Human Rights Watch today urged the UN Human Rights Council to press the Philippines to commitments on rights abuses ahead of a review of the country’s progress in Geneva next week.
“UN member states should see through the Philippine government’s rhetoric and question the lack of progress on accountability over the past four years,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at HRW.
The UN body will hold its second Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines in Geneva on May 29.
In its first review in 2008, the UN rights body made 17 recommendations, 11 of which were accepted by the Arroyo administration at the time, including “to completely eliminate torture and extrajudicial killings” and “to intensify its efforts to carry out investigations and prosecutions on extrajudicial killings and punish those responsible.”
Since then the government has only successfully prosecuted in four cases of extrajudicial killings, said HRW.
In a statement, it added that President Benigno Aquino had thus far failed to take significant measures to prosecute members of the military, police and militias implicated in extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances.
Last year, HRW documented at least 10 cases of killings and disappearances attributed to the security forces during Aquino’s first year in office, none of which had led to a successful prosecution, it added.
“The Philippine government is relentless in its pursuit of creating human rights task forces,” Pearson said at a press conference in Quezon City. “If only officials were just as relentless in pursuing the perpetrators of military abuses so that the victims might get justice.”
In its report to the UN review, the government said it had fulfilled commitments to address abuses, welcoming a €3.9-million (US$4.99 million) European Union-funded project to strengthen the capacity of the criminal justice system as “a major opportunity to put an end to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance in the country.”
The Human Rights Office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said that the recent absence of prosecutions was because “all of the human rights violation cases tagging military personnel were only accusations and did not produce sufficient evidence against soldiers.”
Colonel Domingo Tutaan, head of the military's human rights office, said the lack of prosecutions was evidence that the military’s human rights program, which trains officers and personnel to respect human rights, had been successful.
Activists welcome human rights review