleged perpetrators of thesecrimes. The commitments made on justice and accountability must bebacked up by concrete actions. Ensuring accountability requires aboveall the strengthening of the justice system and of its capacity torespond to complaints of human rights violations. The government shouldprovide training and adequate funding, particularly at the regionallevel, to investigators, prosecutors and judges to ensure prompt,impartial and efficient investigations and prosecutions of serioushuman rights violations. Judges, especially those at the local level,should be made more aware of the use of writs of amparo to preventenforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

Based on testimonies and evidence collected, it has become clear tous that many of the alleged perpetrators of serious human rightsviolations are members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) andthe Philippines National Police (PNP), institutions within which theculture of impunity is widespread. There is thus a need to furtherexpand and enhance the human rights training programmes for members ofthe AFP and PNP at all levels. However, education alone will not beeffective. Independent accountability mechanisms must be put in placewithin and outside the AFP and PNP. Cases with high possibilities ofbreaking through impunity should be given priority assistance to obtainspeedy resolutions.

Independent accountability mechanisms should include assured accessto information regarding the whereabouts of detainees, in accordancewith Section 7 of the Anti Torture Act, the use of proper disciplinarymeasures against those accused or convicted of human rights violations,the establishment of external independent complaint investigationprocedures, and a requirement obliging the AFP to report all arrests tothe PNP promptly and that persons arrested by the AFP are medicallyexamined immediately once they are transferred to the PNP. Besides, theallegations of crimes committed by members of the AFP or the PNP shouldbe investigated by an independent body.

The ability of independent bodies to effectively investigate humanrights abuses is also important in enhancing accountability. Westrongly recommend that the administration strengthen its financialsupport to and broaden the investigative mandate of the Commission onHuman Rights (CHR) while ensuring the plurality of its composition andits independence and impartiality. To this end, we urge you to selectand appoint the next Chairperson of the CHR in a transparent,inclusive, and participatory process, in close consultation with civilsociety and consistent with the Paris Principles, in order to ensurethe credibility of the body. The administration should also reinstatethe membership of civil society and human rights organizations in thePresidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC).

Our mission has also identified the lack of adequate protection forsurvivors of human rights abuses and witnesses as another persistentobstacle to justice and accountability. We are therefore deeplytroubled by the assassination of Suwaid Upham, a key witness of theMaguindanao massacre, and the utter lack of effective witnessprotection leading up to his killing. Upham was shot and killed by anunknown gunman in Parang, Maguindanao, on June 14, 2010. This latestkilling reveals the serious inadequacies of the Victims and WitnessProtection Programme. We welcome the commitment made in the State ofthe Nation Address to strengthen witness protection and call on thegovernment to investigate and prosecute allegations of witnessintimidation; promptly relocate victims, witnesses and their familieswho are under threat; establish clear procedures of protection toensure its immediate and timely provision; and provide adequatetraining to protection personnels.

The case of the Maguindanao Massacre encompasses many of the areasin which inadequacies and the need for strengthening have beenidentified. It thus represents an important test of the newadministration's commitment and will to effectively investigate and,where there is sufficient evidence, prosecute those responsible forgrave human rights violations with due and equitable regard for fairtrial rights and standards. Furthermore, the resolution of the case ofsix workers known as The PICOP 6 allegedly killed by the military inAgusan del Sur could gauge your determination as Commander-in-Chief toinstill justice in the ranks of the AFP.

Your administration has come into office on a platform of positive change and your articulation of the importance of justice,accountability and good governance during your campaign and in your public addresses as president is widely welcomed. Our organisationssincerely hope that your words will be given substance by concreteactions and that you will seriously take into consideration ourrecommendations.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Sincerely yours,

Souhayr Belhassen (FIDH President)

Max M. de Mesa (Chairperson, PAHRA)

Copied to:

The Honourable Mrs Leila De Lima
Secretary of Justice,
Republic of the Philippines
Department of Justice
Padre Faura Street Ermita, Manila, 1000


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