Human rights group: Witnesses unprotected in RP

Published by rudy Date posted on April 27, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – The local chapter of London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International staged a rally in Quezon City and Manila yesterday to urge the government to correct the “desperate situation” of witness protection in the Philippines.

Amnesty International-Philippines urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to immediately address weaknesses in the protection of witnesses or families of victims of violence and assure the prosecution and punishment of those responsible and deliver justice to victims of human rights abuses.

Dr. Aurora Parong, director of AI-Philippines, said their protest action also symbolizes the efforts of human rights activists to push further the fight for justice “for individuals whose voices were silenced by extrajudicial killing, bodies and minds shattered by torture or ill treatment, and lives forgotten when they disappeared.”

“People have walked the streets of the Philippines and echoed their stands in the halls of legislature and justice but activists, journalists and ordinary people are still in serious peril, at risk of being abducted, tortured or killed. Children accused of petty crimes in Davao City continue to be in danger of being extra-judicially executed,” she said.

Parong said families of victims or even survivors of human rights violence are afraid to come out in the open “because of the desperate situation of witness protection in the Philippines.”

This condition, Parong said, gives no assurance to families of victims, survivors, and other witnesses of a crime that the law would be on their side.

She cited AI’s report in 2007 that at least 200 political killings and 200 enforced disappearances occurred in the Philippines since 2001. Many of these cases were never brought to court due to lack of evidence or because witnesses are unable to step forward due to fear of reprisal, Parong said.

AI-Philippines also said the failure of certain government officials “to formally denounce” the killings, disappearances, and torture in the country serves as an encouragement or acquiescence for the continuation of such abuses.”

“Amnesty International has time and again called for official condemnation of these violations from those who are in power, to fulfill their obligations to protect its people from being tortured, abducted and killed, and break the chain of impunity,” Parong said.

According to AI, its 2008 report titled “Witnessing Justice: Break the Chain of Impunity Campaign Digest”, cases show that the killings or abductions are not “unconnected series of criminal murders but are part of a politically-motivated pattern of killings.”

“Thus, it is urgent for President Arroyo to stop superior officers or public officers unofficially inciting or authorizing disappearances, torture or extrajudicial killings. Moreover, as authorities or leaders of our land it is unacceptable for some of them to encourage other persons to carry out unlawful killings,” Parong said. –Katherine Adraneda, Philippine Star

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