(New York) - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should press President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines to prosecute military members responsible for politically motivated killings, Human Rights Watch said today.
Clinton will visit Manila on November 12 and 13 and is expected to discuss disaster management following the devastating typhoons that struck the country in late September 2009.
Human Rights Watch said that the historically close relations between the US and the Philippines and the direct US support for the Philippine military, places particular responsibility on the United States to press the government to end the military's involvement in human rights violations and to prosecute those responsible.
"Clinton should not waste this opportunity to raise human rights concerns in the Philippines," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Clinton should make it very clear that the failure to seriously address unlawful killings could harm relations, particularly military-to-military cooperation."
Human Rights Watch urged Clinton to raise several crucial human rights issues. The Arroyo administration has not sufficiently investigated numerous extrajudicial killings in which the military has been implicated. It has yet to take strong action against local government-backed "death squads" in Davao City and elsewhere, and has tolerated unnecessary delays in investigations into these killings. In addition, Arroyo has not signed a law that would make torture by government officials a criminal offense.
Since 2001, when Arroyo took office, hundreds of left-wing political party members, human rights activists, journalists, and outspoken clergy have been killed or forcibly disappeared, but only six cases have been successfully prosecuted. Although the military has been implicated in many of the crimes, none of the 11 persons convicted in these cases were active military personnel at the time of the killing. The killings surged after Arroyo's declaration in June 2006 of an "all-out war" against the communist New People's Army insurgency.
Despite a reduction in killings since 2007 attributed to international and local pressure, the killings continue. While Arroyo has announced numerous initiatives designed to address those abuses, Human Rights Watch has seen no real progress in bringing those responsible to justice. Reforms have largely been symbolic while genuine structural reforms recommended by United Nations bodies, human rights organizations, and even the government's own Melo Commission have been ignored.
"Clinton should stress to Arroyo that the US is gravely concerned about the inadequate efforts to investigate and prosecute military personnel responsible for extrajudicial killings," Pearson said. "There should be an understanding that the US intends to monitor progress in bringing perpetrators to justice and that failure to do so will increasingly raise concerns about US-Philippine relations."
Human Rights Watch investigations into the so-called Davao Death Squads have revealed the involvement over several years of local Davao City police officers and officials in killing alleged petty criminals, drug dealers, gang members, and street children. A multi-agency task force that includes the Commission on Human Rights, police, army, and other government agencies has been investigating death squad killings in Davao City since June. But Human Rights Watch has found that the task force has faced a series of unnecessary judicial delays and obstacles in its investigations.
"President Arroyo has talked about the need to investigate death squad killings," Pearson said. "Clinton should remind her that actions speak louder."
Clinton should also urge Arroyo to sign into law the Anti-Torture Bill, which provides that confessions obtained by torture cannot be used as evidence, would make torture a criminal offense, and would prohibit the return of people to countries where they face torture. In May, the United Nations Committee against Torture expressed its deep concern about the numerous, ongoing, credible, and consistent allegations of routine and widespread use of torture in the Philippines.
The bill was passed by Congress and submitted for her signature nearly a month ago on October 15, but Arroyo has yet to sign it. Consistent with the Obama administration's commitment to end the use of torture, Clinton should raise this delay with Arroyo and encourage her to sign the bill immediately, Human Rights Watch said.
"Ending torture has been an important message of the Obama administration since Day One," Pearson said. "Clinton should tell President Arroyo that each day the Anti-Torture Bill goes unsigned is another day her government is tolerating torture."
Human Rights Watch said that it is important that Clinton ensure that human rights issues in the Philippines are a focal point in US-Philippines talks, setting the scene for President Barack Obama's anticipated side-meeting with President Arroyo when he attends the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Singapore on November 14 and 15.