Letter to the Editor
Amnesty International (AI) raises concern over failure to deliver justice to the victims of extrajudicial killings that reflects reluctance on the part of the government to fulfill its obligation under national and international law to protect the right to life of every individual within its jurisdiction. Amid reports of ineffective investigations and with the failure of the state to provide an effective witness protection program, perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.
We also raise concerns over shortcomings of legislation to prevent arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention, impunity for human rights violations, unfair trials, and torture and ill-treatment. We have raised these issues through a submission to the United Nations for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Philippines in April 2008. This document was also submitted to the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PCHR) during its consultation on the UPR with civil society organizations held in Malacañang on 31 January 2008 where Amnesty International participated.
Through the five page AI document, we raised specific concerns on the following:
- the provisions of the Revised Penal Code and the Rules on Criminal Procedure which could put individuals at risk of arbitrary detention. This is exacerbated by extensive jurisprudence that has interpreted certain crimes, including “rebellion”, as “continuing offences”. The use of arrests without a warrant is extensive and that many of these arrests may be arbitrary.
- Section 26 of the Human Security Act (HSA) which places restrictions on freedom of movement of an individual placed under house arrest, even on the basis of weak “evidence of guilt”.
- torture and ill-treatment persist within the criminal justice system and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Despite government ratification of the Convention against Torture, the revised Penal Code does not penalise the crime of torture.
Amnesty International welcomes the repeal of the death penalty by Congress and the accession by the Philippines to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. However, the Philippines has not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which it pledged when it was seeking a seat at the UN Human Rights Council.
Amnesty stresses the need to strengthen fundamental mechanisms to ensure effective implementation of laws to prevent abuses and the amendment of those codes and rules that facilitate the corrosion of human rights. Amnesty International recommends the following:
- The government must strengthen the provisions of its Criminal Code regulating the safeguards preceding the issue of an arrest warrant and clearly and effectively prohibit arbitrary arrests from taking place; the Human Security Act must be applied in consistency with these safeguards;
- The government must ensure that all reports of unlawful killings are investigated promptly, impartially and effectively, including by strengthening the witness protection program, and that those responsible are brought to justice in trials that meet international standards of fairness;
- The government must condemn all political killings, and prohibit labelling of legal political groups as ‘communists’. It must take effective measures to prohibit superior officers from authorising, tacitly encouraging or inciting other persons to carry out unlawful killings, and also ensure that military or police personnel suspected of involvement in political killings are suspended from active duty during investigations;
- The government must strengthen and ensure the independence of existing accountability mechanisms such as the office of Ombudsman and Congressional oversight to address political killings that have been attributed to public officials; and
- The government must renew efforts to comply with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
Aurora A. Parong, M.D.