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AFP challenges Human Rights Watch to prove claims

MANILA, Philippines - The military yesterday challenged the New York-based Human Rights Watch to prove that soldiers were involved in unexplained killings.

Armed Forces spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said the group, which had criticized the Aquino administration for its alleged failure to address abuses, should present evidence to the military so they could act on the complaints.

“Human Rights Watch should coordinate directly with us. Give us evidence to support their claim that we committed human rights violations,” Burgos said.

Burgos claimed that the military has posted gains in promoting respect for human rights and adherence to International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

He said the strengthening of the Armed Forces Human Rights Office and its replication to field units has enabled them to ensure compliance with existing polices.

“In fact, the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) had already achieved milestones in human rights advocacy efforts with the publication of the soldiers’ handbook on human rights and IHL,” Burgos said.

He said the AFP even released a guidebook on ways to conduct intelligence operations without violating human rights.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch criticized the Aquino administration for supposedly failing to prosecute members of security forces tagged in unexplained killings.

In its annual report, the group said hundreds of leftist politicians, activists, journalists and outspoken clergy have been killed or abducted since 2001. Of these, only seven cases of extralegal killings have been successfully prosecuted.

“Politically motivated killings have continued despite President Aquino’s pledges to address the problem,” the report read.

“The government still has not brought charges against the implicated officers; faced with this inaction, the families themselves have filed cases against the officers.”

Human Rights Watch urged the government to deactivate “abusive” paramilitary forces and to step up measures to hold those behind the killings and other abuses to account.

“The administration of President Aquino has not fulfilled its promises of reform and made little progress in ending impunity for abuses by state security forces,” the group said.

The report noted that no one has been convicted under the Anti Torture Act enacted in 2009.

The military, however, said it is strictly adhering to existing humanitarian laws as demanded by its security plan Bayanihan.

“The AFP remains firm in upholding the rule of law and the AFP shall continue to promote and respect human rights in all its undertakings,” Burgos said.

“With the people-centered and whole-of-nation approach at the center of our security operations, the AFP ensures that the principles, concepts, provisions and spirit of human rights, IHL, and rule of law are internalized by all military personnel.”

Activists have accused the AFP of resorting to killings and abductions to silence the critics of the government.

Militant groups said the killings and other abuses are part of the military’s counter-insurgency efforts.

The military has denied this, dismissing such accusations as propaganda of left-leaning groups.
By Alexis Romero
The Philippine Star  
January 25, 2012 12:00 AM


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