Philippines ‘massacre’ must spur reform, say UN rights experts

Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

2 December 2009 – The recent killing of 57 people in the southern Philippines, including some 30 journalists, must be seen as a watershed moment for the country, two independent United Nations human rights experts said today, stressing the need to bring the perpetrators to justice and take measures to prevent such crimes in the future.

“The pre-meditated killing of political opponents, combined with a massive assault on the media, must be tackled at various levels that go well beyond standard murder investigations,” Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, stated in a news release.

The 23 November attack on a convoy in the province of Minguindanao, which took place in the context of a local election campaign, was condemned by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova.

Calling the killings “a tragedy of the first order,” the two experts said the first step is to ensure that the police investigation is “comprehensive and independent,” and that must be followed by effective prosecutions of all those responsible for the killings.

At the same time, they added that “the massacre also demanded a more extensive reflection on the elite family-dominated manipulation of the political processes and the need to eliminate such practices” to ensure the future of democracy in the Philippines.

“This will require a thorough-going investigation of the broader context to be undertaken by a credible and independent body, appointed with full legal powers to carry out an effective inquiry and make recommendations.”

The experts voiced their dismay at what they described as “the wholesale killings of journalists” and emphasized that any broader inquiry into the political system would need to focus on the ways and means of enhancing protection for journalists in the future.

Noting that “elections in the Philippines have traditionally become occasions for widespread extrajudicial executions of political opponents,” they also called on the Government to immediately set up a high-level task force to identify measures to prevent killings that occur in the lead-up to elections.


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