Amnesty International Directors from 14 countries (USA, Japan, Germany, EU, France, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines and Netherlands), through an Open letter, urged President Gloria Arroyo to take immediate action to break the chain of impunity on political killings and enforced disappearances.
Amnesty International is re-launching its campaign against political killings and enforced disappearances by releasing a campaign briefing today entitled “Witnessing Justice – Break the Chain of Impunity.” AI said that at least 200 political killings and 200 enforced disappearances have reportedly occurred in the Philippines since 2001 and although 2007 saw a decrease in numbers of cases reported, impunity persists.
The campaign against political killings and impunity comes at a time when three journalists and a former radio broadcaster were reported killed in recent months, one of whom was killed over the week-end. One journalist was killed in 2007.
“Amnesty International believes that comprehensive investigations and effective protection of witnesses are measures which the government must do to stop the killings. Witnesses and families of victims must be able to step forward without fear of reprisals. ” Said Dr. Aurora Parong, Amnesty International Philippines Section Director.
According to AI, details of attacks show that the killings are not an unconnected series of criminal murders but are part of a politically-motivated pattern of killings targeting human rights, trade union, church and media workers, members of left-wing political parties and indigenous groups leaders.
International pressure compelled President Arroyo to establish a task force to investigate the spate of killings in 2006 but families of victims still confirm that there are delays to the investigations, inadequate crime scene analysis and unwillingness to interview military or police personnel as suspects. AI reported that few effective investigations have been conducted and the arrest, prosecution and conviction of those responsible are rare.
“AI is calling on the Philippine government to ensure prompt, impartial and effective investigations of extra judicial executions and enforced disappearances. All suspected perpetrators must be prosecuted in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness.” Said Dr. Parong.
AI said that witnesses are particularly vulnerable to intimidation and reprisals, sometimes even resulting to death, thus the witness protection program must provide protection whenever and for as long as it is necessary, irrespective of the outcome of juridical proceedings.
“Witnesses told AI that instead of seeking assistance from the government’s Witness Protection Program, they opted the sanctuary of the church where they feel more protected. This underscores the need to strengthen the witness protection program and to address the factors that prevent witnesses from coming forward.” Added Dr. Parong.
AI members in different parts of the world will be sending letters to President Arroyo, particularly on Siche Bustamante Gandinao, who was killed after testifying to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston in February 2007.
For almost four decades government forces and communist insurgents have fought a bitter armed conflict. Positive steps were taken to resolve this but peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the government of the Philippines (GRP) have stalled since 2002. Poverty, inequality, poor governance and continuing human rights abuses fuel the conflict.