• Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    US Congress tying assistance to Sri Lanka and the Philippines to progress against extrajudicial exec

    The version of the United States’ budget appropriation act – as passed by the Senate and awaiting reconciliation with the version passed by the House of Representatives – includes provisions linking military assistance to the Philippines and Sri Lanka to progress against extrajudicial executions:

    PHILIPPINES

    SEC. 688. Of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading `Foreign Military Financing Program’, not to exceed $30,000,000 may be made available for assistance for the Philippines, and an additional $2,000,000 may be made available when the Secretary of State reports to the Committees on Appropriations that–

    (1) the Philippine Government is implementing the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions;

    (2) the Philippine Government is implementing a policy of promoting military personnel who demonstrate professionalism and respect for human rights, and is investigating and prosecuting military personnel and others who have been credibly alleged to have committed extrajudicial executions or other violations of human rights; and

    (3) the Philippine military is not engaging in acts of intimidation or violence against members of legal organizations who advocate for human rights.

    SRI LANKA

    SEC. 690. None of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading `Foreign Military Financing Program’ may be made available for assistance for Sri Lanka, no defense export license may be issued, and no military equipment or technology shall be sold or transferred to Sri Lanka pursuant to the authorities contained in this Act or any other Act, unless the Secretary of State certifies and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that–

    (1) the Sri Lankan military is suspending and the Sri Lankan Government is bringing to justice members of the military who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights, including extrajudicial executions and the recruitment of child soldiers;

    (2) the Sri Lankan Government has provided unimpeded access to humanitarian organizations and journalists to Tamil areas of the country; and

    (3) the Sri Lankan Government has agreed to the establishment of a field presence of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka.

    For the original, see pages 405-408 of the version of H. R. 2764 printed with Senate amendments.

    A record of the Senate’s debate over the Philippines amendment starts on page S11203 of the Congressional Record.

  • Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    News: Peacekeepers, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the US

    There are a number of stories covering and reacting to statements that Philip Alston made at the General Assembly last week in his role as UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

    The Jakarta Post ran an editorial titled “Irresponsible UN member”, which begins:

    It’s ironic Indonesia refuses to appropriately respond to United Nations’ moves to investigate alleged gross crimes against humanity in this country, despite its membership with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNCHR).

    What is more worrying is there has been no sign of change in the government’s mind-set, nor any appearance of guilt.

    The country’s status quo was made public during a recent and frustrated statement made by UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston.

    Indonesia has repeatedly pushed back UN efforts to question the serious human rights violations alleged to have occurred in the past, Alston said in his report. Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have also made such denials, but their level of cooperation with the UN rapporteur is understandably beyond comparison with that of Indonesia’s.

    Indonesia, despite its role in the UNCHR, has failed to face its responsibilities and continues to fulfill its image as a nation that provides impunity to suspected perpetrators of past human rights abuses.

    There have been many extrajudicial killings that have remained unresolved. And to make matter worse, all the administrations since Soeharto have lacked the political will or ability to seek out the truth surrounding these crimes — let alone bring any perpetrators to justice.

    Inner City Press has a story by Matthew Russell Lee discussing the response of a number of Special Rapporteurs to allegations of abuse by UN peacekeepers, “UN Under Fire From Its Experts, on Torture, Executions and Peacekeeping Standards", which begins:

    The UN itself may be engaged or complicit in extra-judicial executions, the UN’s special rapporteur on the topic has told Inner City Press. Concerns about the UN’s own practices were echoed by the rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism. On Friday, law professor Philip Alston told journalists that he limits his inquiries to execution cases that are not being effectively investigated by the responsible authorities. Inner City Press asked Prof. Aston if, given that the UN system does not discipline its peacekeepers but rather allows them to return to their home countries, he has made such inquiries with the UN. Yes, he said, “the UN has a long way to go,” adding that he intends to make further inquiries with the UN.

    It emerged that he has already written to the UN’s mission in Haiti. Inner City Press raised to further example: allegations of torture and even executions by peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the case of the shooting death of Kosovar protesters by Romanian peacekeepers using 13-year old rubber bullets. These peacekeepers returned to Romania, where neither they nor the officials who, with presumptive criminal negligence, supplied long-out-of-date rubber bullets, have faced any justice.

    Upon returning to the Philippines, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita commented on his engagement with the United Nations last week:

    [A]t a news conference in Malacañang, Ermita said: “I would like to think that we have made a dent in the UN, especially that come February, the complete report of Mr. Alston will be submitted.”

    Ermita acknowledged Alston’s view that much still has to be done, especially in terms of monitoring the progress of cases under investigation. He added that the UN official was also very particular about cases where uniformed personnel appeared to be involved.

    Asked if the presence of the Philippine representatives at the UN sessions would change the tone of Alston’s final report, Ermita said: “I would like to give credit to Mr. Alston. He is very objective to the extent possible and I think he knows that we have been very open and he mentioned how cooperative government officials are.”

    This was a departure from the bashing Alston got from military and government officials during his visit here.

    Ermita said the Philippines was cited for sending a top-level team to the UN session and that Alston also thanked the Philippine government for engaging him in this key human rights issue.

    (See Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, “Ermita: New York mission ‘made a dent in UN on human rights'", Inquirer (Manila), 30 October 2007.)

    The Special Rapporteur’s upcoming visit to the United States is discussed in Betsy Pisik, “U.N. envoy to probe deadly force by U.S.", Washington Times (30 October 2007).

  • Monday, October 29, 2007

    News: Iran, Philippines, United States of America

    The UN Department of Public Information issued a summary of what occurred at the interactive dialogue in the General Assembly concerning Philip Alston’s report and statement: “System of Impunity Making Mockery of Special Procedures to Address Extrajudicial Killings, Rapporteur Tells Third Committee". It also issued a press release: “UN independent rights expert decries executions of juveniles in Iran".

    A number of related news stories have also been published over the past few days:

    “UN expert to look into allegations of illegal killings by US military, contractors”, Associated Press (26 October 2007), printed in International Herald Tribune, USA Today, and others

    Claudia Parsons, “UN expert wants to probe Iraq contractor killings", Reuters (26 October 2007).

    Palace gets ‘rebuke’ from Alston over unsolved political killings", GMA News (28 October 2007)

  • Friday, October 26, 2007

    Special Rapporteur’s statement to the General Assembly

    Today, Philip Alston presented a report and engaged in an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee of the General Assembly. His statement addressed the role of the mandate in relation to armed groups, lessons from the mandate’s history for the reform of the special procedures system, recent requests for visits, and the situations in Iran, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

  • Monday, October 22, 2007

    Philippines: Government officials visit New York prior to report’s release

    A press release from the Office of the President of the Philippines, “Ermita to brief UN on RP’s efforts to address extra-judicial killings” (22 November 2007), explains that:

    President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has dispatched Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita to New York to personally update UN officials on her administration’s efforts to address the extra-judicial killings in the country.

    Ermita, who left last night for the United States, is the chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), which was created by the President in December 2006 to “serve as the primary advisory body to the President in effectively addressing all human rights concerns/issues in the country.”

    Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio R. Bunye said the President sent Ermita to the UN to explain the government’s side on the extra-judicial killings.

    He is expected to remain in the US for one week.

    UN special rapporteur Philip Alston arrived in the country last February and stayed for 10 days to conduct an investigation into the killings. Alston is expected to submit his findings to the world body soon.

    “In light of Mr. Alston’s impending submission of a UN report on the matter, the President decided a couple of weeks back to send ES Ermita as Chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) to New York to personally update UN officials on government efforts in dealing with the situation and to underscore to them the government’s continuing resolve and commitment to address all forms of human rights violations, especially in light of the country’s recent election to the UN Human Rights Council,” Bunye said.

    There are a number of related news stories, including:

    Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, “Ermita in UN to defend gov’t vs rights report–Palace exec” (Inquirer, 22 October 2007).

    Ermita flies to New York for UN rights meeting” (GMA News, 21 October 2007).

  • Monday, October 22, 2007

    Pakistan: July 2007 events at Lal Masjid (Red Mosque)

    News reports discuss the UN Special Rapporteur’s response to the events at Lal Masjid (Red Mosque): “UN seeks explanation on rights abuse in Lal Masjid operation” (Daily Times (Karachi & Lahore), 22 October 2007).

  • Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Brazil: Upcoming visit of the Special Rapporteur

    A statement by a number of Brazilian NGOs on a recent police action refers to the Special Rapporteur’s upcoming visit:

    A política de segurança pública militarizada que vem sendo implementada por sucessivos governos do Estado do Rio de Janeiro tem chamado a atenção de organismos internacionais de direitos humanos. O relator especial da ONU sobre execuções sumárias, Philip Alston, estará no Brasil a partir do dia 4 de novembro e no dia 7 chega ao Rio para acompanhar de perto as denúncias de violência geradas pela atual política de segurança pública.

    See “Justiça Global repudia ação policial na Favela da Coréia” (O Globo (Rio de Janeiro), 18 October 2007).

  • Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Guatemala: Elections and Violence

    Guatemala will conduct a run-off vote in its presidential election on 4 November. The problems of crime and extrajudicial executions – both during and prior to the campaigns – have been prominent issues, and a number of articles have cited to the UN Special Rapporteur’s visit. A couple of articles in English:

    Ivan Briscoe, “Guatemala: a good place to kill” (OpenDemocracy, 17 October 2007).

  • Monday, October 22, 2007

    Noticias: “Investigadores no tienen quién los reciba”

    An article on how states refuse to permit visits by the UN Special Rapporteur has now been released in Spanish:

    Thalif Deen, “Naciones Unidas: Investigadores no tienen quién los reciba” (IPS).

  • Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Early comments on the Special Rapporteur’s report to the General Assembly

    The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, will not make his report to the General Assembly until the morning of 26 October, but there have been a number of comments on the text of his report:

    Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) of the Government of Sri Lanka made these comments:

    A Sri Lankan newspaper referred triumphantly recently to a report by a UN Special Rapporteur, in a characteristic attempt to attack the government.

    To quote the paragraph in full -

    ‘A damning report by Philip Alston the Special Rapporteur on Summary and Arbitrary Executions has expressed serious concern over a spate of extra judicial executions by the military, para military and insurgent groups in Sri Lanka and said the situation had erupted into a crisis. Alston also castigated the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva and the General Assemby in New York for not having seen fit to take any action to address this situation. Alston has urged the UNGA and the HRC to penalize the government for its human rights abuses.’

    However, examination of the report reveals that there is absolutely no trace in it of Mr Alston urging anyone to penalize the Sri Lankan government. It is unfortunate that the United Nations Office in Sri Lanka has not made this position clear although requested to do so.

    Mr Alston’s report does raise questions about the working methods of UN special rapporteurs and the methodology of the reports they present in what seems to be all seriousness to the General Assembly. Leaving aside the question of Mr Alston’s 2006 report, which was thorough and helpful, it seems strange that, with no references at all to the Sri Lankan government in the body of his 2007 report (save for one historical mention pertaining to the correspondence of one of his predecessors in 1995), Mr Alston ends his report with the claim that the situation in Sri Lanka has now erupted into crisis.

    The only reason he adduces for this is ‘the spate of extrajudicial executions being reported out of that country’. What he means by this is not clear. Over the last few months there have not been any letters from Mr Alston regarding this spate, save very recently when there has been a flood. His report was dated August 16th and then In September he sent several letters asking about the killing of civilians at Kathiravelli, about 38 Aid Workers (highlighting the ACF killings), about 13 killings in Kayts and about one killing at Ratgama.

    The 13 killings at Kayts and the killings of the 17 ACF workers and 9 of the others took place before the commencement of the General Assemby last year. The Kathiravelli killings took place last November and the circumstances under which they took place, as a consequence of LTTE mortar attacks, has been clearly explained in several places to which Mr Alston would have had ready access. The recent spate then to which he refers turns out to be a trickle. Though of course these instances need to be investigated, they are hardly enough to justify the assertion of a crisis.

    Elsewhere Mr Alston complains how several countries do not reply to his letters. It is not clear whether Sri Lanka is supposed to be one of these, but recently certainly the Attorney General’s Department responded promptly to his query about the ACF workers. In any case it would be odd to have been faulted in August for having failed to respond to letters sent in September.

    Mr Alston’s decision then to include without any substantiation whatsoever a single paragraph about Sri Lanka at the very end of his report is the sadder in view of the much more balanced nature of his initial report, after his visit to Sri Lanka. Though he did certainly draw attention to shortcomings there, he was much more positive in his recommendations, and recognized that perhaps the greatest need was to build up capacity amongst for instance the police. Unfortunately, having gone away, he seems to have fallen prey to the general tendency to see Sri Lanka through reports that have a particular focus.

    The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) issued a statement on the Special Rapporteur’s report to the General Assembly, which begins:

    The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel deeply appreciates the Report of UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston to the UN General Assembly on extrajudicial killings in the Phiippines. Prof. Alston hits the nail on the head when he pinpoints the Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency plan, Oplan Bantay Laya, as the major reason for the drastic increase in the extrajudicial killings of leftist activists in the last six years.

    There have also been news stories in the Philippines press on this report, such as this one titled “Counterinsurgency tactics, weak justice system lead to killings of activists – UN".