(Cagayan De Oro) During the 1990s a series of formal and informal negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) led to agreements on the principles and framework for advancing a peace process. In an important step forward in 1998, as the first of a four stage agenda, both sides concluded and signed a Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). A decade later, Amnesty International Philippines (AIPh) is calling for a renewal of commitments to CARHRIHL.
“Amnesty International is calling on the government and the National Democratic Front to reaffirm their commitment to respect and apply the fundamental principles and standards enshrined within international human rights law, including the right to life, the right to due process of law and the right to freedom of thought and political beliefs.” Said Dr. Aurora Parong, AIPh Section Director.
In the absence of a ceasefire agreement, Parong explains that the CARHRIHL is still a key instrument not only in addressing continuing patterns of abuses occurring within the context of the continuing conflict, but as a measure to build trust and confidence and so strengthen the momentum of the peace process.
“The CARHRIHL has established a complaints monitoring procedure by which allegations of violations of the Agreement could be assessed and verified by a Joint Monitoring Committee. However over succeeding years the potential of the CARHRIHL to address and reduce abuses and help invigorate the peace process remained unrealized. The continuity of formal peace negotiations proved vulnerable.” Parong added.
In the Amnesty International 2008 Report on the state of the world’s human rights in its entry on the Philippines, negotiations progressed between the government and Muslim separatists, but talks with the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) remained stalled and during this period the incident of political killings rose in 2005 and 2006.
“Although reports now show a slight decrease in the cases of extra judicial executions and disappearances in the country compared to the previous year, activists and journalists continue to live in fear of arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance and summary execution.” She explained.
As formal negotiations fail to make substantive progress and the peace process continues to falter, Amnesty International is concerned that the cases of political killings of leftist activists by allegedly military-linked gunmen linked to the counter-insurgency policy of the governmemt, as well as periodic killings of civilians reportedly carried out by the NPA, increase as the impasse in the peace process deepened.
According to an Amnesty International Report in August 2006, the Philippines: Political Killings, Human Rights and the Peace Process, the NDF announced in the same year that it was withdrawing from formal negotiations citing a loss of confidence in the legitimacy and durability of the Arroyo administration.
“A resurgence of the killings is likely to increase if the peace process continues to be stalled and impunity on the prosecution of extra judicial execution cases continues to prevail. Military accountability must be sought now and judicial redress properly facilitated. Amnesty International Philippines is challenging the government to focus more attention to end impunity especially for enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions and bring justice to the victims. Now is also the most relevant time to reform the Witness Protection Program to guarantee the safety of individuals involved in the prosecution of cases.” The director said.
Parong also added that the failure to investigate political killings effectively and to prosecute the perpetrators risks perpetuating a cycle of human rights violations and send a message of de facto state tolerance for such practices.
“If military and other officials, or others linked to them, believe that they are immune from prosecution for such crimes they will be more likely to repeat them. Such a climate of impunity undermines public confidence in the administration of justice, eroding the rule of law and respect for human rights.In order to rebuild trust and create conditions conducive to the revival of the peace process, human rights must be respected and protected.” Parong added.
Amnesty International urges all sides involved in the armed conflict to reassert respect for human rights and recommit and ensure compliance to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. This shall enhance respect for human rights on the ground by taking steps to ensure the operation of the Joint Monitoring Committee of the CARHRIHL.