HRW: Manila wages “dirty war” against leftists

The Philippine military is waging a "dirty war" against leftist activists and journalists, Human Rights Watch charged in a June 28 report, "Scared Silent: Impunity for Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines." Based on more than 100 interviews, the report details the involvement of security forces in the murder or "disappearance" of members of opposition parties and NGOs, journalists, outspoken clergy and anti-mining and agrarian reform advocates. "To date there have been no successful prosecutions of any member of the armed forces implicated in recent extrajudicial killings," the report states.

While rights abuses have been common in the three decades of counter-insurgency against the New People's Army (NPA), the report says unlawful killings "appeared to shift into a higher gear" in February 2006, when President Gloria Arroyo accused leftist parties of allying themselves with military coup plotters. Four months later Arroyo declared an "all-out war" to crush the NPA.

"There is strong evidence of a 'dirty war' by the armed forces against left-leaning activists and journalists in the Philippines," Sophie Richardson, deputy Asia director at HRW, said in a statement.

Local human rights group Karapatan claims more than 800 activists including lawyers, union leaders and leftist politicians have been murdered since Arroyo came to power in 2001. The UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston, earlier this year said some elements of the military had a "case to answer" on extrajudicial killings. The government's own special commission of inquiry found there was "circumstantial evidence" to suggest military involvement in some killings.

HRW, while also condemning killings by the NPA, said: "abuses by insurgents do not justify the military or the government committing further human rights violations." Most of the victims of the killings documented by HRW were members of legal political parties or organizations, and none of the incidents involved anyone who was participating in armed actions.

"While the government claims that it is doing all it can to address abuses, it has taken few concrete steps to end the killings or prosecute perpetrators," the report found. "On paper, the Philippines has a witness protection scheme, special courts to investigate political killings, and a variety of government taskforces and commissions investigating extrajudicial executions, but the government is failing to implement these measures in a credible or convincing manner." (AFP, HRW, June 28)

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