Nonoy Espina, InterAksyon.com
MANILA, Philippines — While noting that “growing demands for freedom and justice across the Middle East and North Africa and the rise of social media offer an unprecedented opportunity for human rights change,” Amnesty International also said “a serious fight-back from the forces of repression,” if not defeated, could yet make 2011 “a false dawn for human rights.”
This was the major observation of the human rights organization as it released its global human rights report on the eve of its 50th anniversary.
(Read the full report here http://www.amnesty.org/en/annual-report/2011)
In its report, AI said that last year, “Asia- Pacific governments still made a habit of responding to critics with intimidation, imprisonment, ill-treatment, and even death” and that this “repression did not distinguish between those who were clamoring for civil and political rights and those whose complaints were rooted in violations of economic, social, and cultural rights.”
But it also said “many journalists and activists across the Asia-Pacific region placed their lives and well-being on the line in order to challenge governments and other powerful actors to fulfill their obligations to respect the rights and dignity of all” although “many of those who dared exercise their right to express their opinions freely suffered violations of their civil and political rights.”
Even countries whose governments “did not directly interfere with freedom of expression, they did little to protect journalists or the space for public discourse.”
AI cited the Philippines where, more than a year after the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre, in which 58 persons, 32 of them media workers, were murdered, “the case against the alleged perpetrators dragged on, even as witnesses reported threats and intimidation.”
(Read AI’s country report on the Philippines here: http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/philippines/report-2011)
It cited in particular the murder last June of Suwaid Upham, who claimed to be one of the gunmen during the massacre, months after he failed to enroll in the government’s witness protection program, and the fact that more than 100 suspects in the crime remain at large.
The watchdog also noted the impunity that has continued to embolden human rights violators in the country.
“More than 200 cases of enforced disappearances recorded in the last decade remained unresolved, as did at least 305 cases of extrajudicial execution (with some estimates ranging as high as 1,200). Almost no perpetrators of these crimes have been brought to justice,” it said.
It also said that, despite government promises, private armies, many tied to local warlord politicians, continue to exist and operate openly.
AI cited in particular the contradiction between President Benigno Aquino III’s pledge in November to disband and disarm private armed groups and his refusal to do the same to paramilitary groups even if these so-called “force multipliers” were often used as private armies by local officials.
AI noted the high rate of political killings – at least 38 – during the May general and October barangay elections last year.
Civilians, indigenous people targeted in counterinsurgency
AI said “civilians continued to be killed as the military’s counterinsurgency plan failed to differentiate between civilians and members of the NPA (the communist New People’s Army). In some cases, the police or the military claimed that the deaths occurred during ‘legitimate encounters.’”
The most prominent case was the November killing of botanist Leonardo Co and two members of his team while conducting a study in Leyte province. To this day, the military insists they were caught in the crossfire of a clash between the Army and the NPA, despite evidence, including the account of a survivor, indicating no such battle happened.
The AI report on the Philippines also noted the continued practice of torture and enforced disappearances by state security forces, pointing to video footage, which media broadcast, of a Manila police officer torturing Darius Evangelista, who remains missing, and the abduction and disappearance of Samar resident Ambrosio Derejeno by government militiamen. It did note that Aquino signed the implementing rules and regulations for the Anti-Torture Act, making the law operable.
The report also accused the military of violating indigenous peoples’ rights, citing the killing of three Dumagat tribesmen in Rizal province, the abduction of another, and the eviction of other members of their community. It also noted the Army’s revival of the Also Lumad vigilante group and the arming of other indigenous groups for counterinsurgency.
AI also noted the continued debates over reproductive health, a bill for which continues to face stiff opposition from the Catholic church. It cited a report from the Center for Reproductive Rights that said some 1,000 of the 560,000 Filipinas who terminate their pregnancies every year die after having abortions, which are illegal in the country.
Elsewhere in the world, AI made the following observations:
Middle East/North Africa
Bahrain: “Since (mid-March), more than 500 men and women have been detained; at least 40 people were said to be missing and at least four people detained in relation to the protests died in custody in suspicious circumstances. The government said that all deaths were caused by illness.”
Iran: “In the lead-up to 14 February (demonstrations), waves of arrests targeted opposition activists. Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi and their wives Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karoubi were put under house arrest in conditions that for a time amounted to enforced disappearance.”
Libya: “Amnesty International researchers on the ground have been investigating numerous reports that attacks by Libyan forces have hit or targeted civilians or were indiscriminate.
They have also been looking into the enforced disappearance of hundreds of people since the protests began, and have confirmed that during the protests people were deliberately killed or died as a result of excessive or indiscriminate use of lethal force at the hands of security forces. Amnesty International also uncovered the use of cluster bombs and anti-personnel landmines by pro-Gaddafi forces.”
“About half a million people fled the ongoing conflict in Libya, mostly into Egypt and Tunisia … ”
Syria: “By 19 April, some 220 people had died during a month of violence, the overwhelming majority apparently as a result of being shot with live ammunition fired by the security forces.”
Yemen: “Vast demonstrations have rocked Yemen since the beginning of 2011 … At least 120 people have lost their lives and hundreds have been injured as security forces have repeatedly used live ammunition and other, often excessive force to break up demonstrations.”
Russia: “Human rights defenders and independent journalists continued to face threats, harassment and attacks, and investigations yielded few concrete results.”
Ivory Coast: “Violence escalated in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) following the disputed presidential election in November 2010, resulting in extra-judicial killings, ill treatment, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and sexual violence — including rape — by both parties.”
Nigeria: “Supporters of rival political parties clashed violently in the run-up to Nigeria’s national parliamentary, presidential and state elections held between 9-28 April. Hundreds of people were killed in politically motivated, communal and sectarian violence, and threats and intimidation also took place.”
Somalia: “Armed conflict between armed Islamist groups and pro-government forces continued in southern and central Somalia. Thousands of civilians were killed or injured as a result of indiscriminate attacks and generalised violence, and at least 300,000 were displaced during the year.”
Sudan: “From the end of January onwards, the authorities in Khartoum repressed peaceful demonstrations inspired by events in North Africa. Scores of people were arrested and some still remain in detention where they are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.”
Afghanistan: “Conflict-related violence, and attendant human rights violations, increased throughout the country, including in northern and western Afghanistan, areas previously considered relatively safe.”
China: “In an attempt to pre-empt a Middle East-style uprising, the government widened its crackdown on activists. After an online call on 17 February urged people to stage a ‘Jasmine Revolution’, more than 100 activists, many of them active online, went missing. Others were detained or put under illegal house arrest or surveillance by the government.”
India: “Ongoing clashes between armed Maoists and state security forces escalated in Chattisgarh, Jharkand and West Bengal. More than 350 people were killed in bomb attacks in those states and in ethnically motivated attacks in Assam and other states.”
North Korea: “Widespread violations of human rights continued, including severe restrictions on freedom of association, expression and movement, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment resulting in death, and executions.”
Sri Lanka: “The Sri Lankan government failed to effectively address impunity for past human rights violations, and continued to subject people to enforced disappearances and torture and other ill-treatment.”
Colombia: “Guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and the security forces were responsible for serious and widespread human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes.”
Mexico: “Thousands of people were abducted and killed by criminal gangs. Police and military forces deployed to combat gangs were responsible for grave human rights violations.”
United States:”Scores of men remained in indefinite military detention in Guantanamo as President Obama’s one-year deadline for closure of the facility there came and went.” (with a report from Reuters)
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