• Friday, December 28, 2007

    Philippines: Editorial on the Davao Death Squad and Killing of Journalists

    The Inquirer (Manila) has published an editorial on the killing of Fernando “Batman” Lintuan, a journalist in Davao, relating it to what the UN Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, wrote about the situation in Davao in his report. The editorial concludes:

    [T]he final report of UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, now filed with the United Nations, places Davao’s problem in clear relief.

    The report devotes only a few paragraphs to the killings in Davao, but together they are a stinging indictment of Duterte and his administration. “It is a commonplace that a death squad known as the ‘Davao Death Squad’ (DDS) operates in Davao City,” the first sentence of the first paragraph reads.

    . . .

    His death plunges his four children into the disorienting uncertainty of orphanhood, and refocuses the nation’s attention on extrajudicial killings (and the killing of journalists). But it should also, and finally, force Davao’s residents, especially those belonging to the middle forces, to demand a thorough investigation of the Death Squad, and to reconsider the costs of willed ignorance.

    “By all accounts,” Alston wrote, “the mayor has managed to largely insulate his city from the armed conflict and to limit the presence of some kinds of criminal activity. These accomplishments appear to have bought acquiescence in the measures he takes, and the public remains relatively ignorant of the human cost of death squad ‘justice.’”

  • Friday, December 14, 2007

    Final report on the situation of human rights in Darfur

    The United Nations Experts Group on Darfur, of which the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, is a member has released its Final report on the situation of human rights in Darfur (Arabic).

    From the press release:

    To assess the current status of the Government’s implementation of the recommendations, the Group considered whether there was actual improvement in the human rights situation in Darfur, using the indicators it put forward in its first report of June 2007. This assessment was made on the basis of information received from the Government in written and oral form, and information from other sources, including UN and African Union (AU) agencies, bodies and programmes with operational competence in Darfur as well as human rights and humanitarian NGOs.

    The Group found that as of late November 2007, few recommendations had been fully implemented or had made a tangible impact. Several recommendations that had been prioritized to be implemented over the short term had not been implemented, even though, in the group’s estimation, these particular recommendations could have been implemented within three months without lengthy administrative processes or additional resources. The Government took first steps on a number of recommendations, but these steps had not yet yielded much impact according to information that the group received. A significant number of other recommendations were not addressed by the Government at all and, with very few exceptions, no tangible improvement in the human rights situation has been felt in Darfur.

    Also see the summary of the Human Rights Council’s debate on the report and news coverage by Reuters and Voice of America.

  • Friday, December 14, 2007

    News on the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Brazil

    Comunidad Segura has published an interview with Philip Alston – “Complexity is no excuse for inaction” – concerning his mission to Brazil.

    Jack Chang, “Are Rio’s police public enemy No. 1?” (McClatchy) discusses Alston’s mission and some of the problems it addressed.

  • Monday, December 03, 2007

    Karapatan documents decline in number of extrajudicial executions in the Philippines

    A number of news stories discuss Karapatan’s annual report on human rights in the Philippines. This report finds that the number of extrajudicial killings has dropped by two-thirds since last year, and credits international pressure, including the reports of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston

    Karapatan’s annual report may be found here.

    Maila Ager, “Int’l pressure leads to decline in killings–Karapatan: ‘Stop military aid, oust Arroyo’“, Inquirer, 3 December 2007:

    There has been a huge drop in extrajudicial killings this year but a militant human rights group says this is because of international pressure and the continued clamor for justice by people.

    In its yearend report presented to media Monday, Karapatan (Alliance for the Advance of People’s Rights) said there had been 68 extrajudicial killings this year compared to last year’s 209.

    This year’s killings brought the total of lives lost, mostly of leftist activists, to 887 since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001, Karapatan said.

    The group also reported a total of 16,307 human rights violations this year, from the killings to the forcible displacement of communities.

    Laying the blame squarely on Arroyo, the group called for her resignation or her ouster through a “People Power” uprising and also urged foreign governments to suspend all military aid to the administration.

    “After suffering through more than six years of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s reign, the people cannot take three more years of abuse. GMA [Arroyo’s initials] has to go,” Karapatan secretary general Marie Hilao-Enriquez said reading the report.

    “If necessary, she should be driven out of Malacañang by another exercise of people power. Only then can headway be made in achieving meaningful change in the interest of the majority of the Filipino people,” she added.

    Enriquez lauded efforts by the Supreme Court to put an end to the killings, citing the summit called by the tribunal and its promulgation of the writs of amparo and habeas data to compel state security forces to look missing persons instead of merely denying custody.

    “Of course we commend the efforts of the Supreme Courts in addressing this problem by holding a summit and the implementation of the writ of amparo, but the decline was largely to international pressures that the government has been receiving,” Enriquez said at a press conference in Quezon City.

    Among these pressures, she said, was the recently released final report of United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston that blamed the killings on the military’s counterinsurgency strategy, and a US Senate condition withholding additional military aid unless the Philippine government addresses the problem and punishes the perpetrators.

    Karapatan also cited the “historic verdict” of the Permanents People’s Tribunal finding Arroyo and US President George Bush and their respective governments, guilty of gross and systematic violations of human rights, economic plunder and transgression of the Filipino people’ sovereignty.

    While the group noted the government’s creation of the special police unit Task Force Usig, the civilian Melo Commission, and special courts to handle cases of extrajudicial killings, it dismissed these as “token moves.”

    It pointed out that Task Force Usig had mostly blamed the New People’s Army and echoed the military’s claims of a “rebel purge” for most of the killings, a theory Alston had dismissed in his report a “cynical” attempt by security forces to divert the blame.

    The Melo Commission, headed by retired Supreme Court justice Jose Melo, had failed to earn the trust of victims of human rights abuses and their families, it added.

    As for the special courts, Karapatan said these have yet to convict any perpetrator.

    Aside from victims of extrajudicial killings, the human rights group also recorded this year 35 victims of political killings; 26 victims of enforced or involuntary disappearance; 8 victims of abduction; 29 victims of torture; 129 victims of illegal arrest; 116 victims of illegal detention; 330 victims of threat, harassment and intimidation,; 7,542 victims of forcible evacuation or displacement, 3,600 victims of “hamletting”, among others.

    Karapatan then reiterated its demand for Arroyo’s resignation for her alleged failure to put a stop on these human rights violations as it also called on foreign governments to stop all military aid to the Philippines.

  • Monday, December 03, 2007

    Inquirer editorial on Special Rapporteur’s report on the Philippines

    After its initial editorial of 28 November 2007 on the Special Rapporteur’s report, the Inquirer has published another editorial on the government’s reaction – “Muchachos” (3 December 2007):

    Apparently, Justice Secretary and resident Cabinet curmudgeon Raul Gonzalez is not the only one who thinks of Australian lawyer and New York law professor Philip Alston as a “mere muchacho,” a lowly errand boy of the United Nations. The chief of staff of the Armed Forces, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, shares the same contempt for the UN special rapporteur.

    After Alston submitted to the UN Human Rights Council his final report on “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions” in the Philippines last week, Esperon belittled Alston’s mission, calling it “half-baked.”

    “I wish Mr. Alston had better and more complete sources,” he said. “He was here for 10 days and suddenly he’s an expert in human rights in the Philippines, much more an expert in insurgency in the Philippines.”

    Note the sly use of “suddenly,” as though the very idea behind the UN’s special missions—almost by definition short-term in nature and dependent on the quality of host-country sources—were somehow invalid. (If that were so, why didn’t Esperon object when the Philippine government invited the United Nations to send someone like Alston in the first place? And if that were so, why did Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita wax grateful “for the acknowledgment of the full cooperation we extended to the Special Rapporteur”? )

    But we do agree with Esperon. We too wish Alston had “better and more complete sources.” But the AFP refused or failed to substantiate its more sensational allegations, including its “purge theory” as the explanation for the killing spree. As the UN Special Rapporteur pointed out, “they relentlessly pushed on me the theory that large numbers of leftist activists are turning up dead because they were victims of internal purges within the CPP and NPA. I repeatedly sought evidence from the Government to support this contention. But the evidence presented was strikingly unconvincing.” And then Alston proceeds to list four reasons why the AFP’s evidence failed to convince him.

    Esperon took Alston to task for being biased against the military; he said the report “is blind on one side [as it] only sees the other side.”

    But even on the matter of the many alleged victims of the communist New People’s Army, the government failed to substantiate its claims too. Alston again: “The Government provided a list of 1,335 individuals, two-thirds of them civilians, allegedly killed by the NPA. Despite numerous requests for any documentation substantiating any of these cases, virtually none was provided. While I have no reason to doubt that the list represents a good faith accounting, without further documentation it is impossible to confirm its reliability or to evaluate which killings violated the humanitarian law of armed conflict.”

    That these and other paragraphs of the same tenor are integrated into the final report belie Esperon’s public relations spin that Alston did not consider the military’s side. Another paragraph castigates “the CPP/NPA/NDF’s system of ‘people’s courts’ [as] either deeply flawed or simply a sham”—and forcefully suggests that the “Failure to respect due process norms … may constitute a war crime for participating cadres.”

    Contrary to what Esperon and other Arroyo administration officials may want the public to believe, the Alston report does not go easy on the communist insurgents. But after due deliberation, it assigns the burden of responsibility for the wave of killings where it finds it: “Two policy initiatives are of special importance to understanding why the killings continue. First, the military’s counterinsurgency strategy against the CPP/NPA/ NDF increasingly focuses on dismantling civil society organizations that are purported to be ‘CPP front groups’ … Second … the criminal justice system has failed to arrest, convict, and imprison those responsible for extrajudicial executions.”

    These two policy initiatives are dealt with in detail, in the final report. Gonzalez, Esperon et al. will continue to spin its meaning; but a close and attentive reading will readily prove them wrong. In it we will find that lowly “muchachos” who do their work well will put “hacenderos” and their paid generals to shame.

  • Monday, December 03, 2007

    Editorial on the Special Rapporteur’s report on the Philippines in the Sun Star – Cagayan de Oro

    The Sun Star (Cagayan de Oro) ran an editorial titled “That UN report” (3 December 2007):

    While every other media outlet here in Cagayan de Oro and other parts of the country voiced their denunciation of the seeming martial law treatment of media practitioners who covered the Manila Peninsula siege, the military still had to live down the United Nations (UN) report about the alleged human rights violations they committed.

    These include the very serious charge that they are allegedly responsible for the summary killings of activists and critics of the administration.

    Some of the military officials even said the report only covered only a few days of interviews with noticeably biased militant leftist groups like Karapatan which is known to hit every administration since its inception and didn’t cover other facets like the “Operation Ahos” that claimed the lives of thousands of suspected double agents of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and continues to this day.

    Even the head of a commission tasked to investigate the killings, a bishop in Butuan City disagreed calling it a half-baked report that didn’t delve deeper into the nature and extent of the country’s insurgency problem and the possibility that the communists themselves use ruthless methods of execution on people they suspect of committing “crimes against the people” as if they are judge, jury and executioner all in one.

    In response, these militant leftist groups which are suspected and rightly so by the military as legal fronts of the Communist New People’s Army-National Democratic Front-New People’s Army (CPP-NDF-NPA) retort that what’s at issue here is not them nor the communist rebels but the abuse allegedly committed by the military and then proceed with their propaganda of how this country had gone to the dogs and that a new so-called “democracy’ is needed ad nauseaum.

    Yet because of the title and position the UN-Alston report will be given much credence and will be used as yet additional propaganda fodder by the communist rebels and their fronts to advance their cause.

    And their cause behind all those motherhood statements and sheer propaganda bombast is the desire to replace this country’s version with their own twisted, perverted version of democracy like those practiced in North Korea and China of old.

    While not discounting the charges listed in the report, one also needs to examine what these rebels and their allies are doing this for aside from demanding for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation.

    The Arroyo administration’s credibility is certainly suspect at the least but so are the motives of these so-called “progressive groups.”

    Hence their labels and their constant, subtle and covert attempts to ride every other issue critical of the administration. And the people should be wary of their designs and not accept their propaganda bombast hook, line and sinker.

  • Monday, December 03, 2007

    Op-ed in the Inquirer on Special Rapporteur’s report

    Ibarra M. Gutierrez III, “The Alston Report: the challenge to gov’t", The Inquirer, 1 December 2007, concludes:

    Similarly, as the report is concerned with the larger issue of state compliance, it should not be characterized in the same manner as a criminal investigation. Insistence on the report following the formal rules of evidence observed by the courts is misplaced, since what is at issue is not individual criminal culpability, but the adequacy of state action with respect to its obligations under international human rights law.

    The fairness or validity of the report, rather, should be assessed by the methodology used in collecting the information on which it was based. In the case of the Alston report, it was anchored on extensive interviews from the government, military and civil society, as well as documents provided by these same groups. In other words, its conclusions came after the weighing of information from various, undoubtedly contradictory, sources.

    That the report paints a grim picture of the Philippine situation cannot be denied. But rather than viewing it as a public relations dilemma that has to be “handled” or dismissed, government should take up the real challenge of acting on the recommendations set forth in the report. After all, Alston’s investigation was done at the behest of the Philippine government itself. It would be the height of obtuseness, not to mention absurdity, for the government to dismiss the selfsame findings it sought.