CHRP is marking two years since the “Maguindanao massacre” with an event supported by Amnesty International UK, UNISON and the International Federation of Journalists, focusing on the killings and the need for judicial reform for prosecuting human rights violations in the Philippines.

On November 23, two years to the day from the 2009 killing of 58 people in Maguindanao, Filipino lawyer and journalist, Carlos Zarate, Stefan Antor, a judge formerly of the European Union-Philippines Justice Support Programme (EPJUST), Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists, and CHRP UK chair Mark Dearn will speak at “Never Forget”, at the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre, London.

Since the party of 58 people – including 34 journalists – were murdered en route to filing Ismael Mangudadatu’s candidacy for mayoral elections, there have been no successful prosecutions. Former local ruling family the Ampatuans have been put on trial, but the process has been dogged by delays, while many of the 195 accused remain at large.

While the Maguindanao killings highlight the way in which provincial rulers needed by national government – whether to win elections or fight insurgencies – can act with disdain for human life and the rule of law, there remain a number of human rights abuses in which the military is culpable. Human Rights Watch documents seven extrajudicial killings and three enforced disappearances carried out by the military since President Aquino came to power in 2010, with no convictions.

This year also marks the end of the 18-month, E3.9 million, EPJUST project. Implemented to help improve institutional capability around investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of human rights violations, such overseas technical assistance initiatives should be actively encouraged by the government.

By examining the lack of progress in prosecuting the alleged perpetrators and in this and many other cases of human rights violations, CHRP urges the Philippine government to act on its commitment to stopping human rights abuses and help enable the successful prosecution of human rights abusers.

CHRP believes that the 58 killings in Maguindanao in 2009 were an expected outcome of a tacit policy of supporting provincial rulers and granting them immunity from the law – as highlighted by the legacy of killings, torture and abduction that have been documented to have occurred over the course of 20 years at the hands of the Ampatuans.

“The ‘Maguindanao massacre’ was a stark evocation of the culture of impunity around abuses of human rights in the Philippines,” said CHRP chair Mark Dearn. “The lack of progress made in prosecuting the killings is a reminder of the changes needed in the judicial system.

“Being a democracy goes far beyond holding elections. The Aquino government must act on its promises and initiate the reforms long-needed to create the fair and transparent political and legal systems that will best serve the Philippine people.

“President Aquino must bring an end to the culture of impunity around human rights violations that persists in the Philippines since his election. Perpetrators of such violations must be brought to justice, and the government must work hand-in-hand with the military, police, civil society and the legal establishment to this end.”