Philippines: military executing leftist activists, UN independent expert finds

26 November 2007 –

The armed forces of the Philippines has been executing leftist activists in recent years, an independent United Nations human rights expert said today in a new report which welcomes Government measures to address the problem while emphasizing the need to end impunity through prosecution and punishment.

“A significant number of the hundreds of extrajudicial executions of leftist activists in the Philippines that have taken place over the past six years are the result of deliberate targeting by the military as part of counterinsurgency operations against the communist rebels,” said Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

During a fact-finding mission earlier this year to the South-East Asian nation, Mr. Alston – who serves in an unpaid, personal capacity – investigated the killings in depth.

He interviewed victims or witnesses to 57 incidents involving 96 extrajudicial executions. He met with Government officials of all ranks, including local military commanders as well as the President, as well as with the leaders of the communist rebels’ National Democratic Front (NDF).

In a statement, he said he was “encouraged” by various measures adopted recently by the Government and by the fact that he had met with the country’s Executive Secretary in New York, but also stressed that those responsible for killings must be prosecuted and punished to stop them. “The Government has undertaken a range of welcome reforms, but the fact remains that not a single soldier has been convicted in any of the cases involving leftist activists,” he said.

“In some parts of the country, the armed forces have followed a deliberate strategy of systematically hunting down the leaders of leftist organization,” Mr. Alston noted. “As commander-in-chief, the President must take concrete steps to end such operations.”

Since 1968, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) – which has an armed faction, the New People’s Army (NPA), and a civil society group, the NDF – has aimed to revolutionize what it views as the country’s “semi-feudal” society.

The Rapporteur said that the military officers he interviewed “relentlessly pushed” the theory that such extrajudicial executions had in fact been committed by the rebels to simultaneously remove spies while discrediting the Government, and he reviewed all of the documentation provided to support this idea.

“The military’s argument that the leftist activists who have been killed are the victims of a ‘purge’ by the rebels is strikingly unconvincing and can only be viewed as a cynical attempt to displace responsibility,” he said.

The Rapporteur criticized the rebels themselves for participating in some extrajudicial executions of civilians who are not directly involved with the hostilities and the death threats they have made against political opponents.

“The death sentences imposed by their ‘people’s courts’ provide only a veneer of legality for what is really vigilantism or murder,” he said.

During his visit to the Philippines, Mr. Alston also investigated extrajudicial executions in western Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago, which have seen armed conflict involving several insurgent and terrorist groups, including the Moro National Liberation Front, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Since witnesses in the regions live in great fear and it is difficult to ascertain who is responsible for abuses, he said that bolstered human rights monitoring is crucial to protect the civilian population.

Mr. Alston also looked into the actions of a death squad in Davao City on the island of Mindanao, interviewing victims and witnesses as well as speaking with local police, military officers and the mayor.

“The mayor’s position that he can do nothing to stop men without masks from routinely killing children for petty crimes in full view of witnesses lacks all credibility,” he said in the report. “Mayor Duterte should be stripped of his control over the local police, and the national Government should assume responsibility for dismantling the death squad and prosecuting its members.”

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