Reforms Needed to Promote Accountability and Disband Militias and ‘Death Squads’
(New York) - The Philippines' new president, Benigno Aquino, should urgently adopt measures to end killings by government security forces and militias, Human Rights Watch said in a letter delivered to Malacañang Palace today.
Human Rights Watch urged Aquino to move swiftly with clear and effective policies to carry out his campaign commitments to promote justice, end extrajudicial killings, and abolish so-called private armies.
"President Aquino takes office at a time when the Philippines faces daunting human rights challenges," said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Now he needs to turn his promises into action by taking immediate steps to end the widespread killings and hold the killers and those who deploy them accountable."
In his inauguration speech on June 30, 2010, Aquino said: "There can be no reconciliation without justice. When we allow crimes to go unpunished, we give consent to their occurring over and over again." He ordered the newly appointed justice secretary, Leila de Lima, to "begin the process of providing true and complete justice for all."
In the letter, Human Rights Watch makes specific recommendations to end impunity for killings and other human rights abuses by the security forces, by "death squads" that target suspected petty criminals and other marginalized Filipinos, and by state-backed militias controlled by local politicians.
Since June 9, when Congress proclaimed Aquino the next president, three journalists and a key witness to the November 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre have been killed. Since Aquino's inauguration on June 30, another journalist and two leftist activists have been killed, while the former lawyer of a massacre witness and a journalist survived separate murder attempts.
Out of hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances since 2001, there have been only six successfully prosecuted cases, resulting in the conviction of 11 defendants. None of those convicted has been of an active member of the military, despite considerable evidence of military involvement in such crimes.
Human Rights Watch called on Aquino to take six specific steps to combat extrajudicial killings:
- Investigate police and military personnel implicated in killings and emphasize that law enforcement officers who fail to investigate such killings vigorously will themselves face investigation on criminal or disciplinary charges.
- Take immediate steps to protect the witnesses to human rights abuses and their families.
- Pass a law to criminalize and prevent enforced disappearances.
- Abolish militia forces.
- Institute tougher controls on local government procurement of weapons.
- Dismantle "death squads" and investigate government involvement.
"In numerous provinces, ruling families use militia forces and local police as their private armies," Pearson said. "As one who has personally suffered as a result of a government-instigated killing, Aquino more than most would recognize that ending such killings would be an important and lasting legacy of his administration."