• Monday, March 31, 2008

    Special Rapporteur: Guatemala may not reinstate the death penalty by stealth

    On 25 March 2008, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, issued a press release concerning Guatemala:

    “Guatemala is not prohibited by international law from imposing the death penalty. It may not, however, reinstate the death penalty by stealth”, according to Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Alston reported in detail on the problem of extrajudicial killings after his visit to Guatemala in August 2006. He was commenting on Decree 06-2008, which risks becoming law if the Congress overrides the President’s veto. “This law can only be intended as an end-run around the requirements of international human rights law”, said Alston. “If the Congress is so keen to uphold the rule of law by reinstating the death penalty it should do so in accordance with the international rule of law and not ignore the rulings of both the UN Human Rights Committee and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights directed at Guatemala”, he said.

    Alston called upon the Congress not to override the Presidential veto of the decree and to commit itself instead to working out the details of a law governing the right to clemency which meets the criteria clearly spelled out by international law.

    A Spanish version of the press release is also available.

    This AFP story –“La pena de muerte enfrenta a las fuerzas políticas de Guatemala” – provides some background on the current debate over the death penalty in Guatemala.

    Philip Alston visited Guatemala in August 2006, and issued a report on his findings which can be found below.

  • Saturday, March 29, 2008

    European Union urges the Philippines to fully implement the recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur

    In an address to the Philippines Development Forum, Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, head of the European Commission’s delegation to the Philippines, noted the “the significant decrease” in extrajudicial executions, welcomed initiatives taken by the Supreme Court, and “urge[d] the government to fully implement the recommendations of UN Special Representative Philip Alston”.

    “The main point that we would underline are first of all, the European Union commended the Philippines for the substantial GDP growth achieved in 2007,” MacDonald said at the Kapihan sa Sulo forum.

    The country registered a 7.3-percent gross domestic product growth in 2007, the highest in three decades.

    “We recognize that this is the best macro-economic performance in some 50 years and we wanted to acknowledge that, noting as well that this was accompanied by controlled inflation, a balanced budget, and an improved balance of payments,” said MacDonald.

    “So at the macroeconomic level the progress has been very good and we did want to acknowledge and give proper credit for that,” he said.

    MacDonald annotated a statement of the European Union that was drafted by European diplomats in the country and read at the Philippine Development Forum (PDF) last week at Clark Field in Pampanga.

    The PDF was attended by top government officials such as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, representatives from the World Bank and other financial institutions, and members of civil society and non-government organizations.

    “But at the same time we wanted to urge continued efforts to build a more truly inclusive growth,” MacDonald said.

    . . .

    The EU statement also cited “the significant decrease” in the incidence of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances over the past few months.

    It said it was “heartened by the President’s emphasis on the need for speedy prosecution and conviction of those responsible for such heinous acts”.

    “Before there was news almost every day of extra-judicial killings,” said MacDonald.

    The EU joined other groups abroad in calling on the Philippine government to act on the increase in political killings and enforced disappearances of leftist activists since 2001 when Arroyo came to power.

    The EU also acknowledged the efforts of the Supreme Court in trying to address the problem of human rights violations.

    “The EU welcomes the work of the Supreme Court in this field and urges the government to fully implement the recommendations of UN Special Representative Philip Alston,” the EU statement said.

    MacDonald said the summit on extra-judicial killings that the Supreme Court organized last year was also a welcome development.

    Norman Bordadora, EU envoy lauds economic gains but says more needs to be done, Daily Inquirer (Manila), 29 March 2008.

  • Wednesday, December 31, 1969

    Filipino translation of Report on Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines

    Today, the Project on Extrajudicial Executions released a translation of the report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, on extrajudicial executions in the Philippines.

  • Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    Coverage of Recent Missions

    Monte Reel, Brazilians Look to Regional Force to Root Out Death Squads , Washington Post (18 March 2008)

    The presence of such squads has plagued many parts of Brazil for years, but growing public demand for justice last year prompted officials here to create the first large-scale, regional task force to combat them.

    Now, authorities are working against authorities in what resembles an enormous internal affairs investigation. In the past year, about 200 people have been nabbed in several high-profile busts of various squads in Pernambuco, and many of those arrested have been police officers and other officials.

    . . .

    The groups’ ties to public institutions have helped create a culture of impunity. Military police affiliated with the squads often arrive early at crime scenes to cover up evidence, according to officials. The U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, visited Pernambuco late last year and reported that only 3 percent of the state’s homicides were tried in court. He found that about 2,000 files submitted to the state’s public prosecutor were thrown out because the police in Pernambuco had delayed action for so long that the statute of limitations had expired.

    A “reliable estimate is that 70 percent of all homicides are committed by death squads,” Alston wrote in a summary of his visit. “The 197 people who have been arrested this year [2007] for death squad activity represent only the tip of an iceberg.”

    Central African Republic: Too Many Enemies , IRIN (17 March 2008)

    Just one, and now the most serious, of the deadly threats facing civilians in CAR, Zaraguinas have abducted scores of civilians, mostly children, for ransom, according to an Amnesty International report, Central African Republic – Civilians in Peril in the Wild North.

    “There has been virtually no action taken by the government to directly prevent the abductions, arrest the perpetrators or otherwise protect the population,” according to the report.

    CAR is roughly the size of France but boasts fewer than 5,000 soldiers on active duty.

    That Paoua is an island under the control of these government forces surrounded by rebel-held territory is little comfort to its residents, most of whom have been forced to flee on several occasions when the two sides clashed. As if to erase the memory of such traumatic episodes, the worst of which took place in early 2006 and 2007, people refer to them only as “les événements”: the events.

    “Up until very recently government forces were burning entire villages to the ground and summarily executing large numbers of people,” the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston, stated in a preliminary report on CAR released in early February 2007.

    While Alston took pains to stress that “President François Bozize [who came to power in a March 2003 coup and legitimised his rule through the ballot box two years later] has taken significant steps to end abuses by his troops”, and that such abuses had fallen dramatically, he noted that it was “too early to conclude that the government has definitely turned a new page”.